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Another slow offseason creeps into February

With fewer moves than expected, White Sox have plenty of company

MLB: Chicago White Sox-Workout
Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks.
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to February. SoxFest has come and gone. Pitchers and catchers report in two weeks. Still, the White Sox haven’t made a major move since the winter meetings.

In fact, the Sox have only made two moves with MLB implications over the last eight weeks:

  • Dec. 14: Signed Derek Holland for one year, $6 million.
  • Jan. 10: Signed Geovany Soto to a minor league contract.

I suppose you could lump the Willy Garcia-Jason Coats roster exchange as something mildly intriguing (although there aren’t any ramifications since Coats tore his UCL on the day the Rays claimed him), but it shouldn’t affect any spring training battles.

It’s all quiet on the trade fronts, too. There hasn’t been any further movement with Jose Quintana, and one rumor that bubbled up in the Boston Globe over the weekend — David Robertson to the Blue Jays? — was downplayed by Ken Rosenthal, not to mention Toronto’s signing of J.P. Howell.

It’s the second such slow winter for the White Sox, but it’s only because they’re far from alone. The Twins still have Brian Dozier. The Rays still have Chris Archer. The Tigers haven’t done anything in either direction, and it’s gotten to the point that our friends at Bless You Boys sound the slightest bit Bourjealous.

Granted, this offseason still left the 2015-16 winter in the dust. That was the more frustrating one — Dexter Fowler didn’t sign until the back half of February, and Ian Desmond closed out the qualifying-offer free agents at the end of it, and the White Sox were among several teams that could have used either player.

This year, all the free agents with draft picks attached are all off the board. There are still a number of useful players that haven’t found a home, but a big chunk of them are first basemen/designated hitters, which explains that segment of the market. There are so many bodies for so few spots that Chris Carter is looking at playing in Japan after a 41-homer season with the Brewers last year. If you want a righty, there’s Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds. If you want a lefty, you have Justin Morneau, Pedro Alvarez and Adam Lind.

Looking around the rest of the diamond, it’s a little weird that it’s been so quiet around Angel Pagan and Chase Utley, and Matt Wieters’ (former?) Orioles teammates are miffed about his current status. Mark Trumbo, who came away with a smaller contract than he’d hoped/many feared, said he feared this might be a future of free agency:

Trumbo, who came out free agency with a three-year, $38.5 million contract in the place he said he wanted to stay all along, said it could be signaling a troubling trend around the game. While the new collective bargaining agreement will make it less prohibitive to sign free agents who reject qualifying offers, teams continue to put an emphasis on player development and grooming their own dynamic, cost-controlled young stars instead of paying for older ones.

“I wouldn’t say I’m thrilled about where things are going, I guess, for free agents,” Trumbo said Friday. “I don’t want to say Type B free agents, but some of the guys who aren’t quite as elite. There are still some guys fighting for jobs who are very high level major league players that bring a heck of a lot to the table, and they’re forced to look at one-year, incentive-laden contracts for a fairly low dollar amount, considering the type of seasons they put up.

He ceded that he might have been a victim of too many similar players, but if these last two offseasons are part of an overcorrection among baseball GMs, I wonder what it’ll take to swing it back to the middle.

Off the top of my head, there are a number of elements missing from past spending sprees:

A win-now Yankees team: For obvious reasons.

A win-now Phillies team: In their heyday, they solved problems aggressively and left overlong commitments as problems for Tomorrow Guy. Philadelphia’s a big-market team that is acting small to dig out from its mess.

Los Angeles teams with no payroll ceiling: Albert Pujols has altered the Angels’ reality, and the Dodgers plan to pare down starting in 2018.

Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox on separate teams: I’m not sure if Al Avila is terribly different from Dombrowski, or if he’s just more willing to accept ownership limitations, but putting a guy of Dombrowski’s mindset in an already-aggressive franchise is redundant.

Mark Shapiro in a small market: He’s taken his conservative approach to Toronto, running things far differently from when Alex Anthopoulos won winters and turned the Blue Jays into an entertaining offense-first monster.

An impulsive Diamondbacks front office: It was fun to knock Arizona, but the market is richer when it has that element of unpredictability. Let’s hope the Rockies don’t go anywhere.

Favorable windows for smaller markets: The Royals and Pirates are trying to avoid a major setback in 2018 and 2019 without ruining their chances for 2017, and the Rays, Twins, Brewers and Reds don’t have the immediate designs of years past.

Some of these things will eventually be corrected. The Yankees will unleash their spending power again, the NL East could be another war zone once the Phillies and Braves install their new cores, and Jerry Dipoto’s hyperactive Mariners could force the Astros to get more aggressive. But front offices are also getting smarter, and if the apples on the Shapiro branch don’t fall far from the tree, more teams might be inherently cost-conscious.

Until some of these things swing back, it makes me wonder whether the midseason trade arena isn’t as limited as we once thought. A small-market team like Cleveland had no problem ponying up when its goal was more projectable, and until the straw-stirrers return to the table, more teams might be content to take what they have into April, and only think about emptying out the tank when they can better ensure a postseason run.

I’m just spitballing here, so feel free to shoot down/beef up my notions. I used to have to start dipping into these thought exercises and other evergreen ideas by early January. Now, truck day already sneaked past everybody.