The Hot Stove is certainly heating up in recent days, with sources reporting that DJ LeMahieu will return to the Yankees and George Springer will join the Blue Jays — each on a six-year deal.
While those teams can rejoice in landing (or keeping) one of this offseason’s marquee free agents, other clubs will be shifting their focus to the top remaining players on the market. That list still includes the near-consensus top position player, J.T. Realmuto, and top pitcher, Trevor Bauer, in this year’s free-agent class.
So where will those two land? What about some of the other top players still looking for somewhere to play in 2021? We asked a group of MLB.com reporters to take their best guesses at where each player ultimately signs, and here’s what they had to say:
J.T. Realmuto, C
2021 Opening Day age: 30
Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand, executive reporter): Phillies — A return to Philadelphia has always felt like the inevitable ending for Realmuto’s free agency, and the hiring of Dave Dombrowski to run the team’s baseball operations did nothing to change my mind. Once the Mets signed James McCann, this felt like the most sensible landing spot for Realmuto.
Andrew Simon (@AndrewSimonMLB, research analyst): Phillies — I’m still somewhat surprised that the Mets pounced on McCann rather than wait out Realmuto, but that removed a primary option. The Angels signing Kurt Suzuki probably removed another. Now, momentum seems to be building for a Philly return, but the reality is that the club can’t stop there if it wants to contend.
Matt Kelly (@MattKellyMLB, reporter): Phillies — The Phils might have driven their fans mad by waiting out Realmuto this long, but it seemingly worked to their advantage now that the Mets and Angels went in a different direction. Watch out for a late test from the Nationals — a club never afraid to spend — but Philadelphia just has more room below the luxury tax threshold to make the best offer.
Sarah Langs (@SlangsOnSports, reporter): Phillies — Things are reportedly moving in this direction even more, and it’s what most people have expected throughout the offseason. The Phillies need to bring Realmuto back or add another impact player to compete with the Mets, Braves and potentially Nationals atop the division, and there hasn’t been much news on other potential suitors for the star catcher.
Manny Randhawa (@MannyOnMLB, reporter): Phillies — It just makes too much sense at this point. The Mets have their catcher, as do the Angels, and other potential suitors have spent a good chunk already this offseason — the Blue Jays just reportedly signed Springer to a megadeal and the Nationals have added Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber and Jon Lester.
Paul Casella (@Paul_CasellaMLB, reporter): Phillies — As mentioned, it’s just getting hard to see a scenario in which Realmuto doesn’t return to Philadelphia. Along with the Phils still needing a starting catcher and the calls to re-sign Realmuto only growing louder, the other potential landing spots for the elite backstop are seemingly fading as those clubs make alternate moves.
Trevor Bauer, SP
2021 Opening Day age: 30
Feinsand: Mets — The Mets have made it clear that they intend to contend for a title in 2021, and while Springer would have been a good fit for their lineup, the need in the rotation is greater. Pairing Bauer with Jacob deGrom would make the Mets an immediate contender, especially if Marcus Stroman pitches well after sitting out a year and Noah Syndergaard can look anything like his old self when he returns midseason.
Simon: Angels — Even with the addition of José Quintana, this rotation needs help, and Bauer is the best way to address the issue. New general manager Perry Minasian has made some helpful additions thus far, but this club still needs a big splash to boost “Operation Get Mike Trout to October.”
Kelly: Angels — There’s no need to explain why the Angels need Bauer, and I think Realmuto signs elsewhere first, leaving the Halos standing in a game of musical chairs. Los Angeles adds yet another superstar — but this time where it needs one most.
Langs: Angels — The Angels’ rotation needed a significant upgrade last offseason, too, but it didn’t happen. In a similar spot this year after having the second-worst rotation ERA in 2020, despite a bounceback-type year from under-the-radar acquisition Dylan Bundy, it seems to make sense for the best free-agent pitcher to sign with the club, and help Trout finally get a postseason win — and maybe beyond.
