24 Nov 2021 | 09:01
The MLB hot stove is up and running this month — there have been some significant signings already — but that could come to a halt when the current collective bargaining agreement ends on Dec. 1. If there is a lockout, trades and free-agent negotiations will stop until a new deal between the players and owners is hammered out.
Until then, it’s business as usual — at least that’s what the general managers were saying at their meetings in California recently.
In that vein, we polled 20 team executives and MLB insiders from across both leagues about free-agent landing spots and who’s likely to get moved in trades this offseason. Voters were assured anonymity and were given the option to skip any questions that hit too close to home.
Here’s how they voted — and what they had to say about their picks.
Javy Baez: Mets 10, Astros 3, Rangers 3, Cubs 2, Mariners 2
Carlos Correa: Tigers 10, Rangers 6, Yankees 3, Astros 1
Corey Seager: Yankees 12, Tigers 4, Rangers 2, Dodgers 2
Marcus Semien: Mariners 8, Tigers 5, Rangers 4, Blue Jays 3
Trevor Story: Rangers 8, Tigers 5, Astros 3, Yankees 2, Mariners 2
Though in most cases there were clear majorities for where these stars would play in 2022, most respondents weren’t very sure of their answers. They hedged their bets, mentioning more than one team for several players, though we counted only the top choice for each. The teams looking for a shortstop don’t seem to be up for debate, but there were plenty of conflicting thoughts on who ends up where.
“Everyone assumes AJ Hinch and Correa will be reunited in Detroit, but don’t count out Texas,” one voter said. “They need to build around someone and think they’ll draw well at their new stadium if they have a star or two. Winning won’t happen right away, and Correa is young enough to be part of whatever they build.”
“The Yankees need Seager,” another voter said. “They can’t add another right-handed bat when a lefty-hitting shortstop is staring at them. It makes too much sense. And we know he can handle the spotlight after playing in Los Angeles. I pick him as the guy least fazed by accepting a huge free-agent contract to play in New York.”
“I think a Javy Baez reunion with the Cubs could happen if Baez wants to reenter the market in a year,” another voter said. “But if he’s willing to stay at second base, then the Mets make all the sense in the world.”
Carlos Correa (unanimous) — Average answer: 10 years, $304 million
This was a unanimous choice, perhaps because he’s the youngest of the group. Though he’s had some injuries, voters overlooked any of those issues while offering up huge contract numbers. The highest was $350 million over 12 years, while the lowest came in at eight years, $250 million.
“His size makes him a perfect fit to move over to third base eventually,” one voter said.
“He picked a good year to win the Gold and Platinum gloves,” said another voter. “You’ll get that during his peak years here, but no one can predict where his defense will be as he ages. Third base will be a good option as he enters his mid-30s.”
The two Oakland players dominated this question, as the A’s have signaled to other teams they are open for business. Most respondents who chose Chapman as their No.1 choice mentioned Olson, and vice versa. People are convinced at least one will be moved. A few thought it was now or never for Buxton and the Twins: Either sign him to a long-term deal this offseason or trade him.
“The A’s will be smart about this and dangle their players with more than a year before free agency as to maximize their return or simply hold off on a deal until they hear the right thing,” one voter said. “There is no immediate urgency other than any payroll concerns.”
“Chapman’s OPS+ has gone down each of the last four years, but he can still pick it at third,” another voter said. “The thing about both [A’s] players is their age makes them right for a rebuild or a ready-now team.”
The question was asked before the Tigers signed Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year deal, so they’re off to a good start. Most believe they’ll get a shortstop in addition to any pitching they acquire. The steps they took in 2021 under Hinch have led them to believe they’re getting very close to contending in a weak American League Central — though that description could change in 2022. “The Tigers have always been willing to spend under their ownership, so it’s not a surprise that [Chairman] Chris Ilitch is indicating it’s time they do again,” one voter said. “They think they hit a home run with Hinch running the club. Maybe they have.”
“Texas just seems ready to do something,” said another voter. “Their attendance was surprisingly good in 2021. And they have some pieces to build around in [Adolis] Garcia as well as some young pitching. They’re not ready to contend, but I can see them taking some steps forward this offseason.”
If the vote seems lopsided, it’s probably because Verlander is getting past his injury problems after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2021, while voters were a little unsure of Kershaw’s situation. He missed this year’s postseason with left elbow/forearm issues, while Verlander has been declared healthy and has already signed back with Houston. Syndergaard has signed with the Angels, but no voters chose him over the two former Cy Young winners.
“It’s nothing against Kershaw, but Verlander is in a better spot for a comeback,” one voter said. “He’s been written off before only to return to Cy Young form.”
“Syndergaard is the youngest of the three, but I can’t choose him over the other two Hall of Fame pitchers,” another voter said.
Voters were keen on Scherzer specifically for 2022, as he’s one of the oldest free agents available. At some point the 37-year-old will show some decline, but the majority of respondents didn’t indicate it will be next year. Correa would probably have to improve on his career numbers to win the award, while those who voted for Freeman considered him “money in the bank.”
“Put Scherzer on a good team and/or in a pitcher’s ballpark, he’s nearly automatic to be in the running,” one voter said. “He showed as much with the Dodgers, and if he re-signs there, he’s as good of a pick you can make in November.”
“One of these years, I’m hoping to be right about Schwarber,” said the one voter who chose the Red Sox free agent. “He showed he has monster power and now can hit for some average. If he plays some first base, outfield and DH, who knows?”