Predicting the Next MLB Stars to Sign Megadeals After Fernando Tatis Jr.

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2021

Predicting the Next MLB Stars to Sign Megadeals After Fernando Tatis Jr.

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    Juan Soto has put himself in line for a huge payday.
    Juan Soto has put himself in line for a huge payday.Manuel Balce Ceneta/Associated Press

    There's a new $300 million man in Major League Baseball after star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. agreed to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension with the San Diego Padres on Wednesday.

    Once Tatis signs on the dotted line, the list of active contracts worth at least $300 million will extend to seven. Because six of those deals have been signed within the past two years, it's a safe guess that there are more coming.

    Rather than simply wait for them, we identified eight candidates to sign a $300 million megadeal in the near future. Though we considered one prospect, this list mostly consists of established superstars in their 20s who could get such paydays through extensions or free agency.

    Let's count 'em down in order of how likely they are to join Tatis and the others in the $300 million club

8. 3B Spencer Torkelson, Detroit Tigers

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Since Fernando Tatis Jr. was a mere prospect with no MLB experience only two years ago, it seems wise to consider which prospect might soon play his way into Tatisian riches.

    Because he's, well everybody's No. 1 talent right now, Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Wander Franco could certainly be worth $300 million before long. But since the odds he will actually get paid that kind of money by the Rays are between slim and none, we have our eyes on Spencer Torkelson.

    Though he's "only" our No. 17 prospect, Torkelson is already No. 3 for MLB.com mere months after the Detroit Tigers selected him with the first pick of the 2020 draft. That hype springs from the 21-year-old's hit and power tools, both of which rate as well above average.

    Torkelson could be an everyday fixture for Detroit as soon as 2022. If he makes like Tatis and immediately vaults himself into superstardom, perhaps the Tigers will move quickly to lock him up as the core member of what they hope will be their next World Series contender.

7. 3B Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    OK, this one might be a long shot.

    Matt Chapman is controlled by the Oakland Athletics, who don't have $300 million to spend on any one player. He's also scheduled to hit free agency after 2023, by which time he'll be 30 years old. As of now, Miguel Cabrera's $248 million contract from 2014 is the high-water mark for a 30-something player.

    There is, however, a realistic possibility Chapman will get dealt in the near future. And whether it's the New York Mets (who are already in on the A's star) or some other club with deep pockets, a trade to such a team could be Chapman's avenue to a $300 million contract extension.

    After all, it's not a question of whether he has that kind of value. Provided he recovers well from hip surgery, he should shrug off an injury-marred 2020 season and return to being what he was in 2018 and 2019: a power-hitting, slick-fielding third baseman who racked up more rWAR than all but two players.

6. SS Bo Bichette, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jeffrey T. Barnes/Associated Press

    It's just a matter of time before the Toronto Blue Jays extend one of the core stars who helped propel them to the playoffs in 2020. That means you, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette.

    Whether any of those three has upside worthy of a $300 million deal is debatable, but Bichette probably has the best shot.

    In the 75 games he's played since 2019, Dante's son is a .307/.347/.549 hitter with 16 home runs and eight stolen bases. And because he's going to turn only 23 on March 5, it's way too soon to assume he can't overcome the issues he's had in the field.

    In any case, the best possible version of Bichette is a capable defensive shortstop who's also a dynamic threat at the plate. If that becomes his reality, the Blue Jays could be all to happy to spend what it takes to lock him up well beyond his post-2025 date with free agency.

5. SS Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    Speaking of young, exciting shortstops in the American League East, let's not forget about Gleyber Torres.

    His earning power might not seem that great after what happened in 2020. He missed time with a hamstring injury and struggled to the tune of a 102 OPS+ and only three home runs in 42 games. He also had a rough time in the field, where he accounted for minus-four outs above average.

    In 2018 and 2019, however, Torres was an All-Star whose 62 total home runs were the most ever by a middle infielder through his first two MLB seasons. He's still just 24, so the chances of that power coming back and his defense stabilizing are pretty good.

