Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Max’s Sporting Studio 2020 Free Agent Predictions

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We surveyed the writers for Max’s Sporting Studio on which teams they think will pick up 16 of the best free agents in baseball. We had nine responses and received some diverse and some not so diverse results. The inspiration for the article came from this article by Pitcher List if you want to check out their predictions as well. For the average prediction, we took the most frequently predicted team(s), the average length of the contract predictions as well as the average dollar value.

Trevor Bauer – RHP

Average Prediction: New York Mets; 3.2 Years, $94.0 Million

Trevor Bauer will be the top prize of the free-agent market this winter after an incredible performance in 2020 that secured him the NL Cy Young award. He recorded an unbelievable ERA of 1.73 and 100 strikeouts in just 73 innings pitched in 2020 following a disappointing campaign in 2019 where he recorded an ERA of 4.48. Bauer saw his spin rates increase across the board in 2020 which led to an increase of vertical pitch movement and a spike in K%. These jumps made in 2020 led many fans to accuse Bauer of using pine tar, a substance that batters use to help grip their bats and is illegal for pitchers to use. Regardless there will be plenty of teams that are willing to spend upwards of $25 million annually, expecting performance in 2021 more similar to Bauer’s in 2020.

With the new richest owner in baseball, one would expect the Mets to be very active in the free-agent market, pursuing several high-end free agents such as Bauer. Besides Jacob deGrom, the Mets have a lot of uncertainty within their rotation. With Marcus Stroman set to return in 2021 after opting out in 2020 and Noah Syndergaard still recovering from Tommy John surgery, it would be wise for the Mets to bolster their rotation with someone as good as Trevor Bauer.

The other teams to receive votes were the Yankees, the Angels, and the Padres, each receiving two votes. We expect the Yankees to active in the free-agent market considering their high budget and win-now mindset. The Yankees earned the top pitcher on the free-agent market last season after securing Gerrit Cole on a long-term deal, but the potential departures of Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton – more on them later – put a hole in the Yankees rotation that would be filled by Bauer. The Angels also received two votes, and they have been active this offseason. The main issue that the Angels ran into last season was a poor rotation, with only Dylan Bundy finishing with an ERA below 3.90. When the Angels signed Anthony Rendon last offseason it became clear that the team wants to win, and Bauer could be their missing piece. The Padres finally broke through last season, winning 37 of 60 games, and they’ll want to add onto that next season through the free-agent market.

George Springer – OF

Average Prediction: New York Mets/Toronto Blue Jays; 5.0 Years, $125.4 Million

George Springer is the best free agent on the free-agent market (with the possible exception of Marcell Ozuna), and will likely draw plenty of interest from teams looking to make a playoff run. Springer, among most of his teammates on the Astros, has been given a lot of heat from baseball fans after news of their sign-stealing scandal surfaced. This didn’t seem to get to Springer, as he had another exceptional performance in 2020, slashing .265/.359/.540 and hitting 14 home runs. This performance effectively erases all of the doubt placed on Springer by the scandal.

This voting had the first tie of the survey, with the Mets and the Blue Jays each receiving 3 votes. The Mets, as mentioned above, will look to add in several positions this offseason and adding Springer would give them added flexibility in the outfield, with Jeff McNeil most likely moving back to the infield while Robinson Cano serves his full-season PED suspension.

The Blue Jays made a surprising stride in their rebuild during 2020 by qualifying for the expanded postseason and contending for 2nd place in the AL for much of the season. With young talent in Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Nate Pearson, and Cavan Biggio, it would be logical for the Blue Jays to make a splash this offseason to gear up for a playoff push in 2021. Other teams to receive votes were the Yankees (1), the Giants (1), and the Astros (1).

