MLB free agency will be this year’s most intriguing story, with the biggest-name players set to switch teams for huge contracts. This could lead to a new era of hyper-competitive baseball where every game is a must-see event.
The “mlb free agency date” is the date when MLB players can sign with other teams. It’s a date that has been around for a while now, but it’s still worth knowing.
We reported last week on the last flurry of activity before the CBA ended on December 1, which witnessed near-record amounts of expenditure in a short period of time. We have no plans to take action now that there is a lockout that is expected to persist through the winter. But, come February, it’s possible that we’ll get a few more weeks to enjoy the remainder of the offseason. Until then, these are some themes that executives and agents are keeping an eye on:
There are still opportunities for large payouts. The high end of the market was where my greatest misses from my free agency projections occurred. Many anticipated a few mid-market clubs to dive into the deep end of the pool, but not this far, this early, or so often. What I failed to notice was that at least a few owners from non-playoff teams were more ready to spend and, for labor reasons, were encouraged to do so before Dec. 1 if they planned to do so this winter.
While the most of the elite players have signed, Carlos Correa and Freddie Freeman are the only two players who are certain to make nine figures. Corey Seager’s contract came in about $100 million above many estimates, and Correa appeared to be on his way to getting the largest deal of the offseason (including mine). Correa is still on track to surpass the $325 million mark, but not by much. Freeman’s ceiling seems to be Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million contract from 2020, which he should easily surpass. The Braves’ current leadership has been adamant about avoiding signing free agents to multiyear contracts, although they did sign Marcell Ozuna for four years and $65 million in 2020. It’s assumed that they’ll find a method to match franchise legend Freeman’s asking fee (especially after a World Series financial windfall).
Finding the major bargains after those two becomes a little more difficult. Position players Trevor Story, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Michael Conforto, Kyle Schwarber, and Seiya Suzuki are among the contenders for a contract worth more than $50 million, while pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Rodon are the only remaining options. Story had long been projected to earn a nine-figure salary, but his throwing issues may make a shorter contract a better fit for him. As the market’s motivated spenders dry up, at least one of these guys will sign for less than you expect — but even if it’s just one of them, this will be a very strong market.
When baseball returns, major markets will be eager to put their money where their mouths are. The top nine and 12 of the top 13 guarantees were given out by non-playoff teams (Rangers, Mariners, Tigers, Mets, Jays, Cubs, Angels, Marlins). The Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and Giants all had plenty of money to spend, even if the early winter weather didn’t suit their strategy.
All four teams are perennial challengers with large payrolls, even if none of them hand out as many substantial nine-figure contracts as their payrolls imply. The Red Sox moved Mookie Betts because they didn’t want to spend that much money — the same guy on whom the Dodgers made a joyful exception after refusing to spend that much money for several offseasons. The Yankees spent money on Gerrit Cole to address a problem they couldn’t resolve internally, and they also took on Giancarlo Stanton’s enormous contract (once it was paid down). The Red Sox spent lesser nine-figure contracts to maintain key players (Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez), while the Giants haven’t come close.
To put it another way, the major market perpetual competitors are perennial contenders in large part because they don’t sign the first free agent that comes around, with the Yankees and Cole being the only recent exception. The players that represent the finest nine-figure investments seldom reach free agency, and these organizations (among many others) evaluate players based on their perceived worth. These teams have a lot of money and could always spend more (just look at the Mets’ recent spending spree and the Dodgers’ 2021 budget, which is already above the CBT level). However, they usually settle around the first CBT threshold, which won’t be determined until the CBA is signed. For these value-oriented challengers, the $50 million to $100 million or so group of players makes sense.
There are, of course, always exceptions. Due to his position and defensive brilliance there, which Story can’t really guarantee with assurance right now, the Yankees make a lot of sense with Correa, who is certain to receive the offseason’s largest deal (although he historically has). There are no other excellent free agency shortstops available beyond those two, so the Bombers would have to rely on the trade market or make do with an inferior defensive. Brian Cashman’s list is also expected to include some starting pitching depth.
The Dodgers have such a deep roster that they could lose Corey Seager and Max Scherzer and still have one of baseball’s finest lineups. If the universal DH is implemented, it will put the team’s lineup depth to the test. Because the lineup is so versatile, Freeman, who hails from Southern California, would be a good match. Despite the fact that their rotation is now weaker than normal, Kershaw’s return would provide them with their typical absurd amount of beginning pitching depth.
