MLB Free Agency Primer: Key Dates, Biggest Storylines, Bold Prediction

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Hell might have frozen over when the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, but Major League Baseball’s hot stove is about to catch fire.

The MLB offseason officially is underway, and with the general manager meetings beginning Monday in Scottsdale, Ariz., expect all 30 clubs to waste little time in preparing for the 2017 season.

With the start of the offseason comes the start of free agency, which should see plenty of intrigue with a host of big names available on the market. Here’s everything you need to know about this offseason’s free-agent scene.

KEY DATES
Nov. 7: Deadline for teams to make $17.2 million qualifying offer to eligible free agents.
Nov. 7-10: GM meetings in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Nov. 8: Free agency officially begins.
Nov. 14: Deadline for eligible free agents to accept or reject qualifying offers.
Nov. 18: Deadline for teams to add eligible prospects to the 40-man roster, protecting them from the Rule 5 draft.
Dec. 1: Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires.
Dec. 2: The “non-tender deadline,” when pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players not offered contracts become free agents.
Dec. 5-8: MLB Winter Meetings in Washington, D.C.
Dec. 8: The Rule 5 draft.
Mid-February: Spring training begins.

THREE BIGGEST STORYLINES
1. Big-name relievers commanding big-money contracts.
This postseason above all else stressed the importance of having an ace reliever, and there are plenty on the market this offseason. Stud closers Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon all are free agents, and there’s a possibility the Cleveland Indians trade Andrew Miller. The price will be steep for this elite crop, but expect wannabe contenders to open their wallets in the hopes of putting their teams over the top, much in the way the Cubs and Indians did at last season’s trade deadline.

2. Which starting pitchers will be overpaid in a shallow market?
Simply put, the cupboard for elite starting pitchers is bare. But there’s always a need for pitching, meaning mid-tier guys like Rich Hill, Ivan Nova, Jeremy Hellickson and Andrew Cashner could earn themselves big paydays. Will teams like the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox overpay for an arm to make much-needed rotation improvements? Will a club break the bank to acquire ace Chris Sale in a trade from the Chicago White Sox? We’ll soon find out.

3. Who will win the slugger sweepstakes?
The offseason’s best free agents all have plenty of pop: Yoenis Cespedes arguably is the top free agent on the market, while Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo aren’t far behind. Middle-of-the-lineup power is a hot commodity these days, and we can think of a few teams that will be looking especially hard at designated hitters or big bats in the outfield. Trumbo could stay put, but there’s a very good chance Cespedes and Encarnacion sign high-profile contracts elsewhere.

ONE BOLD PREDICTION
The White Sox trade Chris Sale to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
You could make the case Sale is the best starter in baseball, and this year’s poor free-agent market gives the White Sox tons of leverage in potential trade talks. Chicago will get flooded with offers, and after four consecutive losing seasons, the club finally will deal a guy who isn’t on the best terms with White Sox management. The Dodgers send Chicago a host of prospects and team Sale with ace Clayton Kershaw for L.A.’s World Series push.

Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images

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