DJ LeMahieu – 2B

Average Prediction: New York Yankees; 3.5 Years, $77.0 Million

DJ LeMahieu was a home run of a signing for the Yankees two years ago, finishing top 5 in MVP votes during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. LeMahieu is one of the few players to see a jump in production after leaving Coors Field, recording his highest wOBA since 2016 in 2019 (.375) and recording his career-high of wOBA in 2020 at .422. LeMahieu played an important role in the Yankees’ 1st Place AL East finish in 2019 and 2020, and several teams will look to add his presence this offseason.

After his incredible performance with the Yankees the past two years, it’s no surprise that the Writers for Max’s Sporting studio predict that the Yankees will bring him back for the 2021 season and beyond. If the Yankees were to let LeMahieu walk this offseason, they would be left with a hole in their middle infield that would be hard to fill. The Yankees certainly have the money to pay for him, so it seems very likely that LeMahieu will be a Yankee in 2021. Other teams to receive votes were the Mets (2), and the Royals (1).

JT Realmuto – C

Average Prediction: Washington Nationals; 5.1 Years, $123.1 million

JT Realmuto is widely regarded to be the best catcher in baseball, and will likely gather interest from most contenders in need of a catcher. Good hitting catchers are becoming more and more scarce in the MLB, and to have a catcher as gifted as Realmuto available would excite any team. On top of having the best wOBA of all qualified catchers in 2020 (.361), Realmuto is also a fantastic pitch framer, earning a 51.9% strike rate when behind the plate. Realmuto is the kind of player that could give a team the extra boost needed to make it to the World Series.

Coming off of a disappointing season where they missed the 16 team playoffs a year after winning the World Series, the Nationals will look to retool their team for a playoff push in 2021. Catching has been a weak spot on the Nationals for the last couple of years, and adding JT Realmuto would be a huge upgrade for them. Another team to receive votes was the Mets, who are in need of a catcher and have the money to sign someone like Realmuto. Another team to receive votes was the Phillies, who received two. The Phillies are quickly falling away from playoff contention, and resigning Realmuto would allow them to remain competitive, although the team still needs rotation and bullpen upgrades if they want to finish above .500 and be incontention for a playoff spot.

Justin Turner – 3B

Average Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers; 2.0 Years, $31.3 Million

Justin Turner is an intriguing option in the free-agent market. At 36 years of age, Turner is still producing at a high level, having just come off of his 4 consecutive seasons with a wOBA over .370. Turner also brought himself into controversy after appearing in the Dodger’s World Series celebration without wearing a mask after he was informed of his positive test for COVID-19. Turner has shown the capability to hit at a high level and would give a contending team a veteran presence at 3rd base on a short-term contract.

It comes as no surprise that the Dodgers are the overwhelming favorites to sign Justin Turner this offseason, as the Dodgers were the team that Turner was able to solidify himself as an elite player. Having just won the World Series, the Dodgers will look to defend their title, and bringing Justin Turner back seems like an obvious decision for them. Other teams to receive votes were the Blue Jays (1), and Nationals (1).

Marcell Ozuna – OF

Average Prediction: Atlanta Braves; 3.8 Years, $80.9 million

Marcell Ozuna bet on himself when he took a one year deal with the Braves, and it seems to have paid off. Ozuna had a fantastic performance in 2020, slashing .338/.431/.636, hitting 18 home runs, and finishing in the upper 90th percentile in EV, Hard Hit%, xwOBA, and Barrel%. After relatively disappointing 2018-19 seasons that saw Ozuna get extremely unlucky, a bounceback year in 2020 allowed Ozuna to prove himself as one of the best free agents available.

Ozuna drew a wide variety of predictions for where he will be playing next season. The most common prediction was that he would resign in Atlanta, which would be mutually beneficial. Ozuna had the best season of his career in Atlanta and helped them finish 1st in the NL East and earn a spot in the NLCS. Another potential fit for Ozuna could be with a team like the White Sox or Blue Jays (each received 1 vote), who are emerging as potential contenders for the World Series. If Ozuna could replicate his performance in 2021, a team on the cusp of contention could start their championship window early. Other teams to receive votes included the Giants (1), Twins (1), Rangers (1), and Mariners (1).

