2021 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Top Available Players

Kristopher Knox@@kris_knoxFeatured ColumnistDecember 15, 2021

2021 MLB Free Agents: Rumors and Predictions for Top Available Players

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Major League Baseball lockout has reached the two-week mark, and free agents are in a holding pattern. There was a flurry of signings just before the work stoppage, though there may have been more behind the spending spree than just locking up players early.

    According to ESPN's Kiley McDaniel, some agents viewed the early surge as a political tactic for the new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

    "The majority of them believed that the owners front-loaded their big contracts before the lockout to combat the MLBPA's argument about clubs pocketing revenues and being anticompetitive," McDaniel wrote. "These agents believe that teams will go back to being tighter with spending when the CBA is ratified."

    If we do see a decrease in spending once the market resumes, players may put more of a focus on factors like fit, management and playoff opportunities. Hefty long-term deals will be harder to come by, though large-market teams that traditionally spend big will likely continue doing so.

    It all adds up to what should be an intriguing second act for 2021-22 free agency. Here, you'll find the latest buzz and a few predictions for some of the market's top unsigned stars.

Trevor Story

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    Darryl Webb/Associated Press

    Shortstop Trevor Story may be one of the players who look back on the pre-lockout spending spree with envy. Fellow shortstop Corey Seager agreed to a 10-year, $325 million deal with the Texas Rangers, and that kind of money isn't going to be available for Story.

    "When free agency resumes, Story won't be the best shortstop available. That distinction goes to Correa, a 27-year-old All-Star and Gold Glover who'll be looking to top Seager's 10-year, $325 million haul," John Tomase of NBC Sports Boston wrote.

    What's interesting to note, though, is that teams might not view Story as a shortstop-only option. According to Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times, the Seattle Mariners—who reportedly made an official offer before the lockout—could consider moving Story to second base.

    "Most scouts believe that the 29-year-old Story would benefit from a shift to second base due to diminished arm strength," Divish wrote. "He's dealt with elbow strains over the past few seasons, and a shift to second base might reduce the overall wear and tear."

    According to Divish, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees are also interested in Story. Presumably, Houston's interest hinges on its ability to re-sign Correa. The Yankees are rarely afraid to spend, and the Mariners have an offer on the table. A decision between those two clubs may come down to fit.

    If the Mariners are looking at Story at second—and he's willing to make the switch, of course—that might be best for the big picture. What's best for his long-term health will be best for his long-term earnings. Assuming the price is right, Seattle would make a lot of sense for Story.

    Prediction: Story signs with Seattle.

Carlos Correa

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    Correa seems to be viewed as a better option than Story at short, but he has his own health issues to consider. While Story carries questions about his arm strength, Correa's lower-back injury is his big question mark.

    The problem for some interested teams is that the back injury continues to be an unknown factor. Only select clubs are getting medical access, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

    "What teams are being told was is that they could only access that information if they made a significant offer," Olney told ESPN 97.5 in Houston.

    In many ways, this works in the Houston Astros' favor. According to Mark Berman of KRIV Fox 26, Houston offered Correa a five-year, $160 million deal last month. While Correa obviously didn't put pen to paper then, that might remain his best offer post-lockout.

    No one knows Correa's medical situation better than Houston management, and again, there may be less money floating around once the market resumes.

    One team that could be a sleeper suitor for Correa—and for Story—is the Toronto Blue Jays. According to ESPN's Jeff Passan, Toronto was in on Seager but unwilling to match the Rangers' offer.

    If teams like Toronto aren't willing to take a long-term gamble on a player with injury concerns, though, Houston's five-year offer might be Correa's most attractive pitch.

    Prediction: Correa re-signs with Houston.

Carlos Rodon

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    Carlos Rodon is one of the more intriguing pitchers still available on the market. The 29-year-old lefty has dealt with multiple injuries during his seven years with the Chicago White Sox, but he had a breakout campaign in 2021.

    Rodon went 13-5 with a 2.37 ERA, pitched a no-hitter and made his first All-Star appearance. However, he dealt with shoulder soreness down the stretch, pitched on 10-day rest in September and lasted less than three innings against the Astros in the postseason.

    Injury concerns could well lead to a short-term "prove-it" deal and could take certain teams out of Rodon's market. The Mariners, for example, are looking to add another starter but probably don't view Rodon as a top choice.

    "Even after the addition of American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray earlier this month—a five-year deal worth $115 million—the club still has its sights set on improving the starting rotation," The Athletic's Corey Brock wrote.

    However, Seattle isn't interested in having a 10-day-rest pitcher in a six-man rotation.

    "Now that we are a full season removed from the truncated 2020 season, we feel the five-man rotation is a perfectly reasonable way to go," Mariners president Jerry Dipoto said, per Brock.

    According to Scot Gregor of the Daily Herald, the Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Angeles are interested in Rodon. He would make a ton of sense for Boston, in particular, as fellow lefty James Paxton expected to miss much of the season following Tommy John surgery.

    Prediction: Rodon signs with Boston.