Projecting the Shortstop Free Agency Market Entering 2021by Carter LaCorte March 30, 2021 0 comments
The times when baseball fans become most familiar with stars on other teams is when a star is entering free agency. The possibility of a big name changing teams excites most fans, especially those of big market teams that could end up acquiring a major talent. In past years, people have kept their eyes on Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Gerrit Cole and George Springer as they approached the open market. For 2021, most of the noteworthy names have something in common – they are all shortstops. This twist on the free agent market is sure to create an interesting year, filled with the possibility of extensions, trades, and plain-old free agent signings. So, ahead of the 2021 MLB season, here are some predictions for the top shortstops who are pending free agents.
Re-signs with the New York Mets on a 10-year, $300 million contract (11-year, $318 million deal after a vesting option)
The most money a current shortstop is making (in total) is actually Fernando Tatis Jr., who signed a 14-year, $340 million deal in the offseason. Lindor has attempted to reach the $385 million mark, but that is not happening. The prized acquisition of this past offseason for New York, it took Andres Gimenez, Amed Rosario, Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene to pry Lindor (plus Carlos Carrasco) out of Cleveland. Now, Mets owner Steve Cohen needs to extend his new young star.
The model contract here is Manny Machado’s 10-year, $300 million deal with San Diego. Both Lindor and Machado are superstars at their position, both offensively and defensively. They are not perfect comparisons, as Machado was entering his age-26 season when he signed with San Diego, and Lindor will be 28 at the start of 2022. One way to close this gap is for Lindor’s extension to start this year, as he is just one year older than Machado was.
Lindor himself is a bit of a risk at the moment. He led the American League with 266 plate appearances in 2020, but he had the worst season of his career. Lindor’s 102 OPS+ was just above average, and he hit eight home runs for a 150-game estimate of 20. That is well below Lindor’s 34 home run average from 2017-19. Still, he has won two Silver Sluggers and two Gold Gloves, and has been a part of the 30/20 club twice. His reported extension deadline of Opening Day may pressure Cohen and the Mets into an overpay, but the two sides have reportedly been hard at work recently.
Signs a seven-year, $205 million contract with the Seattle Mariners
Of all of the predictions in this article, this is easily the most adventurous. Seager may also be the most unpredictable of the five major free agent shortstops. He is unpredictable in both his play on the field and in his potential market. His current team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, will want to obtain the 2020 World Series MVP. But at a certain point, how much is too much? The Dodgers gave Trevor Bauer over $40 million for both 2021 and 2022, and the team also has Clayton Kershaw becoming a free agent after the season. They gave Mookie Betts a $365 million extension, and when you add future extensions to Walker Buehler and Cody Bellinger, the Dodgers’ payroll is too high. Seager may have to be the odd man out.
After winning NL Rookie of the Year in 2016, Seager’s play had declined. However, he had a career season in 2020, hitting 15 home runs with a .943 OPS before adding seven home runs combined in the last two rounds of the postseason. Of course, his future contract will depend on his 2021 play, and the shortened season hot streak can be used against Seager if he slumps this year.
The Mariners are a team that should be going after one of these players. They have not made the playoffs since 2001, and they need to do something about that soon. They have top prospects coming to the majors in Julio Rodriguez, Jarred Kelenic, and Logan Gilbert, and adding a star in Seager, who will be 28 during the 2022 season, will speed up their rebuild. Current shortstop JT Crawford has not done enough yet to show that he should start. Of course, Corey’s brother Kyle Seager also plays third base for the Mariners, but he will likely hit free agency after 2021 (club option). Throwing over $200 million at the younger Seager should be enough to bring his talents north while keeping him on the west coast.
Traded to St. Louis Cardinals and later signed by the Atlanta Braves on a seven-year, $224 million deal
Two moves! After the embarrassing Nolan Arenado trade, it is hard to see Story stay in Colorado. Ironically, in this situation, Story would team up again with Arenado in St. Louis. A Story trade would be a pure rental for the Cardinals, who could move either Story or Paul DeJong to second base, while Tommy Edman shifts to his old role of super-utility. The best comparison here is once again Machado, whom the Orioles traded to the Dodgers in 2018 even though the latter never could bring him back.
Atlanta is another out-of-the-box pick. They have a young core, and adding Story would move them over the top. Dansby Swanson is their current shortstop, but he cannot keep them from bringing in Story. Trading either Swanson or Austin Riley (or potentially moving Riley to the outfield and Swanson to third base) would clear up the spot for Story. The bargains Atlanta got for Ronald Acuña Jr. and Ozzie Albies give them the money here to sign Story, putting him at $32 million per season.
Coors Field will probably hold Story back, but D.J. LeMahieu has showed that the Coors argument can be defeated. Arenado could do the same in St. Louis. Story has elite power, hitting 37 and 35 home runs in 2018 and 2019, respectively. He also possesses great speed, stealing a National League-leading 15 bases in 2020. He hit 11 home runs with an .874 OPS, and his career OPS resides at .877.
Re-signs with the Houston Astros for six years, $150 million
Correa recently was offered a six-year, $120 million extension by Houston, something that he considered to be low. But there are a fair share of concerns around Correa, so it may actually be in his best interest to take something similar to that. Correa only missed two games in 2020, and like most of his Astros teammates, he was underwhelming, hitting five home runs with a .709 OPS. Correa’s health should be a concern, as he played in 75 games in 2019, 110 in 2018, and 109 in 2017. If he wants to get paid, Correa needs to be healthy and productive, something that he has had trouble doing. When he was not healthy in 2019, Correa was at least productive, hitting 21 home runs with a .926 OPS.
After losing George Springer to Toronto this offseason, the Astros cannot afford to do that again with Correa. Springer signed an identical contract with the Blue Jays as the one projected here. Springer is five years older than Correa, but the latter’s recent lack of success will make him lucky to get a $150 million offer, especially when he is not a top-three shortstop available.
Signs a seven-year, $168 million deal with the San Francisco Giants
Expect Baez’s market to be a crapshoot next year. He is easily the fifth-best shortstop available, although that is subject to change with extensions. The 2018 NL MVP runner-up, Baez’s future in Chicago is uncertain. The Cubs have to sign everyone, as both Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are entering free agency alongside Baez. If they start off weak, they may extend one, trade one, and let one leave in free agency.
After his 2020, Baez doesn’t seem to be the first of those three. He hit .203 with a .599 OPS in 59 games last year, nearly striking out 31.9 percent of the time with a three percent walk rate. At the very least, he did win his first Gold Glove, posting six outs above average. Baez was also an elite defender at short in 2019 with 27 outs above average, adding an .847 OPS.
The Giants could be in the same boat as the Mariners by the end of 2021, and they have more of a precedent for spending on big players. They were reported as having major interest in Bryce Harper after 2018, a season where they finished 73-89. While Baez is not on Harper’s level, it shows that San Francisco may be willing to spend a year from now. Their shortstop for this year is veteran Brandon Crawford, but he will be a free agent entering his age-35 season in 2022.
Backup plans at shortstop
Of course, other low-budget
teams will be looking for shortstops. Crawford, defensive superstar Andrelton Simmons, and Jose Iglesias will hit the open market after 2021. So will Marcus Semien, the former MVP finalist who will patrol second base for the Toronto Blue Jays this year. With the Dodgers, Rockies, and Cubs projected to lose their starting shortstop in this article, these players could be fall-back options for many teams.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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