The 2021 Major League Baseball offseason continues to roll on in its own way. While the lockout has put a stop to free-agent signings and trades, other moves are unfolding. Minor-league deals are allowed, and some franchises are filling out their front offices.
The New York Mets, meanwhile, are still narrowing down their search for a manager. Buck Showalter appears to be the front-runner there, but there's no guarantee that he actually gets the job.
Jon Heyman @JonHeyman
Hear Rays bench coach Matt Quatraro made a great impression with Mets higherups. Astros bench coach Joe Espada interviews tonight and Buck Showalter tomorrow. Showalter seems like safe choice due to successful MLB track record but hear it’s more “divided” than fans/media expect.
Regarding trade candidates and unsigned free agents, the work stoppage has provided time for pre-lockout details to emerge. The hot-stove period of the offseason is usually a fast-moving entity, but we've had a chance to dissect what teams were thinking before the lockout and how they might move when it ends.
The Tampa Bay Rays, it seems, are keen on having financial flexibility once the market reopens.
"With so many unsigned free agents and the avalanche of player movement inevitable, the Rays—like other teams—have talked internally about being in the best position possible to react quickly to acquisition opportunities, as needed," ESPN's Buster Olney wrote.
Trading center fielder Kevin Kiermaier could be part of Tampa's plan. He was on the trade block last year, and according to Olney, the Rays have engaged in talks with at least one franchise.
"Managing payroll is a constant challenge for the Rays, given the front office's budget limitations, and before the trade deadline, Tampa Bay was engaged in talks with the Phillies (and perhaps other teams) about center fielder Kevin Kiermaier," Olney wrote.
The three-time Gold Glove-winner is a valuable piece of the Rays organization, but he's also set to earn $12.2 million in 2022, according to Spotrac. That's a large sum for a budget-conscious franchise like Tampa Bay.
Kiermaier's contract includes a club option in 2023 and a $2.5 million buyout. That adds another element to the trade picture. If Tampa doesn't plan on keeping Kiermaier past this season, dealing him now would make a lot of sense. The Rays could get something in return while reducing their payroll and avoiding the 2023 buyout entirely.
According to Olney, the Rays can best maximize their value by dealing Kiermaier during spring training.
Tigers Made 10-Year offer to Carlos Correa
A few big-name players remain on the free-agent market, including shortstops Trevor Story and Carlos Correa. Of the two, Correa appears to be the big draw.
"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.
The Houston Astros made a five-year, $160 million offer to Correa before the lockout, according to Mark Berman of KRIV Fox 26, However, that offer pales in comparison to the 10-year, $325 million agreement Corey Seager reached with the Texas Rangers.
According to Olney, though, Correa has his own 10-year offer on the table. Per Olney, the Detroit Tigers made Correa a 10-year, $275 million offer before the work stoppage. Obviously, that's lower than Seager's deal, but it's a heck of a lot for a player with injury concerns.
Correa has been dealing with a lower-back injury, and some franchises have been in the dark about its specifics.
"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.
It's unclear if Detroit was one of the teams to gain medical access, but the Tigers ultimately signed shortstop Javier Baez, not Correa.
There's a fair chance that Detroit's offer is the best Correa is going to receive this offseason. Therefore, a shorter deal that allows him to alleviate health concerns could be a prudent move.
"It's possible that he and the Astros could explore a shorter-term deal with a higher average annual salary—say for $35 million a year—with an opt-out after two years," Olney wrote.
Correa would only be 29 in two years and still likely to command a strong free-agent market. The question is whether he's willing to bet on himself for the next couple of seasons or is adamant about cashing in now.