The bizarre and shortened 2020 MLB season has come to an end and the offseason has arrived. The cold weather of the winter offseason will surely be countered by some major fireworks in the baseball world. Whether teams look to bulk up their rosters in an attempt to contend next year or tear them down to begin a rebuild, there won’t be a shortage of major movement among the 30 ball clubs. Like any winter, free agents will sign and franchise players will be dealt and team’s front offices will see changes. Here is an overview of what to expect of the 2020 MLB offseason from free agency, separated into the players whose movements have the biggest impact on next season.
Trevor Bauer: The most coveted free agent in this year’s class comes in the brash and eccentric right hander coming off a 2 year stint with the Reds. Bauer posted a 1.73 ERA this past season and was 1 of 3 pitchers with 100 strikeouts. Bauer, the likely 2020 NL Cy Young winner, will command a big price and will want to join a buying team looking to contend. Cincinnati can’t keep their ace as a limited budget and an underwhelming season hurt their odds. No matter the length, he will likely command at least a $30 million price tag per year especially if his claim that he prefers one year deals is true. Teams that make sense include the Yankees, Padres, Braves, Blue Jays, Angels, Mets and White Sox. But among those teams, the Yankees likely wouldn’t happen due to Bauer’s differences with Gerrit Cole, while the Braves and Blue Jays will be saving money to pay their current team. So this leaves the Padres, Mets, Angels and White Sox as serious contenders. The Angels are already committed to huge contracts in Trout and Rendon and have shown hesitation to get pitching especially at Bauer’s price. The Mets likely wouldn’t work as after an ownership change and with holes at catcher and in the outfield, they likely won’t splurge newfound money on one pitcher as 3 rotation spots are open there. The Padres and White Sox both have young rotations and a veteran like Bauer could solidify either group as the White Sox rebuild advances and as Padres look to get on the Dodgers level out west. But having Bauer’s old friend Mike Clevinger in a rotation that is one piece away and a team that overall fits Bauer’s personality sets San Diego apart as the Padres get their ace. And due to their plethora of young talent, Bauer will sign long term to stay on a competitive team for years to come. Prediction: San Diego Padres 5yrs/$150 million
J.T. Realmuto: Baseball’s best catcher hits free agency for the first time and is set to shatter the backstop market with a pricey, long term deal. This is a lot to ask for a 31 year old catcher but with Realmuto’s effectiveness both behind the plate and at bat, it makes sense. He didn’t have his best season in 2020 at the plate but he still led all catchers in OPS, Slugging %, home runs and RBI’s. So what teams are in the running for the league’s best catcher? Well, the Phillies aren’t likely to hold onto him as they look to cut costs under a new front office and resigning Realmuto would not only be costly, but they would have him as their long term guy and he’s already on the wrong side of 30. A lot of decent teams are in the market for a catcher especially the Nationals, Mets, Braves, Angels, Astros and Yankees. With news coming out that Realmuto is not fond of playing in New York, that would rule out the Mets and Yankees even though the Mets under new ownership are looking to spend and the Yankees want to upgrade from Gary Sanchez. The Braves would only make sense if the DH stays in the NL as there wouldn’t be a point to paying Realmuto and benching 2020 breakout Travis D’Arnaud. The Nationals let franchise star Anthony Rendon walk last year after paying Strasburg so it seems Washington isn’t eager to spend big. The Angels are very attractive for Realmut,o but after missing the playoffs every year so far in the league, he’ll be looking to a contender which would rule out Anaheim. With Houston losing George Springer, the Astros take his money and spend it on the best catcher in baseball and keep them in the title hunt. Prediction: Houston Astros 5yrs/$115 million
DJ Lemahieu: Coming into the 2019 season, it wasn’t guaranteed Lemahieu would be an everyday player with the Yankees. Once he did, he finished 4th in AL MVP voting, led the AL in batting average, and was the leadoff man on a team that won 103 games. And in 50 games in 2020, DJ hit an AL best .364, won both the on base and OPS titles, was third in offensive WAR and was New York’s most consistent hitter all year. The Yankees know how vital Lemahieu is to their offense and it is highly unlikely he even thinks about signing elsewhere. Although nearly every team in the league would love a pure hitter like him at the top of their lineup, no one will pay him what the Yankees can while guaranteeing team success. He may be 32, but with his production on offense only getting better with age, only the contract length is a factor. Lemahieu re-signs with the Yankees for 4 years, $90 million taking him to age 36 but keeps New York’s best contact hitter in the Bronx for the rest of their current championship window. Prediction: New York Yankees 4yrs/$90 million
