We’ve seen a handful of blockbuster trades this offseason, but the free-agent market has remained remarkably quiet. Trevor Bauer’s landing spot still remains in question, DJ LeMahieu appears to be haggling with the Yankees and the market for J.T. Realmuto has strangely slowed. We could be in for another long offseason as we wait for the top names to find landing spots.
The three aforementioned All-Stars create an impressive trio, though it’s likely another player will land the largest contract (or close to it) in free agency: former Astros outfielder George Springer. Where will he land in free agency? Let’s sort through the top candidates.
After they traded for shortstop Francisco Lindor, it’s still not wild to wonder whether Springer could be the next player added to the Mets. New owner Steve Cohen has pledged a significant financial windfall after taking over for the Wilpons, and we’ll see how comfortable he is operating at or above the luxury tax. Even with a potential Lindor extension on the way, Cohen could potentially shell out another nine-figure contract to Springer in the coming weeks.
Springer is a sensible candidate to earn a massive contract from New York. Jeff McNeil could move back to the infield in 2021, and there’s an opening in center field if Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto shift to the corners. An offensive boost atop the lineup would also be welcome after the Mets finished 2020 with middle-of-the-pack production from the leadoff spot.
There are potentially cheaper options for New York at this point. Infielder LeMahieu could provide a similar boost atop the order. Outfielder Michael Brantley could provide lineup stability and an additional left-handed presence. But both options seem like something of a half measure. If Cohen wants to truly leave no stone unturned in the hunt for a championship, pairing Springer with Lindor is the smartest decision.
Toronto has been linked to several of the top free agents and trade targets as it looks to compete for the AL East title. LeMahieu’s versatility and high-contact rate makes him a potential match should he leave New York, and Toronto is also among the top Bauer destinations. But once again, signing Springer is likely the most impactful move available.
The Blue Jays’ lineup mirrors the Mets’ to a degree, at least in terms of their respective Springer pursuits. Both teams have a pair of talented corner outfielders (Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández in Toronto), though there can be upgrades both at center and atop the order. Springer fills both voids for the respective clubs, potentially creating a bidding war between the Blue Jays and Mets. Can Toronto’s ownership compete with Cohen? The answer could determine who lands the top prize on the free-agent market.
Let’s not completely dismiss the idea of Springer returning to Houston. The Astros could fall toward the bottom of the league in outfield production if both Springer and Brantley bolt in free agency, and considering their Cole- and Verlander-less pitching staff, bashing their way to the AL West title may be the only option.
There is a potential economic path to keeping Springer without totally destroying Houston’s cap sheet. Both Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander will enter free agency after 2021. Yordan Álvarez, Framber Valdéz and José Urquidy all have five seasons left of team control. Perhaps it would require Houston to prioritize Springer over Carlos Correa, but keeping Springer alongside Alex Bregman and José Altuve isn’t impossible. If Springer’s market dips, perhaps staying put is the smartest option.
It’s tough to make the financial case for Atlanta signing Springer. First baseman Freddie Freeman is heading toward a massive deal after winning NL MVP and an (albeit modest) extension for Ronald Acuña Jr. will begin in 2022. The Braves sport an average payroll (No. 15, per Spotrac), making it difficult to imagine they would shell out $300 million for Freeman and Springer.
But allow us to dream, if only for a brief moment. The Braves could lose cleanup hitter Marcell Ozuna in free agency, and there is at least one open outfield spot in Atlanta even if Ozuna returns. Cristian Pache may not be ready for a full season as a starter. Neither Ender Inciarte nor Austin Riley are appealing options. Pairing Springer with Acuña would be electric, providing further protection for Freeman. Atlanta is more likely to pursue Brantley, Joc Pederson or another cheaper outfielder. But if a spending spree is in order, Springer could vault the Braves deeper into World Series contention.
Other long shots:
Boston could use an outfield upgrade after a certain blockbuster trade, though it’s likely the Red Sox will wait at least one more year before opening their wallet.
This is another team that could use an outfield bat, yet it looks like Springer may be too rich for Chicago’s blood. The White Sox seem like a better match for Brantley.
Los Angeles desperately needs an ace atop its staff, creating a perfect partner for Bauer. But if Bauer lands elsewhere, perhaps Arte Moreno won’t be able to help himself. Stealing from a division rival never hurts much either.
Farhan Zaidi seems primed to make a major splash in the 2021 free-agent market. Yet if Springer’s price continues to drop, perhaps the Giants will become a #MysteryTeam and reel in a star one year early.