Frenzy Part II? What to expect when MLB roster freeze lifts
The ink was hardly dry on Corey Seager’s $325 million, 10-year contract with the Texas Rangers last week when baseball’s historically hurried free agency period crashed to a halt.
Hard to imagine anything competing with last Wednesday’s spending spree, when teams combined to commit a record $1.4 billion in the hours before baseball tumbled into its first labor stoppage in 26 years. But when the lockout ends, the frenzy for the game’s remaining free agents should be entertaining, too.
There are 141 major league free agents waiting for a freeze on roster transactions to lift once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Progress on a CBA isn’t expected until at least the weeks before pitchers and catchers are set to report, meaning another mad dash is probably in store for teams trying to fill out their rosters ahead of spring training.
Here’s what to look for when the hot stove reignites:
IN SHORT SUPPLY
This year’s free agent class was headlined by a star quintet of shortstops, but three of them signed big-money deals last week — Seager, Marcus Semien (Rangers) and Javier Báez (Tigers).
Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain, with Andrelton Simmons also available for suitors who might miss out.
Correa, the 2015 AL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, was considered the top player on the market entering the offseason and is certain to get the biggest deal after the lockout. The 27-year-old batted .279 with 26 homers, 92 RBIs and an .850 OPS for Houston in 2021, perhaps shaking some concerns about his durability by playing 148 games — his first time with at least 111 since 2016.
Two targets loom for Correa — Seager’s $325 million deal was the biggest signed this offseason, and Francisco Lindor’s $341 million, 10-year contract with the Mets is the record payday for a shortstop. Correa is looking for a deep-pocketed team ready to make a last-minute splash before spring training. Conveniently, the Yankees top the list of clubs that need a shortstop. General manager Brian Cashman has heaped praise on Correa, saying last month that negative fan reaction tied to the sign-stealing scandal was “not going to enter my calculus” and that Correa was “clearly not afraid.”
The 29-year-old Story has played six stellar seasons with the Colorado Rockies and hit .251 with 24 homers and 75 RBIs in 2021, surprisingly remaining in Denver all season instead of being traded to a contender. He could get something similar to Báez’s $140 million, six-year deal with Detroit.
Simmons won the last of his four Gold Gloves in 2018 and batted just .223 with three homers for Minnesota last year.
BRAVES OR NEW WORLD?
Freddie Freeman remains a free agent despite his apparently tight ties with the World Series champion Braves. The 2020 MVP is coming off another stellar season, hitting .300 with 31 homers, 83 RBIs and an .896 OPS.
Drafted by Atlanta in 2007, the 32-year-old seems like a prime candidate to follow friend and mentor Chipper Jones in being a lifelong Brave. If that doesn’t happen, it's not hard to picture nearly every big-market team trying to take a run at the five-time All-Star.
It’s expected — but not certain — that the National League will adopt the designated hitter as part of the new collective bargaining agreement. Several players stand to benefit by waiting to sign until that change is official.
Nick Castellanos should get the biggest payday of the group. The 29-year-old hit .309 with 34 homers and 100 RBIs for Cincinnati in 2021, but his outfield defense is just OK. Kyle Schwarber, who hit 32 homers for Washington and Boston last year, has a similar profile.
Nelson Cruz struggled after a midseason trade to Tampa Bay last year, but the 41-year-old still hit 32 homers and should get an everyday job. World Series MVP Jorge Soler also remains available.
Justin Verlander has been left in an odd situation after agreeing to a $25 million, one-year deal with a conditional $25 million player option to return to Houston. The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to the deal two weeks before the lockout, but the Astros never announced they had finalized his contract. The 38-year-old technically remains on the market, although there hasn’t been any indication he won’t end up back with Houston.
Righties Nick Martinez and Jordan Lyles are in similar positions. Martinez, coming off a strong season in Japan, was close to an agreement with San Diego but couldn’t get it completed before the owners locked out the players Dec. 2. Lyles, meanwhile, had a deal with Baltimore but was unable to get his physical done in time.
Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki was posted by NPB’s Hiroshima Toya Carp on Nov. 22, and his 30-day window to sign with a major league team was paused by the shutdown. He’ll have 20 days to find a deal once rosters unfreeze, and agent Joel Wolfe told Japanese media last week that between eight and 15 teams have expressed interest. Another potential obstacle: spring training in Japan starts Feb. 1.
BEST OF THE REST
Kris Bryant could fit onto nearly any roster because of his versatility — he played more games in the outfield than at third base for the first time this season, including 19 appearances in center. ... LHP Carlos Rodón didn’t get a qualifying offer from the White Sox despite finishing fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting in 2021, meaning teams won’t sacrifice a draft pick if they sign him. ... LHP Clayton Kershaw also wasn’t given a qualifying offer by the Dodgers, although that was more a courtesy to the 33-year-old. He’s expected to return to Los Angeles if he plays next year. ... Other names of note: OF Michael Conforto, 1B Anthony Rizzo, RHP Kenley Jansen, OF and NLCS MVP Eddie Rosario.
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