DALLAS — The baseball offseason is unlike that of most of the other major sports. In the NHL, almost every free agent decides on his team for the next season within the first week they’re eligible to sign. The same goes for the NFL.
In baseball, it’s a process. If there is an MLB free agent who signs at 12:01 a.m. on the day free agency starts, he’d be the first one. Teams spend a lot longer evaluating their needs and players spend a lot longer letting the market develop and allowing teams to court them.
Things do happen quickly, of course. The Angels had barely engaged Albert Pujols and agent Dan Lozano before Tuesday night and Thursday morning they were the ones smiling ear to ear and writing a $250 million check for the first baseman. When things start to come together, it can happen fast. But overall, much like the game itself, things take time.
Which is partly why the winter meetings are such a different animal.
For four days a year, the entire baseball world is in one place. Executives from all 30 teams are under one roof. A possible trade discussion doesn’t have to take place via back-and-forth phone calls. It can happen at one table, in one hotel suite, in one hour if the fit is right. The same goes for meeting with agents and, occasionally, the players themselves. There’s an urgency and a madness to the meetings — one that’s exacerbated in the hordes of media swarming the lobby and by the rumors that run rampant no matter how baseless they are.
So what, then, to make of the Nationals relative inactivity at the meetings? Believe it or not, it shouldn’t inspire the panic that it appears to have among many Nationals fans.
First of all let’s think back. When the season ended on Sept. 28 in Florida, the Nationals were an 80-81 team that was surrounded by nothing but positive thinking. A year in which they took dramatic steps forward was only prelude, many felt, to what they could do with a full year of Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmermann, a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche, another year of experience, maturation and (presumably) improvement for Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Wilson Ramos, and Michael Morse well defined as a threatening cleanup hitter.
This is the same team they had then, so why should the positivity have shrunk any? Sure, they missed out of Buehrle — the perfect fit for them — but that’s the way it goes. It doesn’t make any of those reasons to be excited about the team two months ago any less valid.
Second, the offseason does not end today just because the winter meetings do. There was no reason for the Nationals to act irrationally to get something done while in Dallas when they could continue to work on things just as easily on Friday from their D.C. offices.
One sensible theory on the winter meetings is this: it’s a time to capitalize on the desperation of other teams and not let them make you desperate. It’s not a time to throw in that one extra player a team’s asking for or add that extra year to a free agent deal just because you feel pressured to make a deal at the winter meetings.
I could be eating my words come February but I can almost guarantee you that the Nationals aren’t done with their offseason plans. They’ve got more than two months to continue rounding out a team that came into the offseason without a lot of needs, and there are still plenty of avenues to fill the ones they do have — they’ll just have to be a little more creative.
“We’re not going to be rushed into anything or be forced into anything,” said Nationals GM Mike Rizzo on Thursday morning. “But if a deal is out there we feel comfortable with we’re certainly going to pull the trigger.”
Pitchers and catchers don’t report for at least another 10 weeks. There’s still plenty of time for the Nationals to make their move.