Final Predictions for 2020 Winter Meetings' Top Free-Agent Signings, Trades

Martin FennFeatured Columnist IDecember 7, 2020

Final Predictions for 2020 Winter Meetings' Top Free-Agent Signings, Trades

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    The 2020-21 MLB offseason has already been quite the trip.

    Sure, the prevailing storyline continues to be the number of cost-cutting efforts around the league.

    Several moves at the non-tender deadline seemed to prove as much, with teams like the Chicago Cubs and Minnesota Twins parting with Kyle Schwarber and Eddie Rosario, respectively.

    Colorado non-tendered 2019 All-Star David Dahl, and the St. Louis Cardinals would not offer what Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch estimated to be an $800,000 contract to John Brebbia, who—despite having Tommy John surgery last year—had been one of the most effective arms in the Redbirds' bullpen.

    Yet, clubs have been willing to spend too. Robbie Ray got $8 million from Toronto, Drew Smyly signed for $11 million with Atlanta and Mike Minor got a multiyear deal from Kansas City. Milwaukee is taking a leap of faith by paying Daniel Vogelbach $1.4 million, and the Royals agreed to terms with Jorge Soler for over $8 million. 

    This all means baseball fans could see just about anything at this week's winter meetings. It is still 2020, after all.

    Nevertheless, the rumor mill has begun spitting out information, and activity should pick up. The following is a list of predictions for some of the biggest moves we might see in the next week, based on fit, team outlook and the latest reports.

Mets Get Trevor Bauer…and J.T. Realmuto

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    The New York Mets seem like the best landing spot for the market's top two free agents, despite some reports to the contrary.

    FanSided's Robert Murray and's Andy Martino reported the Mets have been heavily engaged with free-agent backstop James McCann, with Martino also reporting there are "mixed indications" regarding the Mets' interest in Bauer, and vice versa.

    But, these feel like potential smoke screens. Murray reported McCann could receive a four-year deal. If the Mets are going to make that kind of long-term commitment, why not spend more to get arguably the best catcher in baseball in J.T. Realmuto, who at 29, is one year younger?

    As for Bauer, the Mets desperately need more starting pitching and have to keep in mind both Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard will be free agents next offseason.

    Perhaps Bauer, 29, has his mind on other destinations. Yet, this is the same guy who made a video praising new Mets owner Steve Cohen for his introductory press conference and willingness to consider fan input, including matters such as player personnel.

    New York needs to be aggressive. Jacob deGrom has a player option in 2023. Signing Realmuto and Bauer would fill two glaring needs while also sending a message to their incumbent players about a culture shift. 

    It will cost a pretty penny to ink both Realmuto and Bauer. But club president Sandy Alderson said the team would likely be more active in free agency than the trade market. The Mets might as well spend big while they have capital in a winter when many teams are uncertain about their financial futures.

George Springer Joins the Youth Movement in Chicago

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Most of the talk surrounding George Springer has been regarding the Toronto Blue Jays' interest in the former Houston Astros center fielder. 

    Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported Toronto has "progressed beyond just talking" with Springer, who is coming off a season during which he hit 14 homers with an .899 OPS. However, Toronto has more pressing needs in the starting rotation and might do better to spend on second-tier starters like Jake Odorizzi.

    The Chicago White Sox could also use starting pitching, but the South Siders have two legitimate arms at the top in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel in addition to a host of young pitchers primed to progress or gain experience in 2021.

    The more pressing need is in right field after Chicago non-tendered Nomar Mazara.

    Springer would be the perfect fit: a high-on-base guy at the top of the order who can slug and drive in runs while playing solid defense. He would also provide a young roster with another veteran leader who has plenty of World Series experience.

    The Connecticut native has yet to give any indication he is slowing down at 31 years old. Springer's last two seasons have arguably been his best, and he could be galvanized by the thought of joining a young roster ready to contend for a World Series.

    Mark Feinsand of reported the White Sox might be aggressive in the starting pitching market. But it is also easy to envision general manager Rick Hahn going hard after one-year deals for veterans like Rich Hill while spending big on Springer.

DJ LeMahieu Stays in the Big Apple

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    DJ LeMahieu was supposed to be an afterthought signing during the 2018-19 offseason. He was just another productive player who had to take a short-term deal in a winter when Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dominated the headlines. 