Marcus Semien – SS

Average Prediction: Cincinnati Reds; 2.8 Years, $42.0 Million

Few people expected Semien to perform as well in the 2019 season as he did. The Athletics shortstop smashed his previous career bests in pretty much every stat and finished 3rd in AL MVP voting. His 2020 season on the other hand, looked more like his typical self. He had a poor slash line of .223/.305/.374 and hit 7 home runs and finished in the bottom 30th percentile in most of the major Statcast statistics, showing that this is perhaps more than just a 60-game stretch of bad luck. This offseason teams will need to decide whether his 2019 campaign was “for real” or not, and he likely won’t be getting a long-term deal.

The Cincinnati Reds proved to be competitive last season, and they’ll likely look to improve on their performance in 2021. Semien would be a good fit for the Reds because of their lack of a good shortstop to stay competitive while they wait for Jose Garcia to be ready. The Reds aren’t a large market team, so they won’t be pursuing any of the huge free agents this winter, but Semien should be affordable for them. Other teams to receive votes were the Angels (2), and the Phillies (1).

Nelson Cruz – DH

Average Prediction: Minnesota Twins; 1.3 Years, $22.3 Million

Nelson Cruz never seems to age. At 40 years young, Cruz is still performing at an elite level, slashing .303/.397/.595 with 16 home runs for the Minnesota Twins in 2020. Prior to the shortened 2020 season, Nelson Cruz had hit over 35 home runs in 6 consecutive seasons, and he has shown no signs of slowing down. Due to his age though, it’s unlikely he gets more than 2 years on a contract, but he makes for a valuable asset on a team in a “Win now” mode.

Cruz helped lead the Twins to two consecutive postseason appearances since joining the team, and it would be logical for the Twins to bring him back. The Twins will likely be in tough competition for the top spot in the AL Central with the White Sox and Indians, and the Twins could use all the help they can get. Another team that received votes was the Twins’ division rival, the White Sox. With the departure of Edwin Encarnacion, the White Sox are left without a DH, and Nelson Cruz would be a huge upgrade over him. Other teams to receive votes were the Rays (1), Athletics (1), Mariners (1), Royals (1). With the announcement of the universal DH being rolled back for the 2021 season, Cruz’s number of suitors shrank overnight.

Masahiro Tanaka – RHP

Average Prediction: New York Yankees; 2.9 Years, $39.6 Million

Masahiro Tanaka has been a solid pitcher for the Yankees in recent years, posting an ERA below 4 in two of the past three seasons. He has had consistently elite BB%, showing that he has good control over his pitches and can be relied on. Tanaka would make a good mid-rotation starter on a team looking to compete.

With the Yankees potentially losing both James Paxton and J.A Happ to free agency this offseason, the Yankees may struggle to maintain rotation depth, so bringing back Tanaka makes a lot of sense. Tanaka has only played for the Yankees since moving from Japan to play in the MLB, making it likely that Tanaka would be willing to stay. The Angels are another team that may pursue Tanaka since they are lacking in quality starting pitching. The most interesting prediction for Tanaka we received was that he’d sign with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles from Japan. Tanaka played for the Golden Eagles from 2007-2013 and performed so great that he was widely considered to be “the next big thing from Japan.” The Giants also received 1 vote.

James Paxton – LHP

Average Prediction: Toronto Blue Jays; 1.7 Years, $18.6 Million

James Paxton had been a very consistently good pitcher prior to 2020, never having finished the season with an ERA above 4.00 until the shortened season. Paxton’s 2020 campaign was cut short due to injury, a common problem for the lefty who has never thrown more than 160.1 innings in a given year. Despite his injury and performance uncertainties in 2020, he still checks all the boxes for a quality free-agent starting pitcher. He has experience, consistency, and strikes out a lot of batters. He will be a good fit for any team looking to compete.

