Let the gamesmanship begin

Updated: December 5, 2003, 9:08 AM ET
By Jerry Crasnick | ESPN Insider
The Major League Baseball calendar pinpoints Dec. 7 as the deadline for clubs to offer salary arbitration to their current players who have filed for free agency. Catchy description, huh? Too bad "Pearl Harbor Day" was already taken.

Sunday's deadline won't make U.S. sports fans overlook the Eagles-Cowboys kickoff, but big-league executives are treating it like the New Hampshire primary. We're talking money, intrigue, jockeying for position -- everything but kissing babies at the Dixville Notch diner before voters go to the polls.

Lots of baseball officials cite Sunday's deadline as a big reason why only 22 of 210 free agents have reached agreements so far this winter. The salary arbitration deadline and Dec. 20 non-tender date are a recipe for inertia in the modern baseball era. They're central components in what agent Alan Meersand calls the "glacial mating dance."

The Dec. 7 deadline became part of baseball's labor agreement in 1985 as a way to give teams first crack at players who might go elsewhere through free agency. Five years later, draft-pick compensation became part of the process.

The mechanics work like this:

Jerry Crasnick

ESPN Senior Writer