Waiting For Shohei: Mlb Free-Agent Market Slow As Ohtani Mulls Big Money

Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo responds to questions during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo responds to questions during the Major League Baseball winter meetings Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Baseball is waiting for Shohei.

Big-name free agents appear in no hurry to strike deals at the winter meetings, biding time until Shohei Ohtani potentially breaks the record for richest contract set 4 1/2 years ago by Mike Trout.

And Japanese free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto could be holding up the starting pitching market.

“It's probably a little slower from a conversation standpoint at a winter meetings than it normally would,” New York Mets president of baseball operations David Stearns said Monday. “A possibility is that, yeah, the top of the free-agent market hasn't moved yet, and often it takes the top of the free-agent market moving for the rest of the dominoes to fall.”

Ohtani, the two-way unicorn who has won two of the last three AL MVP awards for the Los Angeles Angels, is expected to get a deal topping $500 million — even though he won't pitch again until 2025 following elbow surgery.

Trout's contract was for $426.5 million over 12 years.

There was no sign at the winter meetings of Nez Balelo, Ohtani's representative at the Creative Artists Agency, a contrast to the many other agents working the vast lobbies and suites of the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center for talks involving their clients.

Behind Ohtani in the hitters free-agent pecking order are Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman, both represented by the sport's biggest agent, Scott Boras. Among starting pitchers, the market includes Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery, also represented by Boras.

Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants' president of baseball operations, would like a faster pace to offseason negotiations.

“Been talking to some people today about how there’s some conversation about having a deadline for multi-year deals in the last CBA," he said. “Your business people who want to sell tickets and capitalize on fan excitement have less time to do that when those deals happen in January than November or December.”

Toronto general manager Ross Atkins, like Balelo, may be offsite. His briefing with Blue Jays writers was shifted on short notice to Zoom, with Atkins citing scheduling conflicts.

While San Diego slugger Juan Soto has been the biggest name mentioned in trade talks, the first deal announced in Nashville was a less prominent swap. The Atlanta Braves acquired outfielder Jarred Kelenic, pitcher Marco Gonzales and infielder Evan White from the Seattle Mariners late Sunday for right-handed pitchers Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar. Seattle is sending Atlanta $4.5 million on Aug. 1, offsetting part of the $29 million Gonzales and White are guaranteed.

Seattle dealt third baseman Eugenio Suárez to Arizona last month for reliever Carlos Vargas and catcher Seby Zavala.

“If you look at the trade and kind of where our team is at as we try to build it out going forward into 2024 and 2025, you needed some flexibility,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said. “That’s probably what forced the trade as much as anything.”

Milwaukee finalized an $82 million, eight-year contract with 19-year-old outfield prospect Jackson Chourio, the most money guaranteed to a player with no big league experience — excluding Japanese professionals,

“There’s definitely a little bit of pressure on this, but I’m just going to work really hard,” Chourio said through a translator. “This money is not going to change me. If something changes, it definitely will be for the better.”

Milwaukee also agreed to an $8.5 million, one-year contract to retain left-hander Wade Miley, a deal that includes a 2025 mutual option and could be worth $24 million over two seasons.

“He means so much to a team. He’s incredible in the clubhouse. He’s a guy who makes others better,” new Brewers manager Pat Murphy said. “He’s going to make other pitchers better.”

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AP Sports Writer Teresa M. Walker contributed to this report.

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