7 free agents with a lot on the line this month

September 14th, 2021

This offseason promises to be a wild one in a lot of different ways, but in the world of free agency, the place is going to be packed. Future Hall of Famers, shortstops everywhere, all those former Cubs. … This one has a little bit of everything.

But these last few weeks of the season, and any postseason baseball, are going to make a big difference for certain free agents. They have a chance, down the stretch and in the playoffs, to make the best possible cases for themselves. You know how commentators say things like, “He’s got a chance to make himself some real money in the next month or so?” Here are the players who can make themselves some real money in the next month or so.

(Ages listed are 2021 seasonal ages.)

1) , SS/2B, Mets (age 28)
It is fair to say that Javier Báez has had a, well, tumultuous tenure with the Mets. But ever since the thumbs-down controversy, he has been downright fantastic. He’s hitting .422 in September and slugging .778. Sure, there are only two walks (and 11 strikeouts) in that grouping, but that’s just the whole Javier Báez experience. Mets fans were angry because they’d only seen the downside of having Báez on their team; over the last month, they have seen the upside. Even if the Mets don’t make the postseason, Báez, if he keeps this up, can scoot himself up those shortstop free agency rankings … and maybe even be a stealthily smart pickup.

2) , 3B/OF, Giants (29)
Does anyone remember that Bryant had a pretty terrible 2020? (Hey, didn’t we all!) The irony of Bryant’s well-publicized battle over his free-agency status is that had he hit free agency when he wanted to, after his lousy 2020 season, instead of after this terrific 2021 one, he would probably have made less money than he will now. If the Giants can hang on to win the NL West and avoid that Wild Card Game, Bryant might be their best position player in the postseason and have plenty of opportunities to show suitors, once again, why he can be counted on in October. Waiting a year turned out to be the best possible situation for Bryant, amazingly.

3) , OF, Reds (29)
Castellanos doesn’t seem to be getting a lot of MVP consideration, but it’s worth noting that he has a chance to lead the NL in both batting average and total bases and he might well lead his team into the postseason. That’ll be key: Getting the Reds into that NL Wild Card Game, and maybe doing something terrific once he’s there. But Jesse Winker, the Reds outfielder with whom he shared All-Star status, has been injured, and it’s Castellanos (along with Joey Votto) who has had to carry them. He’s also a spark for any team that signs him -- assuming he opts out of his contract, which everyone assumes will happen -- something that will be even more apparent if the Reds get deep into the postseason.

4) , SS, Astros (26)
Correa has at last been healthy and effective all season, and he could end up with the most lucrative deal of any free agent this winter given his age. He’s also been a playoff force in the past and is going to have ample opportunity to do so again. Let us not forget: He has postseason walk-offs in two consecutive Octobers, between 2019 and 2020.

Do that again and some team will give him all of the money.

5) , RHP, Giants (30)
Gausman was a quiet Cy Young candidate for a while, but he has fallen back a little bit in recent weeks, even while his team rather clearly has not. That 1.73 ERA in the first half has become a 4.55 in the second half, though his strikeout rate has actually gone up. (The walk rate has as well, which might be the problem.) He’s still the presumed Game 1 starter for the team with the best record in baseball, which is going to put as big a spotlight on him as possible. No one will care about the second half if, in the postseason, he pitches like he did in the first half.

6) , RHP, Astros (37)
Greinke has only pitched in one World Series (for the 2019 Astros). That’s kind of surprising, right? He has been on so many good teams, and been so fantastic on them, that you’d think he would have snuck in at least one other appearance. He has pitched for four different teams in the postseason -- the Brewers, Dodgers, D-backs and Astros -- over his 18-year career, making 19 postseason starts with a respectable (but hardly dominant) 4.22 ERA. But he’s going to make some more this postseason, now as a future Hall of Famer and potential No. 1 starter for a team that is going to get booed like crazy wherever they play and is eager to shush all the haters. Greinke has never really had a Madison Bumgarner-esque postseason where he’s the centerpiece of everything. It sure would be something to see him have one this year.

7) , SS, Dodgers (27)
Corey Seager is one of the top free-agent shortstops on the market, and a great way he’s been proving it is by remaining so despite one of the other best shortstops in the game, Trea Turner, being traded to his team but then getting shuffled to second base. Seager just keeps doing what he’s done whenever he’s healthy, and while his health is going to be a concern for any team that signs him -- and that could still be the Dodgers -- every game he plays is a reminder of just how sublime of a talent he is. And in case you’ve forgotten: This was the NLCS and World Series MVP last year, so he’s certainly proven himself in the postseason. The longer the Dodgers go into October, the more Seager shines … and the higher he boosts his stock.