Typically, Major League Baseball’s November free agent market features little more than a few stray buyers walking the aisles. But this year, with a lockout looming, the first four weeks since the conclusion of the World Series have featured both players and teams operating as if raiding grocery store shelves before a blizzard.
The names and dollar figures have been head-spinning. As of Monday evening, there had been 16 free-agent agreements (some finalized and announced, others still agreed upon and as-yet unofficial) that guaranteed players at least $20 million:
Rangers: Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million), Marcus Semien (7 years, $175 million), Jon Gray (4 years, $56 million)
Mets: Max Scherzer (3 years, $130 million), Starling Marte (4 years, $78 million), Mark Canha (2 years, $26.5 million), Eduardo Escobar (2 years, $20 million)
Mariners: Robbie Ray (5 years, $115 million)
Blue Jays: Kevin Gausman (5 years, $110 million)
Tigers: Eduardo Rodriguez (5 years, $77 million)
Marlins: Avisail Garcia (4 years, $53 million)
Astros: Justin Verlander (2 years, $50 million)
Cardinals: Steven Matz (4 years, $44 million)
Giants: Anthony DeSclefani (3 years, $36 million)
White Sox: Kendall Graveman (2 years, $24 million)
Angels: Noah Syndergaard (1 year, $21 million)
Obviously, the Red Sox aren’t on that list. While the departure of Rodriguez to the Tigers created a rotation hole, they’ve taken a deliberate approach to replacing him. After lefthander Andrew Heaney passed on a deal with the Red Sox and signed with the Dodgers for one year and $8.5 million, the Sox landed Michael Wacha on a one-year, $7 million deal.
The Sox were among the eight teams that bid on Matz but didn’t go as far as St. Louis in their offer. They checked in on virtually every other starter but, according to major league sources, didn’t come anywhere close to deals with the likes of Rodriguez, Gausman, Verlander, or Syndergaard.
The rotation isn’t the only area on the team’s wish list. In addition to starting pitching help, the club also is exploring the market for middle infielders, relievers, a potential reunion with Kyle Schwarber, and more. Still, aside from the low-risk and relatively low-dollar signing of Wacha, expressions of interest have yet to manifest in deals.
As of Monday night, the Sox did not believe any major deals were imminent.
“They don’t seem to be in any rush,” noted one agent.
That sense makes for an understandable source of exasperation among Red Sox fans impatient for the Sox to jump into the deal-making – particularly given that the Blue Jays added Gausman on a nine-figure deal and the Mets just engaged in a big-market flex by signing Scherzer on Monday. The Sox’ most notable activity on Monday, meanwhile, was an announcement by its parent company, Fenway Sports Group, that it had signed an agreement to purchase the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The purchase of a hockey team is unlikely to affect the Sox in any meaningful way. In October 2010, when FSG purchased Liverpool Football Club, many wondered if payroll cuts would follow. Within two months, the Sox answered that question by committing roughly $300 million to Carl Crawford and Adrián González. (Big expenditures don’t guarantee performance.)
Nonetheless, the purchase of the Penguins offered low-hanging fruit to those ready to critique Red Sox inactivity.
Still, a bit of context is in order. The most aggressive teams – the Mets and Rangers – are coming off years of disappointment and are trying to recapture the interest of their fans. Both the Rangers and Mariners are in large markets but had payrolls of less than $100 million last year, giving them money to burn.
Meanwhile, the teams that carried the six largest payrolls last year – the Dodgers, Phillies, Astros, Red Sox, Yankees, and Padres – have been largely idle to this point in the frenzy, save for the Astros re-signing Verlander (in a winter where Carlos Correa seems destined to depart as a free agent).
Some agents believe that those teams are reluctant to dive headlong into the deep end of the free agent pool until a new Collective Bargaining Agreement is negotiated – likely after a lockout imposed by owners on Dec. 2. Once those teams know where the luxury tax threshold will fall in 2022, and what the penalties will be for surpassing it, it should become easier to build a team for next year.
That said, the Red Sox right now are a worse team than they were at the end of the season thanks to the departure of Rodriguez and free agency of Schwarber, Adam Ottavino, Hansel Robles, and others. The same can be said of the Dodgers (farewell, Scherzer and Seager) and even the Jays, who signed Gausman but lost Ray and Semien.
But the offseason isn’t over. Some big-name free agents – Schwarber, middle infielders Javy Báez and Chris Taylor, to name a few on-paper fits – remain available. Other less prominent players who could upgrade the team are also still on the board.
Meanwhile, the pool of available players is slated to expand on Tuesday by 8 p.m., the deadline for teams to tender 2022 contracts to players who are on their 40-man rosters. Typically, it’s a date when teams cut bait with arbitration-eligible players due for raises.
Last year, the Sox signed outfielder Hunter Renfroe after the Rays non-tendered him. More famously, they added David Ortiz after the Twins cast him aside following the 2002 season.
The list of disappointments acquired after they were non-tendered is long, but the Dodgers and Rays have perennially dipped into that pool of players and emerged to help create the deepest organizations in baseball.
True to the form the Red Sox showed in their first two offseasons after the arrival of chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, the team is proceeding methodically at the start of the offseason while identifying not one definitive move but instead a series of interconnected ones.
That approach doesn’t guarantee success. But the Sox’ inaction to this point doesn’t guarantee failure. A Dec. 2 lockout does not mark the end of the offseason, but rather a pause in a team-building exercise in which there is no prize for being the first organization to cross the finish line.
Julian McWilliams of the Globe staff contributed to this report.