FOR FOUR DAYS in early November, baseball executives paraded in and out of Suite 6048 at the Omni La Costa Resort and Spa. They had gathered in Carlsbad, California, for the annual GM meetings, and nearly every organization sent at least one representative to the villa to meet with agent Scott Boras and his team of lieutenants. Executives entered Boras' room hoping to gauge the temperature of a most unusual free-agent period. They left wondering how much of what he said was true. Because if it was, baseball was about to have a November unlike any they'd ever seen.
The market, the executives were told, could move fast -- especially for Boras clients Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Max Scherzer. Baseball was barreling toward a lockout that could shutter the sport for months, and the prevailing wisdom was that the majority of the top-end free agents would wait until after a new deal was in place to sign. Boras was turning that wisdom on its head, and that notion divided those who left 6048. Some rolled their eyes and figured Boras was posturing. Others rolled up their sleeves -- and believed they had three weeks to remake the entire landscape of baseball.
If Boras was telling the truth -- if Seager, Semien and Scherzer really were going to move before the collective bargaining agreement expired at 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 1 -- they wouldn't be the only ones. The entire industry would undulate in response. Other players who hadn't intended to sign pre-lockout would. The ripple effect could be exponential.
For all the skepticism, Boras had done this before. Two years ago, he told teams that his three prized clients -- Stephen Strasburg, Gerrit Cole and Anthony Rendon -- planned on signing during the 2019 winter meetings. Over a 72-hour period, they received a combined $814 million guaranteed. It invigorated, at least for a short while, a baseball offseason that in recent years had devolved into a painful, slogging bore. It was also, it turns out, merely a prelude for what 2021 would deliver.
About three weeks after those meetings in Carlsbad, around 4 p.m. ET on Nov. 28, the lucrative, unpredictable day that would change the game began. Five players -- including all three of Boras' top clients -- would sign deals that guaranteed them more than $100 million, and another would breach the nine-figure threshold in the middle of the next night. In just 24 hours, teams lavished nearly a billion dollars on seven players.
In hindsight, the frenzy makes some kind of sense, according to more than 20 industry sources who spoke with ESPN to offer the clearest picture of how the game's billion-dollar day came together. It was the perfect confluence, they said, of superior talent, urgency created by an artificial deadline, uncharacteristic aggressiveness from non-playoff teams and the paradoxical reality that a labor fight about money spurred a never-before-seen distribution of wealth.
This is the story of the wildest 24 hours in the history of baseball free agency.