The baseball equipment and uniforms have been packed, the trucks are rolling on the highways, and in just a few days, spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona.
While local TV crews have breathlessly showed clips and soundbites of team equipment trucks leaving their snowy cities, something is mysteriously missing.
Ah, yes, the players.
There still are more than 90 unemployed free agents on the market today, including a pair of 26-year-old stars – Bryce Harper and Manny Machado – who have nowhere to go, waiting for someone to offer the kind of mega-deal that was almost commonplace a few years ago.
The market freeze has left agents furious, players exasperated, fans frustrated, with tension rising between the players and owners, threatening a work stoppage in 2021.
“We think it’s bad for the players, the fans, and the game," said Bruce Meyer, senior director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, “being this close to the beginning of the season and having so many fanbases not even knowing who’s going to be on their teams."
Major League Baseball argues that this has been the new norm, saying that 45% of the free-agent class was unsigned at this time in 2015-16, and 62% a year ago. This winter, 52% of the free agents remain unsigned, leaving all but a few signing minor-league contracts or forced into retirement.
“All things being equal," said Dan Halem, Major League Baseball deputy commissioner, “we would like to have players sign earlier in the offseason. Teams can announce signings and create fan interest. But in our market, there are no parameters when players need to sign by.