A deep and talented free agent class should make for some lively wheeling and dealing as MLB shopping season officially begins. Let’s hope, anyway.
With a likely Dec. 1 lockout looming as the owners and players head for a winter of bitter negotiations in search of a new collective bargaining agreement, it remains to be seen if the potential deadline makes for a busier-than-usual November or a reason for teams to put their business on hold.
One thing to keep in mind: While teams only lose their second-highest draft pick if they sign a player who received a qualifying offer, the Mets would lose the 14th overall pick, their second first-rounder because their decision not to sign Kumar Rocker last summer netted them the 11th pick as compensation in the 2022 MLB Draft.
The good news for them is that potential targets such as Kris Bryant and Starling Marte weren’t eligible for a qualifying offer because they were traded during the season.
One other point: I didn’t include Noah Syndergaard on this list because he’s indicated it’s pretty much a lock he’ll take the qualifying offer the Mets extended to him.
Otherwise, here goes:
1) COREY SEAGER: YANKEES
This just makes too much sense for it not to happen. Carlos Correa is a better shortstop defensively, but the Yankees’ need for a strong left-handed bat makes Seager the perfect fit. In addition, scouts see him moving to third base eventually, which could work well in the Bronx if the organization’s two highly-regarded shortstop prospects — Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza — continue to develop as the Yankees hope.
2) CARLOS CORREA: TIGERS
Correa will be determined to get a record-setting contract, and if the Yankees are indeed out of the mix that could lead him to Detroit, where the Tigers are prepared to spend big to get one of the star shortstops. Correa probably would prefer to sign with a contender, but there may not be other teams willing to give him more than the $341 million the Mets gave Francisco Lindor. And the Tigers do seem to have a bright future with some very good young pitching.
3) MAX SCHERZER: DODGERS
It’s hard to see the Dodgers letting Scherzer get away after he made such an impact for them coming over from the Nationals last season. The three-time Cy Young Award winner will be 38 next July, but his well-documented intensity and will to win assure him of plenty of offers. He’d fit perfectly for both the Mets and Yankees on a short-term deal, but at the trade deadline last summer he indicated he didn’t want to play in New York.
4) KRIS BRYANT: MARINERS
The Mariners are expected to spend big on at least one star free agent, and Bryant would make sense after the team decided not to pick up the option year on Kyle Seager’s contract. The Mets may have interest, but more than a few people in baseball believe he’d prefer to avoid the New York spotlight.
It would be an awfully expensive middle-infield combo, but I believe Lindor’s opinion matters to owner Steve Cohen, and the shortstop obviously wants his friend to stay. Re-signing Baez would give the Mets much-needed defense, athleticism, and power, but they better hope he can retain at least some of the improved plate discipline he showed over the final month or so of the season.
6) JUSTIN VERLANDER: YANKEES
This is actually a gamble the Mets should consider taking, but they may feel the need to go for more certainty to fill their starting pitching needs, especially with Jacob deGrom coming back from injury. If Hal Steinbrenner is in go-for-it mode, meanwhile, Verlander could help put the Yankees over the top as he returns from Tommy John surgery. The two-time Cy Young winner was an important influence on Gerrit Cole when they were together in Houston, and that could be a good reason as well after Cole finished the season in a funk.
7) ROBBIE RAY: ANGELS
Ever desperate for starting pitching, the Angels likely will be willing to overpay for Ray’s breakthrough 2021 season with the Blue Jays, as at age 29 he was finally able to conquer his career-long control issues. The left-hander is the likely AL Cy Young Award winner, yet scouts expect many teams to be cautious about believing Ray will continue to consistently pitch at a high level.
8) FREDDIE FREEMAN: BRAVES
Coming off a World Series championship, Braves fans surely would be livid if ownership doesn’t lock up the most popular player in Atlanta.
Stroman has given indications he’ll be looking for the best possible deal, regardless of team, but the Mets are going to have to pay big bucks for pitching one way or another, so it makes sense to bring back their own guy after he delivered consistently strong starts for them. All the more so considering the 30-year old right-hander has proven to be durable during his career.
10) TREVOR STORY: RANGERS
Texas reportedly is prepared to spend big in free agency as it gets serious about trying to win again, so the Rangers figure to try hard for one of the top shortstops. Story, meanwhile, is coming off something of a down season with the Rockies and might need a team like the Rangers to gamble on a big contract for him.
11) NICK CASTELLANOS: CUBS
The Mets could be in play here if Michael Conforto turns down the qualifying offer he received, but the Cubs badly need a big bat after unloading all of their stars last season, and Castellanos was a big hit during his half-season in Chicago in 2019. He’s not a good outfielder, but the expected adoption of the DH in the National League could make him even more attractive for the Cubs.
