The sudden generosity teams are showing with star free agents in their 30s will prompt some players to adjust their approach to the open market. In fact, it’s happening already.
Take Japanese right-hander Kodai Senga, who wanted an opt-out after three years in his five-year, $75 million deal with the Mets. Senga would become a free agent again as he turns 33, but if he proves himself in the majors, he will be in demand. Some older players are extending their primes through better training and conditioning. Or at least, that is a rationale teams are using for some of the longer free-agent contracts.
Looking ahead to next offseason, Manny Machado can opt out and become a free agent entering his age 31 season, the same point at which Aaron Judge commanded a nine-year, $360 million contract. Starting pitchers, meanwhile, will benefit from the monster deals Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom signed entering their age 35 seasons or later.
Shohei Ohtani is eligible to be free at 29 next offseason, Aaron Nola and Blake Snell at 31, Miles Mikolas at 35, Yu Darvish at 37. The opt-out candidates will include Scherzer at 39, Marcus Stroman at 33 and Eduardo Rodriguez at 31 All figure to get paid rather handsomely if the current trends continue.
• Both agents and executives note that the surge in the marketplace will force teams to look at their existing contracts differently. Some deals that seemed inflated might start to appear more reasonable. Others that were below-market might be even more club-friendly than before.
Such reassessments could produce wide-ranging ramifications in trade discussions. Madison Bumgarner, 33, averaged 152 innings the past two seasons, albeit with an adjusted ERA 14 percent below the league average. In a market in which slightly above-average starters are getting $17 million to $18 million per season, might the Diamondbacks now be in a better position to move him if they pay down his $18.5 million AAV over the next two seasons to say, $12.5 million?
Twins right fielder Max Kepler, who turns 30 on Feb. 10, likewise has produced at a below-average level the past two seasons. But with salaries of $8.5 million in 2023 and $10 million on a club option in 2024, Kepler starts to look more attractive, no?
At the other extreme is Angels center fielder Mike Trout, who could become quite the trade commodity if he ever decides he wants out. Trout, 31, has missed more than half the Angels’ games the past two seasons, so he would need to demonstrate a consistent pattern of health. But with eight years and $283.6 million left on his deal, Trout might be almost a bargain.
Then there are the Braves, whose long-term extensions for young position players are looking better and better. None of the Braves’ hitters is signed beyond his age 35 season and none is earning more than $22 million annually. The Braves also hold reasonable $20 million club options on Matt Olson and Austin Riley for their age 36 campaigns.
• Teams are making a renewed push in trade discussions for A’s catcher Sean Murphy, and the negotiations for free-agent catcher Christian Vázquez also appear to be gaining momentum.
The clubs on Vázquez include the Twins, Padres, Cubs and Astros (the Padres’ pursuit perhaps intensified after they signed Vázquez’s former Red Sox teammate, Xander Bogaerts). Murphy obviously would be a fit for those teams as well. The Rays and Guardians have also shown interest in Murphy, who is under club control for three more seasons.
The other catchers available in free agency include: Mike Zunino, who is recovering from thoracic-outlet-syndrome surgery; Jorge Alfaro; Tucker Barnhart; Curt Casali; Austin Hedges; Omar Narvaez; Roberto Perez; Kevin Plawecki; and Gary Sánchez.
• Yes, the Pirates are willing to entertain moving center fielder Bryan Reynolds, if only because clubs are almost always willing to listen to trade offers. Teams interested in Reynolds, however, say the price tag is similar to what it was in the past — exceedingly high.
One rival official, in what surely was an exaggeration, said the Pirates wanted a “Soto-type package” for Reynolds. Another said Reynolds is “super expensive.” A third described him as “unlikely to move.”
• The Diamondbacks, on the other hand, seem likely to trade one of their left-handed hitting center fielders — Daulton Varsho, Alek Thomas or Jake McCarthy (as reported earlier, Corbin Carroll, the most highly regarded of their emerging outfielders, is not in play).
The Yankees, Rangers, Blue Jays, Rays and Marlins are among the teams chasing young outfielders in trades. So are the Reds, as I explain in the item below. But with the Diamondbacks seeking major-league-ready help, it’s difficult to see how the Reds could entice them.
• OK, about the Reds. One rival official says they are aggressively pursuing trades in which they work off their surplus of shortstop prospects to acquire outfielders with similar upside. