The hot stove league is the lifeblood of baseball fans from November through February. Fans who just can’t get enough baseball eagerly follow the rumors and speculation as to just what might happen next. Some even invent rumors of their own and exchange them with other fans. In short, baseball fans need baseball 24/7, and the hot stove league brings them a little warmth during the cold of winter.
Hot Stove League: Just Chillin"
In recent years, though, there has been a big drop-off in activity in November and December. So far, the 2020 offseason is no exception. In fact, here is a list of the names most baseball fans would recognize who have been signed or traded since the end of the Winter Meetings: Greg Holland and Hunter Renfroe. Yep, that"s it, fans. Each signed a one year deal, for a total salary of less than $6,000,000. With all due respect to Holland and Renfroe, do these signings scream out Hot Stove League to anybody?
In fact, other than the two signings above, there have been a total of seven transactions, mostly involving minor leaguers. As we are in mid-December, this is a ridiculously low volume of action. Consider also that more players were dumped into free agency when teams non-tendered a fair amount of contracts on December 2nd. What"s the deal here?
Hot Stove League: Where"s The Action?
There are several reasons for the slow pace of transactions during MLB"s offseason. Many of them are financial in nature, as discussed here. Owners lost large amounts of money in the shortened 2020 season. They have to be looking at the 2021 season with these financial considerations in mind. Not to mention that there is still much uncertainty about the 2021 season. Will there be a full season? Will there be fans in the stands? At this point, there are more questions than answers, and that may be the case until well into January.
There is precedent for a slow free-agent period. In the 2018/19 period, deals moved at a snail"s pace. Several players were critical of the process, such as J.D. Martinez. Former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel was not signed until after the season had started. Well-known agent Scott Boras also chimed in with his rather predictable thoughts. The 2019/20 free agency period was very similar to the 2018/19 period. Many players waited through most of the winter before being able to find what they deemed to be fair contracts.
Sadly, the current offseason is following the same trend. Complicated by the issues listed above, players may well be in a holding pattern well into the new year. Much to the chagrin of hardcore fans, the hot stove league has gone ice cold. This is despite the presence of several top-tier free agents. These names include George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, and Trevor Bauer, among others. Where they will sign is anybody"s guess, and there are many rumors about each. They are just though: rumors. Until one or all of these players signs, it is all just speculation.
Hot Stove League: Adding To The Fire
Aside from the free-agents who are waiting out the market, trades are always possible. There again, there is resistance by some teams to part with hot young prospects. This is fueled, in part, by the fear of prospects blossoming with other teams, leaving a scar on the original team. White Sox fans are still bitter about the Fernando Tatis, Jr. trade. Then again, they are still laughing at their crosstown rivals, the Cubs for the Jose Quintana trade. Every team"s fans have been on both sides of these trades. Still, it is fun to think about for fans of all teams (except maybe the Dodgers).
So far though in terms of trades, there have been very few during this offseason. The most noteworthy of these was the Lance Lynn trade the White Sox made with the Rangers. This one trade does not raise the heat on the hot stove league though. It got the attention of White Sox and Ranger fans but did not cause any tremors around the whole of MLB. It will take more than a Lance Lynn to get fans excited. How about a Mike Trout to the Orioles trade? Or, maybe Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna to the Giants? Or, Aaron Judge to the Mariners? Now those are trades would raise the temperature of the hot stove league.
Hot Stove League: Moving The Dial
All speculation aside, it looks like we will be stuck on simmer for a while. Teams don"t seem to be in a hurry, and players are not going to rush to give away any more money. It looks like any fans who were hoping for a surprise under the tree will instead find a lump of coal in their stockings. (Although Garrett Cole would be a nice surprise).
Fans can still dream though, and we all know is that dreams are what keep us going. Speaking of dreams, maybe we will see some action sooner than later. If we don"t, maybe it"s time to change the name of the hot stove league to the cold stove league? Can somebody check the pilot light on that stove?
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