The MLB offseason is just getting underway and it’s bound to be a wild one.
On the free-agent front, there are several star players on the open market. There’s also a lot of uncertainty with regard to how willing teams will be to spend money. After all, revenue was down this season, and with no guarantee that fans will be allowed in stadiums in 2021, teams could be a little more reluctant to spend big on free agents.
That could make it a little more difficult to predict where the top free agents end up and whether they get the big-money deals they’re expecting. Nevertheless, we thought we’d take a crack at predicting the landing spot of the 10 best MLB free agents available this offseason.
10. Masahiro Tanaka: Yankees
At this point, it’d be hard to envision Tanaka wearing anything but pinstripes. That being said, there will be a lot of teams with interest in him. He’s undoubtedly the second-best starter available behind Trevor Bauer. Tanaka also brings a ton of postseason experience with him, making him even more valuable than some of the other starters on the market.
Teams like the Mets, Angels, Mariners, Blue Jays, Phillies and others will all be interested, among a few others. But the Yankees know they have vacancies in their starting rotation, and whether they find a way to get Bauer or not, they’ll fancy a reunion with Tanaka.
9. Nelson Cruz: Twins
It’s nothing short of insane that the 40-year-old Cruz is still among the best free agents available. But the guy still has a massive amount of power. Of course, if it becomes official that the DH is coming to the National League permanently, his options will grow.
However, it makes too much sense for Cruz to stay in Minnesota. He’s clearly grown comfortable there and perhaps doesn’t want to ruin a good thing with the Twins. Plus, the Twins need him if they’re going to remain at the top of the AL Central.
8. Liam Hendriks: Dodgers
There is no shortage of great relief pitchers on the market this winter, although Hendriks is a near-consensus choice as the best one available. It’d be shocking to see fewer than a dozen teams show genuine interest in him after the season he had.
The Dodgers surely noticed and this is where they’ll make their biggest free-agent splash this offseason. Clearly, L.A. is starting to lose faith in Kenley Jansen as the closer. The bullpen is also the one place where it makes sense for the Dodgers to upgrade.
Even after winning the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers will spare no expense to win another title. While they might want to add in other spots, they need to shore up their bullpen, and that means spending whatever it takes to sign Hendriks.
7. Michael Brantley: Astros
The Astros are in serious danger of losing their entire starting outfield from the past couple of years. However, they’ll find a way to bring back Brantley despite several teams likely to pursue him.
At 33, Brantley is still productive but won’t require the same amount of years and dollars necessary to re-sign George Springer. Houston also has to think about infielders like Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa who are also approaching free agency.
Brantley appeared to enjoy his time in Houston, so he’ll likely stay if the money is comparable. Don’t sleep on the White Sox or the Red Sox, but the Astros still appear to be the favorites to re-sign Brantley.
6. Didi Gregorius: Phillies
Gregorius is an interesting case because he’s arguably the best shortstop on the free-agent market, just a little ahead of Andrelton Simmons and Marcus Semien. That means teams in need of a shortstop have other options.
Then there’s Francisco Lindor, who is likely to be traded away by Cleveland this winter. The market for Gregorius and others might not move until Lindor is traded, which would ultimately limit his options.
While a return to the Yankees is an interesting option if the Bronx Bombers want to shift Gleyber Torres back to second base. But the Phillies will be in trouble if they don’t bring Gregorius back, which will ultimately keep him in the City of Brotherly Love.
5. George Springer: Mets
The suspension of Robinson Cano is a game-changer that could push Springer to the Mets. For starters, the club is saving $24 million with Cano banned, although that matters less with Steve Cohen as the new owner.
With Cano out, the Mets can move Jeff McNeil to second base and rearrange their outfield to make room for Springer in center field. New York is also in need of a right-hand hitting outfielder and a bonafide center fielder.
The kicker is that Springer is from Connecticut and played his college ball at UConn, so this is a homecoming for him. A lot of teams will be after him, but the Mets are positioned to outbid all of them to get Springer.
4. Marcell Ozuna: Braves
The Cardinals made a drastic mistake last winter by not finding a way to retain Ozuna, but the Braves aren’t going to make the same mistake this winter. In fairness, the Braves did let Josh Donaldson leave after an explosive 2019 campaign. But Ozuna is four years younger than Donaldson, and the Atlanta organization is smart enough to know how valuable he is alongside Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuna Jr.
Ozuna is also worth a long-term deal, especially if the DH becomes permanent in the National League. Teams like the Nationals, White Sox and Blue Jays, among many others, will throw their hat in the ring. But Ozuna and the Braves were a perfect fit in 2020, so we’ll guess he stays in Atlanta.
3. D.J. LeMahieu: Yankees
Frankly, the Yankees are going to re-sign LeMahieu because they need him. They got an incredible deal when they signed him to a two-year deal worth $24 million, although it’ll take a lot more greenbacks to re-sign the batting champ this time around. But the Yankees certainly understand that and they know that their lineup will look incomplete without LeMahieu in it.
Of course, LeMahieu would be a good fit with a lot of teams, given his defensive versatility. In the end, it’d be surprising if he weren’t wearing pinstripes in 2021, although with Cano getting suspended for next season, the Mets could be the biggest competition the Yankees have for LeMahieu’s services.
2. J.T. Realmuto: Mets
With new owner Steve Cohen at the helm, the Mets are finally ready to spend like a big-market club. Coincidentally, catcher is their biggest need this winter, so it seems obvious that they’ll push hard to sign Realmuto.
There’s no debate that Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball right now. He’s an impact offensive player who is also among the best defensive catchers in the league. If Cohen backs up his words, the Mets should be willing to outbid just about any other team to land Realmuto.
There will be plenty of competition from the Phillies, who would love to retain him, as well as the Nationals and perhaps the crosstown Yankees, as the Bronx Bombers are rarely shy about showing top players the money.
1. Trevor Bauer: Angels
After pitching in Cleveland and Cincinnati, all signs point to Bauer heading to one of the coasts this winter. Beyond that, where he ends up is anybody’s guess at this point.
On the East Coast, the Mets are making a lot of noise while there’s no secret that the Yankees need a No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole.
On the West Coast, the Angels probably need Bauer the most while the Padres have been serious free-agent players the last few years and know they won’t have Mike Clevinger (Bauer’s former Cleveland teammate) in 2021.
Finally, there is talk of the Dodgers going after Bauer, even though they clearly don’t need him.
In the end, we’re going to bet on the Southern California kid and UCLA product to end up with the Angels.
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