The MLB Players Association and MLB Ownership have finally come to an agreement, and the 2022 MLB season has been saved! We will have baseball in 2022. It seemed like both sides were slowly picking up traction in Florida, and baseball fans everywhere were beginning to heat up the free agency hot stove. Sure, “Hot Stove Season” is typically sandwiched between the Winter Meetings and pitchers and catchers reporting. This year, the MLB Lockout got in the way. So rather than a prolonged hot stove, we’re getting more of a microwave. How exciting is that!
That being said, with things hitting light-speed after the MLBPA and MLB ownership successfully ended their collective bargaining agreement talks, it’s time to get ready for some action. Let’s look at the top free agents still available and where they might be suiting up in 2022 now that the Lockout is over.
We already know that the Atlanta Braves offered the face of their franchise a deal worth $135 million over five years. Atlanta’s original proposal mirrors the extension inked by Paul Goldschmidt and the Cardinals in 2019. Still, it fails to consider what Freeman brings to Cobb County. After months of speculations, it seems like Atlanta may be looking for other options at first base.
On the other hand, Freeman will have numerous suitors knocking on his door and should be able to get the six-year deal he reportedly wants from any of those teams. But, which team is the best fit for the World Series champion first baseman?
The New York Yankees have an opening at first base after letting Anthony Rizzo walk last season. The Yankees certainly can pay for Freeman and will need as much firepower as they can get in the high-octane AL East. That being said, it’s possible Freeman could opt for a franchise on the upswing rather than one trying to stay afloat. The Texas Rangers have made huge splashes earlier in free agency, signing Marcus Semien and Corey Seager to monster deals. Suppose Freeman wants another shot at bringing a World Series to a fanbase who desperately wants one. In that case, Arlington could be his next home. Or maybe it’s the Tampa Bay Rays? At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.
Just going to come right out and say it: Kris Bryant should stay on the San Francisco Giants. Having Bryant gives the Giants lineup versatility and solves both short-term and long-term issues. Former Tampa Bay Rays legend Evan Longoria is heading into his 15th MLB season–by the end, he’ll be blowing out 36 candles on his birthday cake. In 2023, the Giants have a $13 million team option for Longoria, or they could buy him out for $5 million. A 37-year old third baseman making $13 million doesn’t seem like a prudent move for the Giants, which is why Bryant would make sense in the long term.
Short-term, Bryant can hit in the DH spot, play third base, shag flies in the outfield, and could even man first-base if Brandon Belt needs time off. Think of Bryant as a much better Wilmer Flores, except he’s faster and more agile than Flores.
Over his entire career, Bryant has been used as a swiss army knife to make Joe Maddon and David Ross’ gameplans work. Other options like the Dodgers, Blue Jays, or even the Mets don’t make as much sense as staying in the Bay Area. Now’s the time for Bryant to use that experience to restart the Giants’ “Even Year Dominance.” In 2021, the Giants’ late-season push came with help from Bryant and kept them a serious contender in the National League. After all of the talk surrounding Bryant’s service time and future free agency over the last six years, it’s odd that it’s come to such a no-brainer conclusion. Seriously. Give Bryant a three-year deal and watch him rake for San Francisco.
Another Dodgers starter made headlines this offseason when Max Scherzer inked a 3-year deal with the New York Mets, but the Dodgers may be in danger of losing another Ace before Opening Day. The soon-to-be first-ballot Hall of Famer, Clayton Kershaw, still doesn’t have a contract for next season. And now that Kershaw has his World Series ring, it may be time to move on from Chavez Ravine and chase another form of career-defining glory.
An easy move for Kershaw is to keep his home address but change his commute. The Angels are on a long-term course to get Mike Trout and ring, and Kershaw can be a fantastic addition to their efforts. As it stands now, the Angels rotation includes Shohei Ohtani, Noah Syndergaard (who is coming off of Tommy John surgery), and young guns like Griffin Canning, Jaime Barria, Patrick Sandoval, and Jose Suarez. Adding a veteran arm with postseason experience could be a big move for the Angels as they continue their quest to not waste their generational talent in centerfield.
Let’s keep this simple. Kyle Schwarber has become a folk hero in two cities thanks to some insane postseason heroics at the plate. As a member of the Cubs in 2016, Schwarber helped the Cubs win their first ring since 1908. As a member of the Red Sox, Schwarber almost made Bostonians ask the question, “Big Papi, who?” And while a reunion with the Red Sox is definitely in the cards, the Universal DH may see Schwarber return to the National League.
The National League will benefit from the Universal DH in more ways than one. Some teams are constructed for the new rule to take an instant effect. Some teams, like the Mets, lost out on an offensive bat when the league returned to their old rules following the shortened 2020 season. Other teams, like the Dodgers, have built their rosters for daily versatility, and the addition of a designated hitter may only add to their threatening offense. Schwarber can now make an immediate impact wherever he goes in the National League.
The St. Louis Cardinals seem like a logical fit for Schwarber in 2022. Not only is he familiar with the division, but he’s also a return to their old tradition of having a slugger in the lineup, despite that player?s glove being relatively useless. Schwarber’s bat as a supplement to an already stacked middle of the order in Missouri may spell disaster for the rest of the NL Central.
