On the final day of the 2021 Major League Baseball regular season, most teams have already turned their attention toward the offseason and 2022.
Coming off the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, most teams spent last winter avoiding free agency, actively cutting payroll or striking bargain deals with free agents.
Some notable star players, such as Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr., were able to secure massive long-term extensions from their clubs. But for the most part, things were quieter than usual across the league.
That doesn't figure to be the case coming off a full 162-game season, with team owners able to tout increased revenues from having fans back in the stands.
It helps that there are going to be several All-Star players available for teams to negotiate with this year.
Here are the latest rumors involving some of the top pending free agents as the 2021 regular season wraps up.
Max Scherzer, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Long regarded as one of the best pitchers in MLB, Max Scherzer has the opportunity to cash in big for the second time in his career.
The three-time Cy Young winner signed a seven-year, $210 million deal with the Washington Nationals in as a free agent in January 2015.
Per MLB Network's Jon Heyman, Scherzer is hoping to pitch into his 40s and is "all but assured" to break the record for average annual salary in his next deal.
Scherzer is 37, though he has not shown any signs of slowing down. The eight-time All-Star has a 2.46 ERA, 0.864 WHIP and 236 strikeouts in 179.1 innings between the Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers this season.
Based on Heyman's reporting, Scherzer could be seeking a deal of at least three years this offseason.
Per Spotrac, Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees has the highest average annual salary among MLB players ($36 million). Assuming he lands a three-year deal, Scherzer's contract value would need to be worth at least $108.1 million to surpass Cole.
Even though investing in any pitcher over the age of 30 is a significant risk, Scherzer's history indicates he could be an exception to the rule. He has only posted an ERA over 3.00 once in the past seven seasons (3.74 in 2020) and has posted sub-1.00 WHIP totals in five of the previous seven years.
The Dodgers seem like a natural fit for Scherzer. They already know him well given he was acquired from the Nationals on July 30. They haven't been shy about spending money on star players, and high-end depth has been one reason for their success during this run of nine consecutive playoff appearances.
Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
Carlos Correa's strong bounce-back performance in 2021 has set him up well to cash in as a free agent.
Per Heyman, the Detroit Tigers are among the teams that will be interested in the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year. Heyman also listed the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins as clubs that could have interest in Correa.
The Houston Astros, Correa's team, also have the ability to make him a lucrative offer.
Per Spotrac, the Astros only have $108.5 million in contract commitments next season. That total doesn't include pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players.
After Correa posted a disappointing .264/.326/.383 slash line with five homers and 25 RBI in 58 games during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Astros attempted to get him to sign a team-friendly extension.
Correa told reporters in March he turned down a six-year, $120 million offer from Houston.
"The way things are looking, I don’t know right now," he said. "The first offer, I thought it was really low, and if that’s how they feel about me and that’s where we stand, then I guess I will go out there and play and try to win another championship for the city of Houston and then explore free agency."
Among the teams said to be interested in Correa, the Tigers are the most interesting. They took significant steps forward this season with a 76-85 record following Saturday's game against the Chicago White Sox.
While that isn't good enough to put the Tigers in playoff position, some of their young pitchers had promising years that make them look dangerous going forward.
Casey Mize still isn't missing many bats (118 strikeouts in 150.1 innings), but opposing hitters have only managed 130 hits against him. Tarik Skubal has big velocity and good stuff when he's on, but he has to cut down on his home-run rate (2.1 per nine innings).
The Tigers have several promising position players on the verge of reaching the big leagues. Spencer Torkelson, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2020 draft, hit .266/.380/.548 across three levels this season and finished in Triple-A.
Riley Greene posted a .303/.387/.537 slash line in 123 games between Double-A and Triple-A in 2021.
The Tigers need to significantly upgrade at shortstop. Niko Goodrum has been a below-average hitter in each of the past three seasons and only put up a .660 OPS in 2021.
Adding Correa's bat (.279/.366/.481 in 2021) to the middle of a lineup that also boasts Torkelson and Greene would suddenly make the Tigers look like a credible threat to the White Sox in the AL Central.
Nick Castellanos, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Like Correa, Nick Castellanos proved this season that his down year in 2020 was a fluke rather than any indication he was on the decline.
Castellanos enters Sunday's regular-season finale hitting .308/.362/.570 with a career-high 33 homers for the Cincinnati Reds. He was named to his first All-Star team in July.
Those numbers could convince Castellanos to test free agency by turning down his $16 million player option for 2022.
One team that will be keeping an eye on Castellanos' status are the Miami Marlins.
On the Swings and Mishes podcast (starts at the 17:30 mark), Craig Mish noted that Castellanos "will be part of the discussion" in Miami's front office as it looks for ways to improve the team next season.
Mish also said later in the podcast (21:10 mark) that there is a "massive" amount of pressure on the Marlins front office to improve the team after a disappointing 2021.
Miami isn't known for spending a lot of money on its roster, though the ownership group led by Bruce Sherman and CEO Derek Jeter has been guiding the franchise for four years now.
During the Sherman-Jeter tenure, the Marlins' lone playoff appearance came in the pandemic-shortened season. Their 31-29 record led to some optimism coming into this year, but that quickly disappeared, and the team has lost at least 95 games for the third time in the past four seasons.
A lack of hitting has played a significant role in the Marlins' 2021 struggles. Only three players currently on the roster had enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, with Jesus Aguilar being the only one in that group with an above-average OPS+.
Castellanos, who has a long history of durability, would give the Marlins a much-needed power hitter in the middle of the lineup. This season was the first time since 2016 that he's missed more than 11 games.
Based on Miami's history, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the franchise shy away from pursuing a lucrative multiyear pact with Castellanos or any other player. But this would be an opportune time to do so given how impressive the Marlins rotation can be with Sandy Alcantara and Trevor Rogers leading it.