Ranking the Top 10 Landing Spots for Dodgers' Corey Seager in MLB Free Agency
Even if Corey Seager doesn't end up as the richest of the prized shortstops on Major League Baseball's 2021-22 free-agent market, he might at least be first off the board.
The key date on the horizon is Dec. 1, when MLB's collective bargaining agreement is due to expire. Nobody yet knows what the landscape beyond looks like, so ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that Seager could preempt any personal uncertainty by signing in the near future.
That takes care of the "when," which just leaves the "where" as the biggest unknown in Seager's free-agent journey.
To this end, we took it on ourselves to size up his value and identify 10 teams that could sign him on his terms.
What Will Seager Be Looking for in Free Agency?
When Seager is healthy, there aren't many shortstops who can do what he can.
Namely: hit. Seager ranked second among shortstops with a 133 OPS+ through his first three seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2015 to 2017. Following injury-marred campaigns in 2018 and 2019, he's third on that particular chart with a 147 OPS+ over the last two seasons.
The 27-year-old's offensive approach is a balanced one, as he placed in the 79th percentile or better with his strikeout, walk and hard-hit rates in 2021. Which is good, because he arguably needs to hit as well as he does to justify his up-and-down defense.
Contract-wise, the pie in the sky for Seager and agent Scott Boras is the 10-year, $341 million pact that fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor inked with the New York Mets in April. It is, however, unlikely that anyone is willing to pay Seager that much.
Even still, projections from MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs have Seager pegged for a $30 million average annual value in a deal that could last from eight to 10 years. Either would put him in the echelon just below Lindor.
As for which teams could be willing to do a deal like that, let's start with a wild card north of the border.
10. Toronto Blue Jays
Wait, don't the Toronto Blue Jays already have a good shortstop?
To one extent, yes they do. Bo Bichette has done a ton of hitting since his debut in 2019 and is fresh off an All-Star season marked by 29 home runs, 25 stolen bases and an American League-leading 191 hits.
But on the other side of the ball, Bichette is an erratic defender who committed an MLB-high 24 boots in 2021. So even if the Blue Jays don't want to move him off shortstop, it's hypothetically a sacrifice they could make if it meant creating space for Seager.
Or, they might just convince Seager to play third base, thereby allowing Cavan Biggio to fill Marcus Semien's vacated shoes at second. Either way, signing Seager would give an otherwise scary Toronto lineup something it lacked in 2021: a threat from the left side of the plate.
Are these long shots? Yeah, probably. But if the Blue Jays do mount a mystery-team run at Seager, the money won't be an issue. The $115 million they're projected to spend in 2022 puts them about $50 million below the peaks they pushed their payroll to in 2017 and 2018.
9. St. Louis Cardinals
It was only two years ago that Paul DeJong was an All-Star shortstop who boasted both 30-homer power and Gold Glove-caliber defense.
These days, DeJong might not even be the de facto starter for the St. Louis Cardinals. He mostly ceded that role to Edmundo Sosa down the stretch of 2021, and rightfully so given that the latter is also a talented defender who hit a solid .271 last season.
Rather than stick with a timeshare between these two players, might the Cardinals dip their toe into the shortstop market?
To hear it from president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, via Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the answer is no. And besides, it's not like the Cardinals to shop at the top of the free-agent market.
Then again, this is the same team that absorbed most of Nolan Arenado's contract just last winter. It's also a team that badly needs a dangerous left-handed bat in addition to an upgrade at shortstop, so it's perhaps not out of the question that the Cardinals will commit some of their recently freed-up payroll space to Seager.
8. Houston Astros
With Carlos Correa afloat on the free-agent waters, the Houston Astros have a sizable hole at shortstop.
It's still technically possible that Correa, a two-time All-Star and one-time Gold Glover, will return to the place he called home for seven years from 2015 to 2021. But only if the Astros, say, double the five-year, $160 million offer they reportedly made him.
Five years and $160 million won't reel in Seager either. But if the Astros are willing to tack on a couple more years at the same average annual value, they might just land him as a cheaper yet similarly talented replacement for Correa.
Even if Seager isn't as sharp on defense as Correa, he's at least as good of a hitter and an ideal match for Minute Maid Park. Though Seager has only 13 opposite-field home runs for his career, he does have decent pop to left field that would only be heightened by the Crawford Boxes.
Otherwise, Seager could be drawn to the Astros out of a desire to extend their recent run of domination in the American League. Provided, of course, that he doesn't have any lingering hard feelings about 2017.
7. Chicago Cubs
When the Chicago Cubs commenced a fire sale at the July 30 trade deadline, one of the players they parted with was power-hitting, slick-fielding shortstop Javier Baez.
Suffice it to say that he was missed in the last two months of the regular season, during which FanGraphs put the Cubs' WAR from shortstop at minus-0.2. That was mostly the doing of Sergio Alcantara, who's probably best suited to a utility role.
Fortunately for the Cubs, their 2022 payroll is projected at just over half what they spent in 2021. If you're Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, this plus their need at shortstop makes them one of the top suitors for Seager.
One catch, though, is that Seager himself might have doubts about the Cubs' contention timeline. They just broke up their core, after all. And with only a middling farm system at their disposal, it's an open question as to how quickly they'll be able to establish a new one.
For their part, shortstop arguably isn't even the Cubs' biggest need. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer more so identified pitching as the team's primary flaw when speaking to reporters earlier this month. Justifiably so, given that the team's starters pitched to a 5.27 ERA last season.
