Unlike pro hockey, pro football and pro basketball, when the clock starts for free agency and you can see a rash of deals completed on the first eligible day as early as 12:01 p.m. or 4:01 p.m. or 6:01 p.m., depending on the sport, baseball assumes more of a sundial approach.
Free agency began five days after the World Series, which ended 10 days ago. There has been talk and speculation. But you probably won’t hear any signings of note until later this month. Or next month. Or maybe not even until next year. Or maybe not even until spring training is in session.
This is the way baseball operates, with powerful agents such as Scott Boras controlling numerous high-ticket clients like the top three in this year’s class — pitchers Gerrit Cole (Houston) and Stephen Strasburg (Washington) and Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. Often, the lesser tiers of free agents don’t get signed until the top-tiered players go, or until those players’ wives get tired of not knowing where they’re going to be in spring training. But the top players aren’t going anywhere for a while.
Eventually, most will get deals, even if it takes until June, as it did earlier this year for reliever Craig Kimbrel and lefthander Dallas Keuchel, who is back on the dance floor again this year.
The media attention will be severe in the next week or so as the general managers gather beginning Monday in Arizona. And it will increase during baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego in the second week of December.
But given the recent history of slow-developing marketplaces, outside interest in the free agent market will decline a bit later in December if little of substance takes place at the winter meetings.
Last year, for instance, when both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn’t sign until spring training had started, fans — and media people — had wearied of guessing where those two were taking their talents, other than saying, “Just take them somewhere.”
Here is a brief primer on this year’s free agent crop and a look at how it might relate to the Cardinals:
THE BIG THREE
There is a good chance that Strasburg, who opted out of the remaining four years of his deal, which would have paid him $100 million, could return to Washington, and Rendon, too. But to re-sign Rendon might end up costing $35 million a year, and World Series Most Valuable Player Strasburg’s deal might start with a “30-something,” as, of course, will Cole’s.
Cole, 29, would seem to be in play for big-ticket teams on both coasts — Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels and New York Yankees. But a couple of sleepers could be the Chicago White Sox, who have a load of young talent and who were in the high-stakes bidding for Machado last year, and even San Francisco, which has no staff ace with Madison Bumgarner leaving for free agency.
Since Strasburg, 31, has a San Diego background — he pitched at San Diego State — the Padres will take a look at making another big splash, although their plunge into the deep water with Machado last year didn’t pay off in the standings.
Rendon, 29, will be appealing to the Dodgers and Texas Rangers — Rendon is a native Texan — among others. The New York Mets also need help at third, and with their offense, in general, as they try to help their strong starting pitching.
The Cardinals’ chances of signing any of the above: 0 to 3 percent.
THE NEXT THREE
Lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu (Dodgers), lefthander Madison Bumgarner, catcher Yasmani Grandal (Milwaukee).
As lefthanded starting pitchers, something of a rarity, the first two might command more than they are worth. Ryu, 32, could turn up with the Dodgers as he did last year, when he accepted their qualifying offer after battling shoulder problems for two years.
Bumgarner, a 30-year-old native of North Carolina, might favor Atlanta as a destination, although, in the past, he has shown an affinity for St. Louis. The Cardinals may be in the market for a starting pitcher but likely not a high salaried one, given some payroll restrictions.
Grandal is a power-hitting, switch-hitting catcher who the Brewers haven’t given up on signing. The 30-year-old, who had 28 homers this past season, also might work well in Cincinnati or Houston.
Chances of the Cardinals signing any of these: Bumgarner, 10 percent; Ryu, 5 percent; Grandal, 0-2 percent.
THREE WHO COULD HELP CARDS
Marcell Ozuna certainly has helped — and could help — the Cardinals if the two sides can agree on a multi-year deal or he accepts their one-year qualifying offer of $17.8 million. Ozuna had 51 homers in two seasons here and was compromised physically in both of them. A park that might favor him is Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati if the Reds want to enter the bidding. His defense in left field here has been inconsistent, at best.
Mike Moustakas, who signed a one-year deal for the second successive year (Kansas City, Milwaukee), had 35 homers this past season for the Brewers after hitting 28 the year before. He does not require a qualifying offer, meaning it wouldn’t cost a draft pick to sign him.
He is a lefthanded hitter with pop, which the Cardinals could use if Matt Carpenter isn’t going to be that guy consistently. But Milwaukee might still be interested and Washington surely will be if it loses Rendon. Moustakas will be of less interest to the Cardinals if they sign Ozuna.
Dallas Keuchel wasn’t overly impressive against the Cardinals in the postseason for Atlanta but doesn’t require a qualifying offer and could be a solid member of any rotation. But if the Cardinals, indeed, put Carlos Martinez back into the rotation and if, as expected, they re-sign 38-year-old veteran Adam Wainwright, they, in effect, would have their five starters in those two plus Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson.
Then they would have pitchers such as Daniel Ponce de Leon, Genesis Cabrera, Jake Woodford, Austin Gomber, Alex Reyes and even Ryan Helsley as possibilities for starting depth, some more possible than others.
The Cardinals’ chances of signing Ozuna, 40 percent; Keuchel, 15 percent; Moustakas, 30 percent.
THREE MORE WHO COULD HELP
Adam Wainwright, of course, isn’t likely to play anywhere but St. Louis if he plays. This would be his 15th season, although he missed all of 2011 after elbow surgery.
Highland native Jake Odorizzi, who was 15-7 for Minnesota this past season, long has wanted to play for the Cardinals. But if Wainwright returns, the club may not feel the need to sign a starter outside the organization to a big, multi-year deal. The Cardinals could even look at starting pitching help later on this off-season.
Matt Wieters didn’t hit much for average (.214), but he did hit for power for the Cardinals with 11 homers in 168 at-bats this past season as he provided a solid bridge until injured Yadier Molina returned. At age 33, Wieters doesn’t fashion himself as a regular catcher anymore and may like to return here as a backup and take one more chance at winning a ring.
If the Cardinals keep Andrew Knizner as a third catcher, the switch-hitting Wieters could be a lefthanded bat off the bench. But if this happens, it wouldn’t happen for a while because teams customarily construct their benches after they have tried to fill all their major needs.
The Cardinals’ chances of signing Wainwright, 80 percent; Odorizzi, 15 percent; Wieters, 25 percent.
There are three other notable free agents undiscussed here — third baseman Josh Donaldson, righthander Zack Wheeler and shortstop Didi Gregorius. At one time, in the last year or so with Donaldson and Wheeler, the Cardinals had considerable interest in all three. But it would be a stretch to see them invest in any of the above on a multi-year basis now.
All three will wind up somewhere else and a couple even back with their most recent teams, Atlanta, Mets and Yankees, respectively.
The process for all the free agents has begun. But a caution: Don’t hold your breath waiting for daily updates.