If there is anything boiling over at this point of the MLB offseason it is not the Hot Stove, but instead it is fan’s frustrations over the lack of movement so far in free agency.
Unlike NBA free agency, which gives fans the adrenaline rush of 24 hours of non-stop news as soon as the period to sign opens, MLB free agency is always a slow-burn. Right now, teams are free to sign any player they want to that is on the open market and yet we have not seen much action at all.
The St. Louis Cardinals have added some veterans starting pitchers and Aaron Nola has returned to the Philadelphia Phillies on a big deal. But for most teams around baseball, all of their offseason work is still left to be accomplished.
So when will it all start to happen?!
I took the liberty of revisiting our free agent tracker from las year, as well as revisiting MLB.com’s old transaction page, to remind myself the pace that free agency moved last offseason to compare it to what we have seen thus far and what we can expect to see moving forward.
Here is what I learned.
Breaking Down Last Year’s Free Agency
Last year, we had some movement prior to Thanksgiving, but it was not too different from what we have seen so far this year.
Top relief pitchers Edwin Diaz, Rafael Montero, Tyler Matzek and Robert Suarez re-signed with their respective teams. As did swingman Nick Martinez and Dodgers future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw.
Martin Perez and Joc Pederson accepted their qualifying offers, while Tyler Anderson rejected his and signed a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels instead.
The New York Yankees brought back a pair of their own free agents, signing Anthony Rizzo on a two-year deal and Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a one-year pact. Over Thanksgiving weekend Carlos Santana and Mike Clevinger signed one-year deals with new teams.
Really though, the first major free agent domino to fall was Jose Abreu landing with the Houston Astros on a three-year deal. That took place the Monday after Thanksgiving.
Zach Eflin signed with the Tampa Bay Rays on a three-year deal on Thursday, December 1st. Then the first shocking nine-figure deal took place, when Jacob deGrom was first announced to have signed with the Texas Rangers on Friday, December 2nd.
The Winter Meetings began on Sunday, December 4th.
On Monday, December 5th, Justin Verlander was signed by the Mets to replace deGrom as their new co-ace with Max Scherzer. Trea Turner kicked off the shortstop market later that same night, signing his $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Near the end of the Winter Meetings, both Aaron Judge and Xander Bogaerts joined Turner as free agents to sign massive nine-figure contracts during the festivities.
Cody Bellinger, Josh Bell, Andrew Heaney, Mitch Haniger, Taijuan Walker, Jameson Taillon, Jose Quintana, Kenley Jansen, Willson Contreras and Masataka Yoshida were some of the notable other signings that took place over the Winter Meetings as well.
Shortly after the Winter Meetings, Brandon Nimmo returned to the New York Mets on a nine-figure deal of his own. A few days later, the Mets continued their shopping spree by adding Kodai Senga.
This is what we have to wait for every offseason. When the Winter Meeting begin, you have every agent in the sport, as well as all the prominent team executives converging in one place.
This sparks great movement around the league, while beforehand, teams are more likely to sit on their hands and wait for the market to develop without seeming overeager.
After the meetings, we see more and more deals signed in the coming days and weeks, with much of the preliminary conversations between players and teams having taken place during the Winter Meetings.
Looking again at last winter, Carlos Correa signed his first of three deals on December 14th, a week after the Winter Meetings had concluded. Carlos Rodon joined the Yankees two days later.
A week before Christmas, Dansby Swanson signed his nine-figure deal with the Chicago Cubs.
By December 19th, only 10 of our top 50 free agents still remained available on the market, with all of our top 20 having been signed.
A week after Carlos Correa signed with the Giants, it was announced that he had signed with the Mets. This is where we actually learned how important the word “will” is in reports that say a free agent “WILL sign with a new club”.
Remember folks, deals are reported when they are first agreed upon, but they have to be finalized and only when the ink actually dries on those new contracts will teams announce the deals as official.
After Christmas one of the best moves of the offseason came when Nathan Eovaldi signed with the Texas Rangers on December 27th. By the point of this signing, almost all of the most notable free agents had found new homes or had returned to their former squads.
Finally, following some painful weeks of awkward negotiations with the New York Mets later, Carlos Correa landed right back where he started the offseason, re-signing with the Minnesota Twins on his third and final nine-figure contract of the winter.
This took place on January 11th and was the final major signing from last offseason.
What We Can Learn for This Offseason
Obviously there were countless less significant contracts that were agreed to both before and after Correa signed his deal with the Twins, but this gives a good overview on how the market develops in MLB free agency.
There is a slow trickle of moves prior to the Winter Meetings, a big rush of signings during the four days that they take place, which is then followed by a few active weeks were most free agents sign their contracts for the upcoming season.
Finally there is the slow trickle of the remaining free agents who are signed in January, leading all the way up to when pitchers and catchers report in February.
Last year, we saw more notable free agents signed prior to Thanksgiving than this year, but really I believe that is more a reflection of a much better free agent class than this being a particularly slow-moving market.
Over this next week, you can expect signings to keep trickling in, particularly in the starting pitching market, where we have already seen a fair bit of action so far. Then we will get that big spike of signings across the Winter Meetings, when all the major agents and team executives converge in Nashville on December 3rd, through December 7th.
Those next two weeks after the Winter Meetings we will see a bunch of other signings take place and then by the time we get to Christmas, the entire landscape of Major League Baseball will look a whole lot different with most of the notable free agents off the board.
Obviously there are signings that take place all the way up to Spring Training, particularly when it comes to minor league deals. But if we look back at last season for a blueprint, you can expect the major free agents of this class (and there aren’t nearly as many this time around) to find homes over the next three-to-four weeks.
If you want to stay plugged into all of the action, make sure to bookmark our free agent tracker.
Update: 9:30 a.m. November 27th
Just to hammer the point of this article home comparing the pace of last year’s offseason to this year, it has been reported by Jon Heyman that the St. Louis Cardinals are expected to sign Sonny Gray to a deal today.
Remember last year, Jose Abreu signed a three-year deal with the Houston Astros on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Well here we are a year later with news the Monday after Thanksgiving on a veteran free agent who is signing his deal a week ahead of the Winter Meetings.