At some point -- hopefully soon -- MLB and the MLB Players Association will finalize a new collective bargaining agreement, and baseball will return. I don't know when it will happen but I can assure you it will happen. Major League Baseball will not cease to exist. Here's our timeline of the lockout proceedings.
Whenever baseball does return, front offices will have to scramble to finish up their offseason business, which will happen during a truncated spring training. Beyond trades and free agency, teams have to sign their pre-arbitration and arbitration-eligible players, and also get up to speed with any injured players, who they weren't allowed to contact during the lockout.
Spring training is typically when teams lock up their own players to long-term extensions. In a normal offseason, teams focus on outside additions during the winter months before turning their attention to their own players in the spring. This year is unlike any other, though I suspect extensions will still be a spring priority. Teams still want to keep their best players, you know?
R.J. Anderson looked at seven young players who could sign a long-term deal soon after the Rays gave Wander Franco a record 11-year extension worth $182 million extension in November. We're going to highlight players who are set to hit free agency next offseason, meaning there's real urgency to get a deal done and soon. Once a player hits the open market, all bets are off.
Three such players signed extensions prior to the lockout: Blue Jays righty José Berríos ( ), Twins center fielder Byron Buxton ( ), and Rockies catcher Elias Díaz (three years, $14.5 million). All three would have become free agents after the 2022 season, but instead signed an extension to remain with their team.
It's important to note that, historically, players who sign extensions one year away from free agency receive free-agent contracts. There's no discount like when the player signs several years prior to free agency. Just look at the Berríos and Buxton extensions. Those look like free-agent contracts, no? There's no discount. That's an open-market deal.
Obviously some impending free agents are more likely to sign extensions than others. I'm sure the Dodgers would love to lock up Trea Turner, but after this offseason's shortstop bonanza, I'm guessing Turner and his agent are curious to see what the open market offers next offseason, when he will be by far the best available shortstop. In Turner's case, playing out 2022 makes sense.
Here are seven free agents-to-be we see as candidates to sign an extension at some point before hitting free agency. Players often set an Opening Day deadline for contract talks, though I suspect the lockout and short spring will create a little more flexibility. The seven players are ranked in order of how likely we think it is they will forego free agency and sign an extension.
1. José Abreu, White Sox
Abreu is the heart and soul of a White Sox team that is firmly in the middle of its championship window. He turned 35 in January and Chicago has a ready-made first base replacement in Andrew Vaughn, though Abreu is still so productive and so important to the team in the clubhouse that I have a hard time believing the White Sox will let him go. He is the unofficial captain.
"A World Series title is going to be there, but we need to keep working and keep working hard," Abreu told reporters, including Maddie Lee of NBC Sports Chicago, following the team's ALDS exit last year. "... Just enjoying this moment and very glad to be here."
Abreu will earn $18 million in 2022, though $4 million of that is deferred. At his age -- he will be 36 in Year 1 of his next contract -- Abreu is likely looking at a series of one-year contracts the rest of his career, or maybe a lower base salary two-year contract. Either way, I have to think Abreu winds up back in Chicago in 2023. An extension makes too much sense for everyone.
Possible contract: The Twins gave Nelson Cruz one year and $14 million with a $12 million club option for a second year when he was entering his age-38 season. Cruz was more consistently excellent than Abreu -- Cruz had a 145 OPS+ in the four years leading into that contract and Abreu has a 126 OPS+ his last four years -- but also two years older. Guarantee the second year and call it two years and $26 million? Maybe bump it to $30 million and they have a deal?
2. Joe Musgrove, Padres
The Padres traded a lot -- a lot -- of prospects to upgrade their rotation last offseason, and Musgrove was well worth the investment. He outpitched Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, San Diego's two bigger-name rotation additions, and he stayed healthier too. . That was pretty neat.
I can't imagine the Padres want to let a popular hometown player leave, especially when he's their best pitcher and they've sunk so many resources into winning right now. Wil Myers comes off the books after the season and Eric Hosmer's salary dips from $21 million in 2022 to $13 million in 2023. The Padres are clearing enough payroll to fit a Musgrove extension.
