Major League free agent transactions have been frozen since the owners implemented a lockout in December. The lockout’s end does not seem to be near, so we decided to get the Hot Stove churning ourselves by predicting the destinations and contract values for the top-10 free agents left standing.
Contract predictions were based on rumors and past precedent while destinations were decided by best fit and the activeness of teams. 2022 seasonal-age listed in parentheses. All stats via Fangraphs.
SS Carlos Correa – (27)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Chicago Cubs (10 years, $350 million)
Carlos Correa has the total package when it comes to being this free agency’s headliner. He is only 27 and has produced at a high level his entire career to this point. ESPN’s Jon Heyman reported he wanted a contract in the range of $330-350 million before the lockout started. I think the two most logical suitors are the New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs. Correa has praised the Cubs and Wrigley Field in the past and reportedly has no problems signing with a rebuilding team like the Cubs. Chicago has minimal payroll heading into 2022 and Correa could be the centerpiece around which Jed Hoyer builds his roster around for another rebuild.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Chicago Cubs (12 years, $350 million)
While I think the Seattle Mariners will be suitors in the Correa market, with the Philadelphia Phillies, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees keeping tabs on the generational talent, I have to agree with Davis’ assertion that the Cubs will ultimately end up with the Puerto Rico native. They are in need of a new face of the franchise to build around after letting almost every member of the 2016 championship team walk, and Correa would be a perfect fit in that capacity. Even though he’s had trouble staying on the field, there is no doubt about his talent. He posted a wRC+ above 130 (30% better than league avg.) four times since his 2015 debut and has recorded five 3+ fWAR seasons with the help of his excellent defense. Last season marked just the second time in Correa’s career that he surpassed 115 games, but it came at the perfect time, setting him up for the largest payday of the offseason. I think his contract will be similar to Bryce Harper’s (13 years, $330 million) in that he will accept a longer contract and lower average annual value in the hopes of receiving a larger total contract value, as it’s known that he wants to break Francisco Lindor’s record contract (10 years, $341 million) for a shortstop.
1B Freddie Freeman – (32)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Atlanta Braves (six years, $180 million)
This is the contract that Freeman is reportedly after. There are rumors swirling that Freeman might not re-sign in Atlanta after the lockout ends, but Atlanta should do what seems obvious regarding their franchise cornerstone at this point. Paying Freddie Freeman is the logical solution, considering the Braves just won a World Series. I am usually against making sentimental decisions when re-signing players, but Freeman is still incredibly productive and a franchise icon. Atlanta only has around $126 million committed to 2022 and already has its other major building block player, Ronald Acuna Jr, on a steal of a contract until 2029.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Atlanta Braves (five years, $140 million)
There aren’t many landing spots for Freeman that make a ton of sense. The destination that makes the most sense would see the long-time Atlanta Brave returning to the team that drafted him back in 2007. Rumors have been suggesting the Braves aren’t interested in bringing Freeman back, but I find that hard to believe given their lack of reliable corner infielders. Looking at Fangraphs’ first base depth charts, the Braves seem to be the ideal landing spot because, without Freeman, they have the second-worst first base contingent and most of the other teams that low aren’t close to contention. I think the Braves get a little bit of a discount signing because of his lack of suitors, allowing them to keep him around through his age-36 season. My projected contract value would have him earning $28 million per year and is comparable to the extension Paul Goldschmidt (five years, $130 million) signed upon his arrival in St. Louis entering his age-31 season.
