While the players and owners wait for a more convenient time to agree on the fundamental rules of MLB for the next five years, we’re stuck on the sidelines without any meaningful way to accelerate an outcome. We can hem and haw (and tweet) all we want, but at the end of the day, that’s not going to matter when there are billions of dollars on the line.
The only thing that does matter is losing money before they can make it. And that won’t happen until the threat of missing Spring Training games becomes a real possibility. I think we’ll be lucky if the sides get something done before late-January.
But just because there’s a lockout doesn’t mean there’s not still rumors going around. Here’s the latest from the even lukewarm-ier stove …
Looking Back and Ahead
I actually found Kiley McDaniel’s recent offseason writeup at ESPN particularly useful. He does a good job of looking back at what happened before the lockout (even after all their big expenses, the Rangers project to be just the 23rd best team in MLB), what almost happened (Javy Báez had multiple nine-figure offers on the table before choosing the Tigers), and what could happen next.
On that latter point, McDaniel expects to see the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox to start acting on their shopping list. He also expects Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman to pace the market, with the next tier of position players all battling for next best contract: Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, and Trevor Story.
This was the least enjoyable part of the read, however:
When I checked in with some agents during this spending spree, expecting to hear glee, the majority of them believed that the owners front-loaded their big contracts before the lockout to combat the MLBPA’s argument about clubs pocketing revenues and being anticompetitive. These agents believe that teams will go back to being tighter with spending when the CBA is ratified – which is a trend that almost always happens in the back end of the winter, anyway.
Hopefully, McDaniel’s sources are wrong about that, though we already saw the Commissioner lean on this excuse right when the lockout began:
"While we have heard repeatedly that free agency is “broken” – in the month of November $1.7 billion was committed to free agents, smashing the prior record by nearly 4x."
Pretty cheap line from MLB, considering that it was ONLY because of the impending lockout …
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) December 2, 2021
The First Base Market
The first base market offers the best excuse of the offseason to get out the red string and start connecting dots on cork board. And Ken Rosenthal has the latest right here.
The short version is that the Braves (flush with cash and with the most to lose by not getting something done) still have their sights set on long-time Brave Freddie Freeman. However, they’re not alone. The Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels are all pushing for Freeman, which is definitely not the sort of competition you want, regardless of the financial strength of your organization at present.
Most of the industry still expects Freeman to stay with the Braves. Yet, his return no longer can be viewed as inevitable. One rival executive says the fact Freeman remains unsigned is a “slap in the face,” considering that he is a homegrown talent who won the NL MVP in 2020 and helped the team win the World Series in ’21. For Freeman, a native of Orange County, Ca., the Dodgers (or Angels) would appear a more natural fit than the Yankees. But just as the Braves are envisioning how they might replace him, he surely is envisioning what it might be like playing for a team other than the Braves.
So what will the Braves do if they lost out on Freeman? Well, according to Rosenthal they could quickly turn to A’s trade candidate Matt Olson, who’d be prioritized over, say, Anthony Rizzo if it came to that.
I still think Freeman eventually heads back to Atlanta, but the Dodgers and Yankees have both wanted a left-handed bat all offseason and the former just missed out on re-signing Corey Seager. Something’s gotta give.
A Marlins-Diamondbacks Trade Brewing?
Although the Marlins and Diamondbacks would surely, never back-door any negotiations while the rules say they can’t, Ken Rosenthal does believe trade talks surrounding Ketel Marte could pick up as soon as the lockout is over.
The Marlins and D-Backs reportedly had some trade talks regarding catcher Carson Kelley in November (Miami has since added catcher Jacob Stallings from Pittsburgh), but those talks could pick back up after the lockout and now centered around Ketel Marte.
With that said, Rosenthal suggests a fairly tall asking price, reporting that “Marte likely would command more in a deal than first baseman Paul Goldschmidt” cost the Cardinals in their trade with the Diamondbacks, who, after signing closer Mark Melancon this offseason, are not necessarily punting 2022. Rosenthal gets specific with a couple of young Marlins starters if you’re looking for more.
Seiya Suzuki’s Market
Free agent Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki has been a background topic of discussion around these parts all winter, because he feels like the sort of risk the Cubs should be taking this offseason. There are always concerns when players make the transition from anywhere to MLB, but Suzuki, 27, was ranked 20th on MLB Trade Rumors top-50 free agents this offseason for a reason.
… And that reason is because he’s hit .315/.414/.570 over nine seasons in the NPB, and just launched a career-best 38 HRs in his walk year, slashing .317/.433/.636 along the way.
A recent report out of Boston says that the “Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox have been the most aggressive in pursuit of Suzuki,” though that’s not necessarily an exhaustive list. It’s just the most certain reporting we have so far.
On the less concrete front, we did see a rumor that the Cubs (along with the Mariners, Padres, Rangers, and Rays) are involved on Suzuki, but it’s been tough to verify coming out Japan. There is a report out of Japan citing Suzuki’s agent, who says 8+ teams have been involved, but without naming names. And I did have this shared with me on Twitter, but it’s all a little iffy, so just take from it what you will.
Looking for Starters?
This article at The Athletic is nominally about the Rangers pursuit of starting pitching, but the names are going to be interesting for any pitching-needy team.
The first option is a familiar one, with an interesting new wrinkle: Swinging a trade for Reds starter Sonny Gray. Gray is plenty attractive and wholly available this offseason, as the Reds are ditching payroll however they can. But I didn’t quite expect to learn that they’ll try to attach another contract to Gray in a deal. Obviously, that’ll reduce the burden of the return, but Gray is already owed at least $10.2M in 2022 ($12M club option in 2023). So adding someone like Mike Moustakas (2/$32M), Eugenio Suarez (3/$35M at least), or Shogo Akiyama (1/$8M) to the deal could make it pricey, quickly, if the prospect cost is also high.
I doubt the Reds and Cubs will come together on a deal, especially with Wade Miley and Stroman in the door, but it felt worth exploring given the NL Central connection.
Among the starters mentioned that could be Cubs targets, you’ll find free agent starters Carlos Rodon (whom we discussed here) and Matthew Boyd (recently non-tendered). Chris Archer could also be looking for a one-year deal, but I’m done barking up that tree. More names here.
Odds and Ends
• At the New York Post, Ken Davidoff takes a tour around baseball, to see who’s got the most pressure to act quickly once the lockout is over. And from a team perspective, it’s the Yankees, and Dodgers up top, with the Astros, Braves, and a few others not far behind. From a player perspective, the attention will be on Carlos Correa, who will need to beat Seager’s $325M deal likely without the benefit of the Rangers or Tigers involvement. There’s more there on Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw, Trevor Story and others if you’re interested in a rundown.
• At MLB Trade Rumors, Mark Polishuk runs down the list of catching-needy teams with the potentially available options on the trade (Willson Contreras) and free agent market. The big question there is whether the Cubs got Yan Gomes to ease the load on Contreras or to replace him if they eventually pull off a trade. With Stroman in the door, it’s harder to see the Cubs trading Contreras now, but the extend-or-trade rumor has been out there for a while and we know they haven’t engaged Contreras in extension talks just yet.