Way-Too-Early Predictions for Where Top 2021-22 MLB Free Agents Will Land

Abbey MastraccoContributor IIJune 23, 2021

Way-Too-Early Predictions for Where Top 2021-22 MLB Free Agents Will Land

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    This time of year, all of the drama is playing out on the baseball field. Don't get me wrong, it's great, but the rumor mill doesn't quite fly like it does in the offseason when the hot stove burns. We'll get a taste of that in a month before the July 30 trade deadline, but the offseason transactions sustain us until baseball begins again every spring. 

    With that said, let's look ahead to eight members of the 2021 free-agent class. This year's group is loaded with some of the most talented shortstops in the game. A few of them will command contracts in the $100-200 million range or more. Those contracts aren't handed out every day, and many teams struggled financially after a year of lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so it's unclear what the market will look like this winter. 

    Baseball tends to reward players for what they've done in the past rather than what they can potentially do for their next team. Having a good walk year can only help. These are all marquee players who will have a baseline price of what they're worth, so it will be interesting to see if their current teams decide to pay them what they deserve or if they go elsewhere. 

    Here are eight impending free agents and some guesses as to where they could end up.

Colorado Rockies SS Trevor Story: New York Yankees

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Why This Could Happen

    Gleyber Torres isn't producing at the level he was expected to after two All-Star seasons to begin his career. Trevor Story would give them a power bat, speed and baserunning while also improving the infield defense by reuniting him with his former double-play partner from the Colorado Rockies, DJ LeMahieu. There seems to be little-to-no desire to remain in Colorado with the Rockies in a state of disarray, so should he be traded to a contender next month, he'll have a chance to bolster his resume. Story is slashing .259/.335/.424 with a .759 OPS and six home runs, well short of his career marks.

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    The Yankees have been hesitant to go over the luxury-tax threshold, and giving a large contract to Story could push them past it. It doesn't make a lot of sense when Torres is cheap and under team control through 2024. New York is also unlikely to give up on a 24-year-old who just two seasons ago hit 38 home runs and recieved down-ballot MVP votes, and moving him off shortstop would cause a domino effect in the infield. Plus, the team has not been immune to revenue losses during the COVID-19 pandemic, so they may not want to hand out large contracts until the financial situation is stabilized.

Chicago Cubs SS Javier Baez: Cincinnati Reds

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    The Reds are in desperate need of a shortstop. They're getting terrible offensive production out of the position with Eugenio Suarez (.176/.250/.378) having a dismal season at the plate. Javier Baez would solve this problem and give them some continuity and production until Jose Barrero is ready to take over the position.

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    Will the Reds want to spend the money it takes to get a big-name free agent like Baez? He already turned down a $180 million contract extension from the Chicago Cubs. Also, much like the Los Angeles Angels, they have some pitching needs, particularly in the bullpen. The Reds currently have the worst bullpen ERA in the league (5.70). If they decide to prioritize pitching, then they may want to use other means to acquire a more cost-effective shortstop.

Los Angeles Dodgers SS Corey Seager: San Francisco Giants

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    Brandon Crawford's contract expires at the end of this season, as does Brandon Belt's. If the two exit the Bay Area, it will mark the end of an era and it's a perfect time to bring in a new franchise cornerstone. The Giants would make a splash by signing a key player away from their NL West rival, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Corey Seager would greatly help the Giants' chances of competing against the Dodgers and San Diego Padres within the division. Plus, it would reunite Seager with former Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi, the current president of baseball operations in San Francisco and the point man on the rebuild. 

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    Seager will command a huge payday. The former San Francisco regime handed out some big contracts in recent seasons. Some were for players who helped the Giants win multiple World Series during the dynasty of the 2010s, like Crawford, Belt, Buster Posey and Hunter Pence. Pence declined in the later years of his five-year deal, but the other three are helping to lead the Giants' resurgence this season. Prior to that time frame, Barry Zito had a seven-year, $126 million contract and was largely disappointing throughout, though he did have a key outing in the 2012 postseason. Jeff Samardzija had a 4.24 ERA in five years with the Giants. It's a new regime in San Francisco now, but they may not want to repeat the payroll mistakes of the old one. 

