Rosenthal: What I’m hearing about MLB free agency with Justin Verlander, Anthony Rizzo and more
What I’m hearing:
• The market for free-agent starting pitchers is quite active, and the early asks from the three biggest names—Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodón—are, to no one’s surprise, quite high.
Rangers general manager Chris Young, who already traded for Jake Odorizzi and extended a qualifying offer to Martín Pérez, has said he will explore “all ends of the market.” But the early asks by the big three might compel the Rangers and other clubs to pivot to trades and lesser starters.
• Verlander, who personally negotiated his free-agent deal with Astros owner Jim Crane while vacationing in Italy last offseason, seemed a good bet to re-sign quickly with Houston. But it has not happened, perhaps because Verlander sees the potential for lucrative opportunities with the Mets, Yankees and Dodgers, among others. Unlike deGrom and Rodón, he was not eligible for a qualifying offer. And because he did not receive one, he is not subject to draft-pick compensation.
The likely AL Cy Young winner, who turns 40 on Feb. 20, could be a short-term, high-dollar fit for any of those clubs. The Mets face the losses in free agency not just of deGrom, but also Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. The Yankees declined to pursue Verlander at the 2017 trade deadline and missed on him in free agency last offseason. The Dodgers might pursue Verlander if Tyler Anderson rejects their $19.65 million qualifying offer — and heck, even if he accepts, too.
• Lesser starters who did not receive qualifying offers (Andrew Heaney, José Quintana, etc.) also are drawing considerable interest. Some of those pitchers might come off the board quickly after Tuesday’s deadlines for teams to set 40-man rosters and players to accept their qualifying offers.
Nathan Eovaldi, who received a qualifying offer, is another starting pitcher to watch. The Red Sox reportedly made him a multi-year offer and are among the many teams that like the top Japanese pitcher in the free-agent market, Kodai Senga.
• The Astros have identified Anthony Rizzo as their No. 1 free-agent target at first base. They also are considering Yuli Gurriel and José Abreu, but signing Rizzo would serve the dual purpose of bolstering their own roster while weakening the Yankees’.
Rizzo, 33, faces an interesting decision on whether to return to the Yankees. If he accepts the team’s qualifying offer, he would earn a higher one-year salary than he might receive in a multi-year deal. He then could spend another season hitting at Yankee Stadium, while also benefitting from the new shift restrictions, and re-entering the market without a qualifying offer. A player cannot receive one twice.
• The Braves are not considering trading right fielder Ronald Acuña Jr. — or, for that matter, any other young player they have signed to an extension.
While the club, as a matter of policy, does not award no-trade clauses, a player who signs an extension does it with the implicit understanding he will not be traded. Obviously, things can change — a player, for example, eventually might want out. But if the Braves break the trust they’ve created internally, players will become more resistant to the extensions that have positioned the team for long-term success.
• Two other things that are highly unlikely for the Braves: The signing of deGrom or a shortstop other than Dansby Swanson. If the Braves cannot keep Swanson, they probably will be out of the picture for Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, all of whom figure to be more expensive. Which is why president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos at the GM meetings mentioned Orlando Arcia and Vaughn Grissom as internal options.
No player currently with the Braves will earn more than $22 million in any season over the course of his contract, seemingly creating the flexibility for a major expenditure. But the Braves are reluctant to enter into a deal with any player who takes up too high a percentage of their payroll, knowing in future seasons the salaries of their young players will rise.
• The chances of the Brewers trading shortstop Willy Adames probably are slim. Luis Urías and Brice Turang both can play short, but Adames is a core player for Milwaukee. And the Brewers’ newly promoted GM, Matt Arnold, is well aware of what happened to the team after his predecessor, David Stearns, subtracted another core player, closer Josh Hader, at the deadline.
Granted, a clubhouse can more easily recover from an offseason trade than one at midseason. The Brewers, though, have other position players they can move if they want to reconfigure their payroll. Second baseman Kolten Wong is set to earn $10 million. Right fielder Hunter Renfroe is projected to get $11.2 million in arbitration. Both will be free agents at the end of the 2023 season.
Adames, projected to earn $9.2 million in arbitration, is under club control through 2024.
• Free agent Adam Frazier is coming off a career-low .612 OPS in 602 plate appearances with the Mariners, but some teams see potential in him as a super-utility type. Not a bad thought, particularly if Frazier regains the offensive form he displayed in 2021 before his trade from the Pirates to the Padres.
Frazier, who turns 31 on Dec. 14, received Gold Glove votes in left field in 2017, his first full season, and was a top-five finisher at second base in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Last season, he played in all three outfield spots as well as second and short, his position at Mississippi State.
• This is my own speculation, and not anything I’ve heard specifically. But Matt Carpenter’s deep and enduring connections to the Cardinals would seem to make a potential reunion feasible.
Carpenter was a roommate in rookie ball with Cardinals manager Oli Marmol. His transformation last offseason included a visit to the Marucci’s baseball performance lab in Baton Rouge, La., with Cardinals stars Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, as well as hitting sessions with former teammate and new Cardinals bench coach Matt Holliday.
The retirement of Albert Pujols potentially creates an opening for Carpenter, who turns 37 on Nov. 26. And the departure of hitting coach Jeff Albert also could enhance the possibility. Carpenter did not blame Albert for his struggles in his latter years with the Cardinals, but said, “I just never bought into (analytics) like I should have.”
(Top photo of Justin Verlander: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)