    Except, nobody told LeMahieu he had to play second or third fiddle.

    He was the New York Yankees' best player in each of the last two seasons.

    The 32-year-old ranked 12th in baseball in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) in that span. He won his second batting title in 2020, also leading the American League in OBP (.421), OPS (1.011) and OPS+ (177) while finishing third in AL MVP voting.

    LeMahieu has a ton of suitors. Morosi reported teams like the Blue Jays and Washington Nationals are showing interest in the two-time batting champion, and rightfully so. He is an elite contact hitter who can also hit for power and play multiple positions. Any team would be glad to have him.

    That said, it does not seem likely the Yankees will let DJ walk.

    LeMahieu's offensive production was indispensable to a roster that suffered two consecutive injury-riddled seasons. The Yankees also require more options up the middle, even if they move Gleyber Torres back to second base.

    New York has pitching needs, especially in the rotation. However, failing to re-sign the three-time All-Star would leave a gaping hole in the lineup for a team that has already dealt with shrinking depth in recent years.

    Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported "many in the industry" anticipate LeMahieu will return to the Bronx, and it would make sense for the Yankees to get a deal done early so they can move on to pitching needs.

Marcell Ozuna, Nelson Cruz Remain Unsigned

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Marcell Ozuna, 30, and Nelson Cruz, 40, are two of the market's best hitters. But they face as much uncertainty as any other available player.

    Ozuna led the National League in home runs (18), RBI (56) and total bases (145) while hitting .338 with a 1.067 OPS last year. He also ranked in the 94th percentile or higher in barrels, average exit velocity and hard-hit rate, including the 99th percentile in expected wOBA, per Baseball Savant.

    Cruz's advanced hitting stats are every bit as salivating. He ranked in the 92nd percentile in expected slugging percentage and 93rd percentile in barrels. The 40-year-old clubbed 16 homers and tied a career-high with a 169 OPS+ in 2020. Cruz also ranks second in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) in the last two years. 

    But whether the universal designated hitter will be in play again in 2021 could determine both of their markets. 

    Ozuna has outfield experience. But he has been a below-average defender since undergoing shoulder surgery in the fall of 2018, ranking 244th in outs above average in 2019 while spending most of his time in 2020 with the Atlanta Braves as a DH. Cruz, meanwhile, has been a DH for the better part of the last five seasons. 

    Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported "no less" than 10 teams are eyeing Ozuna, and Dan Hayes of The Athletic reported the Twins have interest in re-signing Cruz. However, Hayes also reported Cruz is intent on waiting for the best deal, which might not be determined until MLB finalizes plans for a universal DH.

    Ozuna is likely to follow suit in this regard.

Michael Brantley Heads Back to H-Town

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Springer and Ozuna are regarded as the top two outfielders on the market, but Michael Brantley isn't far behind.

    The 33-year-old has had the attention of a number of teams, with ESPN's Buster Olney reporting even the Yankees have checked in on Brantley. Davidi reported the Blue Jays also have interest, though they have reportedly shown some level of interest in just about every top name. 

    However, a reunion with the Houston Astros will almost certainly be the endgame for Brantley.

    Houston had three outfielders enter free agency, with Josh Reddick joining Springer and Brantley. Reddick's recent Instagram post suggests he might not return to the Astros.

    The Astros do not appear to have had much contact with Springer—whose gaudy salary would also take them closer to the $210 million luxury-tax threshold—and it seems Houston is pretty dialed in on keeping Brantley, considering it is unlikely the club will let all three outfielders walk.

    Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported early last month the Astros had already begun discussions with Brantley, adding there was mutual interest in hashing out a deal. 

    Brantley has had an exceptional two-year run with the Astros, slashing .309/.370/.497 with a 126 OPS+. He has gap-to-gap power and gives Houston's lineup a different feel as a guy with low swing-and-miss tendencies from the left side.

    The Astros will still have to account for the possible loss of Springer in center field. But Kyle Tucker's defensive prowess might mean he could shift to center, and Brantley's potential installment in left would give Houston options among the other outfielders it may target.

    Regardless, the Astros likely value Brantley's hit tool and leadership in the locker room. Watch for him to get a multiyear deal to stay in Houston.

