Winter is here, and the game of negotiations is afoot.
But just because it’s going to be a while until the owners and players hammer out some sort of resolution to end the lockout, that doesn’t mean we have to stop discussing what might/should happen when the sport eventually resumes.
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Because when it does, and teams are allowed to sign free agents and make trades again, you’re going to see a flurry of activity. It will probably be a lot of fun, honestly, to see free agents ink contracts and to see teams make trade after trade. After all, what else are front office types going to do during the lockout other than plan their back-in-the-saddle strategy?
So we’ll take a division-by-division look at what’s on the docket for all 30 teams, starting with the home of the reigning World Series champs, the NL East.
Pre-lockout recap: Braves fans, drunk on the excitement of winning that unexpected World Series, wanted only one little thing from the front office after the championship: Bring back fan favorite Freddie Freeman, the homegrown baseball hero. The front office did not make that happen. And now the Dodgers, with their deep pockets and copious amounts of motivation after losing left-handed lineup linchpin Corey Seager — he signed with Texas for $325 million — need a lefty slugger in the lineup to replace him. Huh.
The very first thing to do: Seriously, bring back Freddie. I posted a photo of World Series merchandise prices from Atlanta — and a video showing the super-long line wandering around The Battery — and it felt like at least half the replies were some variation of “Well, no excuse to not bring back Freddie with all that new money!” If the Braves let Freeman leave, this will be the shortest World Series honeymoon since the Marlins’ fire sale after the 1997 World Series title.
Also on the list: Something tells me the Braves don’t want Tyler Matzek, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson and Will Smith all throwing 100-plus innings out of the bullpen, so the need to add another established starting option is strong. Three of Atlanta’s four primary postseason outfielders are free agents; are they going to bring back Jorge Soler, Eddie Rosario and/or Joc Pederson? Speaking of the outfield, is Marcel Ozuna — who was deemed to have served his domestic abuse suspension by MLB — in Atlanta’s plans for 2022?
New York Mets
Pre-lockout recap: As New York native Larry David would say, the first month of the Mets’ offseason was “pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good.” They signed the best pitcher on the market, Max Scherzer, and the best center fielder on the market, Starling Marte. They added outfielder Mark Canha and versatile infielder Eduardo Escobar. Losing Noah Syndergaard was a bit embarrassing — he said he basically didn’t hear from the Mets — but the team rallied nicely.
The top post-lockout priority: They will have a manager hired before the end of the lockout, right? Yes. Of course. Probably. A healthy tandem of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom atop the rotation would be incredible, and Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco are a great 3-4. Can’t have too many good options, though, and adding another established starter to the mix that includes Tyler Megill and David Peterson, among others, would help.
Also on the list: How do the Mets view Escobar? Is he a full-time starter at third base (with Jeff McNeil at second), or is he a player who gets nearly full-time PAs bouncing around multiple positions? If that’s the case, finding a free-agent impact bat at third base (Kris Bryant?) would be a really big upgrade.
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Pre-lockout recap: The Phillies had the NL MVP (Bryce Harper) and the runner-up in the NL Cy Young voting (Zack Wheeler) leading the way in 2021 but still missed the playoffs. Again. And other than signing Corey Knebel to the bullpen, the front office didn’t do much to convince Philly fans that 2022 will be any different.
The top post-lockout priority: At the moment, Harper is the lone established outfielder. The Phillies declined their options on Andrew McCutchen and Odubel Herrera (neither was surprising) and have a bunch of fourth/fifth outfielders slotting in those positions at the moment. They need an outfielder and they need a middle-of-the-order bat and Kyle Schwarber is still out there. Makes a lot of sense (especially if/when the DH comes to the NL in 2022 and beyond). If defense is the priority, maybe make a deal with Tampa Bay for Kevin Kiermaier?
Also on the list: At least a dozen new relievers, obviously. Who’s playing shortstop in 2022? Didi Gregorius is under contract, but he had a 71 OPS+ and a minus-0.8 bWAR. Three other players saw at least 10 games at shortstop and had the following on-base percentages: .282, .297, .306. Safe to say there’s room for improved performance from that spot.
Pre-lockout recap: The best move of the offseason was signing Sandy Alcantara to an extension that will keep him with the club (unless there’s a trade, of course) through at least 2026, with a club option for 2027. Alcantara flew under the radar last season, but he was really, really good, both in limiting runs and eating innings. They also signed a needed thumper (Avisail Garcia) and upgraded their defense behind the plate (Gold Glove winner Jacob Stallings). Oh, and they traded for Joey Wendle and Louis Head and extended club cornerstone Miguel Rojas.
The top post-lockout priority: Even if they did nothing significant post-lockout, the Marlins figure to be better in 2022 than they were in 2021. But signing Garcia was only part of the answer, but not the full answer in the lineup (or the outfield). They could really use another bat roaming the outfield grass.
Also on the list: Pitching, mostly the bullpen. Same as most teams.
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Pre-lockout recap: They traded pretty much everyone they could trade before the July 30 deadline, so they’re probably done tearing down. They signed infielder Cesar Hernandez, who is a solid piece of the puzzle.
The top post-lockout priority: The Nationals have to address the pitching staff. They need starters and they need relievers. They have plenty of internal options, of course, but not much in the way of reliable producers. They’re probably not going to compete for the top remaining arms — they won’t compete for the playoffs in 2022, barring some type of minor miracle — but the Nats feel like a great destination for pitchers looking to rebuild their value next season, then re-entering the free-agent market after 2022.
Also on the list: What about Ryan Zimmerman? The franchise icon has indicated he wants to play in 2022, but will that happen in D.C.?