Slugger Aaron Judge is a key free agent holding up much of the action in baseball’s hot stove season. LM Otero/Associated Press

There’s a logjam holding up the Major League Baseball offseason. The final days of November arrived with very few free agents off the board. In fact, every single Boston Red Sox free agent remained unsigned as of Monday.

That could all change soon. The MLB Winter Meetings begin Sunday in San Diego, the first time the meetings are being held in person since 2019. Holding meetings in person doesn’t guarantee action, but the gathering of every team’s top baseball officials under one roof usually gets the hot stove going.

Those meetings begin with two key free agents holding up the action. Aaron Judge, coming off a landmark season that saw him break the American League record with 62 home runs, has been talking to teams about his future. It’s stunning to imagine the 30-year-old leaving the Yankees, but that’s where we stand after he turned down New York’s offer of $230 million last April. Judge bet on himself, and is going to win big.

Judge is in line for one of the biggest contracts in baseball history. Until he gets it, other big-name free agents are in limbo. There’s a generational class of shortstops available, a group that includes Boston’s Xander Bogaerts. They’re not going anywhere until Judge sets the top end of the market.

It’s no different on the pitching side, where Jacob deGrom is leading the class this offseason. At 34, he won’t get the years or money that Judge will earn, but the two-time Cy Young Award winner is in high demand. His contract will eclipse the shorter deal that will go to Justin Verlander, who is coming off his third Cy Young but is a 5 years older than deGrom.

Every offseason is a game of musical chairs. Players sort through offers of varying value and duration, while teams pursue multiple courses of action. Teams head into the winter with a plan in mind but then must adjust as players come off the board and the landscape shifts.


The biggest shift will come when Judge signs. Only a handful of teams will be talking to the home-run king, but all teams will be watching closely to see when his deal gets done.

“A lot of stuff doesn’t kick in until the Winter Meetings in December,” Judge said after winning the AL MVP award. Baseball’s 30 general managers are hoping the meetings kick-start Judge’s decision so they can get on with their lives.

That includes the Red Sox, who maintain that signing Bogaerts is the biggest priority of their offseason. Yet they, too, are waiting for the former Yankee to land somewhere before they can get on with their plans.

They’ve been very quiet so far, other than signing reliever Joely Rodriguez to a one-year deal. Sox fans, hoping for a blockbuster signing to kick off the winter, weren’t overwhelmed by the signing of Rodriguez and his lifetime ERA of 4.56. Yet Chaim Bloom knows he has to add as many arms as possible to a bullpen that was a major weakness in 2022. He’s not worried about the PR benefits of a signing. He’s looking for any bullpen help he can find.

There was other business to tend to, like the reported move of Ramón Vázquez from first base coach to bench coach, where he will replace Will Venable. Once announced, it will be another sign that the business of baseball continues even though some of the game’s biggest players remain unsigned.

One of the benefits of the slow start to the free-agent signing season is that things could move quickly once top players find a new home. We’ve seen that in the past, when a quiet start to December gives way to a furious few weeks of signings and trades.

For now, Red Sox fans are left imagining what will happen. They’re not alone. Executives from all 30 teams will head to southern California this weekend hoping to put an end to this hot stove season’s cold start.

Tom Caron is a studio host for the Red Sox broadcast on NESN. His column appears in the Portland Press Herald on Tuesdays.

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