I keep a physical calendar on the wall by my desk because I don’t want to forget how to use a pen. Glancing up at the boxes and numbers, it appears that today is…February 5. Happy Chinese New Year! Monday afternoon, I received three separate emails regarding the departure of the truck carrying the Mariners’ team gear to Arizona. People used to celebrate pitchers and catchers. Now I guess people celebrate truck day. The symbolism is the same — spring training is right around the corner, with major-league teams taking to major-league(-quality) fields.
And I’m bracing myself to write about a J.T. Realmuto trade. At any minute of any hour, a team might acquire baseball’s best catcher. I’m also bracing myself to write about a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado signing. At any minute of any hour, a team might acquire one of baseball’s best outfielders, or one of baseball’s best infielders. Dallas Keuchel is still out there, too. Ditto Craig Kimbrel and Marwin Gonzalez, among many, lesser others. We know that moves are going to happen, and all of these free agencies will have lucrative conclusions, but it’s hard to feel like the offseason is ending when the offseason stove is still hot to the touch.
For many people, this has gone on long enough. This offseason has gotten obnoxious and stupid, and, won’t teams just do things already? In recent chats, I’ve received several questions asking why baseball’s offseason isn’t more like, say, basketball’s. Now, there’s a variety of reasons why the offseasons move at different speeds. That’s not what I’m here to write and ask about. Rather, consider what we’ve been dealing with. Is this actually bad?
I’m asking as a fan, to you, as fans. And I’m just asking about the pace of things. I’m not so much asking about the state of free agency. I’m not asking you to declare yourself as pro-owner or pro-labor. All I want to get to is the entertainment factor. Is this kind of offseason entertaining, or is this kind of offseason a terrible slog?
I know next to nothing about basketball. The only sport I understand in any great detail is this one. But allow me to insert a comparison table, to show you how these offseasons proceed. On the left, last offseason’s top ten unrestricted NBA free agents, according to Sports Illustrated. On the right, this offseason’s top ten MLB free agents, according to FanGraphs. I’m including the dates the free agents officially signed, according to Sports Reference. Unrestricted NBA free agents were able to start signing on July 6. MLB free agents were able to start signing on November 3.
|Player||FA Rank||Date Signed||Player||FA Rank||Date Signed|
|LeBron James||1||July 9||Manny Machado||1||—|
|Kevin Durant||2||July 7||Bryce Harper||2||—|
|Paul George||3||July 6||Patrick Corbin||3||December 7|
|Chris Paul||4||July 7||Dallas Keuchel||4||—|
|DeAndre Jordan||5||July 6||Josh Donaldson||5||November 26|
|DeMarcus Cousins||6||July 6||Michael Brantley||6||December 19|
|Derrick Favors||7||July 6||A.J. Pollock||7||January 26|
|J.J. Redick||8||July 6||Yasmani Grandal||8||January 14|
|Trevor Ariza||9||July 6||Jed Lowrie||9||January 16|
|Tyreke Evans||10||July 6||Nathan Eovaldi||10||December 6|
You get the point. As is typical, all the best NBA free agents were signed almost immediately. Basketball fans live for the frenzy of the early free-agency period. On the MLB side, only one of the top ten free agents was signed within a month, and three are still out there today. They’re three of the top four. A similar pattern happened last winter. And even in “healthier” offseasons, baseball’s market was always spread out. The NBA offseason doesn’t totally end within three or four days, and the MLB offseason doesn’t always wait several weeks to heat up, but they’ve always been two very different beasts. The winter meetings are the closest the MLB offseason comes to a frenzy, but even that deadline is meaningless and artificial.
I’ve been meaning to put this to a poll. My own opinion has been vacillating. I mean, on the one hand, nothing in baseball can compare to the start of the NBA offseason. There’s never that degree of non-stop action, where the entire landscape of the league can look different from one day to the next. Right now, as I sit and stare at Twitter, I’m just about sick of even reading Bryce Harper’s name. No more rumors. I just want answers. I’m annoyed that no one is providing any answers. I’d like to just move on already.
But then, isn’t this suspenseful? Don’t we typically want suspense? If you’re a fan of the Phillies, you probably feel pretty good about your chances of getting one of the stars, but nothing is guaranteed, and you don’t know when something might happen. You don’t know if things might fall apart. What if you’re a fan of the Padres? Suddenly, the Padres are mixed up in rumors linking them to Harper, Machado, and Realmuto. Maybe that’s simply fantastical thinking, but what if it’s not? What if the Padres are about to make a magnificent splash?
On any given day, there might be news or developments regarding a big-name baseball player. None of us know when anything might go down. Out of the blue last January, the Brewers traded for Christian Yelich and signed Lorenzo Cain. In an NBA-style offseason, there’s the immediate surge, and then you get used to however the players have settled. In an MLB-style offseason, there is no surge, but more fans might remain engaged, and for a longer period of time. When a great basketball player picks a team, fans of that team get to think about the basketball player. When a great baseball player remains on the market, fans of *lots* of teams get to think about the baseball player. And then, eventually, there’s a move. There’s resolution. It’s like a raffle where you don’t know when they’ll be doing the drawing.
I can talk myself into enjoying this offseason. Other times, I realize I’m having to talk myself into enjoying it. And I genuinely don’t know how the alternative feels. I think I prefer the MLB offseason, at least in theory. But this is why I’m including a poll. I’d like to know how the audience feels about all this. Aside from the specifics, regarding labor issues and a potential future work stoppage. All I’m asking about is the NBA’s chaos versus the MLB’s sluggish unpredictability. Do you like that baseball gives you something to think about 12 months a year, or do you crave the high of an ephemeral offseason free-for-all? I leave it now in your hands.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.