George Springer: The 2017 World Series MVP hits the open market for the first time in his career and has made it clear he is looking to move on from Houston. Springer is one of the best all around center fielders in the game today and with those kind of guys being so rare, his value is high and that’s not even mentioning his level of play in the postseason. And with MVP caliber seasons in 2019 and 2020 in which his plate discipline and overall hitting dramatically improved, Springer is looking to cash in as he has just turned 31. A lot of teams in the league would love a guy like him manning center field and being their leadoff man but the teams that actually need that with the money to spend consist of the Rangers, Cardinals, Braves, Astros and Mets. Both Texas teams are likely able to be ruled out since the Rangers are not contenders and Springer has expressed no interest in returning to the Astros, whom are already committed to huge contracts in the coming years. The Braves likely won’t want to drop big money on him since they already have a generational talent in Ronald Acuña in center and they wouldn’t want to be paying 4 outfielders legitimate contracts. The Cardinals make a lot of sense but they already have young outfielders like Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson and Tyler Oneil whom all look promising. So this leaves the team that’s needed an all around center fielder for basically a decade in the New York Mets. Now under the ownership of billionaire Steve Cohen, the Mets finally drop big money on free agency as they get an everyday center fielder at the top of the lineup at last to solidify their defense and add even more firepower to one of the league’s best lineups the last 2 years. Prediction: New York Mets 4yrs/$100 million
Marcell Ozuna: The Big Bear signed a one year bridge deal in Atlanta last season and he took advantage of every second of it. He batted .338 in the shortened season and led the NL with 18 home runs and an impressive 58 RBI’s in the shortened campaign all while being in the middle of the order of a team that just missed the World Series. Since Ozuna is coming off of a career year and is still on the right side of 30, expect a big pay day on a rather short term deal this offseason. There are a lot of clubs who could use Ozuna’s big bat which include teams such as the Braves, Rangers, Nationals and Astros. This free agency decision will likely depend on if the DH remains in the National League as Ozuna’s fielding abilities have been mostly a liability in his career and his primary use would be a major hitter in the order. With reports seeming to suggest that the DH will not remain in the NL in 2021 and on, this probably rules out the Nationals as Ozuna’s primary defensive position of left field is already occupied by Juan Soto. The Rangers are in desperate need of offense and are in the American League but they are not very close to contending anytime soon and Ozuna seems adamant on playing for a competitive team. He could potentially replace Springer in Houston but then the Astros would just be putting themselves in even more of a financial problem by bringing on Ozuna. Atlanta knows what they have in Ozuna and even though his defense is lackluster at best, they will end up keeping him as they have the money to spend to retain him and would keep one of the most dangerous lineups in the league in tact. Prediction: Atlanta Braves 4yr/$72 million
Liam Hendriks: The best reliever on the market will command a wealthy deal as Hendriks has emerged as the best 9th inning man in baseball the last two seasons. And with Oakland’s notorious low payroll and inability to spend, Hendriks is possibly the most likely free agent to be on the move. A lot of wannabe contending teams need help in the bullpen but the most desperate come in the Phillies, Mets and Angels. Anaheim is unlikely to want to pay big for Hendriks as he is coming from a division rival and the Angels are still locked into huge contracts with Rendon, Trout and Pujols. The Mets could make it happen but if they are to get guys like George Springer and maybe even Charlie Morton, they would be better off trading for bullpen help or banking on bounce backs from Edwin Diaz and Dellin Betances. But that doesn’t mean they won’t take a shot. Yes, Philadelphia has a more pressing need for a reliever than New York and with Realmuto gone, they would have the money to do it. I expect a bidding war between the old rivals for Hendriks but if it gets to above $40 million, the Mets would likely back out to continue chasing free agents. So, Hendriks becomes the first step into making the Phillies bullpen even halfway decent as the new front office finally fills a massive need. Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies 3yr/$42 million
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