The MLB offseason is at its busiest in December, during and immediately following the winter meetings. There are usually a flurry of trades and free-agent signings and most teams more or less have their 40-man rosters figured out by the new year.
However, this season, the market has stalled. Other than pitcher Aaron Nola re-upping with the Phillies in November, the only two major moves so far have been the signings by the Dodgers of two-way star Shohei Ohtani and pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to massive deals.
Many assumed that once Ohtani — and to a lesser extent Yamamoto — signed, the other pieces would fall into place as teams would have a better understanding of how they must spend their money.
However, top free-agent starters Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery and first baseman/center fielder Cody Bellinger have yet to find new homes.
One potential reason: Snell, Montgomery and Bellinger have the same representation, super-agent Scott Boras. He is notorious for his ruthless and lengthy negotiation tactics that ensure his clients get the absolute most money.
“My experience with [Boras] is that he asks for a big number of dollars and years and doesn’t budge for quite a while,” a National League executive said told Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com recently. “He’s not afraid to carry a guy into February or March as a free agent. Then he figures it only takes one team to blink and they usually do.”
It is likely that Boras is using Yamamoto’s 12-year, $325 million contract as a sort of benchmark for teams hoping to sign Snell or Montgomery. While Snell and Montgomery (both 31) are unlikely to get a deal anywhere close to the 12 years that 25-year-old Yamamoto got, Boras could insist on at least a $27 million average annual value for both pitchers.
Despite Snell’s high walk rate (13.3%) and struggles to pitch deep into games for San Diego, he is the reigning NL Cy Young winner and one of the most feared pitchers in baseball. Montgomery just came off of a dominant half-season with the Rangers that culminated in a World Series championship.
Bellinger is also coming off of an incredible “prove it” season (26 HR, 97 RBI, .307 BA) after signing a one-year contract with the Cubs. Bellinger has 30+ home run power, elite bat-to-ball skills and the ability to play Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base or in the outfield. He is by far the best position player available in free agency other than Ohtani, and his defensive versatility makes him an excellent fit for almost every team looking to add to their offense.
As teams get more desperate for talent as the offseason goes along, Boras will be able to get better contracts for Snell, Montgomery and Bellinger.
While fans are clamoring for their favorite teams to make big signings, it looks like free agency will continue to be more of a slow burn than the hot stove that the MLB offseason usually provides. That’s all because of Boras, who will try to wait teams out to get above-market value for his three biggest free- agent clients.