"You start looking down the road on what's coming and what could come. I feel like that's always bit me in the butt and cost me some quality on the field, so I'm trying not to think about that too much," Musgrove told Fox 5 San Diego's Troy Hirsch about a possible extension in December. "It's nice to be tendered a contract and know that I have a spot for next year and not be in limbo, especially with the lockout being in play now."
Darvish and Snell are under contract through 2023 and the Padres have had trouble finishing off the development of their young pitchers in recent years. Eric Lauer went to the Brewers and got better, Cal Quantrill went to the Guardians and got better, Chris Paddack has stalled out a bit, MacKenzie Gore has hit a wall, etc. Locking up Musgrove would give the Padres some long-term rotation stability while Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. are in their primes. Seems like a no-brainer.
Possible contract: Musgrove could ask for the Berríos contract, though Berríos has a longer track record as an All-Star caliber starter, so it might be a longshot. He's also two years younger than the 29-year-old Musgrove. The Astros gave Lance McCullers Jr. a five-year deal worth $85 million last spring, when he was a year away from free agency. He's a year younger than Musgrove but also has a scarier injury history. A deal in the McCullers range is a reasonable framework for Musgrove and the Padres.
The Cubs traded almost all their core players at last year's deadline. Contreras remained, and soon after the season The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma suggested Chicago would likely shop the catcher if they're unable to reach an extension. It makes sense, right? Contreras can bring back more as a trade chip than the draft pick the Cubs would fetch if he leaves as a free agent.
"If they want to rebuild around me, that's going to be a conversation overall," Contreras told reporters, including Gordon Wittenmyer of NBC Sports Chicago, in September. "... If there is mutual interest, I would be open to talking and see what their plan is and what would be good for the team."
Quality catchers are really hard to find. If you have one, it's best to hang onto him. Case in point: Miguel Amaya, Chicago's top catcher prospect, had Tommy John surgery this offseason, and may miss the entire 2022 season. Who knows how that will impact his development. I'm not saying give Contreras a blank check, but I'd rather sign him than have to dig up a replacement.
Possible contract: Top catchers don't hit free agency often, though we have a pretty good benchmark for Contreras: Yasmani Grandal. The White Sox gave Grandal four years and $73 million two years ago, when he was entering his age-31 season. Contreras will play most of Year 1 of his next contract at age 31. It fits. Four years and $70 million is in the neighborhood.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts can opt out of the final three years and $60 million remaining on his contract after the coming season and approaching him about an extension now would be smart given the shortstop inflation we've seen this offseason. That said, Bogaerts presumably wants to see how Carlos Correa and Trevor Story fare before really thinking about the opt out.
That makes Eovaldi, who emerged as a Cy Young contender in 2021, Boston's most pressing extension candidate. He will earn $17 million in 2022, the final year of the four-year, $68 million contract he signed following the club's 2018 World Series win. Eovaldi has found a home with the Red Sox after spending the first few years of his career as a big stuff, mediocre results pitcher.
Prior to the lockout WEEI.com's Rob Bradford reported the Red Sox had no plans to speak to Eovaldi about an extension until the spring, and it's possible the lockout dragging on as long as it has will push this to the back burner. Eovaldi carries some risk as a two-time Tommy John surgery guy who turned 32 earlier this month. Still, there's no harm in touching base if you're the team.
Possible contract: Does Lance Lynn's contract work? The White Sox gave Lynn a two-year, $38 million extension last summer and it covers his age 35 and 36 seasons. Eovaldi will be 33 in Year 1 of his new contract, though Lynn has the greater track record and has only had his elbow rebuilt once. Two or three years in the $18 million per season range is a good starting point.
