For those who can’t wait for the 2020 Major League Baseball season to start – and we count ourselves among that group – there’s an entirely different game beginning that always turns out just as interesting.
A slew of MLB players already have declared themselves free agents, kicking off the season of transition that will change the faces of each team.
Before getting into the specifics, we’ll just offer one piece of advice for the day-hard fan who rues this day: Decide whether to root for either the player or the uniform. You can’t do both. It’s too painful.
No fan bases will potentially be hit harder than those of the Astros and the world champion Washington Nationals. What’s certain is, their teams that take the field in 2020 promise to be much different than those that just completed the World Series.
Let’s begin with the Nationals, who announced on Friday they will visit the White House Monday for an official ceremony with President Trump. This will come after the championship parade which will be held on Saturday. That will start near the Washington Monument and end near the U.S. Capitol building.
Washington’s third baseman Anthony Rendon, who led the Majors with 126 RBIs, and whose five RBIs in Game 6 gave the Nationals their chance to fight another day, is at the top of the current list of 138 declared free agents. Nearly 50 more might add their names to the list within days.
Rendon has reportedly already rejected an offer from the Nationals which would have paid him around $215 million over seven years. You recall last year Bryce Harper turned down 10 years and $300 million from the Nationals and later signed with the Phillies.
Of course, losing Rendon – the year after losing Harper – would be a major blow for the franchise and it’s expected the Nationals are going to work very hard to resign him.
There’s more: At some point on Friday, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg will decide if he wants to opt-out of his deal with the team. The World Series MVP has four years and $100 million remaining on his original seven-year, $200 million contract. But if he believes he’s now worth more on the open market, you can expect he’ll walk away from his deal and become a free agent.
Ironically, Rendon and Strasburg are represented by Scott Boras, the high-powered agent who got $330 million for Harper.
As for the Astros, their biggest concerns deal with starter Gerrit Cole, another Boras client. And until Friday, they were a little worried about manager A.J. Hinch.
Cole, the game’s best pitcher since May, has opted for free agency and is not expected to return.
“Before I became an Astro, I didn’t know much about Houston, but after just two years you have made it feel like home,” he posted on social media. “This is a relationship between a team and … fans like no other that I know.”
There are a lot of rumors about where he’ll play in 2020. Cole went to college at UCLA and is said to be enamored by the prospect of playing in southern California, most likely either for the Angels or the Padres. Both teams have the money to give Cole what he’ll be asking for, which is around $35 million per season.
Houston’s decision to trade for Zach Greinke was made in part to protect the organization for Cole’s likely departure. The Astros are already committed to paying Greinke $35 million and Justin Verlander $33 million.
It’s foolish to think they would want to commit $100 million of their payroll to three pitchers when they are already paying Jose Altuve ($26 million) and George Springer ($21.4 million).
The Hinch story was worth keeping an eye on. The Mets had not announced their new manager and it was reported general manager Brodie Van Wagenen might have been holding out to see if he could pry his great friend from the Astros.
Hinch has two seasons left on his deal with Houston and is said to be very comfortable in the community. If Hinch were to have agreed to manage the Mets, New York would likely have had to trade for him.
But on Friday afternoon, multiple sources reported the Mets had settled on one of their former stars, Carlos Beltran.
Among the other top-flight pitchers who also free agents are Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner, Jake Odorizzai, Zack Wheeler, Cole Hamels, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rick Porcello.
Among position players, Josh Donaldson and Didi Gregorius join Rendon as the most highly regarded.
And like Strasburg, Boston’s J.D. Martinez and Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman can opt out of their current deals.
Teams have until Monday to make $17.8 million qualifying offers to their players who became free agents. Players are eligible if they were on the roster for the season and never received a qualifying offer before.