But sure, let’s try to accurately predict what’s going to happen in baseball these next few months. I’m sure this will go well!
In this batch of precarious picks, we’re going to focus on one of the deeper free-agent classes in recent memory. The Collective Bargaining Agreement talks will obviously have a big impact on baseball business this winter, but a wide number of teams are in good position to add impact talent.
At the risk of -- once again -- looking foolish when all is said and done, let’s take some guesses on where some of the more prominent free agents will land. Some of these fits are self-evident, others are dark horses.
1. Carlos Correa will sign with the Tigers.
Maybe it’s naive to connect Correa to his old skipper A.J. Hinch, as there will certainly be opportunities -- lucrative ones -- involving teams that are more clearly aiming to contend in 2022 (and have better weather). But this could evolve similarly to Manny Machado’s free agency, when a then-26-year-old Machado’s biggest payday came with a Padres club that had lost 96 games the previous season and was itching to start turning the corner. The Tigers still have growing pains ahead of them, but they began to show serious signs of life in 2021, and the 27-year-old Correa is young enough to be an impact player throughout their next contention window.
2. Corey Seager will sign with the Yankees.
Left-handed bat? Check. Power accompanied by good strikeout and walk rates? Check. Postseason pedigree? Check. Seager fits the needs of a Yankees team that will more formally move on from Gleyber Torres at shortstop after switching his position late in the 2021 season. The Yankees will absolutely be players in this deep free-agent shortstop class and are capable of reeling in any of them. But Seager is the best fit. Whenever top prospect Anthony Volpe is ready, Seager could slide to third.
3. The Giants will sign Max Scherzer AND Justin Verlander.
San Francisco could bring back Kris Bryant, and re-signing Brandon Belt would make sense, too. Starting pitching, though, will be Farhan Zaidi’s top priority. And given the organizational preference for shorter-term deals (as well as the organizational embrace of old dudes), either Scherzer or Verlander would be a great fit. The Giants have the rotation space and the resources to outbid the field for both.
The Dodgers would be loath to let Scherzer go. But with only about $50 million in guaranteed money on the books for 2022, $30 million for '23 and nothing after that, the Giants have the flexibility to tack on that extra dollar and/or year for Max. Scherzer and Verlander have different personalities, but the same goal. How cool would it be to see these two future Hall of Famers in the same rotation and wearing uniforms that feature the color orange? I mean, it’s hard to even imagine something like that…
4. Trevor Story will sign with the Astros.
Houston probably won’t meet Correa’s asking price, but this would be a fine -- and likely less costly -- consolation prize. Story is a good teammate, a good defender and a good candidate to bounce back from an underwhelming (by his standards) 2021. While he does come with more swing and miss than Correa, any concern about the Coors Field effect would be dissipated by him taking aim at the Crawford Boxes in the Astros’ power-prone park. There seems to be a narrative about Story potentially joining his hometown Rangers, but, last we checked, Houston is in Texas, too. Close enough.
5. Kris Bryant will sign with the Rangers.
The Rangers don’t expect to seriously contend before 2023, but they are ready to dive into this deep class to improve what was a brutal lineup in '21. Story will be a popular pick for the Rangers to solidify their middle infield (with Isiah Kiner-Falefa sliding to second), and perhaps that will happen. But Bryant could fill a long-standing need in left (the Rangers will have to decide if they want to keep trying to make it work with Willie Calhoun there) with the versatility to help out elsewhere in the lineup. His experience would benefit a Rangers team in need of it.
6. Marcus Semien will sign with the Mariners.
Arguably no team this winter will be more fascinating than the Mariners, who came amazingly close to ending the longest postseason drought in North American professional sports and are poised to become a real threat to win the AL West. (Fun fact: Seattle’s 90 wins in the regular season were two more than the World Series champion Braves had.)
The M’s have a clear need at second base, and in 2021, Semien ably shifted to second from his native shortstop position and wound up setting a record for homers at the position. He’ll garner interest as a shortstop, of course, but no team should be more motivated to bring in his bat and leadership than a Seattle team whose time is now.
7. Freddie Freeman will re-sign with the Braves.
8. Clayton Kershaw will re-sign with the Dodgers.
Maybe not as much of a “duh,” because Kershaw’s hometown Rangers will once again be a highly cited alternative and his injury troubles complicate matters. But we’ll believe Kershaw leaves the Dodgers when we actually see it.