Since James Paxton was born in Canada, it’s no surprise that the Blue Jays are the favorites to sign him. The Blue Jays should be looking to add onto their team from last year, and adding pitching depth is always a good idea. Paxton would be a front-end starter for the Blue Jays, creating a dynamic duo of veteran left-handed starters with Hyun Jin Ryu. Other teams to receive votes were the Phillies (1), Padres (1), Angels (1), Reds (1).

Liam Hendriks – RHP

Average Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies; 2.7 Years, $33.2 million

Liam Hendriks has established himself as an elite reliever, winning what should’ve been his second consecutive AL RPOY in 2020. Hendriks broke out in 2019 for the Athletics, recording an ERA of 1.80, over a run below his career-high. Hendriks continued his success into 2020 by earning a 1.78 ERA through 25.1 innings, making him a great option for a team looking for an elite bullpen arm.

The Philadelphia Phillies bullpen was terrible in 2020, performing to the tune of near record-worst 7.06 ERA in 2020, leaving them desperate for a good relief pitcher this offseason. So why not sign the best one available? Hendriks alone wouldn’t solve all of their problems, but he would be a huge improvement over any of their current bullpen arms. Hendriks would also be a good fit on pretty much any team that can make the playoffs. Other teams to receive votes were the Cardinals (1), Yankees (1), Nationals (1), Marlins (1), Athletics (1), and Giants (1).

Kirby Yates – RHP

Average Prediction: Philadelphia Phillies; 1.7 Years, $14.8 Million

Kirby Yates is the second reliever to make this list, and the second player to be snubbed from a relief pitcher of the year award in 2019. Yates had a fantastic performance in 2019, finishing the season with an ERA of 1.19 and an absurd K% of 41.6%. With the Padres gearing up for a playoff push in 2020, Yates looked primed to shut down their opposition in October. This, of course, was not the case, as Yates had his season cut short after undergoing elbow surgery. This puts a lot of doubt on his projections for 2021, and teams will want to be cautious when offering him a contract. That being said, he should still be a valuable asset for a contending team.

Yates drew a wide variety of predictions, with the Phillies being the only team to receive more than one vote. As previously mentioned, the Phillies’ bullpen struggled massively in 2020, and they’re certainly looking to improve on that department this offseason. Yates could instantly slide into their closer role and be a massive improvement over Brandon Workman. Other vote-getters were the Angels (1), Twins (1), Giants (1), Red Sox (1), Dodgers (1), Padres (1), and Astros (1).

Kyle Schwarber – OF

Average Prediction: Boston Red Sox; 1.7 Years, $13.7 Million

When it was announced that the Cubs had non-tendered Kyle Schwarber, it came as a surprise to many as just one season ago Schwarber hit 38 home runs. The former 4th overall draft pick by the Cubs has played for them his entire career, and at 27 years of age, he still has a lot to offer. Coming off of a disappointing 2020 season, Schwarber is hitting the free-agent market for the first time. Schwarber has shown to be more of a “streaky” slugger, having hot stretches as he did in August this year where he had an OPS of .879, followed by a slump like he had in September when he recorded an OPS of .506. He should receive plenty of interest from teams looking to bet on his upside.

The Boston Red Sox performed horribly following the departure of Mookie Betts, finishing below the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. With a healthier pitching staff, things can only improve for the Red Sox, and signing a left-handed slugger like Schwarber makes sense. The Red Sox have the position availability and “financial flexibility” to take the risk of paying Schwarber, which could have a potentially high reward at the trade deadline if he can hit at a high level. Other teams that may look to sign Schwarber are small market contenders like the Rays and Athletics (each received 1 vote), who would be ecstatic to sign someone with the upside of Schwarber for less than $15 million annually. Other teams to receive votes were the Astros (1), Reds (1), Yankees (1), Twins (1), and Mariners (1).

