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Are free-agent signings in the Cards? Don't hold your breath

Rick Hummel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Baseball

ST. LOUIS -- Unlike pro hockey, pro football and pro basketball, when the clock starts for free agency and you can see a rash of deals completed on the first eligible day as early as 12:01 p.m. or 4:01 p.m. or 6:01 p.m., depending on the sport, baseball assumes more of a sundial approach.

Free agency began five days after the World Series, which ended 10 days ago. There has been talk and speculation. But you probably won't hear any signings of note until later this month. Or next month. Or maybe not even until next year. Or maybe not even until spring training is in session.

This is the way baseball operates, with powerful agents such as Scott Boras controlling numerous high-ticket clients like the top three in this year's class -- pitchers Gerrit Cole (Houston) and Stephen Strasburg (Washington) and Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon. Often, the lesser tiers of free agents don't get signed until the top-tiered players go, or until those players' wives get tired of not knowing where they're going to be in spring training. But the top players aren't going anywhere for a while.

Eventually, most will get deals, even if it takes until June, as it did earlier this year for reliever Craig Kimbrel and lefthander Dallas Keuchel, who is back on the dance floor again this year.

The media attention will be severe in the next week or so as the general managers gather beginning Monday in Arizona. And it will increase during baseball's winter meetings in San Diego in the second week of December.

But given the recent history of slow-developing marketplaces, outside interest in the free agent market will decline a bit later in December if little of substance takes place at the winter meetings.

 

Last year, for instance, when both Bryce Harper and Manny Machado didn't sign until spring training had started, fans -- and media people -- had wearied of guessing where those two were taking their talents, other than saying, "Just take them somewhere."

Here is a brief primer on this year's free agent crop and a look at how it might relate to the Cardinals:

There is a good chance that Strasburg, who opted out of the remaining four years of his deal, which would have paid him $100 million, could return to Washington, and Rendon, too. But to re-sign Rendon might end up costing $35 million a year, and World Series Most Valuable Player Strasburg's deal might start with a "30-something," as, of course, will Cole's.

Cole, 29, would seem to be in play for big-ticket teams on both coasts -- Los Angeles Dodgers and Angels and New York Yankees. But a couple of sleepers could be the Chicago White Sox, who have a load of young talent and who were in the high-stakes bidding for Machado last year, and even San Francisco, which has no staff ace with Madison Bumgarner leaving for free agency.

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