Even in a shortened 2020 MLB season, several top players boosted their stocks with strong performances and should get rewarded in free agency this offseason.
The 60-game season showed there are several contenders who are just a few key additions away from a World Series, while others need a lot of help after disappointing campaigns. Organizations in both situations could look to the open market to find players who can fill key needs.
Here are some of the bigger names available this winter with predictions about where they will might end up in 2021.
J.T. Realmuto, C
Arguably the best two-way catcher in the majors, J.T. Realmuto will be a coveted player this offseason.
The Philadelphia Phillies will try to re-sign him after he spent the past two years with the team, but there will be competition from division rivals New York Mets, Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports.
The New York Yankees are also "expected to make a play for Realmuto," while the catcher could have interest in the Houston Astros or Texas Rangers, which are both close to his home in Oklahoma.
Phillies teammate Bryce Harper has long called for the organization to give Realmuto an extension and is concerned he could leave for a division rival.
"Anybody that's the best at their position—hitting and fielding—needs to be signed and that is J.T. Realmuto," Harper said in September. "I don't think that should even be a question. There's going to be two teams or three teams in the NL East who are going to go after that guy, and if that happens, I mean, that's going to be tough to swallow for us."
The 29-year-old has a .278 career batting average with at least 10 home runs in each of his six full years in the majors, including 11 in just 47 games this season. He also set a career-high with an .840 OPS.
Added to a resume that also includes a Gold Glove award, there will be a lot of teams interested this winter.
However, the Phillies might not be able to afford him. However, managing partner John Middleton has said he was against trading for Realmuto in the first place if they couldn't extend him.
The most likely scenario is signing with a contender after failing to reach the playoffs in any of his first six seasons.
Atlanta could make the most sense with Travis d'Arnaud moving to designated hitter, giving the Braves one of the best offenses in baseball.
Predicted destination: Atlanta Braves
George Springer, OF
As someone who always seems to step up in the postseason, plenty of top contenders would love to sign George Springer this offseason.
Peter Gammons of The Athletic reported several teams will target the outfielder, as well as reasons to add him:
Jon Heyman of MLB Network later provided more options:
Springer finished in the top 10 of MVP voting in 2019 and followed it up with 14 home runs in 51 games this year to go with a .256/.359/.540 slash line. He is also off to a strong start in the postseason, helping the Astros reach the ALCS.
"You've come to expect it," Astros manager Dusty Baker said, per Jake Kaplan of The Athletic. "This guy is a tremendous ballplayer, a tremendous athlete, and his concentration level rises during these times. He's not missing pitches that he should hit, and he's hitting them out. Boy, it's fun to watch him perform like this."
The 31-year-old can change a game with his offense, something he has done several times in the playoffs. He won World Series MVP in 2018 when he had five home runs in the seven-game series and had 15 home runs in 50 postseason games entering this year. His start to the 2020 playoffs shows he is not slowing down.
While fans and front offices could be concerned about his potential role in the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, his production in 2020 should quiet any doubters about his ability to hit.
The Cardinals would make a lot of sense as they are a team that needs help offensively, especially in the outfield with Tyler O'Neill, Dexter Fowler and others struggling at the plate in 2020.
Predicted destination: St. Louis Cardinals
Trevor Bauer, SP
It's pretty difficult to predict what Trevor Bauer will do in free agency.
He has already spent the offseason hinting at potential landing spots:
Of course, this could all be trolling fanbases while giving little indication about his future.
What we do know is there is a decent chance he could return to the Cincinnati Reds after a dominant 2020 campaign. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com broke down some of the draws:
"Bauer liked playing for manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson. One of his friends and mentors, Kyle Boddy of Driveline Baseball, is part of the organization. And after an epic performance in Game 1 of the NL Wild Card Series that resulted in a no-decision and 1-0 loss in 13 innings, there is the feeling of unfinished business."
Bauer is the favorite to win the NL Cy Young award after producing leading the league with a 1.73 ERA and 0.795 WHIP in 11 starts this year.
This success could fuel him to remain in the same location, especially considering he seemingly values happiness over money.
"As far as free agency goes, I'm going to listen to every offer that comes in, and make a decision where I want to play based on factors that are important to me," Bauer explained in September, per Sheldon. "I want to win; I want to be happy; I want to enjoy playing baseball."
This could help the small-market Reds compete with teams like the Yankees and anyone else going after the ace this offseason.
Cincinnati was swept out of the wild-card round by the Atlanta Braves, but a talented lineup featuring Joey Votto, Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez and others will mostly return in its same form next season (Freddy Galvis is the only regular starter hitting free agency) with other upgrades possible. The pitching staff also has a lot of potential behind Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle, plus Raisel Iglesias out of the bullpen.
Keeping Bauer on this roster could legitimately make the Reds a contender in the National League in 2021 and beyond.
If he enjoyed his season and likes the people around him, it wouldn't be surprising to see the 29-year-old remain with his current team.
Predicted destination: Cincinnati Reds