Randhawa: Angels — Trout isn’t getting any younger. The Halos signed a veteran lefty in Quintana earlier this week, but that won’t be nearly enough to address what has been the club’s major problem for years — starting pitching. Bauer could help turn that around. And as a bonus, he’d get to live near where he grew up.
Casella: Angels — The Halos were in a similar spot last year with free agent Gerrit Cole before the superstar ace ultimately chose to sign with the Yankees. It’s unclear whether the Angels are willing to make the massive offer necessary to land the 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner, but this club desperately needs some pitching help to support a lineup that features Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Shohei Ohtani.
Marcell Ozuna, OF/DH
2021 Opening Day age: 30
Feinsand: Giants — This one would be much easier to project if we were certain whether the National League will or won’t have the designated hitter, but I’m going to go with an NL team here either way. The Giants are likely a year away from making a huge splash in free agency, but San Francisco could use a big bat in its lineup, and given the apparent lack of a market for Ozuna, perhaps the Giants can get him at a decent price.
Simon: Mariners — I’m going to borrow this idea from our pal Anthony Castrovince, in part because the fit makes some sense, but mostly because this chase is one that seems ripe for a darkhorse. Given the uncertainty about the designated hitter rule in 2021, and the fact that many AL teams already have a DH in place, it’s hard to find obvious landing spots for Ozuna. So I say Seattle swoops in and tries to jumpstart its rebuild.
Kelly: Braves — MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal speculated earlier this month that the universal DH will be back, and recent reports by MLB.com’s Jon Paul Morosi that both Ozuna and Nelson Cruz were still drawing interest from NL teams make me think that’s true. But actually, I don’t think it matters; the way Ozuna protected Freddie Freeman last year makes it imperative that the Braves re-sign the former — even if Atlanta has to live with one year of questionable defense in left field.
Langs: Braves — Ozuna is, of course, more difficult to predict with the uncertainty surrounding the DH in 2021. But based on reports that NL teams are still in on him, a return to Atlanta makes a ton of sense for Ozuna, whose bat was key for the Braves in ’20.
Randhawa: Braves — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Ozuna had a tremendous 2020 campaign for Atlanta, and while it remains up in the air whether there will be a DH in the NL in 2021, it worked out OK for the Braves last year despite Ozuna’s defensive issues when he was called upon to play the field.
Casella: Braves — As others have said, this prediction hinges on whether the NL once again deploys the designated hitter, but if it does, it’s hard to see Atlanta letting Ozuna get away. The Braves have won three straight division titles, but that streak could be in jeopardy if they lose their home run leader from last season, especially with the Mets already landing Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco this offseason.
Marcus Semien, SS
2021 Opening Day age: 30
Feinsand: Red Sox — Boston is all set at shortstop with Xander Bogaerts, but just as we’ve heard that the Dodgers were considering Semien for their third-base vacancy, why wouldn’t the Red Sox do the same at second base? Semien had a down year in 2020, potentially lowering his asking price.
Simon: Nationals — I’m going somewhat off the board here, admittedly, as the Reds and A’s need Semien more. But it’s less clear that they will spend. Washington has been one of the most aggressive teams this offseason, trying to keep pace with the Braves and Mets. While the Nats are set at shortstop (Trea Turner), there’s enough uncertainty at second and third to make Semien a sensible addition.
Kelly: Reds — I’m not as sold as others that Semien — an AL MVP Award finalist just 14 months ago — would move off shortstop and accept a utility role, as both the Dodgers’ and Red Sox’s situations would require. And the urgency to find a shortstop feels a little higher in Cincinnati (which might still be just one move away in the wide-open NL Central) than with Semien’s hometown A’s (who have a couple veteran options in Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder).
Langs: Dodgers — Would Semien, two years removed from a top-three MVP finish, really be willing to take on a utility role and potentially play third base? Maybe, maybe not. But if he is, doing so with the best team in baseball for a chance to win a World Series seems like a good place, especially with a club that’s had so much success using players in such a role.
Randhawa: Twins — It seems Minnesota needs to do something this offseason after extending its MLB record by losing an 18th consecutive postseason game last October. This could be an opportunity to move Jorge Polanco into a utility role and slide Semien in at short.