12) MICHAEL CONFORTO: ROCKIES
This is why I believe Conforto indeed will turn down the Mets’ qualifying offer. Other teams might be interested as well, but the Rockies, after trading Nolan Arenado and (presumably) losing Story in free agency, will be desperate to land a cornerstone player. As such, they may be willing to bet that Conforto will rebound from his 2021 season and put up big numbers in Denver’s hitter-friendly high altitude.
13) STARLING MARTE: METS
Ultimately, this could depend partly on the philosophy of whatever executive is finally hired to run baseball operations. But if Conforto is gone, signing Marte to play center field would improve the Mets defensively and make them more well-rounded offensively. His age (he turned 33 in October) could be a concern, but it could also limit the length of contract. And Marte sure didn’t look old last season, stealing 47 bases in 52 tries while hitting .310.
14) MARCUS SEMIEN: BLUE JAYS
With all of their young talent, the Blue Jays have to feel they’re building something big in Toronto, and it’s hard to see them allowing both Semien and Ray get away. If they have to choose, I believe they’ll find a way to lock up Semien long-term after his spectacular 2021 season.
He’s a good fit in the Bronx, but if the Yankees do sign a shortstop, it makes sense to slide DJ Lemahieu to first base. And at age 32, with his offense showing signs of decline, Rizzo will be looking for a bigger deal than Brian Cashman’s analytics team will deem worthy. Meanwhile, the Marlins desperately need quality position players to go with their young pitching, and could see Rizzo as a vital piece.
16) CLAYTON KERSHAW: DODGERS
It’s hard to imagine Kershaw pitching anywhere else, but after earning $30 million or more in each of the last seven seasons, the three-time Cy Young Award winner likely will have to be willing to take a huge pay cut to stay in LA, especially if the Dodgers shell out big money to re-sign Scherzer. Kershaw, who turns 34 in March, has had multiple injuries in recent years, the most recent being a forearm strain that shut him down in September. If it’s about money at this point for him, his hometown Rangers might be happy to overpay for him.
17) KEVIN GAUSMAN: GIANTS
Long considered to have ace-like potential, Gausman seemed to come of age the last two seasons in San Francisco. The Giants have the money, and coming off their unexpected success in 2021, they figure to make it a priority to bring back the 30-year old right-hander.
18) KYLE SCHWARBER: NATIONALS
J.D. Martinez’s decision not to opt out of his contract means he’ll get the DH at-bats for the Red Sox, making it more likely they’ll pass on re-signing Schwarber since he’s not a long-term fit at first base. Banking on the DH being adopted in the NL, a reunion with the Nationals, for whom Schwarber hit 25 home runs in just 72 games last season, seems like a good possibility.
19) RAISEL IGLESIAS: PHILLIES
One of the most durable and consistent closers in the majors over the last five seasons, Iglesias likely will be pursued by several teams, but the Phillies might go the extra mile to try and end the bullpen misery they’ve endured for the last couple of seasons.
20) CARLOS RODON: RANGERS
Rodon had a spectacular comeback season until a shoulder problem sidelined him in September and then apparently affected his velocity when he returned to pitch late in the season and the postseason. Considering that the left-hander also missed most of the previous two seasons due to Tommy John surgery, teams will see him as a gamble for a multi-year deal, as evidenced by the White Sox’s decision not to make Rodon a qualifying offer. However, the Rangers need pitching so badly that they may be willing to take the chance on a big offer.
21) CHRIS TAYLOR: GIANTS
He won’t cost as much as Bryant, but could fill a similar role for the Giants with his versatility. Taylor figures to have a robust market for his services, but luring him away from the Dodgers might give the Giants extra incentive to outbid the field.
22) EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ: RED SOX
The Sox don’t have the type of pitching depth to let Rodriguez get away. He can be inconsistent at times, but he has also shown the ability to dominate any lineup when he’s on his game. And at age 29, he might still have plenty of upside.
23) BRANDON BELT: GIANTS
The veteran first baseman was a huge part of the Giants’ surprise season. In fact, Belt is coming off two outstanding seasons. And if he hadn’t broken a bone in his hand late in the season, who knows what difference he might have made for the Giants in the postseason against the Dodgers.
24) JON GRAY: MARINERS
The M’s need more pitching if they’re ever going to get back to the postseason, and though Gray actually had a slightly better ERA at home than on the road, he’ll surely be looking for a more pitcher-friendly environment after years in Colorado.
Loup said he wants to stay. That ought to be reason enough for the Mets to make sure he does, even if it means overpaying the lefty reliever for his brilliant 2021 season.