The first full week of MLB free agency is upon us. The 2020-2021 offseason is officially underway after the Dodgers secured their first World Series victory since 1988. Their six-game victory against the Rays saw elite pitching on both sides; why Rays manager Kevin Cash would pull Blake Snell, who was absolutely dealing and had only thrown 73 pitches, is beyond many of us. We can save that discussion for another time, though.
That was a week ago. As the champagne showers subside and the celebrations conclude for the Dodgers, they must now focus on their game-plan heading into the offseason, along with 29 other clubs who are mapping out their potential path to success.
Many marquee names are entering the open market during this MLB free agency period. It is safe to assume there will be plenty of twists and turns as the countdown to the 2021 season begins. Let’s have a look at some of the most notable names entering free agency and the storylines surrounding them that could play a role in where they suit up come next season.
It has been quite the year for the Phillies. Yet another September implosion pretty much sealed their fate in the failed effort to make the postseason. GM Matt Klentak was relieved of his duties after another disappointing year. Their biggest offseason storyline revolves around re-signing All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Realmuto will be 30 entering the 2021 season and was an integral piece of the Phillies lineup this year. In an abridged 2020 season, he had a .266/.349/.491 slash line, with 32 RBI, 33 runs and 11 HR. Not his best season at the plate (his average was .303 in 2016 with the Marlins), yet Realmuto was still one of the best players on the team. Not to mention he has an absolute hose from behind the dish, leading the league in 2019 with 43 runners caught stealing. He won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger award with the Phillies as well. So you would be crazy not to sign him right?
I mean, yeah, but it is not as simple as some fans think. Bryce Harper has made it very clear he is adamant on the Phillies resigning J.T. To be clear though, Realmuto is expecting a contract exceeding $200 million. Given the current state of the Phillies organization, without a GM and indecisive about whether or not they are in a rebuilding phase or in it to win it, the possibility of Realmuto suiting up elsewhere is very realistic.
The Phillies should focus on trying to keep Realmuto, but another contract exceeding 200 million dollars could kill them in the long run, especially a contract for a catcher. Realmuto is no ordinary catcher, but giving a backstop approaching 30 a deal this size is highly unusual. We’ll see.
Our second entry is another talent from Philly, one who only adds to the conundrum on the corner of Broad and Pattison. Didi hit .284 during his one-year stint with the Phils. It was a productive season, given that he missed a portion of the 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery. His exit velo declined, but he consistently puts the ball in play. If the Phillies aim to keep Realmuto, there is very little room for Didi. You might expect Gregorius to end up elsewhere, especially to a team like the Angels. Andrelton Simmons has also entered free agency after all.
Second baseman DJ LeMahieu will be 32 heading into the 2021 season. He had a great 2020 season with the Yankees, hitting .364 with 71 hits, 10 HR, and 27 RBIs. LeMahieu won his second career batting title while leading the AL in on-base percentage and OPS+ in a shortened campaign. He is also the first player in the modern era to ever win batting titles in each league.
DJ LeMahieu consistently makes contact, but don’t let that distract you from his versatile and solid defense in the field. He recorded the fewest errors for a second baseman in 2020, with only 4. LeMahieu has made it known he wants to stay in New York pinstripes, but as of right now, the possibilities are endless, even though the Yankees are sure to want to keep him. The Yankees have extended a qualifying offer of $18.9 million to LeMahieu, only furthering their interest in keeping him knotted up in the Bronx.
Despite the controversy surrounding the Astros, George Springer has been an integral part of Houston’s core over the last few seasons. He hit .265 in 2020 over 189 at bats. He also hit 14 HR with a slugging percentage over .500. Springer homered once every 14.7 plate appearances, and overall has been a crucial piece of the Astros’ success. I expect the Astros to keep Springer, who, along with Correa and Altuve, is practically synonymous with the Houston Astros.
Ozuna had a career year in Atlanta. Even though the Braves would love to keep Ozuna, the reality of COVID-19 has teams questioning their payroll during this MLB free agency period. Ozuna posted a career high batting average of .338 with 18 HR, 56 RBIs, a slugging percentage of .636, and 38 runs in 228 plate appearances. The Braves still have plenty of young outfield talent with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Cristian Pache, but having a solidified left fielder in Ozuna would be ideal for Atlanta.
“The Big Bear” is one special talent I’m sure the Marlins wish they had never let go off, along with the rest of the talented team they managed to dismantle. The 29 year old outfielder’s future is uncertain; a year of lost revenue will greatly impact how many zeros are scribbled on his paychecks next year. Such is the reality of this year’s MLB free agency.
The outspoken Reds ace is another one of the jewels of MLB free agency this year. Bauer went 5-4 this season. He had a 1.73 ERA over 73 innings. He’ll be 30 come the start of the new season and made it clear he wants to play for a contender and have an impact for a World Series-contending team. Bauer is open to short-term or long-term deals as long as it tickles his fancy. If it comes down to a long term deal, be on the lookout for a potential blockbuster.
Bauer said this season with the Reds was the most fun he has had “probably since college.” The Reds have already extended a qualifying offer to Bauer. He has until November 11th to decline. He’s also open to playing in Japan, but in my opinion, a pitcher of his caliber shouldn’t relegate to playing overseas baseball. Guys like Lastings Milledge, sure. A beast like Trevor Bauer? That ain’t it, chief.
The Mets could try and take a swing at Bauer to help bolster their starting rotation, which already features a dominant Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndegaard (out until at least April 2021). They have also have shown increased interest in J.T. Realmuto. Perhaps next season the Mets could establish one of the most dynamic pitcher-catcher tandems in Queens, but until a move is made I guess we’ll just have to play the waiting game.
Dodgers On The Market
Fresh off of a World Series win, the Dodgers are also feeling the effects of free agency. The Dodgers have eight players entering free agency in Pedro Baez, Jimmy Nelson, Alex Wood, Blake Treinen, Jake McGee, Kiké Hernandez, Joc Pederson, and Justin Turner all on the open market. I expect the Dodgers to keep 3B Justin Turner who, despite the controversy surrounding his positive COVID-19 test, played a major role in the Dodgers’ World Series title. Kiké Hernandez and Joc Pederson could greatly benefit teams looking to enter the playoff picture. It should be interesting to see what moves the Dodgers make in the offseason.
Other Notable Free Agents
This list could go on forever, but unfortunately I could only highlight a few players that could be cornerstones for a franchise. Charlie Morton also entered free agency following the World Series. The seasoned World Series champ who had a 4.74 ERA in 38 innings on the mound in 2020 was declined his $15 million dollar option by the Rays. Morton could benefit any team with playoff aspirations looking for an experienced arm.
Jackie Bradley Jr., 2018 ALCS MVP and 2018 Gold Glove award winner, is also a free agent this fall. Bradley was a staple of the 2018 World Series champion Red Sox and could be another huge loss in the outfield for the Sox, who already lost Mookie Betts this past year. He ended up going on a tear and winning yet another World Series ring. Win some, lose some.
This offseason could make for some interesting baseball come the 2021 season. With everything going on in the world, the logistics of the upcoming season are still unknown. Will there be an MLB bubble? Will there still be 162 games? What will the postseason picture look like?
There are many unanswered questions heading into the 2021 calendar year but let’s hope that by the beginning of next season our world is in a somewhat better state and we can catch a game at the ballpark, or at least enjoy some kind of normalcy to help escape the rabbit hole that is 2020.