    The New York Yankees have shied away from big-money extensions in recent years, but Gerrit Cole's nine-year, $324 million pact proves they're not altogether against $300 million contracts. If Torres settles in to his considerable upside between now and the end of his club control in 2024, perhaps he'll get one of those.

4. SP Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    If Gerrit Cole's example is any indication, the next pitcher to sign a $300 million contract will likely have to be a free agent and will absolutely have to be very good and safely south of age 30.

    That could be Cleveland ace Shane Bieber, but he isn't due for free agency until after 2024. St. Louis Cardinals ace Jack Flaherty, who's under club control through 2023, might have a better shot. But first, he needs to shake off his 2020 struggles and rediscover his brilliant form of 2019.

    Which brings us to Lucas Giolito. Though he made his MLB debut in 2016, he is still only 26 years old. And over the last two seasons, he's dominated for the Chicago White Sox with a 132 ERA+ and 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings.

    Giolito is slated to hit free agency after his age-28 season in 2023, which is the same age bracket Cole was in after 2019. So as long as he keeps dominating, Giolito might have a window to become MLB's second $300 million pitcher.

3. CF Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Whereas the first five players on this list were more or less in the "maybe" pile, this is where we start addressing the few players who have a realistic shot to score a $300 million contract.

    For someone who's been in the league for only four years, Cody Bellinger already has a staggeringly impressive resume. He's been a Rookie of the Year, an MVP, a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glover, a Silver Slugger and a World Series champion. All told, he ranks 10th in rWAR since 2017.

    The catch with Bellinger is that his production at the plate has fluctuated wildly, as his four seasons have produced OPS+es of 143, 120, 169 and 113. Yet he's still only 25, so there's plenty of time for him to narrow the gap between his floor and his ceiling.

    Bellinger isn't due for free agency until after 2023, so the clock isn't ticking on the Los Angeles Dodgers to extend him. But if he settles in to more consistency, a fear of losing Bellinger could compel the Boys in Blue to make him their second $300 million player after Mookie Betts.

2. RF Juan Soto, Washington Nationals

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    In Juan Soto, the Washington Nationals have one of the best young hitters in MLB history and the best hitter in MLB today.

    His .295/.415/.557 batting line through three seasons works out to a 151 OPS+, which ranks fifth all-time among hitters with at least 1,300 plate appearances through their age-21 seasons. Soto is also fresh off leading the majors with both his .490 on-base percentage and his .695 slugging percentage.

    As soon as Tatis agreed to his extension, speculation began that the Nats could follow suit with Soto. Yet according to Jessica Camerato of MLB.com, general manager Mike Rizzo doesn't see it that way. He noted that the club and Soto and "still in the early stages of discussions" about a long-term deal.

    This is understandable given that the 22-year-old is under club control through 2024. It will nonetheless be an upset if the Nats don't lock him up at an appropriate rate sometime between now and then.

1. SS Francisco Lindor, New York Mets

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    David Dermer/Associated Press

    The 2021-22 free-agent market is set to have not one, not two, not three, not four, but five superstar shortstops: Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Javier Baez.

    Because each of them is at least a couple of years south of 30 and well established among the top producers at the position, all five would be in line for nine-figure contracts. But if we must pick one candidate for a deal as large as $300 million, we'll side with Lindor.

    Despite his hard times in 2020, the Mets' newest superstar still leads all shortstops in rWAR since 2015. At his best from 2017 to 2019, the 27-year-old accounted for a 122 OPS+, 103 home runs, 62 stolen bases and 31 defensive runs saved.

    If Lindor does hit the open market, he will likely try to at least match the 10-year, $300 million deal Manny Machado signed with San Diego in 2019. As for why the "if" is necessary, there is the possibility the Mets will take him up on his openness to sign an extension before he reaches free agency.

                   

    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs. Contract data courtesy of Spotrac.