What a boring offseason it has been so far. The headlines on MLB Trade Rumors — the unofficial home of the Hot Stove League — are riddled with bench players, backup catchers, and managerial hirings. Today’s biggest news was perhaps the third-best free agent catcher in Carlos Ruiz signing a three-year deal to remain with the Phillies. The so-called Hot Stove just hasn’t been hot at all, and barring an all-out bidding war on Robinson Cano, it doesn’t look like the coming winter is destined for big news.
So I ask: is this the end of the Hot Stove?
The game has changed significantly over the past two years. The elimination of Type A/B free agent compensation and its replacement with the qualifying offer has radically reshaped the market for mid-level free agents as well as the trade market. The shift to buying out multiple free agent years in long-term extensions for young stars has led to fewer and fewer young stars hitting the free agent market in their 20s. The advent of the second wild card has led more and more teams to believe they can contend, leading to fewer fire sales.
As such, the big moments for baseball teams appear to be shifting. July 31 and November and December are no longer the deciding days. Now it’s draft day, the July 2nd international free agent period, and the August waiver trade deadline.
Just look at the barren free agent list for 2015. Many young and talented options — Billy Butler, Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo and Brandon Morrow — have team options for the 2015 season. Clayton Kershaw is almost certainly to re-sign with the Dodgers. Hanley Ramirez seems likely to remain in Los Angeles as well. Only three position players under 30 even project as available: Asdrubal Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Colby Rasmus.
There are some intriguing pitchers slated to hit the market: Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, Justin Masterson, and Homer Bailey. But how many of thses four will sign an extension between now and 2015? After that, the pitching list drops to Brett Anderson (an option candidate as well) or oldsters like Josh Beckett and Jake Peavy.
Teams will be able to help themselves. Brett Gardner, Chase Headley, J.J. Hardy, Jed Lowrie, Russell Martin, Nick Markakis (another option candidate) and Victor Martinez are all good players who can play a supporting role. But none of these players should be the best player on a playoff team. All are flawed, and all will be old enough to fall to attrition at any point in the deal.
The construction of league affairs have shifted dramatically over the past few years. The result, it seems, is a significantly more boring offseason, bereft of the ever-shifting rumors that characterized free agency in the 2000s. More of the important baseball moves will likely be happening behind the scenes and in the lower levels. Maybe we’ll get a huge blockbuster trade or two like the Jays-Marlins swap last year, but the days of droves of important free agents appear to be over, at least for the near future.