Houston Astros SS Carlos Correa: Los Angeles Angels

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    Jose Iglesias is only on a one-year deal, and the Angels don't have any hotshot shortstop prospects coming through the pipeline anytime soon. A lineup with Correa, Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon would be a West Coast Murderer's Row. 

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    Are the Angels really going to commit more than $150 million to a shortstop and continue to neglect the dire need for quality pitching? For years, the decision to invest in the lineup and not in pitching, especially starting pitching, has haunted the Halos. The Angels' staff is currently the fifth-worst in baseball (4.90) and their starting staff is the sixth-worst (4.87 ERA). These numbers are an improvement over how they started the season. The team finished the first month of the season with the worst ERA in the league (5.19). They have two of the best hitters in baseball, but they need pitching to get them over the hump and into the postseason.

Chicago Cubs 3B/LF Kris Bryant: New York Mets

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    The Mets badly need a third baseman. They've needed one for years, but the club continued to hold the spot open for former captain David Wright when he was struggling to stay on the field, and when he retired, they prioritized offense over defense with J.D. Davis. With new owner Steve Cohen willing to spend what it takes to build a contender, making a play for the premier third baseman on the market would certainly help their cause. Kris Bryant is having a bounce-back season with an .875 OPS and 13 home runs. His career numbers at third base are far superior to Davis': -3 defensive runs saved and a 0.0 UZR vs. Davis' -21 defensive runs saved and -3.9 UZR.

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    Davis is cheap and under team control through 2024. They could hold out hope that Davis' glove improves while waiting for Brett Baty or Mark Vientos to reach the major leagues.

New York Mets RF Michael Conforto: Seattle Mariners

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    Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    Contract negotiations seem to have fizzled after the Mets signed Francisco Lindor to a 10-year deal. The former Oregon State standout was born and raised in the Seattle area and still makes his offseason home there. He also once hit two home runs in Seattle to help the Mets down his hometown team. The versatile Conforto is primarily a right fielder but can play any outfield position and would be a complement to center fielder Jarred Kelenic, who was originally drafted by the Mets. The Mariners need to do something to show fans they're ready to move on to the next phase of the rebuild and reach the postseason for the first time since 2001. 

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    Mitch Haniger currently has right field locked down and is a bargain compared to Conforto, with another year of team control left. There are younger, cheaper outfield options currently in the Mariners system, like Jake Bauers, and the team may not be done building yet.

Atlanta Braves 1B Freddie Freeman: Atlanta Braves

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    These last two seem destined to remain with their current clubs because of how much they mean to them. Freddie Freeman isn't the future of the Braves—that would be Ronald Acuna Jr.—but he's the heart and soul of the team. He's a four-time All-Star and won last season's NL MVP award with the team that drafted him in 2007. His .811 OPS this season shows the 31-year-old is still productive. Freeman should be in Atlanta to finish his career. 

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    There were no contract negotiations before the season, and Freeman has deemed them a "distraction" he would like to avoid during the regular season.

Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    Why It Could Happen

    Similar to Freeman, Clayton Kershaw means a lot to the Dodgers and the city of Los Angeles. He has won three NL Cy Young Awards, NL MVP and a World Series with the Dodgers. Kershaw has said he's open to staying in Los Angeles, and though it would be a heck of a move if the Angels ended up signing him, Kershaw has been a key part of one of the more dominant teams of the last decade and the Dodgers seem like a much more likely fit than the Angels. The Dodgers show no signs of slowing down with one of the best, and most expensive, rosters in baseball, so Kershaw might want to continue to be a part of the team's reign. 

         

    Why It Might Not Happen

    With his kids now in school there, the Dallas-area native has expressed a desire to possibly remain in Texas year-round. The Rangers are still a work in progress, but they could expedite that rebuild by signing a pitcher like Kershaw.

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