The MLB offseason is many things: exciting at times, boring at others, and chock full of teams changing teams. What it is more than anything else, though, is a constant source of a seemingly never-ending churn of rumors, most of which don’t come anywhere near fruition for your favorite team. With all of those rumors come various phrases used by the media to describe the state of a team’s interaction with another team, or a player, or a player’s agent. This post is designed to familiarize you with those terms while also clarifying how “hot the stove is” when one of those terms is thrown out there on Twitter or in an article. But, before we get to those media buzzwords, let’s start with the transactional nitty gritty.
Arbitration is the process that players with between three and six years of service time go through each year before free agency. Most players go through three years of arbitration, but some exceptions, known as “Super Two” players due to falling within a certain range of service time, go through four.
Arbitration represents the first big raise of a player’s career; they earn at or near the league minimum for their first three years. Arbitration salaries vary greatly, but all players who go through arbitration receive raises on a year-to-year basis as negotiated by their agent and the team. If the player and team can’t reach agreement on a salary, they go to salary arbitration, where the two salaries being negotiated (with the team’s proposed salary coming in lower—sometimes significantly—than the player’s) are submitted to an independent arbiter, who must pick one of the two salaries, not any value in between.
A vast majority of arbitration-eligible players don’t actually reach the arbitration hearing, but it is a very contentious process for those who do.
Rule 5 Draft
The Rule 5 Draft occurs every year on the last day of the winter meetings in mid-December, and its purpose is to prevent teams from stocking up on young talent in the minor leagues.
Players are eligible if:
1. They were 18 or younger on the June 5th before their signing and this is the fifth Rule 5 draft since their signing
2. They were 19 or older on the June 5th before their signing and this is the fourth Rule 5 draft since their signing
Players selected in the major league portion of the draft are immediately placed on to their new team’s 40-man roster, and must be kept on their new team’s 25-man roster for the entire course of the season, or else they will be returned to their former team. Alternatively, the drafting team can purchase permanent rights to the player, allowing them to be demoted to the minors to further their development.
The Winter Meetings
This is where all of the good stuff of the offseason happens: many trades, signings, and late-night Ken Rosenthal “BREAKING:” tweets occur at the winter meetings, which this year will be held from December 11-14 at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando. Our own Chris Cotillo will be there, so if you’re from the area, say hello!
Now, let’s get to some of those media buzzwords that I hinted at earlier.
Unequivocally the most oft-used and perhaps best of all of the media buzzwords, the Hot Stove is the offseason. The Hot Stove is used to measure how intense the offseason is at that point, and thus it’s at its hottest (I'm talking incendiary) during the Winter Meetings, or whenever Jerry Dipoto decides to come out of nowhere and make a trade.
“Kicking the tires,” “preliminary interest” and “internal discussions”
These three terms essentially mean the same thing: a team is mostly or entirely internally discussing, researching and planning to pursue a free agent or trade, but has not actually begun the discussion process yet. It’s also completely possible that the discussions and research will lead to a GM changing his mind on pursuing a player. Basically, this is the first step of every move and non-move.
“In serious talks” and “progressing on a deal”
This is the next step of the deal-brokering process, whether it’s a team discussing with a free agent or trying to make a trade. At this point, the two sides have gone beyond mere formalities, and there is a legitimate chance that a deal will be consummated. However, this by no means mean that a deal will come into place; nothing has yet been agreed on, and another team could swoop in with a better offer.
“Agreed to terms” and “pending physical”
This is the last step of deals, and the best part for roster freaks like me. This means that there’s basically a 99% chance that a free agent will end up signing with the team that they’ve agreed to terms with. The contract details are all agreed to, the only thing that's left is a physical. For most teams, that’s no big deal, but some teams such as the Orioles have been known to heavily scrutinize physicals, having modified or scuttling deals on multiple occasions in the past few years.
“Deal is official”
Everything’s done! The trade or free agent signing has been announced by the team or teams, badly-photoshopped photos of players in their new gear has been Tweeted out by the team’s social media accounts, and if the player is prominent enough, there will be a press conference in the coming days. Generally, there’ll be a couple days after “agreed to terms” for the deal to be official, but sometimes teams get through that process very quickly and/or secretly and announce a signing before the media even has a chance to break the news of a deal being in place.