Lindbergh: Spring training for free agents has happened before

From SABR member Ben Lindbergh at The Ringer on January 31, 2018:

Last week, an unidentified hacker gained control of the San Diego Padres’ Instagram and Twitter accounts. Armed with access to hundreds of thousands of long-suffering fans, the hacker sent out multiple messages that, taken together, strongly suggested that San Diego had signed Eric Hosmer, the free-agent first baseman who’s been linked to the team in repeated rumors this month.

In the annals of allegedly hacked tweets, a false free-agent signing doesn’t rate very high on the scandal scale. In the context of this winter’s baseball market, though, the news of a notable signing was so surprising that a hacked account was the likeliest explanation. The biggest story in the sport is the lack of activity that’s come to characterize an offseason in which Hosmer is one of many high-profile free agents who’ve been waiting, week after week, for contracts that haven’t come.

Data from’s transaction logs, which go back to 2001 (and were gathered and provided for this article by Nick Jones), show that with only a couple of days remaining in January, the number of free agents signed to major league contracts since the start of November is far lower than in any previous November-January period over that 17-year span. Data from Baseball-Reference, meanwhile, confirms that the number of available free agents per offseason has held steady. The players are out there; teams simply aren’t signing them. Baseball’s offseason, which started with a historically slow first month, has hardly heated up.


Last Friday, Yahoo Sports columnist Jeff Passan reported that a number of players “have discussed the possibility of staging a free agent training camp to mimic their typical spring work.” To most active players (and, perhaps, fans), that concept must sound like a novel solution to an unprecedented problem. But baseball, the Bible, and Battlestar Galactica remind us that most seemingly extraordinary occurrences have happened before. Baseball’s first spring training for free agents took place 23 years ago. And while the still-singular event served its planned purpose, those who were there hope it won’t have to happen again.

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Originally published: January 31, 2018. Last Updated: January 31, 2018.