2021 MLB Free Agents: Predictions for Top Pitchers Set to Hit Open Market

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2021

2021 MLB Free Agents: Predictions for Top Pitchers Set to Hit Open Market

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Three future Hall of Famers headline the list of free-agent pitchers in 2022. 

    The Los Angeles Dodgers may be a favorite to retain the World Series this season, but they could be saying goodbye to Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer next year. Both players have contracts coming to an end, and the likelihood that the team can retain both while addressing other impending free agents is limited.

    Houston's Zack Greinke may also be seeking a new home in the offseason.

    Where might their talents fit best and which teams are realistic suitors for the them, though?

Clayton Kershaw

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Clayton Kershaw is, arguably, the greatest pitcher of his generation. A three-time Cy Young award winner, an NL MVP and triple crown winner, he has done everything there is for a pitcher to do in the majors.

    Adding a World Series ring last season ticked a final box and solidified his status as one of the greatest to play the game.

    Any team that looks to sign him will have to pay in excess of $30 million for his services. While there are almost certainly some that would be happy to do that, Kershaw will likely want to finish his career with the only MLB team he's known.

    Former Dodgers teammate and close friend AJ Ellis told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times: "No chance (he plays somewhere else). He's a one-uniform guy. He's going to be a one-uniform guy with an amazing contingent at Cooperstown someday."

    Kershaw has no plans to retire anytime soon, either.

    "I wanna reevaluate at the end of every year and see how we're doing as a family, myself personally, where we are as a teamand then just make a decision from there. I have no intentions of hanging them up. I'm only 32. I feel like I have more years left in the tank," the 33-year-old told reporters in February. 

    Kershaw will return to the mound in 2022, possibly with another World Series ring. While he has turned in a relatively so-so year by his standards, there is still too much to love about the future Hall of Famer not to bring him back into the fold if you are Los Angeles.

    While other teams will come calling, it only makes sense for the player, his legacy and the Dodgers to ensure their partnership continues beyond this season and the two sides continue to chase a championship together.


    Prediction: Kershaw remains in L.A.

Max Scherzer

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Dodgers have a lot going on this offseason.

    There are huge question marks surrounding Trevor Bauer's future while he remains under league and police investigations into a woman's allegations that he twice sexually assaulted her. Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reported "a majority of players do not want Bauer back under any circumstances" in July. Bayer has denied the sexual assault allegations.

    Impending free agents Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson will all be seeking the attention of club executives.

    With all of that going on, and the very real likelihood that Max Scherzer may be signing his last major league contract (he turns 38 next season), it is increasingly possible the three-time Cy Young award winner will not be returning to Los Angeles.

    Of course, if Kershaw opts to sign a big-money deal elsewhere, getting Scherzer under contract becomes increasingly important for the Dodgers. That is a big "if," though, as Kershaw seems as likely to remain with the Dodgers as he is to finish his career elsewhere.

    Do not sleep on the idea of Scherzer returning to Washington, where he had the bulk of his success and won his lone World Series title. If not the Nationals, perhaps he could return to his home state of Missouri and play for the St. Louis Cardinals, which would have as solid a chance of winning a ring as the Dodgers.


    Prediction: Scherzer signs with St. Louis

Zack Greinke

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Zack Greinke has made a lot of money over the course of his career, including a $206.5 million contract that concludes this season, but he has yet to acquire the World Series ring that drives most professional players.

    The 2009 Cy Young award winner is still a talented pitcher and would serve a championship contender well.

    The 37-year-old is already a Hall of Famer. His stats (219 wins, 3.41 ERA, 2806 shutouts) ensure that. He has played at a high level for a long time and is still an above-average pitcher in the league. But the allure of an NBA ring should fuel his free-agency search.

    The Toronto Blue Jays are among those teams that could use him in their bullpen. He would bring expertise, experience and depth. While he might not be a difference-maker for a team, he would bolster a pitching rotation for a contender.

    Given the offensive firepower the Jays have demonstrated in 2021, adding a pitcher like Greinke who can protect the lead and shut other offenses down might be exactly what they need to win their first championship in nearly three decades.


    Prediction: Greinke signs with Toronto