The slow burn of free agency in recent years has become the norm, with players and clubs dancing with each other throughout the offseason before ultimately matching up.
But once in a while, a team and a player match up so easily, the signing gets done before the calendar turns to December. Last year, CC Sabathia, Steve Pearce, Kurt Suzuki, Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann all signed free-agent deals by Nov. 26.
Who might be this year’s early signees? Here’s a look at seven candidates (listed alphabetically, with ages as of Opening Day 2020):
José Abreu, 1B, age 33
Abreu received a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the White Sox, though whether he accepts it or not, it appears the first baseman is destined to return to the South Side. Earlier this season, GM Rick Hahn said it’s “certainly very likely” that Abreu would be back with the White Sox in 2020 and beyond, while the soon-to-be 33-year-old has expressed his desire to continue playing in Chicago.
Abreu could accept the qualifying offer before next week’s deadline, though the more likely scenario is that he and the White Sox will work out a two- or three-year deal.
Brett Gardner, OF, age 36
Gardner just completed a one-year, $7.5 million deal with the Yankees, the 12th year in the Bronx for the longest-tenured member of the club. There were major questions about whether the Yankees would want to bring him back in 2020, but Aaron Hicks’ Tommy John surgery opened the door for Gardner to return. According to a source, the team and Gardner have started negotiations on a new contract.
Gardner is 36, but he just finished arguably the most productive season of his career, reaching career highs in home runs (28), RBIs (74), slugging percentage (.503) and OPS (.829), while his 117 OPS+ is his best in a full season. Gardner seems to want to continue playing, and he’s shown no indication that he wants to play anywhere else. Expect another one-year deal to be worked out to keep him in pinstripes.
Cole Hamels, LHP, age 36
Hamels did not receive a qualifying offer from the Cubs, opening the door for the southpaw to sign sooner than he might have otherwise.