(670 The Score) It was two years ago that the MLB offseason crawled along at a snail’s pace, with many of the premier free agents not signing until late in the winter and some waiting until spring training had already opened.
It wasn’t until Feb. 19, 2019 that star third baseman Manny Machado finalized his $300-million deal with the Padres. And it wasn’t until that Feb. 28 that star outfielder Bryce Harper agreed to his $330-million deal to join the Phillies. Those long sagas came a year after right-hander Yu Darvish waited until the second week of February 2018 before deciding to join the Cubs on a six-year, $126-million deal just as the team convened for the start of its work in Arizona.
While the 2019-’20 offseason featured more early action with Yankees ace Gerrit Cole and Angels star third baseman Anthony Rendon making their decisions in December, the slow pace of the offseason is still a concern in MLB.
That could again be the case this winter as teams endure difficult financial circumstances following a shortened 60-game season in which fans weren’t allowed in the ballpark amid the coronavirus pandemic. Big spending sprees don’t appear to be on the docket for many teams, and most in the industry expect the free agency process to move slowly.
One person who’s annoyed by the slow pace is Cubs outfielder Ian Happ, who has an idea of how to help fix it. He believes the arbitration process needs to be moved up in the offseason. Jan. 15 is the deadline this offseason for players and teams to exchange figures. Happ is arbitration-eligible this offseason.
“Discussions are starting now,” Happ said on the Dan Bernstein Show. “It’s not until the first or second week of January that things really kick off with arbitration, which I don’t think makes sense for the timing and the process of the offseason. I think that’s one of the things that, just looking at it broadly, teams don’t want to make a bunch of free-agent decisions until they have cost certainty with arbitration. So we’re waiting until January to get cost certainty, and you wonder why teams aren’t pulling the trigger on free agents until the middle or the end of January or February. Well, it’s because they don’t have cost certainty. A team like the Cubs that has six, seven guys in the arbitration process and four or five of those guys with big numbers, what could a few million this way or a few million that way, that really changes the ledger when you go down to the total salaries they’re willing to give out. There’s a reason free agency has been pushed back so much in the last few years. And there’s a reason teams are going to more hearings than they ever did before this CBA cycle. It’s something that I hope when we go into the next negotiation, we reconsider the timing. Because it makes our offseason pretty boring for three or four months.”
MLB players with more than three years of experience but less than six are eligible for arbitration. Players and teams then negotiate in an effort to reach a salary agreement, largely based on the past contracts of comparable players. If a player and a team can’t reach an agreement, they enter arbitration, where a panel decides whether the player’s requested salary or the team’s requested salary will be the player’s salary for the upcoming season.