It has been a good month for baseball, no?
Oh, the industry didn’t go scandal-free, thanks to the Mets and Jared Porter, and spring training remains scheduled to start on time despite the obvious health benefit that would come from delaying it. However, the Hot Stove has chugged along encouragingly in January, with 14 of The Post’s top 30 free agents signing contracts, and most of those exceeding projections despite vast uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season’s revenues. Most guys figure to be signed by the time camps open, avoiding the ugliness of past years when multiple stars dragged their cases into March or later.
Add the five guys who settled their futures before the calendar flipped to 2021, and we’re left with 13 players from our list (which actually numbered 32, thanks to some funny math). Here are the prevailing storylines for what’s left in this market:
Neither Nelson Cruz, a full-time designated hitter, nor Marcell Ozuna, an outfielder whose best fit stands at DH, has committed anywhere, and we all know why: The possibility of the universal DH, utilized last year for the first time, still lingers even though, as of now, it would be deployed only in the American League.
In normal times, the universal DH can be viewed as a safety measure, a way to protect pitchers (who get hurt enough already just performing their primary job) and therefore not something that should be viewed as a bargaining chip. In COVID times, when the players will be risking their health just by leaving their homes, that should go double.
Cruz re-upping with the Twins, for whom he excelled the prior two seasons, still makes plenty of sense, and the White Sox, Blue Jays and Rangers all stand as possible fits, as do the Braves and Dodgers in the National League if the universal DH becomes a reality.
Ozuna stood out for the Braves last year after signing a one-year contract, and Atlanta still has openings in its outfield.
The Starting Pitchers
The strangest group of all this winter. To date, the Mets’ Marcus Stroman and the Giants’ Kevin Gausman have pocketed the most by accepting the one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer from their respective teams. And you could have won quite a large sum if you had wagered on Nov. 1 that the two top Japanese guys from this group, Tomoyuki Sugano and Masahiro Tanaka, would both wind up back in their native land. Interesting arms like Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Mike Fiers and Cole Hamels haven’t signed, and you can’t pin much of that on Trevor Bauer, the obvious top option here, not determining his fate yet. Plenty of clubs could use more pitching and don’t want to shop at the Bauer prices. Among them are the Phillies, A’s and Astros. The Blue Jays, who are very much in on Bauer, figure to look elsewhere if they can’t sign him.
Are they the Scott Boras of teams, in that they work deliberately until they find a deal they like? So far, the defending World Series champions have only signed a pair of relievers, one of them being former Yankee Tommy Kahnle, who might not pitch this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August (the other is Blake Treinen). Their beloved third baseman Justin Turner, the former Met, is still out there, and you’d bet on them eventually finding common ground … except the Dodgers could go with impressive, young Edwin Rios at the hot corner. They’re in the Bauer mix … and can field a perfectly good starting rotation without the right-hander. This is the existence you can lead when you’ve set yourself up with enviable roster depth and payroll flexibility.
Boras, known for taking his sweet time with free agents, once told ESPN, “It really doesn’t matter what time dinner is when you’re the steak.” The Dodgers are baseball’s steak. Though, if the DH does come to the NL, they could use another bat, be it Turner, Cruz or someone else.
Boras, meanwhile, represents Paxton as well as center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., a Mets possibility. It represents a pretty quiet winter for him, especially after he booked over $1 billion in contracts (topped by the $324 million the Yankees guaranteed to Gerrit Cole) a year ago.
The Yankees and Brett Gardner
The Yankees have about $9 million of space remaining before they hit the $210 million luxury-tax threshold. The more they give Gardner, the less they’ll have to spend at the trade deadline if they stick to their goal of avoiding the tax. It would be a shame if the tax actually kept this player and team apart, as Gardner, 37, still has much to offer with his lefty-swinging bat, defense, speed and leadership.