3B/OF Kris Bryant – (30)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Seattle Mariners (six years, $170 million)
Kris Bryant is a few years removed from the whirlwind hype of being NL Rookie of the Year, followed by NL MVP and winning a World Series with the Chicago Cubs. Bryant has had ups and downs the last few seasons, but put together a solid 2021 season with the Cubs and San Francisco Giants. A .265/.353/.481 slash with a 123 wRC+ in 2021 while being able to play everywhere in the field gives him a great deal of value as an offensive-oriented utility player. His offensive upside has always been there and teams are aware of that. The Seattle Mariners tried to work out a trade for Bryant at the deadline before being beaten out by the Giants. Bryant could slide into the vacancy left by Kyle Seager retiring or play in either corner outfield spot.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Toronto Blue Jays (six years, $150 million)
Bryant is not the same player he was during the first three years of his career, but he can still be a valuable addition to any team looking to compete in 2022 and beyond. He can play all over the diamond, with most of his experience at third base and in the corner outfield spots. While many people, including Davis, have predicted him heading to the West Coast, I have him pegged for a trip up North. After losing Marcus Semien to the Texas Rangers earlier this offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays pivoted their efforts to focus more on pitching, inking Kevin Gausman and extending José Berríos. I think the Jays will still be looking to replace Semien once the lockout is lifted, and Bryant would be a perfect fit as a reasonably priced third base option who could also move around the field to spell his teammates. In my opinion, Bryant will be heavily linked to Javier Báez (his former teammate) and will earn just slightly more than the slick-fielding shortstop (six years, $140 million) because of his MVP-level ceiling.
SS Trevor Story – (29)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Houston Astros (six years, $140 million)
Assuming that Correa doesn’t re-sign in Houston, they’d have a big hole to fill at shortstop. In an interview near the end of the season, a few of the main points Story mentioned as what would draw him to a different team than the Colorado Rockies were a winning culture and geography. Story would be joining an Astros team that has made the postseason every year since 2016 with three World Series appearances in that time frame. Story is also from Irving, Texas, so he’d be close to home. It sounds close enough to that geography factor he mentioned. The Astros would likely face some stiff competition for his signature, but if they came knocking and offered the right money, Story would likely be playing in Minute Maid Park in 2022.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: New York Yankees (six years, $120 million)
The New York Yankees may not be a clear fit for a star shortstop, but with Gio Urshela (a natural third baseman) penciled into the six-hole, New York could use someone with more experience at the position. Story would fit that mold while making the lineup in New York even more dangerous, repositioning them as the “Evil Empire” of the American League. With 30-homer power and the ability to steal 20+ bases, Story would provide an element of speed that the Yankees’ lineup is sorely lacking. He would also continue to adhere to the Bronx Bomber theme of power production in the Yankee Stadium bandbox. I’m projecting the former Rockie to secure a deal similar to the one DJ LeMahieu signed after leaving Colorado and heading to the Yankees (six years, $90 million). Having averaged 3.6 fWAR per season since his debut in 2016, Story’s signing would make the Yankees the clear team to beat in the American League. Most importantly, we already know what he looks like in pinstripes.
OF Nick Castellanos – (30)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies (seven years, $135 million)
Castellanos opted out of his deal with the Cincinnati Reds as he’s seeking a bigger payday and would like to contend for a championship. He could chase both in Philadelphia. With the universal DH looming in the MLB, the Phillies wouldn’t have to make a sacrifice by playing him in the field or moving Bryce Harper around to accommodate him being in the lineup. He would give the reigning NL MVP more lineup protection and would produce well in a hitter’s environment like Citizen’s Bank Park.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: San Diego Padres (five years, $100 million)
The San Diego Padres are in desperate need of some game-changing bats after spending the last offseason shoring up the starting rotation. They underperformed dramatically in 2021 and will have to make a move or two to keep pace with the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants. Castellanos would fit perfectly in San Diego at either corner outfield spot or as the primary DH, given his penchant for rocketing dingers while maintaining a high batting average (.309 AVG, 34 HR in 2021). With Nomar Mazara and Jurickson Profar currently projected to fill the left field and DH roles respectively, Castellanos would be a huge upgrade over what the Padres are currently running out there. His free agency will definitely be linked to that of J.D. Martinez’s foray prior to the 2018 season. Martinez was also entering his age-30 season and was coming off a career season and earned himself a five-year, $110 million deal from the Boston Red Sox. Expect a similar deal for Castellanos.
