Updated: Nov 13
Photo: Nicole Smith/Lids
Besides the playoffs, the most anticipated MLB events is the offseason. We are finally at that moment. In my mind, I feel that the contenders are going to be big-time buyers this year. The Dodgers finally got over their World Series drought, but that was in part of paying the HOUSE to trade for former MVP, Mookie Betts. The Yankees will rearrange their squad to follow suit, the Padres want to make a splash, the Indians will look to sell, and Uncle Stevie Cohen is going to want to buy, buy, buy and improve his new "toy".
A few weeks ago, we spoke with NBC Sports very own Jessica Kleinschmidt, who provided insight on what the offseason may look like. Frankly, it could go in so many different directions. Last year, we had big names like Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg, who were off the board before Christmas. The year prior, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado weren’t signed to their respective teams until almost March. Qualifying offers were set at $18.9 million and then sent out to a handful of players. I was certain Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman would decline those offers, but they both remain with the Giants and Mets respectively. To many, the QO is meant to be declined and only 8 other players in the history of the offer have accepted it. The others to receive it this year (Bauer, LeMahieu, Springer, and Realmuto), have already declined, as expected.
It’s not the biggest free-agent class ever, 2021 will be full of more talent, but there are a lot of players available that can turn around franchises, and get contenders to the next level. For the purpose of this blog, we are going to focus just on the free agents. I'll touch upon trade candidates at a later date. Here are some predictions on where the top players may end up.
The NL CY Young winner is the hottest commodity this offseason. He had an NL best 1.73 ERA and has been a pitching wizard year after year. The former Indian and Diamondback has been the most vocal player and most media famous personal this year, and it is well known he wants to be in a position to win. He wants to sign with a contender, who is willing to work with strong analytical pitching technology. He also has been known for only wanting a one-year contract, but his agent Rachel Luba confirmed they are open to all offers.
Winner – Padres
Other Likely Locations – Yankees, Mets
Dark Horses – Dodgers, Angels, Reds
Arguably one of the best catchers in baseball, he is a phenomenal defender who provides a nice offensive bat. Realmuto’s offense and speed are above average for any player, so as a catcher with high-end defensive skills, he really stands out. The one thing we know about Realmuto is that he wants to get paid! He is an upgrade to any team who seeks his value, but it will cost a pretty penny, and a hefty contract.
Winner – Mets
Other Likely Locations – Nationals, Yankees
Dark Horses –Phillies, Angels, Rockies
One of the key players in the Astros cheating scandal, aside from his “role”, the outfielder has been one of the most offensive players not only in his position but in the entire AL. He doesn’t strike out a lot and can play both right and centerfield. The UCONN prospect may seek to head back north, but a reunion with the Astros isn’t out of the picture.
Winner – Mets
Other Likely Locations – White Sox, Red Sox
Dark Horses –Cardinal, Nationals, Astros
Ozuna is one of the league's crème-de-le-crop in terms of an offensive weapon. In this past 60-game season, he batted 18 home runs and 56 RBIs. Due to prior injuries to his shoulder, he isn’t the same outfielder he once was, but if the NL confirms a universal DH, he will remain a top option amongst both leagues. He seeks a multi-year deal, which he failed to achieve last year, but after this season, he is sure to attract multiple bidders.
Winner – Nationals
Other Likely Locations - Braves
Dark Horses – Reds, Red Sox, Astros
Bias aside, I truly think DJ LeMahieu is the best player (other than Trevor Bauer) available this offseason. He is a gold-glove like defender, who can play the entire infield and an MVP caliber offensive player with the ability to always bring home runners in scoring position. He rarely strikes out and can be the contending piece for many teams throughout the league. Although he declined their qualifying offer (no brainer), he wants to stay in New York and the Yankees want to keep him, but you never know what may happen in free agency.
Winner – Yankees
Other Likely Location – Blue Jays, Nationals
Dark Horse –Cardinals, Marlins, Dodgers
Do you remember when there were zero sports and MLB was almost canceled? What did everyone do, especially in the early A.M. hours? They turned to Korea and watched the KBO. That is where you might recognize Ha-Seong Kim, who was the Kiwoom Heroes stud. The 25-year old shortstop a serious defender that has a nice combination of power and speed. He wants to make it to the big leagues, and more teams are seeking international talent. He may be one of the most intriguing players available, and he could be the next big star.