Eddie Rosario – OF

Average Prediction: Boston Red Sox; 1.8 Years, $15.6 Million

Many were surprised when the Twins decided to non-tender Eddie Rosario, but after looking at his stats in 2020, it begins to make some sense. Rosario finished the season with a slash line of .257/.316/.476: good but not great for the roughly average defender. With many teams planning on cutting salaries, citing lost revenue due to the shortened, fanless season, Rosario is a casualty of what continues to be an interesting offseason. He was expected to see a raise from his $7.75 million 2020 arbitration contract. During the 2017 and 2018 seasons, Rosario looked as if he was shaping into a star player after he finished with a wOBA of at least .340 in both seasons. However, his 2020 was a bit suspicious, finishing with a wOBA of .328 and peripheral stats suggesting that he had some luck on his side. Rosario is another high-upside player available this offseason, and perhaps with a proper approach change, turn his fortunes.

The Red Sox can pretty much only go up from last season, and signing someone like Eddie Rosario could help the team stay somewhat competitive or potentially make for a good asset at a future trade deadline. Another team that would benefit from signing Rosario is a surprise team from 2020, the Miami Marlins (who received 2 votes). The Marlins aren’t a big market team, so a relatively cheap signing like Rosario could help the team out a lot by adding more upside to their lineup. Other teams receiving votes were the Astros (1), Tigers (1), and Giants (1).

Joc Pederson – OF

Average Prediction: Los Angeles Angels/Atlanta Braves; 2.3 Years, $29.4 Million

Coming off of a down year, Joc Pederson is the second Dodger on the lsit. Pederson had the best season of his career in 2019 with a wOBA of .362. He followed this up with the worst year of his career, posting a wOBA of .293. These struggles could be explained by his small sample size and his deployment in a platoon, as he split time with A.J Pollock. At 28 years of age, Pederson is still in his prime and should generate plenty of interest in the free-agent market.

Pederson was almost traded to the Angels earlier this year as a subsequent deal following the initial Mookie Betts trade, but fell through after a physical for Brusdar Graterol showed that he “projects as a reliever in the MLB,” and the Angels lost patience. We expect the Angels to be interested in signing him since they lack outfield depth following the Brian Goodwin trade and the uncertainty of Jo Adell‘s development. The Braves are also another potential destination for Pederson, as they may be looking to replace Marcell Ozuna this offseason. Other teams to receive votes were the Rockies (1), Yankees (1), and Indians (1).

Andrelton Simmons – SS

Average Prediction: Oakland Athletics/New York Yankees/Philadelphia Phillies; 2.0 Years; $21.7 Million

Andrelton Simmons is the final player to make this list. Simmons is best known for his elite defensive abilities, which may earn him a spot in the Hall of Fame. He had a bit of a down year in that department during the 2020 season, earning a -2 DRS and a 4.0 UZR/150. He has never been that great of a hitter, as his career-high in wOBA is .328. Regardless, his defensive abilities make him an intriguing option for any team in need of a shortstop this offseason.

Simmons is the only player to have a 3-way tie for the most predicted team, with those teams being the Athletics, Yankees, and Phillies. The Athletics are an interesting option for Simmons, as the potential departure of Marcus Semien means they may need a new shortstop in 2021. The Athletics have a very good defensive infield led by Matt Olson and Matt Chapman on the corners, and Simmons would solidify their infield as the best defensive infield in the league. The Yankees are also a popular choice for Simmons, since DJ LeMahieu may not return for them in 2021. Simmons would allow Gleyber Torres to move back to second base and give them a strong defensive presence in the middle infield. The Phillies are another favorite to sign Simmons as the potential departure of Didi Gregorius would leave them without a reliable shortstop. Other teams to receive votes were the Tigers (1), Brewers (1), and Reds (1).

Owen Daley

Rookie writer for Max's Sporting Studio. Pirates fan, but nowadays I enjoy watching other teams