Timing is everything in free agency.
Last year, Gerrit Cole hit the market at the same moment the Yankees’ top offseason priority was a No. 1 starting pitcher. Six weeks later, Cole had himself a record nine-year, $324 million contract done before Christmas.
This winter, however, is not the ideal time to be a free agent. Not after a 60-game regular season without any gate-related revenue, translating to historic financial losses across the board for MLB clubs. Many teams either had layoffs, furloughs or both, giving the impression that money — even for a $10 billion industry — figures to be scarce this offseason.
Which clubs are hurting the most, and how badly, is difficult to determine. The Dodgers changed the whole free-agent market before we even got there by signing Mookie Betts to a 12-year, $365 million extension in July, so it would be hard to characterize them as broke.
As for other typically big spenders, hard to say. The Yankees are expected to lose more than $400 million this season, and after Cole’s deal, the trade route certainly looks preferable after trying to first retain DJ LeMahieu.
“Obviously, I think this global pandemic has affected everybody in a horrific way in a business setting,” general manager Brian Cashman said this week. “These are real constraints that exist throughout all industries and households, so it will be something that clearly will factor into how we approach the future.”
That future, from a free-agent perspective, begins five days after the final out of the World Series. With that in mind, here’s an early peek at some of the top names available (players with pending contract options are not included).
1. J.T. Realmuto, Phillies, C: The Phillies had initial conversations with Realmuto about sticking around beyond this season, but around the time mega-billionaire Steve Cohen’s name resurfaced with the Mets, those talks soon evaporated. Coincidence? Realmuto, who turns 30 in March, is one season removed from his Gold Glove, Silver Slugger season in Philly, and would be the perfect opening splash for Cohen’s arrival in Flushing.
2. Trevor Bauer, Reds, RHP: Bauer took to Twitter recently to drop a few hints about his pending free agency, subtly poking the Padres and Yankees about their need for rotation help after both teams were eliminated. Bauer’s late surge for the NL Cy Young likely earned him the trophy, as well as a few extra bucks as the top starter available in a very thin group.
3. George Springer, Astros, CF: The UConn product could have a chance to return east if the Cohen-owned Mets dig even deeper into their pockets for a true everyday centerfielder, despite an offensive dip from his Silver Slugger season (39 HRs, .974 OPS) in 2019. As a bonus, he gets to escape universally hated Houston.
4. DJ LeMahieu, Yankees, INF: Right off the top, this almost feels wrong to list LeMahieu as a