Winner – Rangers
Other Likely Locations – Angels, Cardinals
Dark Horses –Rays, Blue Jays, Phillies, Cubs
Photo: Han Myung-Gu/Getty Images
When the Yankees decided not to retain him last season, due to his recent Tommy John Surgery, he took a chance on himself and signed a one-year deal with the Phillies. Now that the veteran shortstop is healthy and getting back into form, he is looking for his next chance and a bigger contract. Easily one of the most likable players in the league, not only would a team get a reliable lefty bat, and stellar defender, they would get a locker room favorite. He will definitely be on the radar of multiple teams.
Winner – Reds
Other Likely Locations – Phillies
Dark Horses –Yankees, Angels, Mets
Seven years ago, the Rakuten Golden Eagles posted Tanaka after a monster year, and the Yankees won the bidding war. He has been everything they ever asked for and a solid mid-rotation pitcher with incredible postseason poise. He averaged 30 starts per year from 2016-19 and had a healthy 2020 season aside from a mild concussion from a line drive. Now much older, the Yankees should be the clear favorites to resign him. Other teams will seek his talents, but don’t shut out the idea of returning back to his home team in Japan, and riding off in the sunset.
Winner – Yankees
Other Likely Locations – Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (Japan), Angels
Dark Horses –Cubs, Blue Jays, Braves
He hasn’t been the star-studded pitcher the Twins hoped he would turn out to be, but he is still a reliable arm that many teams would love. His 2020 was okay but had some injury problems throughout. He never went on the IL for an arm injury and is proven to be a strikeout pitcher. Odorizzi will attract the eyes of teams that are looking for that middle of rotation starter.
Winner – Blue Jays
Other Likely Locations – Yankees, Twins
Dark Horses – Angels, Red Sox
We can all agree that starting pitching is valuable, but building the bullpen will win you championships. Hendriks went from going unclaimed on waivers by 29 teams to making the All-Star team in the span of one year. Now, he’s the best reliever on the free-agent market. Mariano Rivera AL Reliever of the Year Award winner had a 1.79 ERA led all relievers in WAR. He is one of the best in the league in his position, and he will be receiving a new and lucrative contract very soon.
Winner – Dodgers
Other Likely Locations – Yankees, Phillies
Dark Horses –Athletics, Giants, Mets, Astros
Brantley is a solid outfielder, but an even better bat. Like many other players on this list, if the universal DH is permanent, Brantley’s options expand. Over his past two seasons, he has had a .309 batting average (ranked eighth in MLB), and his 11.4% strikeout rate. He is on the older side but could be a valuable piece to a contender.
Winner – Braves
Other Likely Locations – Astros, White Sox, Nationals
Dark Horses –Red Sox, Dodgers
After six seasons with his hometown team, the shortstop is now a free agent. He is quick and durable, with an improving bat and nice defense. Semien can do many things this offseason, whether he stays at home, take a one year deal and improve for a bigger contract, or lock in a long term deal now.
Winner – Angels
Other Likely Locations – Athletics
Dark Horses –Yankees, Blue Jays, Giants
Realmuto is the best catcher on the market (and in the league), but McCann is no consolation prize. He is a lockdown defender, with plenty of upsides. The teams that miss out on J.T. will likely look to add McCann
Winner – Phillies
Other Likely Locations – Yankees
Dark Horses –Mets, Brewers, Cardinals
Simmons is in a similar situation as Semien in terms of what type of contract he will seek. Simmons is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, with four gold gloves under his belt. From 2013-2018, he averaged 146 games per year. His value isn’t what it was in years past, but he wants to head to a contender and attempt to bounce back his performance.
Winner – Yankees
Other Likely Locations – Phillies, Indians
Dark Horses –Blue Jays, Reds
Photos: Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register/SCNG
Coming off a World-Series win, Pederson might be one of the more affordable power-hitting outfielders available. He currently serves in a platoon role, but teams might want to slate him as their primary starter. A two-year deal gives him the opportunity to head back to the market in advance of his age-31 season, so he could lock in some cash now and still have another shot at a second decent free-agent deal
Winner – Cardinals
Other Likely Locations – Dodgers, Red Sox
Dark Horses –Angels, Giants, White Sox
Nelson Cruz ages like a fine wine. At the age of 40, he is still crushing the long ball. His 150 wRC+ from 2015-20 ranks second in MLB among qualified hitters — behind only Mike Trout. He is only a DH, but a sturdy and dependent DH.
