On Friday, the New York Yankees and infielder DJ LeMahieu agreed to terms on a six-year contract worth $90 million. The deal ensures LeMahieu will have the opportunity to build upon his first two seasons in pinstripes, during which he earned MVP consideration in both years by hitting .336/.386/.536 (145 OPS+) and by making at least 25 total starts at three infield positions (first, second, and third base).
Technically, LeMahieu's reunion with the Yankees isn't the first to take place at the top of the market this winter. Right-hander Marcus Stroman, who ranked a spot behind LeMahieu on our top-60 list, returned to the New York Mets after accepting the qualifying offer at the offseason's onset. We don't believe that LeMahieu will end up being the last top free agent to re-up with their old team this winter, either.
Below, we've highlighted five potential free agent-team pairings who we think could reconnect before the season begins. (Note: the players are presented in the order they appeared in our free-agent rankings.)
1. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies
J.T. Realmuto appears more likely to return to Philadelphia now than he did at the start of the offseason. In the months since, the Phillies have installed perpetual high roller Dave Dombrowski as their point guard, while the Mets (seemingly the top competition for Realmuto's services) have settled for James McCann in order to accommodate other moves. Theoretically, the Phillies could pull a similar trick. Dombrowski could, say, trade for Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras and then redirect the savings toward another top free agent. That kind of plan is easier to plot on paper than it is to pull off in real life, however; besides, the Phillies have signaled that Realmuto is their top priority by reportedly making him a long-term offer that's worth nine figures.
2. Marcell Ozuna, Braves
The Braves have developed a couple of signature strategies under Alex Anthopolous. One is that they strike early in the offseason, just as they did this winter to land starting pitchers Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly. The other is that they take advantage of the market late. That's how the Braves originally landed Marcell Ozuna last winter, and it shouldn't come as a surprise if that's also how they retain him this year. The wild card here is if the Braves prefer to play Austin Riley in left field. In that scenario, the Braves' sights would shift toward the third-base market, be it in free agency or trades.
3. Justin Turner, Dodgers
Before LeMahieu agreed to terms with the Yankees, he had received interest from a handful of other clubs, including the defending champion Dodgers. With LeMahieu off the board, the odds-on favorite to serve as the Dodgers' third baseman in 2021 is... Justin Turner, the same individual who has manned the hot corner in Los Angeles for the past seven years. The Dodgers reportedly chased Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado earlier this winter, too, so it's possible they attempt to rekindle those talks. The complexity of an Arenado trade means reuniting with Turner is the likelier outcome.
4. Nelson Cruz, Twins
Without the universal DH in place, Nelson Cruz has a limited market. You can all but rule out the entire National League as a fit. You can scratch through half the American League, too, either because of their competitive status (or lack thereof) or their roster construction. The Twins, then, would still seem to have the inside track on bringing back Cruz. They seem to know it based on how they're slow-playing the negotiation process. (For more on that, check out La Velle Neal III of the Star Tribune's recap of the situation.) Until the Twins sign another slugger, or until Cruz inks with another club, we're going to assume that these two sides come back into alignment for another year.
5. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
The Cardinals have to figure out what they're doing with a couple of legacy players in the twilights of their careers, in right-hander Adam Wainwright and catcher Yadier Molina. The case for bringing back Wainwright seems more straightforward: St. Louis needs rotation help. The Cardinals will be without Dakota Hudson for the season after he underwent Tommy John surgery last September. That leaves them with a projected rotation that includes Austin Gomber and Carlos Martinez. Wainwright is coming off a fantastic season, and he's shown in recent years that he's willing to pitch for modest sums. Provided that remains true, he should be welcomed back for one last ride.