Casella: Athletics — Though Semien is generating interest from a number of teams, a return to Oakland certainly isn’t out of the question. Between the Astros losing Springer and the Athletics’ other AL West foes remaining mostly quiet to this point (apart from the Houston retaining Michael Brantley), the A’s could go all-in on their push for a second straight division title — and avenging their 2020 ALDS loss to the Astros.
Didi Gregorius, SS
2021 Opening Day age: 31
Feinsand: Phillies — Gregorius and the Phillies could be headed for a reunion, as he and manager Joe Girardi enjoy a strong relationship and Gregorius seems to have enjoyed playing in Philadelphia. The Phils also know that next year’s epic free-agent shortstop class is going to command huge dollars, so locking up Gregorius to a deal now would save them the stress of trying to compete for one of next year’s stars.
Simon: Phillies — Even if the Phils get Realmuto back in the fold, they would likely still rank fourth in their own division, behind the Braves, Mets and Nationals. More would be needed. Beyond that, the Phillies need a shortstop and a lefty bat, and Gregorius performed well in that spot last year.
Kelly: Phillies — Re-signing Realmuto merely puts the Phillies closer to where they were entering the offseason, which obviously means they need to keep going. There’s comfort on both sides, and I think Gregorius will hesitate to walk away from that short porch at Citizens Bank Park.
Langs: Phillies — Philly made so much sense for Gregorius when he signed his one-year deal entering last season, given his familiarity with Girardi. In that same way, a reunion, a la LeMahieu going back to the Yankees, seems like the next step here.
Randhawa: Reds — There’s already familiarity there between the player and the club, since it was Cincinnati that signed him in 2007 before he was traded to the D-backs. And coming off a bounceback season at the plate in Philadelphia, Gregorius could benefit even further with the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. Oh, and the Reds need a shortstop.
Casella: Phillies — With the Yankees re-signing LeMahieu, a return to Philadelphia seems like the inevitable outcome for Gregorius. A reunion in the Bronx seemed plausible at one point, but the market certainly seems to be pointing toward Gregorius staying with the Phillies, albeit on a multi-year deal this time around.
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF
2021 Opening Day age: 30
Feinsand: Astros — Even after re-signing Michael Brantley, Houston still has a void in the outfield left by Springer’s departure. Bradley provides stellar defense in center field, and while he hasn’t come close to matching his offensive production from his All-Star season in 2016, he did hit very well during the shortened ’20 season. The Mets could also be in play here.
Simon: Astros — As of now, Myles Straw is projected to be the Astros’ starting center fielder, following the departure of Springer. Bradley, easily the top free agent remaining at the position, is a far more proven option whose range would be a big plus patrolling Minute Maid Park.
Kelly: Mets — Showing restraint doesn’t mean the Mets can’t bring in one more marquee name. Bradley, forecasted by MLB Trade Rumors and FanGraphs to sign a two-year deal with an affordable average annual value of $9-10 million, would boost New York’s emphasis on better run prevention. It would also have the residual benefit of moving Dominic Smith back to first base and/or DH (which, again, I believe will be back).
Langs: Astros — By re-signing Brantley, the Astros are showing they still hope to compete in the AL West in 2021 even without Springer. Bradley Jr. won’t replace Springer’s bat, but he’s an even bigger plus defensively in center field than Springer.
Randhawa: Mets — They’re going big this offseason, and while it won’t be Springer out there, the Mets could use a defensive upgrade in center field. Bradley could be just the right fit — the lineup already has plenty of pop, so it could withstand the streakiness of Bradley’s production at the plate, and it’d be good to get Brandon Nimmo, who had -4 Outs Above Average last season, to a corner spot.
Casella: Astros — The Astros certainly aren’t prepared to let their window close just yet, but they’ll need to do something to help offset the loss of Springer. Finding a way to re-sign Brantley was a good start, and while the addition of Bradley obviously wouldn’t cancel out Springer’s departure, it would at least be another step in that direction.