OF Kyle Schwarber – (29)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Boston Red Sox (three years, $50 million)
Schwarber was red hot in June before getting hurt and eventually traded to the Boston Red Sox. He was not a natural defensive fit with Boston, being shoehorned into first base and experiencing some growing pains at the position. His bat is the big get here though and he produced well at his time in Fenway. A corner outfield spot is open following the trade of Hunter Renfroe. Schwarber could potentially move into the DH role when J.D. Martinez hits free agency himself next year, setting Chaim Bloom up to make even more moves.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies (four years, $65 million)
The Philadelphia Phillies could use another outfielder, specifically one that swings the bat from the left side of the plate. Schwarber would be a huge upgrade over their current starter in left field, Adam Haseley, and could slot in for Matt Vierling at DH when necessary. A former top-prospect, Schwarber would provide big power (three 30+ HR seasons since the start of 2017) and great plate discipline (career 13.1% BB%) to help lengthen a lineup that was lacking last season. Philadelphia was middle of the pack in terms of runs scored in 2021, and their only serviceable left-handed hitter was NL MVP Bryce Harper. Schwarber would give Harper the lineup protection he needs while solidifying an outfield that is in desperate need of a reliable, veteran presence. My contract prediction is almost identical to the deal Nick Castellanos signed (four years, $64 million) heading into the 2020 season, which makes sense considering they’re both defensively-limited outfielders that wield a dangerous bat.
SP Carlos Rodón – (29)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Atlanta Braves (two years, $50 million)
MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Rodón will likely get a one-year deal worth $25 million. I personally think he’ll get a two or three-year high AAV deal. I doubt many teams will be willing to commit long-term to someone with injury issues and just one elite season under his belt. Rodón could do better than just a one-year prove-it deal though and I think he’ll end up with a short-term deal with a contender. The Atlanta Braves fit the bill for this with minimal payroll commitment even if they do re-sign Freddie Freeman. The Braves will be missing Mike Soroka, meaning Rodón could be a boost to Atlanta’s rotation to fill that hole if he returns to form.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Los Angeles Angels (three years, $70 million)
Rodón had a breakout 2021 season during which he threw a no-hitter and finished fifth in Cy Young Award voting, but it’s hard to believe he can continue at that pace going forward given his track record. The Los Angeles Angels always seem to need more pitching than they have, and while they should be aiming for more secure volume plays, it’s common for them to hamper their rotation with high volatility, injury-risk pitchers (i.e. Noah Syndergaard). Rodón will immediately boost the Angels’ rotation to top-tier status, giving them more depth for when the inevitable injury bug bites the pitching staff. While many are predicting Rodón to earn himself a one-year deal, I think he fits the mold of Nathan Eovaldi’s free agency before the 2019 season. Eovaldi was coming off an incredible postseason run and had a long history of being unable to remain healthy, but earned himself a four-year, $68 million deal from the Boston Red Sox. That situation sounds awfully familiar and would be a good benchmark for Rodón to shoot for.
OF Seiya Suzuki – (27)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Texas Rangers (five years, $60 million)
The Texas Rangers could come out as huge winners this offseason without signing Suzuki after signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. Suzuki is a power-hitting corner outfielder that hits from the right side of the plate. He could form a deadly triumvirate in the Rangers lineup with their other two marquee signings. The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are also rumored to have heavy interest in the Japanese import. It was difficult to pick a team here, as most teams will have an interest in acquiring his services, but the Rangers fit is the most interesting here.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: San Francisco Giants (four years, $50 million)
Having already made moves to bring back Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Belt, and Alex Wood earlier this offseason, while also adding Alex Cobb, the San Francisco Giants have already made a number of moves to keep the momentum from their record-breaking 2021 season rolling into next year. They should still have more than enough room to make one more big addition after losing Kevin Gausman and most likely watching Kris Bryant walk away once the offseason resumes. I think they could be major players for the services of NPB superstar, Seiya Suzuki. The right-handed-hitting Hiroshima Carp outfielder has shown the ability to hit for average (six straight .300+ AVG seasons) and power (six straight 25+ HR seasons) while maintaining elite plate discipline metrics (four straight .400+ OBP seasons). He would be a perfect replacement for Bryant and would make the Giants’ lineup one of the deepest in the National League. It is difficult to predict what his contract might look like, considering we see so few players coming from overseas. The most recent player to arrive from Japan was Yusei Kikuchi in 2019. The then 28-year old left-handed pitcher landed a four-year, $65 million pact, and that deal is the basis for my prediction of Suzuki’s contract.
