We don’t really know whether or to what extent extension talks will continue during the coronavirus hiatus. But as I wrote earlier today, it seems reasonable to think they’ll be explored. Some may already have advanced nearly to completion before the global pandemic intervened.
While we may have to wait to learn who the targets are and see what deals get done, there’s a silver lining: more time for rampant speculation! Okay, we’re not going to speculate here; rather, we’ll tick through some interesting possibilities on paper. Remember, we’ve seen an increasing prevalence of deals with less-experienced players (even some without any MLB service) and with new player types (early-career relievers and utilitymen).
In the present MLB environment, value is king and the old forms are fading. Here are some names to chew on from the NL East …
We all love Freddie Freeman and so do the Braves. He’s now within two years of free agency … but he’s also already 30 years of age. Knowing how this organization operates, it’d be a bit of a surprise to see it go big to keep him around. At the same time, this might be the best window to do so.
It’s likelier that the team will look into deals with young players after scoring huge value in deals with Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies last winter. The most obvious candidate is excellent youngster Mike Soroka, but there’s an argument for fellow starter Max Fried. Both are likely Super Two arbitration qualifiers next winter, so this could be a good time to achieve value. Mike Foltynewicz has some potential appeal despite his ups and downs, but he’s already earning big arb money and is just two years from the open market, so it’s tougher to see a deal that’d make sense for both sides. Perhaps there’s a scenario where a deal with shortstop Dansby Swanson makes sense, but he may still want to wait for an offensive surge that the team won’t pay for on spec.
In terms of more creative possibilities … none of the Braves’ relievers seem particularly likely. If the team is particularly smitten with Austin Riley and/or Kyle Wright, despite some early stumbles, it could chase the upside. Among the pre-MLB players, outfielder Cristian Pache seems the likeliest (highly speculative) possibility. He’s already on the 40-man roster, unlike fellow outfielder Drew Waters and pitcher Ian Anderson.
There are a few fairly classic extension targets in Miami. Quality third baseman/outfielder Brian Anderson makes sense. Perhaps the team could make a run at backstop Jorge Alfaro if it believes in him. Both of those guys are 2+ service-class players, so they’ve got another year to wait for arbitration.
There’s an argument to be made that the Marlins ought to consider some even bolder action. Their top position-player prospects — outfielder Monte Harrison and shortstop Jazz Chisholm — are each already on the 40-man roster, so there wouldn’t be any complications to locking them up. Risky? Sure, but the potential rewards are enormous. And they wouldn’t necessarily have to open the year on the MLB roster.
Pete Alonso stands out here. The lovable longball launcher may only be one season into his MLB career, but he has all the markings of a franchise face and community cornerstone. The team is obviously as smitten as are the fans, as it not only brought him up to open the 2019 season (rather than messing with his service time) but made him happy with a record sophomore salary.
There are some other conceivable position-player targets as well. Fellow breakout star Jeff McNeil is certainly of interest, though he’s already close to his 28th birthday and is under team control through his age-32 season. Pre-arb shortstop Amed Rosario could make sense after making strides in his second full season in the majors. The Mets obviously like J.D. Davis, though it probably makes sense to see if he keeps hitting and how the team’s needs develop with plenty of time before he’s a free agent. (Like McNeil, he’s under team control through 2024.)
There are also some candidates for new deals that are closer to free agency. It’s tough to imagine a deal with Noah Syndergaard given the ups and downs in the relationship and his sky-high ceiling; he’d surely require a monster payday to keep. But New York native Marcus Stroman seems cosy in his home city and might be amenable to a deal. As a walk-year player he’ll be seeking something like full market value. Outfielders Michael Conforto (4+ service class) and Brandon Nimmo (3+ service class) are certainly good enough players to approach. Want a bit of a wild card? How about righty Seth Lugo, who has turned into a heckuva reliever.
The Nats’ situation is fairly simple to understand. The club has some glaringly obvious candidates, but it’s largely unknown whether it has attempted to start talks and (if so) whether it has any hopes of making a deal.
Juan Soto is the crown jewel. But he’s an exceptionally youthful superstar represented by Scott Boras. That’ll make it tough to get a deal done … especially if this eye-popping report is to be believed. Fellow outfielder Victor Robles isn’t as established or as certain, but perhaps there’s greater room there for the sides to find common ground.
Shortstop Trea Turner is the other most-obvious candidate. He’s 26 years of age and three full seasons from free agency. A high-quality all-around player who gamely battled through an injury, Turner could certainly be approached. He’s into arbitration with a big salary, though, so he has leverage. The Nats aren’t afraid to pay for quality, so it’s possible to imagine an agreement.
On the pitching front, there aren’t any rising young arms that seem primed for a deal. But with Max Scherzer two years from the open market … well, who knows? He is already 35 years of age, but perhaps the sides could line up on something that keeps the highly productive relationship going. After a challenging 2019 season, it’s likely that closer Sean Doolittle will be allowed to prove he’s still a top-flight reliever before getting his next deal, but talks can’t be ruled out.
I don’t need to tell you the chief target for the Phils: it’s catcher J.T. Realmuto, who is now one season shy of free agency. The sides ended up in an arbitration hearing after failing to agree on a 2020 salary. While they say there aren’t any hard feelings, Realmuto — who’s 29 tomorrow — has also made clear he’s not interested in taking a team-friendly arrangement. We might’ve spent more time talking about first baseman Rhys Hoskins as a candidate, but that seems unlikely after his late-2019 swoon.
This is an organization that has proven willing to do a pre-MLB deal, having previously inked Scott Kingery. Top third base prospect Alec Bohm makes some sense, but only if the team is committed to bringing him up early (if not at the start of) the season. He doesn’t have a 40-man roster spot just yet. Top pitching prospect Adonis Medina does, but it’d be rather speculative to lock into him at this point.