Way-Too-Early MLB Free-Agency Predictions Post-2022 Trade Deadline
The trade deadline has passed, and the race to the MLB postseason is heating up. But there are still some lingering questions about the future of a few of baseball's biggest stars and where they'll play in the future.
Last winter, the lockout shook up free agency. Lucky for baseball fans, the labor strife is behind us, at least for now, and some normalcy should resume to the 2022-23 offseason. There are some huge stars set to become free agents this winter and a few with opt-out clauses in their contracts who could decide to test free agency.
Officially, those eligible can become free agents the day after the World Series ends, but they cannot officially sign a contract with a new team for five days. They can negotiate with clubs during that period, but typically there is very little activity during that window.
But the rumor mill will be flying during those five days with names like Aaron Judge, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner and Jacob deGrom, who seems likely to opt out of his contract with the New York Mets after the season. Many of the top free agents will likely be playing in the postseason as well, adding some intrigue to this year's Fall Classic.
It's way too early to be looking ahead to free agency, but it's still fun to speculate and see where certain players could fit, so let's see if we can figure out where 10 free agents might land next year and what some of their contracts might look like.
C Willson Contreras: Houston Astros
Contreras might be just one of two players on this list that will not be appearing in a playoff game. It's unfortunate since he could help a playoff contender, but the Chicago Cubs' mismanagement is to blame for that.
They can still try and leverage a qualifying offer into draft picks if he signs with another team, but the return would have been bigger for a player with 2.8 WAR.
Contreras will still be the top catcher on the market next season. The three-time All-Star is a good hitter for the position and is respected by pitchers. He's a 20-homer player when healthy, and he's been relatively durable throughout his career.
It might benefit the Cubs to keep a player like Contreras during a rebuild, but it's looking like he's heading toward free agency.
The Astros will need to address the position, with Martín Maldonado and Jason Castro set to become free agents. They will likely want to increase the offensive production from the catching spot since they haven't received much from Maldonado this season, and Castro is out for the season with an injury.
They recently traded for Christian Vázquez, but Contreras is an offensive upgrade and a year younger.
Will the Astros want to shell out what's needed to get a 30-year-old offensive catcher? It could cost them up to $160 million. But if they believe they can keep their title window open for the next few years, they might be willing to make the deal.
1B Josh Bell: San Francisco Giants
The newly-acquired San Diego Padres first baseman could stay in the division and head north to San Francisco. Brandon Belt's production is down this season, and he'll be 35 next year. If the Giants work out another short-term contract with him, they could sign Bell to platoon at first base and use him as a DH.
The 2022 San Francisco team hasn't been as strong as the 2021 team, but if the Giants think they are back on the upswing after a few years of rebuilding, then signing Bell for around four years would fit with their timeline for contention.
Bell is a switch-hitter who is productive against right-handers and left-handers (career .845 OPS against right-handers and .771 against left-handers). The 29-year-old hit 37 home runs in 2019 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and 27 last year with the Washington Nationals. He has a career OPS+ of 123.
Right now, he could be looking at a contract in the $60 million range, but if he has a monster postseason with the Padres, that price might be even higher.
SS Xander Bogaerts: St. Louis Cardinals
This might be the only other player on this list to miss the playoffs. The Boston Red Sox are in last place in the AL East, though they aren't necessarily out of the AL Wild Card race, which is why the Red Sox opted to keep him at the trade deadline instead of sending him elsewhere for assets.
However, Bogaerts is expected to opt out of the final three years of his contract. Should he stay, he would be making $20 million a year, but the four-time All-Star and Silver Slugger could make more money if he opts out.
The New York Post's Jon Heyman said the Red Sox offered to add another year and $30 million to his contract, bringing him to $90 million over four years, but Bogaerts is reportedly looking for something in the $190-200 million realm.
The Athletic's Jim Bowden speculated that the St. Louis Cardinals could be a strong fit for Bogaerts and said they could extend him for eight years and $216 million.
