Winter is here, and the expected long layoff until MLB and the MLBPA agree to a new collective bargaining agreement will be a lot colder for some teams and their fan bases than it will be for others.
The Rangers were aggressive before the lockdown hit, signing middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to massive deals and bringing Jon Gray in to help shore up the rotation. The Mets locked down Max Scherzer, plus Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha. The Tigers brought in Javier Baez and Eduardo Rodriguez.
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Fans of those clubs are happy, with the big presents wrapped and under the tree. But for fans of other teams — and other players still out there — the waiting just might be the hardest part.
Let’s look at five teams and five players in limbo throughout the lockout.
Few fans bases watched the free-agent frenzy with more angst than Yankees fans. They heard what they wanted to hear early in the offseason — the Yankees said they needed a shortstop, said they were open to someone other than the oft-injured Aaron Hicks in center field and that they were planning to raise payroll in 2022. Good start, right? Nothing of note has happened for the Yankees, though. They watched the Rangers — the RANGERS, of all teams — give $500 million to two guys who would have been perfect fits at shortstop at Yankee Stadium. And this is almost going to be the tweet that haunts Yankees fans all lockout …
Yankees are among teams to check in on Andrelton Simmons. They’ve always liked the defensive whiz.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 29, 2021
The 2022 A’s will have a lot of different player profile pics, once those pics return to the MLB.com team roster pages. The club is in sell-off mode, with the Matts — first baseman Olson and third baseman Chapman — certain to leave when things resume. And teams shopping for rotation upgrades will be calling the A’s, because Chris Bassett, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea would all be big upgrades for teams looking to solidify playoff-bound rotations. The asking prices will be high, which just might be perfect for the short time between the signing of the new CBA and the eventual start of the 2022 season.
The consistent inconsistency over the past four years has been profoundly maddening for Phillies fans; the club’s finishes, in order: two games under .500, exactly .500, four games under .500 and two games over .500. Nothing speaks more directly to the top-heavy problems the Phillies have better than the fact that Bryce Harper won the 2021 MVP and Zack Wheeler finished second in the Cy Young voting and the club barely finished over .500. They need as many upgrades in the bullpen as possible — seriously, they should sign every reliever out there — and need upgrades in center field, shortstop and left field. Is Alec Bohm the long-term answer at third base? He certainly didn’t look like it in 2021.
The Dodgers lost both Max Scherzer and Corey Seager on the same day, though completing the deal to retain Chris Taylor before the lockout hit helped the Dodgers maintain an enviable degree of positional flexibility as they put together next year’s roster. They’ll be in the market for a big bat, but they still have a playoff-worthy lineup right now. The question is what they’ll do with the rotation, which at the moment has Walker Buehler and Julio Urias — a great 1-2 — but not much else in terms of certainty. Do they bring Clayton Kershaw back, as expected? Do they make a trade for one of the A’s starters on the market? Do they find answers on the free-agent market, even though most of the top starters have signed, guys such as Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman and Eduardo Rodriguez? They certainly are not done.
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The Reds made their intentions clear at the very start of the offseason, when they shipped long-time catcher Tucker Barnhardt to Detroit and let effective starter Wade Miley walk via waivers. So what’s next? Certainly not contention. The club seems likely to move starter Sonny Gray, and if the price is right — and with panicked front offices scrambling to make moves after the lockout ends, it just might be — whispers suggest they’ll trade ace Luis Castillo, too. Joey Votto isn’t going anywhere, but Mike Moustakas could be gone, too. They might not trade away as many big league pieces as the A’s by the start of the season, but they’ll trade away more than most other teams.
Yep, he’s still a free agent, and Braves fans will have to spend the next of couple months trying to ward off the troubling “Freddie’s leaving, isn’t he?” thoughts. Truth is, there’s more of a chance he signs elsewhere after everything resumes than there was before everything shut down. Why? Options are more limited for some teams now than at the start of free agency. The Dodgers wanted to keep Corey Seager, but he took the mammoth contract offered by the Rangers. So if L.A. wants to replace his left-handed bat in the lineup (they do), what are their options? Suddenly Freeman looks very enticing. If the Yankees decide they want another big bat in the lineup (they do) and they don’t want to pay for Carlos Correa (it seems they don’t), Freeman’s left-handed bat looks really good at first base. Maybe the Red Sox don’t want Bobby Dalbec at first full time in 2022 and become enthralled with the idea of Freeman playing there. Basically, here’s the question Braves fans have to mull over during the lockout: Will the Atlanta front office win a bidding war for Freeman?
The A’s are almost certainly going to trade Olson, who is eligible to become a free agent after the 2023 season. The same teams that are interested in Freeman are almost certainly interested in Olson, and if the Braves lose Freeman, they’d logically be involved in trade discussions, depending on the timing. The Rangers would love a first-base upgrade, and trading for Olson would be more appealing than doling out another massive contract after the deals they gave to Seager and Semien.
The list of free-agent shortstops was impressive heading into the offseason, both in quality and quantity. Now, Seager, Semien and Baez are off the board. Correa, who was atop most free-agent rankings, is still there, as is Trevor Story. Seager signed for $325 million with the Rangers, and Correa — five months younger and coming off a better season, with a much higher career bWAR (34.1 to 21.3) — figures to land a deal that’s very similar. The question is, who gives him the deal? Do the Dodgers replace Seager with Correa, keeping Trea Turner (a free agent after 2022) at second base? Do the Yankees sign him, as their fans want? Does a mystery team back up the Brinks truck? Stay tuned (but don’t hold your breath).
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Bryant is unique among free agents in that he’s a powerful bat in the lineup who can play extended stretches at multiple defensive positions. That’s a nice bonus for any team that signs him. He can play third base, either corner outfield spot and first base. He can also fill in at center field, though that’s probably not ideal for an entire season. Which means, basically, any team out there could figure out a way to work Bryant into their lineup.
You will hear a decent amount about shaky defense and those are mostly true. But the DH is almost certainly coming to the NL, and Castellanos can hit, and he can hit anywhere. He’s the type of bat that helps a “meh” offense become a good offense, or a good offense become a great offense. Don’t overthink it. If your favorite team needs an outfielder (or a DH) and the offense needs a boost, Castellanos is the best option.