Offseason Officially Begins as 131 Players Become Free Agents, Cubs Poised to Make Moves

The popping of champagne bottles in Houston — or beer cans for the Phillies — signaled the official start of the MLB offseason, though we’ve still got a few more days before the action really gets going. All eligible players were declared free agents as of November 6, a list totals 131 right now but will grow in the coming days as players and teams make decisions on contract options.

Those decisions, along with the issuance of qualifying offers, must be made by November 10, which is also the final day of the annual GM meetings in Las Vegas. Players can only negotiate with their team over the five days between, so we’ll have a whole lot of smoke with no fire.

While I believe this winter will be a little more active than those of the past few non-CBA-battle years, we’ll probably need to wait another month or so for things to open up in earnest. November 15 is the deadline for teams to make 40-man roster decisions and November 18 is the non-tender deadline, so a lot of front offices will be looking for value in players who have been cut loose prior to taking bigger swings.

November 20 is when players who have received a QO must decide whether to accept it, so that’s the big hurdle that needs to be cleared. Because of the draft pick and international pool penalties associated with signing players who have declined a QO, especially when so many of this year’s top free agents are likely to be saddled with them, there will be something of a holding pattern until these decisions are settled.

The Cubs have already said they’ll extend a QO to Willson Contreras, and we’re likely to see the same for Trea Turner, Carlos Rodón, Jacob deGrom, Aaron Judge, and other big names. Of course, some of those decisions may come earlier as players in search of really big money want to ensure their market materializes as quickly as possible. We could also see Carlos Correa, José Abreu, and others who can’t be given a QO will be courted aggressively right out of the gate.

Abreu is a much more likely candidate to come off the board early because he’s not looking at a monster deal in terms of either length or total value. Anthony Rizzo might be in a similar boat because it’s believed he wants to remain in New York on a longer contract after he opts out of the final year of his current pact. The Cubs figure to be in the market for one of those two players, and I’m not talking about a reunion.

The Winter Meetings used to be seen as the pinnacle of the offseason, a few days during which scores of deals would be done as all the power brokers in the game congregated in one place. That has changed over the last few years, however, as technology pushes in-person events into obsolescence, at least in terms of their necessity as part of the negotiating process.

This year’s event takes place from December 4-7 in San Diego and might actually see a return to some of those old ways as the league resumes a normal cadence a year after the lockout canceled the Rule 5 Draft. Free agency took on a frenzied tone both before and after the owners locked the players out, something I still believe Rob Manfred his bosses actually hoped would be the case.

Perhaps a desire to compete with the news cycles of their professional sports counterparts will have owners encouraging their front offices to get more active early in the winter rather than dragging the process into spring training. Or maybe we’ll experience yet another trudge to March as the top free agents wait it out, holding up everyone else in the process. Fun times.

Given all the names they’ve been connected to, I expect the Cubs to come out swinging as they try to prove to season ticket holders and big free agent targets that they’re sincere about wanting to compete. That could mean being very aggressive in pursuing Abreu and Kodai Senga, players without QO penalties or posting fees who fill needs without commanding huge salaries.

I also wonder whether Justin Verlander becomes more of an option now that he’s got his World Series title. He’s been connected to the Cubs for years now, at least back to the 2017 trade that never happened, but none of the national pundits have linked them in their predictions. Perhaps winning one with Houston makes him more amenable to joining a team with less of a guarantee that they’ll win right away. Just thinking out loud here.

Anyway, we’ve got a few more days before anything can really happen and then a few more days after that for free agency to take its full shape. Let the rumors and innuendo begin.

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