When will the free-agent market heat up?

December 12th, 2020

The virtual Winter Meetings have come and gone, and while we didn't see the free-agent frenzy that took place during last year's Meetings when Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg all signed huge deals, there was some action this week.

The White Sox traded for Lance Lynn and signed Adam Eaton, while the Royals inked Carlos Santana, but the top free agents are still there for the taking.

Will next week bring a meaningful start to signing season?

While we wait for Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu and other top players to sign, let's dive into the Twitter mailbag for an all-new Hot Stove Inbox. As always, you can tweet your questions to me @feinsand.

Do you think that now that the Winter Meetings are over we should start seeing movement on the free agency front?
-- @MyothaTwitta on Twitter

Man, I hope so. This Hot Stove season has been slow-paced to say the least, but that's not unlike the 2017-18 and '18-19 offseasons. This year, we have the added scenario of not knowing what the '21 season will look like. How many games will be played? Will there be fans in the stands? Will the National League use the designated hitter? How many players will be on the active roster?

Until we have answers to some of those questions, the market could continue to move slowly. That said, I think we will start seeing some movement on the free-agent front in the next week or two. Some players will surely want to have their situations settled before the end of the year, and as we saw this week with the signings of Eaton and Santana, some teams feel the same way.

We've also seen some activity on the trade market -- Lynn to the White Sox, Nate Lowe to the Rangers -- and I expect that will continue in the near-future, as well.

Obviously LeMahieu is the Yankees' top priority right now. Do you see them entering the Francisco Lindor sweepstakes?
@Cole4Xmas1127 on Twitter

One would appear to be directly related to the other. If the Yankees are able to sign LeMahieu to a new contract -- which I still fully expect they will -- then I don't see them getting involved in a potential trade with the Indians.

For starters, the Yanks would have LeMahieu at second base, keeping Gleyber Torres at shortstop. Theoretically, general manager Brian Cashman could trade Luke Voit, move LeMahieu to first and Torres to second, or even trade Torres to open up shortstop, but I don't see either of those things happening.

Then there's the cost. To acquire Lindor, the Yankees would have to part with two or three of their top prospects, something Cashman has been reluctant to do in recent years. Lindor is almost assuredly headed for free agency a year from now, so the more likely scenario is that the Yanks will bring back LeMahieu, and if they decide to add Lindor (or one of the other four premier shortstops who will be free agents next year), they'll simply flex their financial muscle to sign one rather than giving up top prospects.

Who are the teams negotiating with/competing for J.T. Realmuto? His market seems surprisingly quiet and it seems that the Angels, Mets and Blue Jays are the only teams actively looking to add payroll this winter.
@MetsGuy79 on Twitter

If Realmuto's market seems surprisingly quiet, he's not alone. We haven't heard a whole lot of teams connected to Bauer or George Springer, either. This is the nature of free agency; teams don't want their intentions to be known publicly, and the agents for All-Star players generally don't need to leak information in order to create a market for their client.

As for Realmuto, many assumed that the Mets would make a big push for him, but it appears that they have picked James McCann. Realmuto is a better player than McCann, but signing McCann could mean saving some of that money for the likes of Bauer or Springer (or both).

The Phillies' hiring of Dave Dombrowski could mean a return to Philadelphia for Realmuto, who excelled there during the past two years. But Philly will surely have competition for Realmuto, possibly from another National League East rival -- the Nationals.

The Blue Jays and Angels could also still be in the mix, as could another two or three teams once there's some resolution on some of the aforementioned league-wide 2021 issues. One way or another, Realmuto is a highly sought-after player who should cash in with a very good contract when all is said and done.

Should the Yankees give up on Gary Sánchez?
-- @janowsky_steve on Twitter

No. Sánchez has shown enough to this point in his career to deserve a chance to rebound, though he's going to have to earn his playing time with a good Spring Training.

The fact that the Yankees chose to tender a contract to Sánchez shows that they plan to give him that shot. If they had no intention to give him a chance to play in 2021, they would have non-tendered him.

Trading Sánchez now would be a pointless exercise, as the Yankees would get pennies on the dollar given his performance in 2020. If he doesn't bounce back in '21, he will be a certain non-tender candidate a year from now.

Are the Blue Jays as active as they say? What do the Jays need to do to get the respect they deserve?
@mapleleaf_queen on Twitter

I combined two questions from the reader to address the Toronto situation. While Blue Jays fans don't think they're getting respect, I can tell you that's not the case within the league. Toronto has put together a solid core of promising young players, and the signing of Hyun Jin Ryu proved to be a fantastic one -- at least to this point.

Toronto has been attached to nearly every prominent free agent on the market, and although the Jays haven't been able to sign any of them yet, I attribute that to the pace of the market rather than a lack of mutual interest.

Should the Blue Jays find a way to sign one of the top free agents, they would immediately vault themselves into the American League East mix. The Yankees aren't planning to spend a whole lot of money this winter, and the Rays have already lost Charlie Morton and could continue to trim more payroll. There's a definite window for the Blue Jays to make a move, and based on the limited number of teams that seem willing to spend big money this offseason, they should have a solid shot at making a notable signing.

Will Kevin Kiermaier or Blake Snell be traded this year?
@BlueStates2020 on Twitter

Speaking of the Rays, this is the biggest question hovering over the team this offseason. Snell and Kiermaier are two of only three Tampa Bay players set to earn more than $5 million in 2021 (Yoshi Tsutsugo is the other), so if the right deal presents itself to deal one of them, the Rays won't hesitate to do so.

But it has to be the right deal. Tampa Bay values both of these players greatly (and rightfully so), and general manager Erik Neander isn't just going to give either away simply to save money. At this point, I would say there's a greater likelihood that Kiermaier is traded than Snell, though neither appears to be particularly close.

Are the Reds truly buying or selling?
-- @TeamKaptain08 on Twitter

The Reds are one of the more interesting teams this offseason. They have already traded Raisel Iglesias to the Angels for Noé Ramirez, while Sonny Gray continues to be the subject of myriad trade rumors. That would indicate that Cincinnati is a seller.

However, I've also heard plenty of buzz about the Reds being a potential bidder on the free-agent market. Much the same as the Rays, the Reds are trying to balance their financial considerations with a desire to contend.

Trading Iglesias (and potentially Gray) to free up some money could allow them to address other holes, so I think it's impossible to answer this question at this moment. Do they reinvest that money, or do they give some of their young players a chance to play in order to see what they have going forward? Their actions in the next two months will say a lot about how they view their chances in 2021.