Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Predicting contracts of top 10 remaining MLB free agents as Correa, Kershaw, more wait out the lockout

Major League Baseball’s franchise owners put a halt to the offseason in early December, when they voted unanimously to lock out the players and trigger the league’s first work stoppage since 1994-95. For as long as the lockout is in effect, teams are unable to negotiate with free agents, leaving the fates of Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman, and others to be determined at some future date, when the league and the MLB Players Association have ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Although it may prove to be some time before those players put their pens to paper, that doesn’t mean we have to abstain from taking wild guesses at their eventual contracts. Indeed, below you can find our best stabs at the pacts each of the top 10 remaining free agents will sign once the lockout is lifted and business resumes. (Do keep in mind that this exercise is for entertainment purposes only, and as such should not be used to shame us when the estimates prove to be wholly inaccurate.)

1. Carlos Correa (No. 1 on top 50 list): 10 years, $330 million

So far as we’re concerned, the guidepost for Correa’s contract is the 10-year pact worth $325 million that Corey Seager signed with the Texas Rangers prior to the lockout. Correa is the better player in our estimation, based in no small part on his perceived likelihood to remain at the shortstop position for the long haul. Correa’s camp reportedly turned down a 10-year offer worth $275 million, so we’re going to guess that they have a similar comparison point in mind. As such, we’ll guess that Correa ends up edging out Seager to the tune of a 10-year deal worth $330 million. 

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2. Kris Bryant (No. 3 on top 50 list): 6 years, $180 million

It’s harder to nail down a good comparison for Bryant, in part because there are only so many players who have the defensive versatility to stand at either third or in center. Could Bryant receive something along the lines of Marcus Semien’s contract? Semien, for those who forgot, signed with the Rangers for seven years and $175 million ahead of the lockout. Perhaps Bryant ends up taking fewer years at a slightly higher average annual value, putting him somewhere around, say, six years and $180 million.

3. Freddie Freeman (No. 5 on top 50 list): 5 years, $160 million

It’s as surprising to us as it is to you, dear reader, that Freeman and the Atlanta Braves didn’t have an agreement in place by the time the owners voted to halt the winter. The expectation around the league is that the Braves will, eventually, get a deal done. Freeman reportedly turned down a five-year offer worth $135 million that put him a hair ahead of the five-year, $130 million extension Paul Goldschmidt signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019; Freeman is said to desire six years and $180 million. The two sides will probably split the difference. Our guess: five years, $160 million.

4. Trevor Story (No. 11 on top 50 list): 6 years, $140 million

It’s fair to have reservations about Story’s arm strength and his long-term defensive home. But this winter has proven to be generous to high-end middle infielders, be it Seager, Semien, or even Javier Báez, who signed with the Detroit Tigers for $140 million over six years. If we had to guess, Story will receive a similar deal — maybe six years, $140 million on the nose.

5. Nick Castellanos (No. 14 on top 50 list): 5 years, $115 million

Castellanos can really hit; he just can’t do much on the defensive side. Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez signed a five-year contract worth $109 million prior to the 2018 season. It’s not hard to foresee Castellanos receiving a similar deal, maybe five years and $115 million, to become some lucky team’s everyday DH.

6. Seiya Suzuki (No. 15 on top 50 list): 4 years, $64 million

With the exception of Shohei Ohtani, who was subject to MLB’s limit on international amateur free-agent salaries, there hasn’t been a hitter of this caliber coming over from Japan in a long time. Suzuki seems certain to blow away the three-year deal worth $21 million that Shogo Akiyama received from the Reds prior to the 2020 season. Will he threaten six figures? Eh, probably not. We’ll go with four years, $64 million, but it’s hard for us to tell if that’s too aggressive or not aggressive enough. 

7. Clayton Kershaw (No. 16 on top 50 list): 3 years, $80 million

Kershaw is a tough pitcher to pin down. The most similar talents on the market — that is, hurlers with storied careers and some injury risk — have signed contracts worth three years and $130 million (Max Scherzer) and two years and $50 million (Justin Verlander). Kershaw isn’t actively coming off Tommy John surgery, the way Verlander is, so we’ll err toward aggression with a guess of three years, $80 million.

8. Kenley Jansen (No. 20 on top 50 list): 4 years, $64 million

The Los Angeles Angels seemed to set the relief market when they signed closer Raisel Iglesias to a four-year pact worth $58 million. Jansen is a couple years older than Iglesias, but we think his decorated track record will net him a richer deal. He might not match the five-year contract worth $80 million he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, but how about something like four years and $64 million?

9. Anthony Rizzo (No. 22 on top 50 list): 2 years, $40 million

Rizzo is a somewhat polarizing free agent: he’s a 32-year-old first baseman with a 109 OPS+ over the last two seasons and back woes. Even so, he receives a lot of credit for his defense and his leadership in the clubhouse. It takes only one team to believe in what Rizzo brings to the table (and/or his underlying ball-tracking data) for him to land a richer deal than the three-year pact worth $50 million José Abreu signed last offseason. We’re going to go a little lower: two years, $40 million. 

10. Michael Conforto (No. 23 on top 50 list): 5 years, $80 million

Conforto is coming off a down offensive season, making it harder to figure how exactly teams will value him. That established, we used two factors to form our guess: 1) Conforto turned down the one-year qualifying offer from the New York Mets; and 2) Avisaíl García signed a four-year agreement with the Miami Marlins worth $53 million. Unless Conforto misplayed his hand, we’d guess he’s looking at something like five years and $80 million. 

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