The landmark event of the offseason is about to begin, but the landmark deals of the offseason don't seem likely to take place during it. With the Winter Meetings kicking off in San Diego this Sunday, SI's MLB crew takes a look at what the league could do to generate more excitement around the wintry baseball convention.
Let's face it, the problem with the Winter Meetings has been the slow pace of free agency. I don't think any end-of-meetings deadline for multi-year contracts is realistic, but how about incentivizing teams to get big deals done there? And nothing says incentive like money.
If you sign a free agent to a deal of three or more years by 8 p.m. ET of the last full day of the meetings (Wednesday), 50% of the average annual value of that contract is not applied to your Competitive Balance Tax amount. It's essentially a money-saving coupon. Who doesn't like coupons? So if the Yankees sign Gerrit Cole to an eight-year, $256 million contract, only $16 million per year, not $32 million, goes against their CBT amount. That Wednesday could be crazy with a flurry of big-name signings to beat the deadline.
A free-agency deadline of next Thursday would make some sense here, but in addition to driving costs down unfairly, that leaves us with a cold stove from December until spring training starts. So what about the opposite? I would ban all transactions between the World Series and the Winter Meetings. There will always be some players and teams who prefer to act early; this year, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon could still hold out until March, but we would have gotten the Yasmani Grandal and Mike Moustakas deals on Winter Meetings Monday.
Announcing MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year during the Winter Meetings wouldn’t necessarily add a ton of excitement, but it would create a series of pre-planned events with natural interest around them, and there’s a lot to be said for that. It guarantees a bit of activity, even if nothing else happens, and it can be scheduled to add some structure to the week.
That, or have the general managers face off in thumb wrestling.
All of the ideas mentioned above and below are rock-solid. MLB needs to decide what it wants the identity of the Winter Meetings to be. If they want it to be must-see TV with wall-to-wall coverage (which is likely), then all of these suggestions (and then some) should be taken into account: CBT breaks, free agency and trade deadlines, etc. But if those aren't feasible, perhaps MLB should leave the meetings alone or tinker with its marketing of the event. Currently the expectation is that the marquee event of the winter will yield marquee moments. Something needs to change.
The only way to get more people excited during the Winter Meetings is for teams to sign big-name free agents and/or make blockbuster trades. If I were commissioner, I would make it so the salaries of the players who sign before the end of the Winter Meetings would not count toward that team's competitive balance tax threshold for the first year of the contract. That way, teams can spend big on free agents and would essentially get that player tax free for a year. And if they still wish to avoid the CBT penalty, they have a year to make the necessary roster moves to get under the threshold before that player's salary counts toward the tax.
Let's institute a Winter Meetings trade deadline. The true free agency splashes likely won't occur until the opening months of 2020, so a date for deals to be made could spark some true interest in the dead of winter. Baseball saw a slight jump in excitement in July as the waiver period was eliminated, forcing teams to finalize their roster decisions by July 31, not Aug. 31. The winter meetings could use a similar jolt of excitement. Make a deal by Dec. 12, or free agency becomes the only mechanism for improving one's roster before spring training.