Baseball's New Free-Agency Rules Will Lead to All Kinds of Moves This Offseason Baseball’s hot stove has produced more hype than headlines the past few offseasons. This year will be different.

By changing the free-agency rules, Major League Baseball has made getting deals done easier. Teams no longer have an exclusive 15-day negotiating window to negotiate with their own players after the World Series ends. The window has been contracted to five days, so free agents can talk to any team 10 days earlier than they could before.

The deadline for teams to offer salary arbitration to free agents and keep draft-pick compensation is Nov. 23. The deadline for free agents to accept arbitration is Nov. 30. The last day for teams to tender contracts to players under reserve is Dec. 2. And nontendered players become free agents.

Players, agents and general managers are salivating at the possibilities.

The World Series begins on Oct. 27 this postseason. Game 7 (if necessary) would be on Nov. 4. That means free agency begins when the clock strikes midnight Nov. 9, at the latest.

With the MLB winter meetings beginning Dec. 6 in Orlando, teams will have close to a month to orchestrate deals with free agents. They can do all the heavy lifting before arriving in the Sunshine State, then just cross the T’s, dot the I’s and announce the deal at Disney World.

The last two years, little got done at the winter meetings because the period between the end of the World Series and start of free agency didn’t offer enough time to strike a deal. As a result, the buzz emanating from the annual gathering of movers and shakers sounded more like crickets than roaring lions.

This year, the winter meetings will get back to resembling the wild kingdom.

The list of available and potential free agents might be lacking in superstar depth, but there still are some compelling names (Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth). Blockbuster trades also are an option.

The work already has begun. While the Rangers, Yankees, Giants and Phillies battle for glory, the other 26 teams focus on 2011.

Major League Baseball didn’t change the rules out of the goodness of its heart. The current labor agreement expires Dec. 11, 2011, and MLB wanted to extend an olive branch to the players’ union before the next round of bargaining begins. As we’ve seen in the NFL and NBA, when it comes time to talk about dollars and cents, maintaining labor peace can be difficult.

Nobody wants a lockout in baseball, and the new rules are a first step to preventing one from happening.

The next step is keeping fan interest. The best way for clubs to do that is shake up their rosters in the winter to provide hope in the spring.

Once the last pitch of the 2010 baseball season is thrown, the hot stove will start cooking. Don’t be surprised to hear the same two words over and over again until February: done deal.


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