1B Anthony Rizzo – (32)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: New York Yankees (two years, $35 million)
The best playing days for Anthony Rizzo are likely behind him, but he’s still a productive hitter and has a plus glove at first base. The Yankees, from my predictions so far, have struck out on the big names, but land Rizzo here. He provides value to a lineup with a penchant for striking out. Rizzo struck out in just over 15% of his at-bats last season. His offense has been trending downward, but he still posted a 112 wRC+. He would likely settle for a short-term deal to play for a contender. There were rumors swirling that his old team, the Chicago Cubs, could also be in the mix to sign him. However, the Yankees give him an easier pathway towards contending for his second World Series ring.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Seattle Mariners (three years, $60 million)
It felt wrong when Rizzo was shipped to New York at last season’s Trade Deadline and it feels just as wrong to predict that he doesn’t re-sign with the Chicago Cubs. I think the Cubs will be interested in bringing him back, but if the Mariners miss out on all of the other top bats (like I have predicted), they’re going to aggressively pursue Rizzo. Seattle has multiple players with positional flexibility, making it easy for them to bring in a first baseman like Rizzo and not worry about where the rest of their players line up. A young team that is looking to jump into legitimate contention in 2022, the Mariners could use a veteran bat in the middle of their lineup to replace the retired Kyle Seager after narrowly missing the postseason last year. They wouldn’t have to pay too much for Rizzo either. The most comparable recent free-agent first base signings were Edwin Encarnación in the 2016-17 offseason and Carlos Santana in the 2017-18 offseason. Both of them earned identical three-year, $60 million contracts, leading me to predict the same for the three-time All-Star.
SP Clayton Kershaw – (34)
Davis Byrd | Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers (one year, $18 million)
It just doesn’t feel right to imagine Clayton Kershaw in any other uniform other than the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is a surefire Hall of Famer already and is still productive, despite not being the ace he used to be. He still put up very efficient numbers last season with a 3.55 ERA and 3.00 FIP. He had an uptick in K/9 as well, going up to 10.65 from the previous three seasons. The problem with Kershaw lies in the mileage on his arm and his issues staying healthy. Only logging 121.2 innings last year and struggling with injury is not what you want to see from a 33-year-old starter creeping up on 2,500 career innings. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden believes he will be back with the Dodgers on a one-year, incentive-laden deal hinging on innings thrown and games started, and I agree. The only other rumors surrounding Kershaw are with the Texas Rangers since it’d be a homecoming for the Texas native, but I think he’ll stay in Los Angeles in an attempt to compete for another title.
Jake Crumpler | Prediction: Texas Rangers (two years, $45 million)
In a similar vein to Rizzo, I think Kershaw should return to the Los Angeles Dodgers; the only team he has pitched for throughout his Hall of Fame career. Considering they didn’t even extend him a qualifying offer, I find it hard to believe they’ll be pursuing his services once the lockout is lifted. Therefore, I expect him to return to his home state to pitch for a Texas Rangers team that is attempting to emerge from a rebuilding phase. His talent is unquestionable, so to provide value to the Rangers, all he has to do is remain healthy for about 140 innings per season. If he can do that, Texas will have the ace-of-aces to build around. Signing the left-hander would also wrap up one of the most active and successful offseasons from any franchise this year. The only comparable player to have been signed recently is Justin Verlander; a future Hall of Famer with big question marks surrounding his health. Verlander received a two-year, $50 million deal to return to the Houston Astros earlier in the offseason, and I believe Kershaw will come close to that in spite of Verlander’s better performance because Kershaw is five years younger. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kershaw decided to retire, but with that much money on the table, he should give it one more go.
Honorable Mentions: Jorge Soler, Kenley Jansen, Michael Conforto, Yusei Kikuchi, Zack Greinke