6. Texas Rangers
As for how the Rangers might spend this money, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News reported that they've met with two of the market's top infielders: Marcus Semien and, of course, Seager.
Though Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a talented defender, he's also primarily responsible for the .660 OPS that the Rangers got from their shortstops in 2021. Seager would be a massive upgrade to that end, and he'd get to reunite with former Dodgers coach-turned-Rangers manager Chris Woodward.
But even if the Rangers make a bit more sense for Seager than the Cubs, that uncertain contention timeline could still be a sticking point. If Seager wants to get paid well and win some ballgames, he can do better.
5. Detroit Tigers
After four straight seasons of utter futility, the Detroit Tigers made enough progress to win 77 games in 2021.
There's little question that further progress awaits in 2022 and beyond. The Tigers aren't yet finished harvesting talent—looking at you, Spencer Torkelson—from one of baseball's best farm systems, and they've already made a splash this winter by inking left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to a $77 million pact.
A new shortstop may be next. The Tigers are taking a "comprehensive" approach to that corner of the market, according to Morosi, and indeed have already spoken to the agents for Seager, Correa and the other top shortstops available.
As Detroit received minus-0.5 rWAR from shortstop in 2021, its zeal in its search for a new regular at the position is understandable. And while Seager might not be the best all-around shortstop available, he's arguably the best fit for the Tigers on account of how he would boost an offense that produced only 4.3 runs per game in 2021.
Yet even though he'd be taking less of a chance than he would be with the Cubs or Rangers, Seager would still be taking it on faith that the Tigers will live up to their potential in the coming seasons.
4. Los Angeles Angels
Because they have endured six straight losing seasons and are coming off just 77 wins in 2021, the Los Angeles Angels might not look like any more of a win-now team than the Tigers.
However, consider that the Angels went 77-85 despite getting just 36 games out of Mike Trout and 58 games out of Anthony Rendon. That's actually vaguely respectable, and it's largely a credit to the unfathomable two-way prowess of AL MVP Shohei Ohtani.
Ohtani, Trout and Rendon will all be back in 2022, as will breakout star Jared Walsh and up-and-comers Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh. The Angels have also taken a big first step toward upgrading their woeful starting rotation, signing fireballer Noah Syndergaard to a $21 million contract.
Though the Angels would do well to acquire more pitching, Seager would also fit nicely at shortstop. Heck, he'd be a monumental upgrade after the position ranked last in the majors with minus-1.0 rWAR in 2021.
Costwise, Seager should fit within the $32 million gap between the Angels' projected payroll for 2022 and their year-end payroll for 2021. And as a bonus for the man himself, he wouldn't have to move very far after spending the first seven years of his career in Los Angeles proper.
3. Philadelphia Phillies
The Philadelphia Phillies have loaded up on high-priced free agents in Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler and J.T. Realmuto in recent winters, but calling the results "mixed" would be a kindness.
The Phillies are almost exactly a .500 team (191-193) over the past three seasons. When you're trying to snap a playoff drought that's been going on since 2011, that's not getting it done.
With their farm system toward the bottom of MLB, the Phillies don't have much choice but to keep pursuing veteran stars and hope that they eventually lead to a breakthrough. Thus, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters he will be "aggressive" this winter.
He could stick with Didi Gregorius at shortstop, but that idea is less appetizing after Gregorius did his part to drop the position's output to minus-0.5 rWAR in 2021. Especially considering that Citizens Bank Park is a great place for left-handed hitters, Seager could do a tad better than that.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Phillies might only pounce on Seager or another top-tier shortstop if a cold market allows for a discount. At least for now, the chances of that happening seem between slim and none.
2. New York Yankees
Speaking of Gregorius, he was an effective heir to Derek Jeter at shortstop for the New York Yankees from 2015 to 2019, tallying 97 home runs and 15.1 rWAR.
The Yankees figured that Gleyber Torres would also handle the baton after Gregorius passed it to him in 2020, but...well, not so much.
His defense was so shabby that the Yankees gave up and moved him back to second base late in 2021. Meanwhile, his power output has declined from 62 home runs in 2018 and 2019 to just 12 home runs over the last two seasons—you know, just in case anyone needed any context for why the Yankees have Seager in their sights, as Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported.
Yet their interest in him is almost certainly twofold, as he's also the left-handed hitter they need in addition to a fix for shortstop.
Because principal owner Hal Steinbrenner has reportedly given general manager Brian Cashman the OK to go over the luxury tax, per the New York Post's Dan Martin, there isn't anything stopping the Yankees from digging into their deep pockets for the funds to afford Seager. If so, the only question might be whether he can get a better offer.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Yankees might want Seager, but Heyman's report makes it clear that there's at least one other heavyweight in the mix: the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Granted, the Dodgers might be the less likely of the two to break the bank for Seager. Because while they certainly can afford him, the presence of Trea Turner makes bringing Seager back more of a luxury than a necessity.
But if the Dodgers at least match whatever the Yankees are willing to offer Seager, there hypothetically wouldn't be much to keep him from returning to Los Angeles.
It doesn't seem like his familiarity with the area and the organization is something he takes for granted. As he said after the Dodgers bowed out of the playoffs in October: "I grew up here. I spent a lot of time here. I believe in what these guys do. I believe in how we go about it."
While the Dodgers and Yankees are both technically World Series contenders, the former matches the description better than the latter. The Yankees have won 27 championships, sure, but none since 2009. The Dodgers just won it all in 2020, which was also the eighth of nine straight postseasons.