Hot Stove update: Where free agents stand

Bauer, Realmuto, Ozuna remain big names on market

January 20th, 2021

's decision to return to the Yankees and George Springer's six-year deal with the Blue Jays will shape the marketplace for other top free agents, including , and .

Here’s a look at the circumstances surrounding MLB's top free agents.

Trevor Bauer, RHP
The Blue Jays are viewed within the industry as a strong contender to sign Bauer, in part because of criteria the right-hander has shared on his YouTube channel. That may have changed somewhat after they landed Springer, although Toronto doesn't appear to be finished with its offseason yet. While some free agents view frequent international travel as a complicating factor -- particularly amid the uncertainty of COVID-19 -- Bauer said recently, “Geography is not going to be a huge factor in where I decide to play.”

Conversely, Bauer said he cares deeply that any free-agent signing be “a partnership, first and foremost,” in which Bauer and the coaching staff have open dialogue about his training methods and data analysis. The Blue Jays had a video meeting with Bauer during the past several weeks, and the team’s interdisciplinary high performance department includes staff members with whom Bauer can work effectively.

Bauer, who turns 30 on Sunday, said recently on his YouTube channel that he believes he “would be a better pitcher pitching every fourth day than every fifth day.” Such an arrangement would have obvious implications for other starters on the staff. Toronto’s rotation -- including Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray and Ross Stripling -- is more malleable than others.

Bauer, the Southern California native, said during a vlog that he has had a video meeting with the Dodgers. Based on how the Dodgers have approached premium free agents in recent years -- such as Bryce Harper two offseasons ago -- they are likely to show the greatest interest in short-term proposals at high average annual values.

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The Angels are looking to sign a starting pitcher, but Bauer and the team’s pitching coach, Mickey Callaway, had noted philosophical differences while together with the Indians. Bauer and Callaway have communicated since Callaway left the team to manage the Mets, but it’s unclear if the two have reached a point where they are enthusiastic about working with one another again.

One frequent question surrounding Bauer is whether he prefers a long-term or short-term contract, given his past comments in support of one-year deals. In conversations with teams, he is not restricting contract proposals to one year, according to one club executive.

George Springer, OF
The Blue Jays got their man after keeping their eye on him all offseason.

Springer, a three-time All-Star, also had an offer on the table from the Mets, a source told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, but the Connecticut native's close geographic ties did not prevail in the end.

The Mets have already been among the most active teams in baseball this winter -- with the additions of Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, James McCann and Trevor May -- and they will continue to pursue an upgrade in center field. New York could opt to sign free-agent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and reliever Brad Hand (who has been in talks with the Mets this week).

J.T. Realmuto, C
As the offseason began, pessimism surrounded the Phillies’ efforts to retain Realmuto, baseball’s best all-around catcher in recent years.

However, a number of events have made a reunion more likely: The Phillies hired Dave Dombrowski, who has a history of high-dollar signings, as their president of baseball operations; the Mets signed McCann as their starting catcher; and the Yankees’ agreement with LeMahieu leaves them with less money to offer Realmuto.

Therefore, one source familiar with the catching market said Friday that the Blue Jays and Phillies are the strongest candidates to sign Realmuto. On Friday, The Athletic's Jayson Stark reported that Philadelphia has extended Realmuto a five-year offer worth "slightly north" of $100 million.

The Angels also have been involved in the catching market; they reached agreement with free agent Kurt Suzuki, and it’s not clear if they will continue to pursue Realmuto as a result.

Marcell Ozuna, OF/DH
One source said Ozuna’s marketplace had begun to solidify in recent days, with both American League and National League teams involved, despite uncertainty surrounding the universality of the designated hitter in MLB for the 2021 season.

The Dodgers and Braves are among the teams with interest in Ozuna, according to sports broadcaster Mike Rodriguez. Ozuna started all 60 games for Atlanta last year: 39 as the designated hitter, 19 in left field and two in right field. Some clubs are comfortable with the 30-year-old Ozuna starting a meaningful number of games in the outfield this year.

Ozuna spent the 2018 and '19 seasons with the Cardinals, but St. Louis appears focused on efforts to retain free agents Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright.