As the regular season comes to an end and fans begin to think about the offseason, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent players eligible for free agency.
Name: Trevor Story
Team: Colorado Rockies
Age (as of Opening Day 2022): 29
2021 stats: .251/.329/.471, 24 HR, 75 RBIs, 20 SB
One of the five premium shortstops on this year’s free-agent market, Story scuffled through a subpar season in his walk year. With trade rumors swirling around him and a lingering elbow injury bothering him for most of the first four months, Story battled inconsistency at the plate, hurting his trade value. When the Trade Deadline had passed, Story was still in Colorado, as the Rockies’ asking price never wavered despite his uneven season.
“I didn’t have great things to say about the situation,” Story said after the Deadline.
Story’s performance improved marginally in the 53 games after the Deadline, as he slashed .269/.359/.544 with 11 home runs after July 30. In 89 games prior to that, he slashed .240/.312/.429 with 13 homers.
Because he remained in Colorado, Story will receive a qualifying offer from the Rockies, attaching Draft-pick compensation to him in free agency. That shouldn’t stop potential suitors from pursuing him, though his underwhelming season will likely lessen the value of his overall contract.
Colorado has made it known that bringing back Story is a priority, though given how things ended with Nolan Arenado, it remains to be seen whether Story would be willing to ink a long-term deal to stay with the Rockies. Given the deep shortstop class and the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement, could Story accept the qualifying offer, try rebuilding his value in 2022 and hit the open market again next winter?
A homecoming to Texas could be in the cards for the Irving product, who would be a major piece in the Rangers’ rebuilding efforts. The biggest hitch in this plan might be Story’s desire to join a contender, as the Rangers are coming off of a 100-loss season and appear to be a few years away from competing for a postseason spot. Texas has less than $30 million committed to the 2022 payroll and zero commitments in 2023, so the Rangers should have the money to pursue Story if they choose to do so.
Detroit saw great improvement under manager A.J. Hinch in his first year with the club, putting the Tigers in position to take another step in 2022. The club’s .595 OPS at shortstop was the second-lowest in the Majors ahead of only the Pirates, using five different players at the position throughout the 2021 season. Miguel Cabrera is on the books for $32 million in 2022 and ’23, but Robbie Grossman ($5 million in 2022) and Jonathan Schoop ($7.5 million in 2022 and ’23) are the only other players with guaranteed contracts, leaving plenty of room to make a play for a big-name free agent such as Story.
With Didi Gregorius and Ronald Torreyes playing the bulk of games, Philadelphia’s .655 OPS at shortstop was the third-lowest mark in the National League. The Phillies have approximately $25 million coming off the books, assuming they don’t exercise options on Andrew McCutchen and Odúbel Herrera, though Gregorius is under contract for $15.25 million in 2022, making a pursuit of Story unlikely unless the Phillies trade Gregorius or shift him to third base. It should also be noted that the club’s No. 2 prospect, SS Bryson Stott, reached Triple-A by the end of 2021.
Chicago did a reset at the Trade Deadline, dealing away Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Báez and Craig Kimbrel among others, but the Cubs don’t figure to go into a long rebuilding mode. President of baseball operations Jed Hoyer recently said the club will be “really active in free agency” this winter, so the idea of the Cubs signing one of the big-name shortstops is certainly in play. The Cubs have two shortstops among their top 10 prospects (No. 3 Cristian Hernandez and No. 7 Ed Howard), but neither has turned 20 yet, leaving a need at the position.
After their sixth straight losing season, the Angels will look to make the necessary moves to contend in 2022. That should involve an upgrade to the pitching staff, but also adding to a lineup that sat in the middle of the pack of the American League in runs scored. Los Angeles’ .665 OPS at shortstop was 23rd in the Majors, and although the Angels will try to sign a pitcher or two, they have more than $50 million coming off the books this offseason (plus Justin Upton’s hefty contract expiring the following year), leaving them plenty of payroll flexibility.
The Yankees moved Gleyber Torres off of shortstop in the final weeks of the season, leaving an opening at the position in the Bronx. New York’s No. 1 prospect is Anthony Volpe, who is viewed as the future at shortstop for the Yankees, but he’s still just 20 years old and is likely at least two years away from the Majors. The Yankees took advantage of the market three years ago and signed DJ LeMahieu when he lacked strong interest around the league. If Story is unable to find the long-term deal he’s seeking, New York could try to swoop in and sign him to fill its hole at shortstop -- assuming the club doesn't pursue one of the other free-agent shortstops.
The Mariners will likely look to add an infield power bat this winter, and while it’s unclear just how much GM Jerry Dipoto will be able to spend, Story could be a good fit coming off of his 2021 performance. No. 2 prospect Noelvi Marte is just 19 years old, leaving him at least a couple years away from the Majors.
The Cardinals reportedly discussed a potential deal for Story this summer, so why wouldn’t they consider signing him as a free agent? If Story is willing to take a shorter-term deal to re-establish his value, St. Louis could look to pair him with former teammate Arenado on the left side of the infield. Signing Story (or another shortstop) might require a trade of Paul DeJong, who has two years and $15 million left on his contract (plus a pair of club options in 2024-25).
“A five-tool player with perennial All-Star talent. It has obviously been a down year relative to what we have come to expect, but there are some tangible things that can be identified as contributing factors: injury, limited protection in the lineup and just plain old pressing in a platform year. That being said, Story is a top-of-the-lineup bat with the ability to hit for power, run and defend. Those players are typically compensated well, and I anticipate the same will be true for Trevor.”
Story’s .471 slugging percentage, .329 on-base percentage and .251 batting average were all his lowest since 2017, while his 103 OPS+ was the second-lowest of his career. Story’s performance improved after the Trade Deadline, but teams will want to make sure that elbow issue isn’t going to be a problem moving forward. At 29, Story should still be in the prime of his career, so suitors will have to feel confident that his down 2021 season was the exception, not the rule. On the field, Story hasn’t come close to his 2019 form (+18 outs above average), posting a 0 OAA in 2020 and a -6 OAA this season.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
Story compares favorably with a number of his fellow free agents including Carlos Correa, Báez and Corey Seager. None of them are expected to command the $340 million that Francisco Lindor received from the Mets to lock him up prior to free agency, and Story’s underwhelming season will likely hamper the overall value of his next contract. Toronto’s Marcus Semien took a one-year deal worth $18 million in a similar situation a year ago; could Story take a one- or two-year deal worth $20-22 million per year and give free agency another whirl in 2022 or ’23?