Now that we're in the midst of spring training, one of the big discussion topics we'll see is possible contract extensions for players with just one year left before hitting free agency. We know the through-the-media dance. It's a tried and true formula. The player says he's open to an extension. The front office says it likes the player and is open to discussions. Invariably, the player wants to set a deadline before Opening Day so the matter isn't a distraction during the regular season.
This doesn't happen in every single case, obviously, but the timeline feels dependable in most cases where there's some star-power involved.
In the matter of the free-agent class of shortstops for next offseason, it has star-power in spades. It's a loaded class. Likely-useful starters like Brandon Crawford, Freddy Galvis and Jose Iglesias are in line for free agency. Marcus Semien is changing positions for his one-year deal with the Blue Jays, but he'll be available again. So will ace defender Andrelton Simmons.
The position could possibly have five household names hitting free agency in eight months, though. Let's take a look at the situation with each one, knowing the next year could bring either an extension, a trade or just playing through the season and seeing the player hit the free-agent market.
We'll discuss each situation and throw out there a prediction that can be proven incorrect within a matter of hours. That's always a crowd-pleasing exercise.
Note: These aren't ranked. They are listed alphabetically
1. Javier Baez, Cubs
Javier Baez had a down 2020 season, but it's possible it was a combination of myriad factors that will be different in 2021, including in-game video being available again to players. The direction the Cubs are taking right now is one of the more difficult to read in all of baseball. Are they going to completely tear things down? They keep saying they won't but Baez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hit free agency after the season while Willson Contreras follows after 2022. Perhaps it's a soft restart, in which case Baez walking would be in their plans. If that's the case and they fall out of the race in 2021, trading him in front of the deadline makes sense.
But with Baez as popular as can be in Wrigleyville, can the Ricketts family really afford another PR hit like this? Fans will be coming back soon and the Cubs make a lot of money off fans, moreso when the team is well-loved and competitive.
Baez has recently said, "I want to stay here. I don't want to play for another team." (via mlb.com)
I believe at some point, club president Jed Hoyer is going to decide the path forward is letting Bryant walk, trading Contreras, coming to some sort of agreement with Rizzo to stay and locking up Baez long term.
2. Carlos Correa, Astros
Carlos Correa was the No. 1 overall pick by the Astros when they were a laughingstock in 2012. He was then a middle-of-the-order hitter for them while winning a World Series. Oh, and part of the group that was stained by a sign-stealing scandal but then still made an unlikely run to the ALCS in 2020. He's really been a part of a lot here. His numbers were down last season, but I think the bigger deal here is health. Correa came up in 2015 and then played in 153 games in 2016. The next three years? 109, 110 and 75 games, respectively. He stayed on the field last season, but it was just 71 games even if we include the playoffs.
The Astros appear to be in a bit of a transition phase on the fly, as they have already lost a few key pieces from their 2019 squad that should have won it all and face next offseason with Correa, Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Lance McCullers hitting free agency.
Of note: Alex Bregman is locked up through 2024 and can handle shortstop, giving the Astros the flexibility to pursue either a shortstop or third baseman if they wanted to replace Correa.
"I'll be really young," Correa said (mlb.com). "I'll be one of the youngest players going to free agency next year. I feel like it would take the right deal to stay here. I'm not going to sell myself short, but at the same time, I know what I'm worth. If the season happens, I'm expecting to have a great, healthy season, which will help my case for free agency being the youngest shortstop out there. We'll see how it goes."
Prediction: Free agency
Call it a gut feeling that the Astros intend to continue reworking the core with Bregman and Jose Altuve as the centerpieces. They won't fall out of the race, so dealing Correa is off the table. No, he'll hit free agency. There won't be a shortage of suitors.
3. Francisco Lindor, Mets
Francisco Lindor was already traded this offseason and has a new home. He was the big-splash acquisition for new owner Steve Cohen and his front office. Lindor heads to his age-27 season having flashed all five tools through his career, even if all weren't working at the same time every year. He's capable of winning an MVP (his highest finish was fifth in 2017) and his electric persona is going to win over the Big Apple very quickly.
The Mets recently said they are going to start contract extension talks soon and named Lindor along with outfielder Michael Conforto and starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Keep in mind, they were involved as finalists in bidding for huge free-agent signings George Springer and Trevor Bauer. And we already knew Mr. Cohen has plenty of money and wants to invest in his team.
Also, expect Lindor to be the top priority of the three names Sandy Alderson mentioned.
I'll bet on it happening before Opening Day. Even if it doesn't, it's going to happen.
4. Corey Seager, Dodgers
Corey Seager finished third in MVP voting when he won Rookie of the Year in 2016 and followed it up with a very good 2017. He needed Tommy John surgery in 2018 and then had some hamstring issues in 2019 while posting pretty good numbers. Last year, he looked "back." He hit .307/.358/.585 (152 OPS+) with 12 doubles, 15 homers, 41 RBI and 38 runs in the regular season. He hit .328/.425/.746 with eight homers and 20 RBI in 18 playoff games, winning the NLCS and World Series MVPs.
Quite the primer before his contract year, right?
The Dodgers are the model organization in baseball right now. They can pay as much as anyone, they don't seem to mind the luxury tax -- at least not too much -- they are the defending World Series champions, they have elite depth and tons of talent. They are so good at maintaining their farm system they've generally been able to move on from players if they feel like it. Take the Adrian Gonzalez to Cody Bellinger transition, for example, then moving Bellinger to the outfield and plugging Max Muncy in at first base.
"That's not my focus," Seager said recently (latimes.com) about his contract situation. "It's never been about that. It's always been about showing up that day and doing what you can to help the team. I don't want the extra effort to have to talk about that in the media. I just want to go out and do my job and let the chips fall."
Further compounding matters, the Dodgers also have Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor and maybe Joe Kelly and Trevor Bauer (if he opts out) coming off the books. This could be presented as them having a lot of money to spend or having a lot of holes to deal with plugging. Or both, really.
Oh, and Seager is a Scott Boras client. We know Boras loves the spotlight of free agency, so long as his player is good with that.
Prediction: Free agency (with a caveat)
It all depends upon how things shake out with the names here and the Dodgers' organization in general this season, of course, but we've already seen the likes of Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner (twice) hit free agency and then re-up with the Dodgers. The feel here is the most likely scenario for Seager is ending up back with the Dodgers, but that they'll take their time and assess the market. Meanwhile, Seager and Boras will be assessing their market.
5. Trevor Story, Rockies
Trevor Story has finished eighth, 12th and 11th, respectively, in NL MVP voting the last three seasons with the last two coming on bad teams. He led the NL in triples and steals last season. He's topped 35 homers twice, 100 RBI once and 100 runs once. He's hit .292/.355/.554 (122 OPS+) the last three seasons combined. He's a good-to-great defender at a premium position.
He's playing on a team expected to be one of the worst in baseball; a team that just traded a superstar third baseman with lots of years and money left on his deal (and paid a decent portion of that remaining contract in the process).
At this point, why would Story even want to stay, from a baseball-only perspective?
Prediction: Traded at deadline