Twins Make Another Deal for a Hurler

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    Craig Lassig/Associated Press

    The Minnesota Twins bet on right-hander Kenta Maeda when they acquired him in February from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the deal involving reliever Brusdar Graterol.

    Maeda went 6-1 with a 2.70 ERA in 11 starts while leading baseball with a 0.75 WHIP and finishing second in AL Cy Young voting. The best part, for Minnesota, is Maeda is under club control through 2023.

    The Twins have rotation needs once again this offseason, and they have another opportunity to acquire a controllable starter. 

    Rosenthal initially reported the Cincinnati Reds were "open" to trading right-hander Sonny Gray. Joel Sherman of the New York Post subsequently reported the Reds were, in fact, "working hard" to trade Gray. Is it possible the Twins are a suitor?

    It would make all the sense in the world for Minnesota to get involved if the Reds are indeed intent on trading him. Michael Pineda is back in the mix, but the Twins are losing Odorizzi and Hill to free agency, leaving a hole in the rotation.

    More importantly, Gray will only command just over $20 million combined in the next two years and has a $12 million club option in 2023. He is more cost-efficient (based on performance) than most of the arms on the market, especially considering some of the money that has already been thrown around.

    Of course, Gray and his 3.07 ERA over the last two years will cost the Twins quite a bit in terms of prospect capital. But Minnesota has a diverse group of talented players in its pipeline. The Twins probably will not part with Royce Lewis or Alex Kirilloff, but guys like Trevor Larnach and Jhoan Duran could be on the table.

    Minnesota has plenty of offense, especially if some key players rectify disappointing 2020 campaigns. But adding Gray would give the Twins a rotation to possibly match that of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central, and he would also prop open the team's window in terms of division titles and more.

    The Twins might also ask about Zack Wheeler after ESPN's Buster Olney reported the Philadelphia Phillies are "open" to listening to offers for the right-hander. However, Gray carries less of a payroll burden and has been every bit as effective.

Blue Jays Acquire Jean Segura

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    The Blue Jays might as well be the belle of the hot-stove ball. 

    Toronto has never been the biggest spender—Vernon Wells' $126 million 2006 extension notwithstanding—and the Blue Jays could get the short end of the stick bidding against big-market teams. 

    Still, the Blue Jays have a strong farm system.

    Murray reported the Blue Jays are among the teams inquiring about Philadelphia Phillies infielder Jean Segura, who makes a ton of sense for Toronto if it misses out on the top names.

    Segura can play shortstop or second base. He ranked in the 99th percentile—or 11th among all second basemen—in outs above average last season, per Baseball Savant. The Blue Jays could move Cavan Biggio to third base to replace Travis Shaw, whom they non-tendered.

    Plus, Segura, 30, hits for average at a consistently high level. He had at least 150 hits every year from 2016 to 2019, leading the NL in '16 with 203 base knocks. Segura's walk rate also went up in 2020, and he can steal bases.

    He is owed $28.5 million over the next two years, per Spotrac, with a $17 million club option in 2023.

    That might seem expensive, depending on how much money LeMahieu gets this winter. But considering Segura plays multiple positions, makes consistent contact and can run, it's a reasonable rate. 

    Even if the Phillies hope to contend this year, they could look to move Segura's money. Toronto might also be open to signing someone like Kolten Wong in free agency, but Segura offers more offense than Wong and his career 97 OPS+.

    This could open a lane for the Blue Jays to harness their farm and make a deal that works for both sides.

Padres Nab Lance Lynn

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The San Diego Padres hoped to address their starting pitching need when they acquired Mike Clevinger from the Indians at last year's trade deadline.

    However, Clevinger will miss 2021 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and Garrett Richards is headed for free agency. The Friars are on their way up, but they need at least a couple of arms to make a real playoff push in 2021.

    Acquiring Lance Lynn could be their best option.

    Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported the Padres have told Bauer's agent, Rachel Luba, they would "like to be kept apprised as his market evolves." Acee also reported the Friars have "spit-balled" regarding a possible deal for Blake Snell. But Lynn is the more realistic target.

    Bauer would have a drastic impact on the team's payroll. Meanwhile, Snell would cost San Diego lots of prospect capital.