Freeman would also suit with Boston, which could improve on Bobby Dalbec (who could slip into a corner utility position) and still utilize the DH slot until Martinez’s contract ends in 2023 to break in top prospect Triston Casas. But I’m not sure whether giving half of that to Freeman is in line with the Sox’s new strategy — they balked at paying $300 million to Betts. Smaller deals with a few of position players — Anthony Rizzo and Suzuki, for example — and maybe a few more low-risk gambles would be more in line with this new way of thinking.
The Giants make sense for Bryant since their weakest places in the lineup are the outfield and (depending on how you feel about Evan Longoria) third base, but their salary is likely to skyrocket in 2022, perhaps reaching CBT threshold levels. That means there may be more than $75 million left over to solve those issues and perhaps add a pitcher or two. According to sources, the Giants aren’t interested in signing nine-figure free agents, therefore any of the aforementioned mid-tier free agents who signs a one- or two-year contract with a contender might have the Giants at the top of their list. San Francisco has a proven track record of developing veterans, both hitters and pitchers, on their path to a huge payout.
Who else is willing to take the risk? Aside from the top dogs, there are a number of perennial top-half-of-market teams with money to spend, such as the Nationals, Braves, Phillies, and Angels. Most presume there isn’t much more in the budget for the newer spenders who spent big in the first part of free agency, but it’s impossible to say since the Mets, Rangers, Mariners, and Tigers haven’t said how far they’re ready to go on their salary yet.
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Who isn’t, after all? The A’s were said to be contemplating trading talents Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, both of whom had two years of control left, when the summer started. If those players go, Oakland’s other key players, such as starting pitchers Sean Manaea (one year of control), Chris Bassitt (one), and Frankie Montas (one), would probably become available (two). Some speculated that catcher Sean Murphy (who has four years of control remaining) would be available at the right price.
Oakland, clearly, hasn’t made any moves yet. However, trade conversations were taking place around the league in the midst of the free agency feeding frenzy, fueled by the A’s internal financial problems as well as the chaos in the AL West.
Due to arbitration increases for all of their young core players, the A’s 2022 payroll is already anticipated to be close to their 2021 payroll without signing a single free agent. They could go back in time and add a minor free agent or two, but they’d enter 2023 with players in their walk years, trade value fast dwindling, and an owner unwilling to spend in free agency. Performing a year-ahead teardown enables them to refill the system and return to this competitive level in a matter of years if done correctly.
Meanwhile, the rest of the AL West has reloaded, with the aforementioned Rangers, reigning AL champion Astros, nearly-playoff-bound Mariners, and an Angels team that has already improved and might acquire another nine-figure player this winter. Without extra salary to make it more feasible, this is probably not the ideal two-year window to attempt to contend in this division — and A’s ownership isn’t providing that to management.
We’ve got the latest on MLB’s first lockout since 1990, as well as where things stand with free agency (which is presently stalled). Complete coverage »
• MLB Lockout FAQ: Everything You Need to Know ›
• Tracking free-agents »
The A’s have attempted both putting their chips in and rebuilding in comparable situations in the past, so it’s far from a sure thing. If they opt to demolish it, there’s a potential that numerous star-level players may be available come winter, even after the top free agents have been signed.
Will the re-builders be able to get their hands on anything? The luxury tax level isn’t the only factor that may have an impact on how clubs spend in the second half of the season. Although a genuine pay ceiling or floor looks improbable, competitive balance, revenue sharing, and domestic/international drafts are among the most important subjects in CBA discussions. These might have a big impact on rebuilding teams like the Orioles, Pirates, Colorado Rockies, Diamondbacks, and Cubs, who are still a year or two away from becoming threatening.
Will both local and foreign draft selections be fully traded? These are the clubs that are most likely to take advantage. Is there a spending limit, incentives to reach a specific payroll, or a revenue-sharing requirement tied to payroll? To achieve to that salary level, some teams will accept terrible contracts from competitors in return for draft selections. Maybe there’ll be a draft lottery, and losing won’t be as motivated as it is now? I wouldn’t expect it to happen since it’s a difficult set of levers to pull, but more clubs actively striving to avoid last place by investing in free agency sounds like a good thing for everyone. Even if nothing else changes, these teams often use their remaining budget space to seek experienced relievers on shorter-term deals — they may be used as trade pieces to basically acquire prospects — so they’ll be a factor as the offseason draws to a close.
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The “mlb free agent pitchers” is a list of the top 100 free agents available in MLB. The list includes all the information you need to know about each player, including their stats and contract details.
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