In the wake of a raging coronavirus pandemic that shortened the last season and threatens the next one, baseball free agency in not likely to move at its usual frenzied pace. But that doesn’t mean the best available players won’t have contracts rich in years and dollars thrust in their faces this winter.
That’s especially true for Latinos, who crowd the top of the a free-agent market that will balloon past 200 players Wednesday, when teams must offer contracts or non-tender players eligible for salary arbitration.
With everybody not named Steve Cohen cutting payroll, the hefty paydays of Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon are already ancient history. Last year, the New York Yankees yanked Cole from the Houston Astros with a nine-year, $324 billion deal that led the Class of 2020. The defending champion Washington Nationals, unable to keep both Strasburg and Rendon, gave the pitcher seven years at $245,000,000 but watched the slugging third baseman take exactly the same deal from the Los Angeles Angels.
While Cole and Rendon clicked, Strasburg did not, giving the Nats a grand total of just five innings, spread over two starts, before undergoing carpal tunnel surgery that could delay his return in 2021.
Now teams need to decide whether to give long-term contracts to any pitchers and whether to gamble on big-money deals for anyone without a guarantee of fan revenue and full schedules in 2021.
With such questions looming, an unprecedented free-agent freeze is likely– but not for everyone. Here’s where the Top 10 Latinos could land:
- George Springer — The son of a Puerto Rican mother and a dad with Panamanian roots, this five-tools center-fielder grew up in Connecticut, halfway between New York and Boston. It wouldn’t be a shocker to see a tug-of-war between the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, the only teams in the majors with Latino managers (Alex Cora with the Sox, Luis Rojas with the Mets). Springer, a right-handed batter with four 100-RBI seasons on his resume, indicated he wasn’t happy in Houston, where he spent his entire seven-year career and won All-Star MVP honors in 2018. The Mets, who badly need his righthanded bat, could be convincing on a cash basis but Springer might enjoy The Green Monster more. Prediction: Mets
- Marcell Ozuna — The sudden arrival of the designated hitter to the National League provided instant dividends for this righthanded slugger, who justified a one-year, $18 million pact with the Atlanta Braves by leading the National League in home runs and runs batted in. A 30, he’s a year younger than Springer but far from his equal with the glove. If the NL keeps the DH, Atlanta should keep Ozuna. If not, he’d benefit almost any American League club — especially those with short left fields. Prediction: Red Sox or Astros
- Nelson Cruz — Even though he’ll be 41 next July, he’s still one of the most feared sluggers in the majors. Most recently with Minnesota, he’s in the Ozuna category of DH or bust. His righthanded power would work in either league but only if the DH remains universal. Prediction: Angels
- Kiké Hernandez — One of the game’s most versatile players, he gained national attention with a huge home run in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. Hernandez, 29, plays everything but the bass fiddle, provides a powerful bat in the pinch, and won’t hurt his team in the field. The Dodgers want him back, especially if Justin Turner leaves, but they’ll have considerable competition. He’d be an upgrade in Atlanta over Johan Camargo. Prediction: Braves
- Alex Colomé — That 0.81 earned run average has huge appeal, especially to a Phillies team that blew way too many games in the late innings last year with David Robertson on the shelf. Lots of clubs like this durable righthander, most recently with the White Sox, and the Cubs could convince him to stay in Chicago as Craig Kimbrel’s replacement. Prediction: Phillies
- José Quintana — A lefty starter who has divided his nine-year career between the two Chicago clubs, he’s the top Latino pitcher on the market at age 32. He’s won 13 games in a season three times and could do better with some offense behind him. Prediction: Yankees
- Félix Hernández– He pitched a perfect game and won a Cy Young Award in 2012 but struggled afterward, often because of injuries. But he pitched his way into the Atlanta rotation last spring as a make-good candidate, then opted out because of coronavirus. He’s 35 but well-rested and inexpensive. Prediction: Cardinals
- Yasiel Puig — An ill-timed case of Covid-19 killed his contract with the Braves last year but this colorful Cuban star is back, hoping to jump-start his dormant career. Puig still has power in his arm and his bat but needs to keep his temperament in check. Prediction: Indians
- Edwin Encarnación — Is he slowing down at age 38? With six 100-RBI seasons on his resume, this slugger may be worth a low-cost pact loaded with incentives. He can still play first base in a pinch too. Prediction: Rangers
- Carlos Santana — A first baseman who often leads off, he has an uncanny ability to get on base. Even last year, when he hit .199, his on-base percentage was .349. He’s been around for awhile but is still just 35. Prediction: Rockies
Should the Yankees non-tender former All-Star catcher Gary Sanchez, he’d merit a spot on this list too. He’s twice topped 30 homers in a season and can catch — though not especially well. Sanchez is worth a shot, especially for a team that needs a catcher, like the Phillies (if they lose J.T. Realmuto), the Mets (if they don’t sign him), or the Nationals (where Kurt Suzuki walked). Prediction: Nationals
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