The freedom of baseball free agency becomes more of a reality Saturday, the first day players can sign with teams other than their former clubs. At Friday's deadline to present qualifying offers to players that were with their clubs for the entirety of 2012, nine (going on eight) players still had a decision to make regarding that would-be former club -- whether to accept a one-year offer of $13.3 million or reject it and enter the free agent market. Other than that, it's a free-for-all for free agents as of six days after the conclusion of the World Series, per the new rules in baseball's Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Those players who were presented with qualifying offers Friday will mull that decision to different degrees. David Ortiz already was reported to have agreed on a two-year agreement to remain with the Red Sox, while Josh Hamilton probably doesn't have to think too hard on that one, even if he returns to the Rangers eventually. A few others present intriguing possibilities, but if they don't agree by next Friday to that one-year deal, then they'll go into the pool of free agents. That pool of players grew in the five days since free agency began at the conclusion of the World Series with several teams declining options on players for 2013, or vice-versa, so on Saturday there were more than 160 Major League free agents on the market and eligible to be signed by any club. Perhaps no team has as many free-agency issues as the Yankees, who have 13 free agents that finished the 2012 season on their roster and a few positions to address. They made qualifying offers to starter Hiroki Kuroda, reliever Rafael Soriano and outfielder Nick Swisher to at least cover potential compensation, but more than that remains up in the air. Picking up 2013 options on Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson confirmed another $30 million chunk to the Yankees' payroll for next season, and closer Mariano Rivera said on Saturday he plans to return in 2013. But the pinstriped future of catcher Russell Martin is an uncertainty as free agency begins in earnest. While anything resembling their 2009 foray into the market isn't likely to be repeated, the Yankees figure to be a factor somehow in this free-agency season after falling short to the Tigers in the American League Championship Series. "Some years, obviously, we have more success than others, but you can count on us trying to stay in it to win it," Yankees GM Brian Cashman said as the offseason began. Under the new rules for free agency in the CBA, a number of decisions immediately after the World Series have made this winter an active one from the very beginning, particularly compared to the 10-day lull that used to be the norm. Take the Angels, for example. Last year's surprise big spender in free agency traded Ervin Santana to the Royals earlier this week and declined to pick up the $15.5 million option on right-hander Dan Haren on Friday, when they also declined to present Torii Hunter with a qualifying offer. Hunter made $18 million in the final year of a five-year deal with them in 2012, and no qualifying offer means they get no compensation pick in next June's Draft. It's well known that the Angels would like to use some of that money to sign Zack Greinke, the top pitcher on the market. They had no opportunity to make a qualifying offer to him, because he'd only been with the club since a midseason trade, but the Angels have made no secret of their desire to bring him back for the long term. Of course, now Greinke can look at all the options available to him for the first time in his career. He had signed an extension with the Royals before being traded to the Brewers and then again to the Angels. From their AL West rivals the Rangers to their neighbors the Dodgers the Angels know there will be other teams in on the top arm among free agents. "I don't think you're ever out of the market for starting pitching," Texas GM Jon Daniels said. Hamilton, likewise, is expected to get attention from several possible suitors, including the Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles, Mariners, Cubs, Astros and Brewers. One of those clubs, or the Rangers themselves, will pony up a lot more in term and value, so the qualifying offer was more of a formality than anything, ensuring the Rangers would get a compensatory Draft pick if Hamilton signs elsewhere. That's what the Yankees will get if any one of their trio signs with another club, ditto the Braves with Michael Bourn, the Nationals with Adam LaRoche, the Cardinals with Kyle Lohse and the Rays with B.J. Upton. With Ortiz all but signed, it looks like the Red Sox don't have to worry about losing him. With Friday's deadline having passed and Saturday's green light, only a few questions of compensation remain this year, so there is more of a head start to free agency than in the past. More to the point, there will be very little standing in the way for a free-agent frenzy as the offseason heads into its first full week. As of Saturday, free agency becomes real, and the signings figure to start popping up real soon.
John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.