According to MLB Trade Rumors, there have been some changes to the off-season dates for free agency and arbitration decisions:
-Players can file for free agency five days after the end of the World Series, rather than 15 days. This basically adds ten days to the free agency period, although I doubt this will accomplish much. Moves aren’t usually made until the time the Winter Meetings come around, and in the last two years a lot of players haven’t been signed until January. Adding time before the winter meetings doesn’t seem to solve the problem, unless the winter meetings were also moved up.
-The deadline for teams to offer arbitration to their own free agents is now November 23rd, rather than the former date of December 1st. This actually will help speed up free agency, as teams will know sooner what sort of compensation, if any, they will have to provide if they sign a particular free agent.
-Likewise, the new deadline for players to accept arbitration is now November 30th, rather than December 7th. One of the reasons free agent signings wouldn’t begin until the Winter Meetings is due to the old deadline being so close to the winter meetings. Any players offered arbitration had two choices: accept arbitration for a raise over their previous year’s salary, or decline arbitration and hope to get a better deal on the market. By moving these dates up, you speed up free agency by at least a week.
-December 2nd is the new non-tender deadline. The old deadline was December 12th. I’ve argued that this needs to be moved up to the same date as the Rule 5 draft. The Pirates have a big roster crunch this off-season, mostly due to the Rule 5 draft. They also have players they will non-tender, such as Zach Duke, although they will probably hold on to those players until the non-tender deadline, in an attempt to trade the players. That removes one possible roster spot that could be used to protect Rule 5 eligible players.
On the other hand, with the non-tender deadline being after the deadline for players to accept arbitration, teams have a chance to assess the market before making any decisions on their own players. For example, a team may consider non-tendering a player, then realize that the free agent market doesn’t provide any better options, making a tender offer the best option for the team.
-Speaking of the Rule 5 draft, MLBTR had an unconfirmed rumor that the Rule 5 draft would be moved to November 20th. That’s a big change, as the scheduled date right now is December 9th. The deadline to protect players right now is November 20th. If the Rule 5 draft was moved up, it would only be assumed that the deadline to protect players would be moved up, so that teams could have some time to evaluate who was available for the draft.
One advantage to moving the Rule 5 draft up is that it protects the teams from losing players. Currently, the Rule 5 draft comes after the deadline for players to accept arbitration, and after the new deadline to non-tender players. That means teams will have more room on their 40-man rosters to make a pick. If you move the draft up to November 20th, teams will still have potential non-tender candidates on their roster, making it less likely for teams to draft a Rule 5 player.