MLB off-season should soon gain momentum

The Toronto Blue Jays had already traded for Jose Reyes this time last year. (Chris Young/CP)

Four full weeks have passed since Koji Uehara struck out Matt Carpenter to end the 2013 World Series and the Toronto Blue Jays’ roster has barely changed at all. Their biggest addition to date? Probably non-roster invitee Dan Johnson.

The Blue Jays aren’t alone. For the most part, MLB teams have engaged with free agents and discussed trades without actually completing deals. There’s been a lot of talk and not much action. Numerous long-time agents have remarked that the off-season now tends to develop more slowly than it did in years past. Qualifying-offer decisions do slow things down in early November, and unique circumstances conspired to hold the market up early on this winter.

For the next few days, GMs, agents, players and executives will celebrate U.S. Thanksgiving. This means there’s a good chance the market will remain slow for now. But many of the obstacles that have held up the off-season so far are disappearing, so the wait for baseball trades and signings should end early next month for many teams: The mystery surrounding the Japanese posting system could be resolved soon; Monday’s non-tender deadline will add depth and clarity to the free agent market; Robinson Cano has started meeting with teams; and the New York Yankees have shown that they aren’t going let Alex Rodriguez’s uncertain future prevent them from spending. Add it up and next week should be a busy one with teams laying the groundwork for the Winter Meetings and completing some long-awaited moves.

MLB officials reportedly met with representatives for Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball this week and an agreement is expected before long. Once the availability of highly-coveted right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has been established, teams will be able to court free agent starters such as Ervin Santana and Matt Garza with a clearer sense of where the market is headed.

Monday’s non-tender deadline will effectively make dozens of arbitration-eligible players free agents. This will provide GMs with more options for depth pick-ups and create competition and transparency in the free agent market.

Though Cano’s market remains a mystery to many, agents Jay Z and Brodie Van Wagenen have been in touch with both New York teams this month, creating some momentum within a slow-developing infield market. However, until Cano’s future comes into sharper focus, infielders including Omar Infante and Mark Ellis won’t have a complete sense of their options.

The Yankees loom as the most obvious suitor for Cano, but they’ve shown that they aren’t going to wait around for him or anyone else—Alex Rodriguez included. The embattled third baseman faces a 211-game suspension and his fate probably won’t be resolved until next month. Even so, the Yankees spent on Brian McCann, agreeing to sign the left-handed hitting catcher to a contract that could be worth up to $100 million. There’s now no doubting that the biggest spenders in the American League are still prepared to spend.

Like the Yankees, the Blue Jays have a long list of needs topped by starting pitching. Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos must address many questions, from the Blue Jays’ thin rotation to the fate of catcher J.P. Arencibia to the identity of the team’s next first base coach.

Whether the Jays get started next week is an open question. Anthopoulos has surprised onlookers many times over the years, acquiring players such as Jose Reyes, Colby Rasmus and Sergio Santos with little or no advance warning. By now we know that trying to predict what the GM will do and when he’ll do it is futile. But the market will soon encourage action instead of inhibiting it. That should mean more moves and less talk at long last.

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