Winner – Twins
Other Likely Locations – Rays
Dark Horses – Mariners, White Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr.
It seems that JBJ’s time in Boston is coming to a close. The All-Star and Gold Glover is known for his defensive reputation, but an average batter. He is one of the few starting center fielders available and will look for a change of scenery.
Winner – Rockies
Other Likely Locations – Astros
Dark Horses –Diamond Backs, Cubs
Once considered an Ace, his time in New York was lackluster. He faced a flurry of injuries and never played like the pitcher he was in Seattle. His agent, the well-renown Scott Boras, states that Paxton has returned to “normal”. It looks like he would take a one-year deal to rebuild his value but probably won’t pitch more than 150 innings throughout the season. When healthy though, he can serve as a big-time pitcher for a contender.
Winner – Angels
Other Likely Locations – White Sox
Dark Horses –Yankees, Mets
It was interesting to see the Cardinals decline Wong’s option, but a reunion isn’t out of the picture. He is a pure second baseman but doesn’t provide the strongest bat. He is an average hitter but a gold glove winner, so take that as you would. The Red Sox could use a second baseman and Wong could be looking to prove his worth.
Winner – Red Sox
Other Likely Locations – Cardinals, Tigers
Dark Horses –Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Indians, Yankees
After the year Brad Hand had, I was surprised that he was released by the Indians. With a 2.05 ERA and 33.7 K%, the three-time All-Star will have plenty of eyes on him. Teams that miss out on Hendriks will still be happy to get a pitcher like Brad Hand.
Winner – Astros
Other Likely Locations – Yankees
Dark Horses –Padres, Athletics
In 2018, he was dominant with the A’s, posting a 0.78 ERA in over 80 innings. He fell to a rotator cuff injury in 2018, and the A’s declined his contract through arbitration. The Dodgers snagged him and provided decent results this past season. Treinen will find plenty of interest from teams
Winner – Marlins
Other Likely Locations – Angels, Dodgers, Giants
Dark Horses –Yankees, Cubs
Tommy La Stella
After a slow start to his career, La Stella finally found his calling while an Angel. He was traded to Oakland in August after a hot-hitting start and has consistently improved his batting year after year. He is most known for his defense and having the ability to play both second and third base. The A’s would love to keep him, but he could also fit the wholes of other contending teams.
Winner – Athletics
Other Likely Locations – Dodgers, Indians
Dark Horses –Yankees, Nationals, Diamondbacks
While on the Indians, Kluber was one of the best. He won a pair of CY Young and ranked third in WAR amongst all starting pitchers from 2014-2018. Father time has caught up to Corey and injuries hit him while in Texas. Kluber would be a nice fit for a contender looking for a veteran with experience. Throwing Kluber in for a few innings throughout a postseason would be dangerous.
Winner – Twins
Other Likely Location – Yankees, Red Sox
Dark Horse –Rays, Angels
The 37-year old righty showed this postseason that he is still a useful starter. He flirted with retirement, but teams will be eying his service as a 5th or 6th starter, veteran presence, and solid production.
Winner – Rays
Other Likely Location – Yankees
Dark Horse – Astros, Mets
For the first time in his hall-of-fame 17 year career, Yadier Molina is set to reach free agency. He still has some tank left in the gas and is looking for two more years in his next contract. Ideally, he would like to stay with the Cardinals, but if they can’t come to an agreement, the catching great will be wearing a new uniform.
Winner – Cardinals
Other Likely Location – Yankees, Mets
Dark Horse –Phillies, Marlins
There are a handful of other names available including Chris Archer, Tiajuan Walker, Jose Quintana, Justin Turner, Trevor Rosenthal, Juriksion Profar, Carlos Santana, Adam Wainwright, Mike Minor, JA Happ, Kirby Yates, and Rick Porcello (just to name a few). For all the latest, here is the official tracker for free agency.
Photo: MLB / CBS Sports