Praise be to the new CBA! It’s giving the National League more power.
Let’s not beat around the bush here. If Matt Olson or Freddie Freeman doesn’t end up wearing pinstripes, then Brian Cashman needs to be fired from the Yankees organization. The Yanks have had a hole at first base for the last few seasons, using a rotating group of the same guys to plug the hole but not stop the dam from breaking.
In the last five seasons, the Yankees have had one player play HALF of their games at first, with Luke Voit handling the other hot corner for 83 games in 2019. Beyond Voit, Greg Bird is second with 74 games in 2018, and Chris Carter and DJ LeMaheiu are rounding out the list of players with 50+ games at first base over the last five seasons. That’s not ideal for any team, let alone the New York Yankees.
Matt Olson offers consistency to New York, something they desperately need.
In any other offseason, Carlos Correa is the top free agent. In 2022, Correa is one of many top-notch shortstops who have been in the news for hunting big deals. Correa seemed in no rush to decide early on. The former World Series Champ* took meetings with potential suitors as others finalized deals. As the offseason continued, thanks to the MLB Lockout, Correa’s value didn’t decrease, but the amount of money he may command is.
The Tigers seemed to be an excellent fit for Correa, who would be reuniting with his former manager A.J. Hinch in Detroit. However, with the Tigers signing of Javy Baez, it’s unclear whether they’ll keep “El Mago” at short or move him to second to land a big-name free agent. If the Tigers can land Trevor Story, that will most likely happen.
While a reunion with the Astros is still very much in the cards, if Correa’s value slips down the rankings, it’s more than likely he’ll walk away from Minute Maid Park. So, where does he walk to?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before… but Correa could land in New York, the Bronx, to be more specific. The Yankees have been unable to fill the hole Didi Gregorius left when he signed with the Phillies. Gleyber Torres hasn’t allowed the Yankees to trust his abilities. Torres makes too many mistakes at the plate, with his glove, and on the basepaths to assume the Yankees Star Shortstop mantle. Correa, who has been a vocal critic of Yankee Legend Derek Jeter, could fit the bill.
Correa gives the Yankees a more reliable pair of soft hands up the middle and a big bat in their lineup. For Correa, he’ll likely be overpaid by New York. It’s a win-win for everyone.
Michael Conforto has been a New York Met for the last eight seasons and has seemingly ticked all of the boxes to become “The Next Face of the New York Mets Franchise” following the retirement of David Wright. Conforto was one of the last remaining vestiges of the 2015 World Series team that has since been broken down and scattered throughout the league and beyond. But after a tumultuous 2021 season, Conforto rejected the Mets qualifying offer to see what kinds of offers he could receive on the free-agent market.
As it stands now, Conforto may be wishing for a Marvel-esque time machine so he can go back and accept the Mets qualifying offer. The market has shrunk considerably in the last few months. The Lockout kept the Hot Stove cold, and the average annual salary Conforto could demand has also shrunk. If Conforto does get a multi-year deal, it will most likely come with an AAV under what the Mets offered. The team he’d be signing with would forfeit a draft pick for a player hoping to return to their All-Star status. Conforto took a big gamble by turning down the Mets qualifying offer and is now looking for a team willing to take the same odds on his bounceback.
If he’s willing to sign a short-term deal with a team in the upcoming weeks, Conforto might have some suitors. Rebuilding teams, such as Colorado or Arizona, could take a chance on Conforto and at least make an effort to put some butts in seats. The Washington Nationals, who fielded a Quadruple-A squad after the 2021 trade deadline, could certainly use the former Mets services. Even the Cubs, who added ex-Met hurler Marcus Stroman, could land Conforto on a team-friendly deal. But that’s the rub, isn’t it? The deals Conforto may have to choose from won’t be the high-dollar figures he’s hoping for. If he can stomach that financial hit, it could pay dividends in a few years when he can cash in on his realized potential.
It feels like we’ve been discussing Trevor Story’s free agency for the last decade. In reality, it’s only been a year since Trevor Story’s next career stop after Colorado has been a question mark. Once the Rockies dealt Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals in one of the worst deals in MLB History, the Colorado shortstop began to gain interest, but where will he end up?
Rather than look at his prospective teams who could use his talents, let’s look at who will need to replace a missing piece. The Astros appear to be flirting with a future that doesn’t have Carlos Correa in it, which may be enough to land Trevor Story. Story would make a fantastic addition to an already postseason caliber team after playing with a bipolar Colorado Rockies team for the first piece of his career. However, if Correa reunites with Houston, that door closes.
But if Correa returns to Houston, the team he’s been linked to over the past few months becomes a viable option for Story. The Detroit Tigers are on the verge of waking from their long hibernation and have one of the most highly regarded prospect lineups of the last few years. The Tigers may make a move for Story to sure-up their infield that already touts Javy Baez. Yes, this would be a lateral move from the middling Rockies teams he’s played for in the past. Still, Story can be the centerpiece of this offense and help bring one of the oldest franchises in the game back to the Fall classic.