7 MLB Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Stay Put
MLB free agency has been moving at a snail's pace this offseason. Between the economic constraints caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty over when the season will begin, teams are taking a cautious approach to free agency.
It almost makes you wonder whether some free agents would be better off staying with their own clubs. New York Mets right-hander Marcus Stroman took that approach by accepting a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer. Stroman opted to re-up instead of testing the frigid free-agent waters.
But that's not the right move for everyone. Some teams can't afford to pay their stars. Some teams have prospects in the pipeline for whom they need to prioritize playing time. And some players are in their primes, better suited for competitive teams than rebuilding ones.
Here are seven free agents who are better suited to sign elsewhere.
Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland Athletics
The Oakland Athletics can't hang on to their stars even in good years, so in a strange year such as this one, they surely won't be able to retain the star shortstop who was born in their backyard.
The 30-year-old Semien played in youth leagues in the East Bay near Oakland, attended St. Mary's College High School in Berkeley and went to college at Cal. When he arrived via trade from the Chicago White Sox after the 2014 season, it seemed like the perfect fit.
And it was—for six years. The A's have made the postseason in each of the past three, and Semien was a key part of the lineup and a leader in the clubhouse.
But when the season ended, they didn't even tender him a qualifying offer. The low-budget club has said it would like to keep him, but it may not be feasible. Oakland will figure out a way to stay competitive, possibly by signing Andrelton Simmons, but Semien would be better off going to another team that can afford to keep him for the next few years.
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF, Boston Red Sox
It's unclear what direction the Boston Red Sox plan to go after a couple of tumultuous years.
In the two years since they won the World Series, they've parted ways with president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski; missed the 2019 postseason; declared their intention to cut payroll; been embroiled in a sign-stealing controversy that cost manager Alex Cora his job; traded one of their best homegrown players in a generation, center fielder Mookie Betts, to the Los Angeles Dodgers; tanked under manager Ron Roenicke; and then rehired Cora.
Through it all, the 30-year-old Jackie Bradley Jr. remained solid. He's been a streaky hitter, but his .814 OPS in 2020 ranked 22nd in the American League. And he is a spectacular center fielder with 48 career defensive runs saved.
Bradley is more affordable than George Springer, so maybe he would be a better fit for a team built to win now—such as the Houston Astros—instead of one in transition.
George Springer, CF, Houston Astros
The Astros are built to win now, but they're also set up for the future. That complicates the potential for a long-term deal with a premier player such as George Springer, who could command a huge contract. Houston is not a deep-pocketed club and relies on developing players on smaller contracts to balance out the big pacts.
It has a crop of prospects—including Chas McCormick and Myles Straw—who could supplant Springer and could use a stopgap center fielder such as Jackie Bradley Jr. while they develop.
Springer, 31, wants a long-term deal and wants to play closer to his native Connecticut. He accomplished some great things with the Astros—he is a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger and was named the 2017 World Series MVP—but has a chance to be a key piece of another team for a significant stretch.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds have a good chance to win the National League Central next season, so their Cy Young Award-winning pitcher should want to stay, right?
Cincinnati tendered the $18.9 million qualifying offer to Trevor Bauer in November, but he turned it down and became a free agent. Which was to be expected after he posted a 1.73 ERA and 0.79 WHIP last season, both of which ranked second in baseball. There have been conflicting reports about the compensation and length of contract Bauer is seeking, and he even disputed a report by MLB Network's Jon Heyman that he wanted five or six years and in the realm of $200 million.
There are other things Bauer needs from his next team, which he wants to be a contender.
He recently posted a vlog about his requests. They were not outrageous, though a few were unorthodox. This wasn't surprising considering he has always had some unique training methods and he said it's important for him to be able to continue the off-field maintenance routines he believes have made him successful.
Bauer, 30, also wants to pitch every fourth day and said he has the data to show he would be effective. It's an idea he brought up in the past. He has been cast as a misfit but said he's happy and comfortable with who he is and that he'd like to keep feeling that way. But he also wants to win and has a better chance of doing that outside of Cincinnati. Maybe he can be happy with the Reds, but he could help another team win a World Series.
Marcell Ozuna, OF/DH, Atlanta Braves
According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Atlanta Braves are not planning on re-signing slugger Marcell Ozuna because of their payroll structure. That would leave a big hole in the middle of their order, but the 30-year-old is probably better off outside of Atlanta.
After making a career as an outfielder in the National League, it's possible the right-handed hitting Ozuna could be better suited as a designated hitter for an American League team. He had minus-2 defensive runs saved and a minus-2.7 UZR in 21 games in the outfield for the Braves last season. MLB still has not made a decision on the universal DH, which is limiting the abilities of players and teams—including Ozuna and Atlanta—to plan.
It sounds like the Braves might do away with Ozuna, whether or not the league does away with the universal DH. He is very much capable of playing in the outfield every day, but he could maximize his value as a DH. He played well there last season, hitting 14 of his 18 home runs in 39 games. He hit four homers as an outfielder in half as many plate appearances.
He hasn't done it since he hit 37 homers in 2017, but he has the potential to hit 30 again. Maybe without pressure to perform in the field, he could reach his full capabilities at the plate.
Brad Hand, LHP, Cleveland
The best closer remaining on the free-agent market is in a tough spot with Cleveland. The club offloaded a ton of salary by trading two of its best players, shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-handed starter Carlos Carrasco, to the Mets on Jan. 7. Hand may soon join his former teammates, as New York is reportedly one of several clubs interested in the 30-year-old.
The Cleveland team is in full rebuild mode, though, and Hand can contribute to a playoff team. Last season, he converted all 16 of his save opportunities. The year prior, he converted 34 of 39.
The three-time All-Star can get more money, a longer term and opportunities to play in meaningful games if he leaves Cleveland. The Mets and Toronto Blue Jays appear to be two of the most aggressive teams this offseason—and both have been linked to Hand. He would upgrade either bullpen, but Toronto could use him more.
The Blue Jays got at least one save from six different players last season, with Anthony Bass (now a free agent) recording seven and Rafael Dolis posting five. Hand would stabilize the bullpen and give Toronto a chance to compete for the American League East.
J.T. Realmuto, C, Philadelphia Phillies
According to The Athletic's Jayson Stark, J.T. Realmuto wants to be paid like one of the premier players in the game, not like one of the premier catchers in the game. The Philadelphia Phillies reportedly made him a nine-figure offer recently, but it may not be enough.
New president of baseball operations David Dombrowski and his wife, Karie, met with Realmuto and his wife, Lexi, in Realmuto's native Oklahoma before Christmas. Dombrowski's track record of building championship teams could entice Realmuto to stay with Philadelphia, but it appears as though he wants his payday.
It doesn't seem like there are many teams willing to spend, though. New Mets owner Steven A. Cohen is, but the team already got its catcher in December, signing James McCann to a four-year deal.
If Realmuto wants a bigger deal than the one the Phillies are offering, he could go with the Blue Jays, who are interested, per Stark. Toronto hasn't always been a place for elite free agents, but Realmuto could change that and encourage other high-profile players to do the same.