5. SS Dansby Swanson, Braves
Swanson's free agency really snuck up, didn't it? Feels like just last week he was the No. 1 pick and involved in the lopsided Shelby Miller trade with the Diamondbacks. Anyway, Swanson is not a star, but he is a rock solid all-around performer at a crucial up-the-middle position, and he will play the entire 2023 season at age 28. He's right smack in the middle of his prime.
Furthermore, Swanson is a hometown Georgia guy who grew up rooting for the Braves. That's not the reason to lock him up, but it could help facilitate an extension. Atlanta doesn't have a no-doubt shortstop coming up through the system who projects to be ready to take over the position in 2023, meaning they'd have to replace Swanson from outside the organization at a time when shortstop prices are skyrocketing. That all points to an extension.
Possible contract: This is a tough one because Swanson is a tier below Story and Javier Báez, and several tiers below Correa and Corey Seager. Brandon Crawford's just completed contract with the Giants valued his free agent years at $15.2 million per season. Would five years at $15.2 million per year ($76 million total) work for Swanson? Given the shortstop market this offseason, that might be a bargain.
6. OF Aaron Judge, Yankees
Judge is perhaps the most fascinating extension case in baseball right now, at least among players nearing free agency. He's never not been an elite performer when healthy. He just hasn't been healthy as often as the Yankees would like. Judge played only 242 of 384 possible games from 2018-20, or 63 percent. He did suit up 148 times in 2021, however.
Also, Judge will play just about the entire 2023 season at age 31, so his next contract will buy decline years in bulk. He's the best player on the sport's most recognizable team, though that doesn't guarantee a long-term deal. Just ask Robinson Canó. Here's what Judge said about a possible extension earlier this month:
You know, leading into this, especially coming up through the minor leagues and rookie ball, you want to be a free agent, test the market a little bit and see what's out there. But that's one thing, I've been lucky enough to play in the best organization out of all of them, so who wants to go anywhere else? If we get an extension done before the season starts, that'd be great. I'd be completely honored to wear pinstripes for a couple more years. But if it doesn't happen and this is my last year [as a Yankee], I had a lot of great memories.
All indications are Judge wants to remain with the Yankees and the Yankees want to re-sign Judge. Does that mean he'll take a discount or the team will offer a blank check? Goodness no. Judge's career earnings will approach $40 million by the end of 2022 and he has more endorsement deals than any other MLB player. He has financial security and doesn't need to rush into anything.
Contract benchmark: George Springer's six-year, $150 million contract with the Blue Jays looked like a great benchmark for Judge seeing how he signed it going into his age-31 season. Then Marcus Semien got seven years and $175 million going into his age-31 season. Players constantly try to one-up each other, so does Judge push for eight years and $200 million going into his age-31 season? If he stays healthy in 2022, Judge's next contract should clear $200 million even though he's on the wrong side of 30.
7. RHP Jacob deGrom, Mets
Last year's injuries, including the forearm issue that ended his season on July 7, make a deGrom extension less of a priority for the Mets. They can let the 2022 season play out, see how the two-time Cy Young winner holds up physically, then decide whether to give him a new extension. I have a hard time believing owner Steve Cohen wouldn't meet deGrom's asking price.
DeGrom has an opt out in his contract and would walk away from a $30.5 million salary in 2023 if he uses it. With good health and a top tier deGrom-esque season in 2022, opting out (or leveraging the opt out into an extension) would be a no-brainer. All deGrom would have to do is threaten to use the opt out to get Cohen's attention. Given last year's health concerns, I think the Mets are going to wait and see with their ace, but you never now. They might want to put an exclamation point on their offseason by signing a great and popular player to a contract that covers the rest of his career.
Contract benchmark: The Mets just set the market themselves, right? They gave Max Scherzer three years and $130 million going into his age-37 season. DeGrom is going into his age-34 season and asking the team to tack three years and $130 million onto his current deal (paying him $164.5 million from 2022-25) is a perfectly reasonable request. Heck, deGrom could ask the Mets to sign him through his age-39 season (so through 2027) like they did Scherzer. DeGrom is a franchise legend who already has financial security. Ask for the moon and make them say no.