When (and if) baseball resumes in 2022, general managers will work a lot like NFL coaches at the outset of games, with their first moves scripted. At the transaction kickoff, you can almost imagine Red Sox honcho Chaim Bloom, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and their peers staring down laminated cards, playcalling into headsets.
Baseball execs have had nothing to do but plan for more than two months. Similarly, agents have spent days plotting their first phone calls after business resumes — and when (and if) it does, there will be a hurricane of activity.
Here is some of what is expected by many in the industry:
1. Freddie Freeman signs quickly.
The presumption among a lot of rival executives last year was that Freeman and the Braves would eventually work out a deal. But Freeman was not among the stars who signed a pre-lockout contract — even after the Braves won the World Series and the franchise operated with the championship glow (and cash injection). So the industry view has shifted; there is a growing belief that Freeman will land somewhere outside of Atlanta because of the standoff in his negotiations. The Braves offered $135 million over five years, sources say, and Freeman is looking for a six-year deal.
“I think [the Braves] will move quickly to settle on an alternative and move on to get past the conversation,” one official said.
Freeman would be a perfect fit for just about any lineup, especially with the universal designated hitter likely to be used in the National League in 2022. Even a team with an established first baseman could envision Freeman splitting time between DH and first base.
But as great as Freeman is as a hitter and a clubhouse presence, there probably aren’t many teams in position to spend big money on a 32-year-old first baseman. The left-handed hitting Freeman would help to balance the Yankees’ very right-handed lineup, and he would probably enjoy swinging into the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium’s right-field dimensions. If Hal Steinbrenner chooses to operate within the limits of the competitive balance tax threshold, as he did last year, Cashman may not have the space for another big-money deal. The Yankees already have significant investments in Gerrit Cole and Giancarlo Stanton, and the club’s intention is to work to retain Aaron Judge, as his foray into free agency looms next fall.
For Freeman, the most likely alternative to the Braves might be the Dodgers. Some agents believe Andrew Friedman, the head of baseball operations for L.A., would never devote a six-year deal to a first baseman entering the back half of his career. “But a shorter term deal that’s really lucrative — I could see that,” said one agent, positing a four-year, $140 million contract as more workable for L.A.
Wherever the future Hall of Fame inductee lands, folks in the industry believe it’ll happen swiftly.
2. The Oakland Athletics will execute a major subtraction.
The industry perception is that Oakland had offers for the likes of Olson and Matt Chapman before the lockout, and that the Athletics will be ready to knock out a series of deals swiftly once teams are given the go-ahead to execute transactions. There appears to be robust interest in Olson among the Braves, Yankees, Rangers and others.
3. The baseball world will learn what Clayton Kershaw wants.
This much we know: Someday, Kershaw will be voted into the Hall of Fame at least near-unanimously. But it’s not entirely clear what Kershaw wants for 2022. Does he want to pitch for the Dodgers? Is it possible he’d consider the Rangers or some other team? How does he feel, after breaking down at the end of the 2021 season?
All of the mystery around Kershaw will probably be cleared up within the first couple of days after the collective bargaining agreement resolution (or possibly sooner).
Correa is 27 years old, is regarded as one of the best at his position, and he recently linked up with Scott Boras in hope of a megadeal in the same neighborhood as Francisco Lindor‘s ($341 million) and Corey Seager‘s ($325 million). Whoever signs Correa will want to be comfortable with whatever information can be gleaned about his lower-back issues. And any team interested in Story is going to want to place eyes on him to see if the throwing issues that popped up last year have improved and assess whether they think he might have a lingering arm problem.
5. The best available relievers are likely to sign very quickly.
Some of the best bullpen arms have already been locked down, like right-hander Raisel Iglesias and left-hander Aaron Loup (who both signed with the Angels), and right-hander Corey Knebel (probably the ninth-inning guy for the Phillies). But there are still some big names available, such as Kenley Jansen (a free agent), and Josh Hader and Craig Kimbrel (in trade).
6. The Mets will spend more money.
Breaking news (well, not really): Whatever the negotiated CBT thresholds are in the next CBA, Mets owner Steve Cohen has already zoomed way, way, way past those, likely at the cost of luxury taxes and draft picks. And given that he’s already gone so far, the industry expectation is he’ll continue the spending spree to round out the roster. Buck Showalter inadvertently indicated the other day that the door is not completely closed to a return of free-agent outfielder Michael Conforto.
7. Teams will circle back to ask the Guardians about the cost of All-Star Jose Ramirez.
His contract is so favorable for Cleveland that generating an acceptable offer of prospects might be almost impossible — and the franchise, steeped in pitching, may choose to open its next season under their new name of the Guardians with Ramirez cemented into their infield. But as clubs looking for infielders (like the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Astros) weigh their options, they’ll at least pose the appropriate questions about Ramirez.
8. Nick Castellanos will find his next home.
There will be perhaps two major developments that improve Castellanos’ context in free agency: First, the finalization of a universal DH, which would make NL teams more comfortable in pursuing Castellanos, who is perceived by a lot of evaluators to be a J.D. Martinez-type hitter and defender; and second, if draft-pick compensation is eliminated, this could compel some teams to consider Castellanos more aggressively.