You already know this, but it bears repeating: This winter’s free agent class isn’t particularly special. Sure, you can go out and sign the best catcher in baseball and the 2020 NL Cy Young award winner, but the Realmuto/Bauer duo is a long way off from the top two of recent classes, like 2020 (Gerrit Cole/Anthony Rendon) and 2019 (Bryce Harper, Manny Machado).
It’s still a good class that could get even better when non-tender decisions are handed down at the beginning of December, but it’s definitely a bit of an “off” year, which is actually quite normal (2017 and 2018 were more “meh,” as well). But that usually means a big class (or two) is coming, and, well …
Free Agency Is About to Pop
The 2022 free agent class is already well-known for its group of young superstars like Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story, Javy Baez, and Kris Bryant. And even some of the older players (like Anthony Rizzo) are high quality veterans who could perhaps earn as much as anyone in the 2021 class does over the next couple of months.
But the 2023 class looks really exciting, too:
The buzz around baseball is next winter will be a free agent bonanza (Lindor, Seager, Correa, Freeman, Story, Baez, Bryant) but there's another class on the horizon that could top it. Looking ahead from this grim winter: https://t.co/FbsTilO1NI pic.twitter.com/FZ7TWv72Jb
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) November 11, 2020
Rafael Devers, Cody Bellinger, Jack Flaherty, Lucas Giolito, Matt Olson, Ian Happ, Shohei Ohtani, and Josh Hader will all still be on the right side of 30 when that free agent class opens up, while guys like Matt Chapman, Jose Ramirez, Blake Snell, Luis Castillo, Tyler Glasnow, Willson Contreras, and Aaron Nola will all be just a hair over the line.
That is a LOT of free agent talent coming available at young ages over the next two years. So let’s hope MLB finds a way to make more money next season and iron out an equitable CBA next winter to prepare for this free agent bonanza.
Moreover, as the league trends towards debuting their top talent at younger ages, guys will inevitably reach free agency earlier in their careers. That could lead to more, younger, and generally better free agent classes than we’re used to seeing.
Freddie Freeman is undoubtedly one of the prizes of next year’s class, and while the best guess remains on an extension from his one and only organization, the Braves, Ken Rosenthal believes the Angels are at least a theoretical option. After all … (1) Albert Pujols contract expires after next season, just like Freeman’s, (2) their new GM is likely going to be current Braves assistant GM Perry Minasian, and (3) Freeman is from Orange County.
The Angels also have the money and are still trying to get Mike Trout the postseason run he deserves. Maybe Freeman is the answer.
DJ LeMahieu’s Price Range
One of the other top free agents from this years class is DJ LeMahieu, though his price tag has been tough to pin down. On the one hand, he’s considered a good enough free agent to still get paid handsomely, even in the current environment. And he may still have the Yankees bidding for his services, which never hurts. But on the other hand, he’s already 32 and his career doesn’t quite have the sort of top-tier consistency other similar players have enjoyed heading into free agency.
For example, The Athletic uses Josh Donaldson’s four-year $92M deal as somewhat of a bench mark for LeMahieu, arguing that at 2.5 years younger, LeMahieu could even be in a better position when all is said and done. However, ultimately, Ken Rosenthal believes he’ll fall short of Donaldson’s deal (4/$92M) but above LeMahieu’s last deal with the Yankees (2/$24M).
If I had to guess, something in the 3-4 range at a $18-20M AAV seems reasonable.
Yankees and Mets Priorities
Speaking of LeMahieu, Andy Martino (SNY) calls him the “first priority” of the Yankees this offseason. If he did sign up, according to Martino, he’d be their most significant financial addition of the offseason, which tracks with their recent payroll messaging. If they can’t add LeMahieu, however, they’d move Gleyber Torres back to second base, where he’s probably better defensively anyway, before trying to add a shortstop like Andrelton Simmons or Brandon Crawford in free agency (or, yes, even Francisco Lindor in trade (though that’s considered a “moonshot” at the moment)). The Yankees also want to go a different direction at catcher, meaning Gary Sanchez is fully available in trade (but put a pin in that for one moment).
From the same article, Martino says that the Mets are focused on outfielder George Springer, who should be one of the highest priced free agents this offseason, while Trevor Bauer remains in play, as well. Generally speaking, the Mets are expected to add at least two high priced players, in addition to retaining Marcus Stroman with the $18.9M qualifying offer, and they’re clearly shopping on the top shelf.
What About J.T. Realmuto for either Team in NY?
But despite the Yankees needs at catcher and the Mets apparently expensive tastes, Martino does not see either team seriously pursuing J.T. Realmuto this offseason.
Well, except under one condition for the Mets:
One significant caveat with Mets is that the top decision-maker isn't hired yet. What if, hypothetically, they hire Michael Hill and he's like, "Sandy you HAVE to sign Realmuto." Barring that though, we're predicting Springer or Bauer.
— Andy Martino (@martinonyc) November 12, 2020
And just to really drive this point home, Joel Sherman believes the Mets are an actual threat to outspend the Yankees next season for the first time since 1992! Wouldn’t that be something?
Yu Darvish Trade Rumors
But would Springer and/or Bauer and Stroman really be enough to outpace the Yankees? Perhaps not, but don’t forget about the trade market. Once again, the NY media is connecting the Mets to the 2020 NL Cy Young runner-up Yu Darvish:
Alderson already has praised the top starter in the free-agent market, Trevor Bauer. The Mets could play for Yu Darvish in a trade if the Cubs, as expected, have to do sizable payroll pruning. By the way, Bauer, Darvish and deGrom were the finalists for the NL Cy Young, so imagine what the rotation could look like if either is added and Syndergaard comes back well and Stroman is the No. 4 starter even if he pitches like a No. 2. This is what is possible now with the Mets.
Only now, the Chicago media is joining in.
The Cubs are at a crossroads. Yu Darvish is at the top of his game. Is it time to start thinking about making a deal?https://t.co/TSe3H4IyI7
— Patrick Mooney (@PJ_Mooney) November 12, 2020
Mooney stops short of connecting any dots beyond what we generally know, but does point out that Darvish’s deal is probably a steal, relative to his expected performance and the general direction of the market just before COVID. Obviously, the virus is no small consideration, but Darvish was nearly the Cy Young award winner and is throwing as hard as ever.
The problem, of course, is if you trade Darvish, you might as well trade everyone else. And then it’s like … well, what are we really doing here? Is this a rebuild now? What happens if fans can return to Wrigley next season and a CBA gets done … and I win the lotto, and my wife suddenly likes Star Wars, and the Cardinals move to south Asia, and … I’m starting to see a pattern.
Could Reds Re-Sign Trevor Bauer
“It’s been a very good relationship and hopefully it continues,” Bauer said. “I’d love to be back and to see my guys, to see Curt (Casali), to see Tucker (Barnhart) on a daily basis. To see Sonny (Gray), to see Michael Lorenzen, to see Lucas Sims, I could name a bunch of different people, obviously. I feel at home. I feel very much at home.”
But I doubt it.