9. Chris Taylor will sign with the Phillies.
Philadelphia desperately needs to lengthen its lineup and get more support for Bryce Harper. But delving into the top end of the market might be difficult for a team that has so many major financial commitments and so many needs. That’s why a Swiss Army knife like Taylor (who won’t come cheap, but won’t be breaking any free-agent financial records, either) makes so much sense for them. He can give them at-bats all over the diamond and particularly help out in the problem spots of center field and shortstop.
10. Nick Castellanos will sign with the Marlins.
Miami has assembled a deep and dynamic pitching core, but it’s time to find people who can drive in runs and make this team a real contender in the NL East. That will start with South Florida native Castellanos, who has opted out of the two years and $32 million remaining on his deal with the Reds. The Marlins couldn’t work out an extension with Starling Marte before trading him to the A’s, but Castellanos is three years younger. The Marlins have only $8 million in guaranteed money on the books next season and zero dollars committed to 2023 and beyond. So they have room to be an intriguing player in this market, should they go down that path.
11. Starling Marte will sign with the Guardians.
Cleveland had the lowest Opening Day payroll in MLB in 2021, has only $12 million in guaranteed money on the books for next season and nothing after that. It’s time to improve the lineup, build goodwill with a fan base frustrated by a bunch of recent trades and get the Guardians name off to a winning start. The way to do that is to improve the outfield production. The Guards are probably set in center field now with Myles Straw aboard, but there’s no reason the 33-year-old Marte couldn’t slide to left. He’s a player they’ve liked for a long while, he’d only add to the dynamic baserunning ability of this offense, and he’d be the everyday outfielder so desperately needed by a team that has the pitching to get back into contention.
12. The Mets will keep their dudes.
Javier Báez, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Michael Conforto are staying put. Syndergaard and Conforto have received and will almost certainly accept the qualifying offers. The Mets will have extra incentive to keep Stroman in light of Carlos Carrasco coming off elbow surgery and Jacob deGrom experiencing an injury-plagued 2021. And though Báez’s Mets tenure included the awkwardness of the thumbs-down controversy, the team saw him take accountability for that unnecessary distraction and then perform at his best. Whoever takes over the GM duties, the Mets will chalk '21 up as a crazy year in which the offense severely underperformed and hope for better things in '22.
13. Kyle Schwarber will sign with the Cardinals.
In 2021, no team in MLB had more plate appearances from the right-hand side than the Cardinals, and their numbers against right-handed pitchers were decidedly mediocre. Though fans will clamor for the Cards to acquire one of the big-name shortstops (and perhaps reunite Trevor Story with Nolan Arenado), the organizational M.O. has been to avoid the big splash. This would be a nice compromise. Schwarber can sometimes play a role in an otherwise young and vibrant outfield and can sometimes fill in for Paul Goldschmidt. If the universal DH becomes a permanent reality in 2022, then this would be an even more ideal fit than it already appears to be, as Schwarber could spend a lot of time in that role.
14. Robbie Ray will sign with the Angels.
It’s hard to know what to make of Ray, who teased us for so long with his electric stuff and his wildness but finally pulled it all together in a 2021 season in which his, um, form-fitting slacks and terrific numbers were the talk of the league. Betting big on that one-year sample being Ray’s new norm is a risk. But who better to take such a risk than an Angels team desperate for the pitching needed to get back to October?
15. Kevin Gausman will sign with the Blue Jays.
The Blue Jays made a nice three-year offer for Gausman prior to his decision to bet on himself and accept the Giants’ qualifying offer last winter. But if we’re right about the Giants landing other veteran starters and Ray leaving the Jays, then it only stands to reason that Gausman would again be of interest to Toronto. (That’s the problem with these predictions. If any of the dominoes doesn’t fall right, the whole thing is compromised!).
16. Carlos Rodón will re-sign with the White Sox.
His late-season injury will create an interesting wrinkle in his market after an otherwise excellent, value-building year. The Sox didn’t let some other club benefit from Rodón’s potential after non-tendering him last year, and there’s no reason why they should let him get away now.
17. The Twins will bring back Nelson Cruz.
Yeah, they traded him to the Rays. Whatever. The offseason is not complete until the Twins sign Nellie Cruz to a short-term contract. It’s a rule.