The Cardinals could use an offensive boost at shortstop, and this is a team eyeing a World Series. Signing Bogaerts would help get them closer to that goal.
LHP Aroldis Chapman: Los Angeles Angels
Chapman has struggled in high-leverage situations with the New York Yankees this season, forcing manager Aaron Boone to turn to Clay Holmes as the closer. While the velocity is still there for the 34-year-old fireballer, it's probably fair to say he's on the downside of his career.
The Angels' system hasn't been able to produce much high-end pitching in recent years, forcing the team to utilize the trade market and free agency.
This isn't a team that is about to blow it up and rebuild anytime soon because they need to get Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani to the postseason. Taking a one-year flier on Chapman would give them a proven bullpen arm they can use in multiple situations.
Chapman is probably looking at something in the $14-16 million range, and he might have more success outside of the New York spotlight. There won't be the same intense scrutiny after each one of his outings in Orange County, with the Los Angeles Dodgers commanding most of the attention in Southern California.
INF Wilmer Flores: New York Mets
The Citi Field faithful can rock out to the Rembrandts again with all of Flores' old friends ready to welcome him back to where it all started for him.
The popular former infielder can still play all around the diamond, but the 31-year-old is primarily a first baseman or second baseman. The Mets can use him to spell Jeff McNeil at second or Pete Alonso at first and can be the designated hitter as well.
In New York, he was known for crushing left-handed pitching (career .814 OPS), but he can hold his own against right-handers or left-handers (.732 OPS).
With 1.9 WAR this season, Flores is making a case for a two-year contract worth about $15 million.
New Mets owner Steve Cohen listens to his fans, and this would be a popular move that could give the Mets a solid utility option.
OF Brandon Nimmo: Seattle Mariners
The Mariners are the Mets of the West. Pitchers Chris Flexen and Paul Sewald and outfielder Travis Jankowski have gone through Flushing at one point in their careers. Even outfielder Jarred Kelenic was once a top prospect in the Mets system. Why not pick up another?
Nimmo has boosted his free agency case by building on his strong 2021 season with some solid numbers this season. He has a career OPS of .825 and a career OPS+ of 128. The former first-round pick has also worked to improve his outfield defense, particularly in center field, where he has been showcasing speed, range and excellent tracking skills this season.
Of course, Julio Rodriguez has center locked down in Seattle. That's not about to change, but Nimmo can play all three outfield positions. Furthermore, Kelenic is not developing into the power-hitting outfielder the Mariners had hoped for when he was the centerpiece of a blockbuster winter trade in 2018 that sent Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York.
There is a lot to like about his tools when healthy. You can count on him to get on base, and he runs the bases well.
Could Cohen throw a lot of money at Nimmo to keep this talented Mets core intact? Sure. But should the 29-year-old decide to test free agency then Seattle could be where lands. A contract for Nimmo might be around five years and anywhere from $80-100 million.
SS/2B Trea Turner: Philadelphia Phillies
How persuasive can Bryce Harper be?
If the Phillies want to contend in the NL East, they're going to have to spend some money and bring in more established talent until some of their prospects fully develop. Bryson Stott is one of those rookies, and the Phillies can move him over to second base and give him an All-Star double-play partner in Turner.
There have been some rumors that Turner, a Florida native, would like to return to the east coast. And Harper has made it known that he would like to reunite with his former Nationals teammate, who he once called his "favorite player" in the league on a Phillies broadcast.
The Phillies have a need in the infield with Stott still developing, Didi Gregorius recently cut and Jean Segura—who has a club option for 2023— potentially becoming a free agent. But it would be a huge commitment. The 29-year-old Turner will likely command an eight-year deal north of $250 million.
However, having Turner's bat and defense would help Philadelphia compete with the New York Mets and the Atlanta Braves in the division.
