A Glance at the MLB Free Agent Market
Here’s what the free agent market looks like thus far into the offseason.
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With the MLB Covid-shortened season having ended almost two months ago, free agency has begun to kick off. The majority of free agents are holding off signing until they have a better understanding of the market. However, some players have already decided which teams they will be joining. The most sought after free agents still have yet to sign, but here are some of the meaningful ones who have:
James McCann to the New York Mets:
McCann signed a four-year deal for $40 million on December 12, 2020 with the Mets. It’s a perfect fit for both sides as his strengths lie in shutting down the running game, something that the Mets pitching staff, including Jacob DeGrom, has struggled with for some time now. After J.T. Realmuto, McCann was the best free agent catcher on the market, and the Mets signed him for what could be less than a third of the price that Realmuto will want. Saving money at the catcher spot will also allow the Mets to go after more lucrative free agents, like Trevor Bauer and George Springer.
Charlie Morton to the Atlanta Braves:
Morton, one of the best pitchers on the market, signed a one year, $15 million contract with the Braves. Though Morton had an injury-shortened 2020 season, when he posted a mediocre 4.74 ERA, in 2019 he made his second all-star team and posted an ERA of 3.05. The biggest worry with Morton is that he turned 37 in November, which means that his 2020 injury could mean the end of his career as an effective starter. Signing Morton is a risk, but the Braves can afford it, and if he plays like his 2019 self, then the money will be well worth it. The signing is especially useful to the Braves because they are in position to try to win the World Series, and Morton has been effective in the postseason pitching to a 2.20 ERA in 2020 and an ERA of 0.90 in 2019.
David Dahl Texas Rangers:
Dahl signed a one-year, $3 million deal with the Rangers on December 11, 2020 after being non-tendered by the Rockies. He will become arbitration eligible, meaning that he will need to be paid more, in the next two seasons and a free agent in 2023. Dahl struggled in 2020 but was an all-star in 2019. He’s also only 27 years old, so it is reasonable for the Rangers to hope to get that version of him back. While Dahl as an offensive outfielder is a good move to make, he has had frequent injuries in the past, so the Rangers run the risk of obtaining him for nothing.
Most of the highest profile free agents are still on the market, however. Among these are:
Bauer won the N.L. Cy Young award this season and is the most sought after player on the market. He boasted the best ERA in the league at 1.73 and came second in strikeouts and third in fWAR (wins above replacement). Bauer is an especially interesting free agent because of his social media presence. He has been extremely vocal with the Astros sign stealing scandal, and he live streamed his commentary during each World Series game on his YouTube channel. He could truly go to any team, and though he has expressed a penchant for one-year deals in the past, he has recently walked that back, meaning that he could go anywhere for any length of time.
I predict that Bauer will sign a three to five year deal for about $30 million per year, enough money that he would be set if anything happened but short enough that he could join a new team while near his prime. Bauer has expressed the desire to go to a team that is a contender, but within those limits, he really could go anywhere.
Not only is Realmuto the best free agent catcher, but he is also the best catcher in the game. Realmuto is in the 95th percentile in pitch framing, controls the running game extremely well, and is an overall impressive player. Now that the Mets have signed McCann, Realmuto is really the only option for teams looking for a catcher. His contract is most likely going to look something like $130 million over five or six years, but with so many teams in the market, Realmuto could push for even more.
I think that Realmuto will stay with the Phillies. A week ago I would have said the Mets, but now that they are out of the running, staying in Philadelphia seems like his best option. That being said, Realmuto will probably go to wherever offers the most money, and Philly is in a position to do that.
Springer has been constantly improving throughout the years, decreasing his strikeout rate and developing his power. He’s played right and center field, and ranks above-average defensively in both. A factor in deciding whether or not to sign Springer is how much his numbers were influenced by the Astros cheating scale. However, while he did push his strikeout rate to a career low in 2017 when the Astros were cheating, Springer lowered it even more in 2020, presumably without cheating, meaning that teams will likely have the same interest in him as they would otherwise.
My prediction is that Springer will go to the Mets. With a new owner, there really isn’t a track record to look at, so there’s no way of knowing what kind of moves Steve Cohen will make. However, having saved so much money on their catcher, the Mets are set up to make a move for Springer or Bauer, and their outfield is lacking way more than their pretty great pitching staff, especially if Noah Syndergaard can make a quick recovery from Tommy John surgery.