    Trading for Lynn would also ding the farm system, but the Texas Rangers do not have as much to barter with. Sure, Lynn will only earn $8 million in 2021. But he will also be a free agent at the end of the year, is older than Bauer (29) and Snell (28), and the 33-year-old might have slightly harmed his value with a 5.51 ERA in five September starts.

    San Diego has already thinned its farm a bit with all the deals it made at the deadline last August, and acquiring Lynn would be less demanding on that end.

    Plus, Lynn is still a terrific pitcher. The veteran ranks fifth in fWAR since 2019, per FanGraphs. He is also a workhorse, having led baseball in innings pitched (84) this past season. 

    Acee noted the Padres had interest in trading for Lynn last summer, though they never pulled the trigger, likely because of the asking price. But that price has to have lowered with Lynn closer to free agency, and Friars general manager A.J. Preller will do what it takes to get him this time.

Dodgers Sign Liam Hendriks

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    The Los Angeles Dodgers are in great position to make any number of additions this offseason, with upcoming payroll flexibility after 2021 and the prospect capital to swing a trade.

    It is possible L.A. is more cautious during the winter meetings, maybe choosing to re-sign free agents like Justin Turner or Jake McGee. 

    But the Dodgers need late-game relievers with Blake Treinen and Pedro Baez entering free agency. Additionally, Kenley Jansen will be a free agent after next season, and there is no guaranteeing manager Dave Roberts will be comfortable keeping him as the closer given a continued velocity decline. 

    Morosi reported the Dodgers are interested in Brad Hand, who led MLB with 16 saves and had a 1.37 FIP last year. The 30-year-old would be an excellent addition, but Hendriks is better.

    He had a second consecutive dominant year for the Oakland Athletics, posting a 1.78 ERA, 1.14 FIP and 0.67 WHIP while notching 14 saves. The Australian was one of the A's pitchers without a blemish during a high-scoring ALDS against the Astros, as he tossed three scoreless innings and struck out four while allowing just one hit. 

    The 31-year-old has a fastball that reaches the upper 90s to go along with wipeout breaking stuff. He ranked in the 98th percentile in both strikeout and walk rate, per Baseball Savant. Hendriks has pristine command to go with an overpowering arsenal and is the ideal late-game stopper. 

    Los Angeles acquired Corey Knebel in the hopes he can rediscover the All-Star form he showed in 2017. But he struggled in 2020 (6.08 ERA) after missing all of 2019 because of Tommy John surgery.

    Hendriks, on the other hand, is the ideal replacement for Jansen when his contract expires.

    The Dodgers will face a crowded market for Hendriks, but playing for the defending world champions could entice him.

Toronto Signs a Pair of Tier 2 Starters

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Forget all the noise: Toronto's primary concern is how best to address the starting rotation.

    Hyun Jin Ryu was brilliant in 2020, going 5-2 with a 2.69 ERA in 12 starts while finishing third in the AL Cy Young voting. He also posted 1.9 fWAR. As for the rest of Toronto's rotation? They combined for 0.7 fWAR, and 0.5 of that came from Taijuan Walker, whom the team acquired at the trade deadline.

    Speaking of Walker, the guess here is the Blue Jays re-sign him. The 28-year-old was terrific in six starts with Toronto, posting a 1.37 ERA.

    Walker had a higher walk rate and WHIP than he did with the Seattle Mariners earlier in the year, but he also kept the homers down and picked up strikeouts at a slightly higher rate. He has pretty strong career numbers (3.84 ERA) for someone who isn't generating a ton of buzz.

    On the other hand, Odorizzi is generating plenty of interest. Olney reported last month the Blue Jays were among a number of teams kicking the tires on the 30-year-old right-hander, who is coming off an injury-riddled campaign.

    He made just four starts last year but made his first All-Star team in 2019 while posting a 3.51 ERA in 30 starts and notching a career-high 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. Like Walker, Odorizzi is still young, and Olney reported his "pitch profile" is making him an attractive target.

    Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins told Sportsnet's Tim and Sid last week he talks with Excel agency on a weekly basis, which represents both Walker and Odorizzi.

    Toronto might be thinking big in terms of signing someone such as Springer or LeMahieu. But there are other ways to plug those holes while nabbing a pair of productive starting pitchers to satisfy the team's biggest need.


    All stats obtained via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant or FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.