Those of us hoping for a much more exciting offseason after last year’s slog that saw even the most coveted free agents gather dust through the winter may need to recalibrate expectations. A number of factors, including a potential flood from an unusually high number of non-tendered free agents, could make the next several weeks equally frustrating.
And I’m not just talking about fans, since many baseball executives are also aboard the struggle bus when it comes to making moves. Some of that is entirely self-imposed as teams try to wait out the market for a good deal or to see which arbitration-eligible players are suddenly available come November 30. But there’s more at play here as the industry as a whole is in flux.
“We haven’t even called on some free agents we actually have interest in,” one top baseball executive told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required). “I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it’s more (a question of) time. There is so much going on.”
The “so much going on” isn’t just about player personnel; teams are struggling with higher-than-expected turnover in their front offices and coaching staffs as well. Just look at the Cubs, who have “lost” an assistant GM (it may have been more of a mutual deal) and replaced their hitting coach since the start of October. They may also be searching for a new pitching coach, though Jim Hickey’s other shoe has yet to drop since reports of his imminent departure first surfaced nearly two weeks ago.
But perhaps the best example of what is taking place on a broader scope is bench coach Brandon Hyde, who will return to Chicago after failing to land one of several managerial gigs for which he interviewed. Hyde being an option elsewhere held the Cubs up from making changes and now those new managers will be assembling their own staffs, quite often with coaches in the employ of other teams.
“It’s just a domino effect,” the same executive told Rosenthal. “If I give you permission to talk to my minor-league pitching coordinator, and then I call for the Twins’ Double A pitching coach, what if they say no? Or what if they say yes and I call for St. Louis’ A ball pitching coach? And now it’s Christmas?”
This may lead to MLB establishing stricter parameters for the hiring process, though exactly how and when those could be enforced is up in the air. And let’s be clear that this stuff isn’t the sole force, or even a primary driver, of the sluggish free agent market. You can understand, however, that uncertainty in the front office or coaching staff might slow a team’s decision-making.
That cuts the other way too, since players are going to want to know which coaches they’ll actually be working with. The number of zeroes on the check generally rule the day, but the Cubs boast several examples of how other factors can influence players’ decisions.
So how about all you teams get your you-know-what together and start signing/trading players so we have something to get excited about beyond just parsing Theo Epstein’s public comments.