SS Dansby Swanson: Atlanta Braves
The Braves showed that business takes priority over loyalty when they let franchise favorite and 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman walk after they won the World Series last year. The fans were, predictably, upset.
The attention then turned to Swanson, a Marietta native who played college baseball in the south at Vanderbilt. Would the Braves let their hometown hero leave too?
Swanson has elevated his play since the World Series last fall. The 28-year-old has the third-highest OPS of all shortstops in the league behind Turner and Bogaerts, he has the highest WAR at the position (4.7), and he recently made became an All-Star for the first time.
Swanson will likely cost less than someone like Turner, Bogaerts or even Carlos Correa, another opt-out candidate, receiving a contract along the lines of eight years at $120 million. This one should be a no-brainer for general manager Alex Anthopolous and the rest of the Atlanta brass. It's good business to retain the hometown star who has become one of the top shortstops in the league.
Prediction: Swanson doesn't get to free agency and extends with his hometown Braves.
RHP Jacob deGrom: New York Mets or Atlanta
Cohen will offer deGrom the world if he exercises his opt-out, which he said is his plan before the season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons and has only made two starts this year, but in those two starts, it's been clear that he remains one of the best, if not the best, pitchers on the planet.
He's throwing triple-digit fastballs with 96-mph sliders. He broke Yu Darvish's record for the most strikeouts by a pitcher through 200 career games Sunday against the Braves when he recorded 12 strikeouts.
Cohen is going to do everything in his power to re-sign the franchise face, and if the Mets win a World Series this year, then that could certainly help make the decision for deGrom. He's spent his entire career with the Amazins, but that tenure has been amazin'ly rocky. The Mets haven't made the playoffs since 2016. when they lost to the Giants in the NL Wild Card game, and he didn't receive much run support in his two Cy Young seasons.
The Florida native walks out to the mound to the song "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, and he is every bit a simple man. He's a cowboy who just wants to pitch, but playing for the Mets is never simple.
DeGrom has long looked up to the Braves' historic trio of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux. He's asked Smoltz, in particular, for pitching tips. Atlanta is not quite as far from his DeLand, Florida home, and the Braves have their spring training facility in Florida as well. He'd be away from the fanfare of New York.
The fans are confident that Cohen can bring deGrom back to Flushing, and I'm inclined to agree, but if not, the Braves fit the bill for a darkhorse contender.
What could a free agent contract look like? He's 34, and there are legitimate injury concerns, so he may not be joining the $200 million club. Would a four-year deal at $150 million work? He'll be a fascinating case study given his age, history and remarkable body of work.
OF Aaron Judge: Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers grab every big star, and this big star happens to be from California. Judge grew up closer to Sacramento as a fan of the San Francisco Giants, and the Giants probably aren't out of the realm of possibility either. However, the Dodgers are unafraid to spend money and have the means to get some of the game's greats.
Most of the stars the Dodgers collect come from trades, but they did do nine-figure deals with Trevor Bauer and Freddie Freeman in free agency.
The Dodgers will have money coming off of the books with David Price, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel and Turner's salaries all coming off the books. They'll also likely need to replace Turner's bat. What better way to do that than adding the league leader in home runs and OPS?
The negotiations with the Yankees haven't necessarily been contentious, but Judge has been adamant that he isn't going to negotiate during the season and with their offer of seven years, $213.5 million. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic said he wants something closer to $36 million AAV, which would be similar to what Mike Trout makes.
Should Judge end up hitting free agency, the Mets would probably make a generous offer, creating a nightmare scenario for the Yankees and their fans. No one could have predicted that the Mets would be able to outspend the Yankees a decade ago or even five years ago, but it's a realistic scenario now. There is still a chance the Yankees and Judge work out a deal.
However, it sure would be fun to have Trout and Judge in the same market, even if they're in different leagues. There is one big problem: Betts is already in right field. But when you have All-Stars at every position, you find places for everyone. It's a good problem to have.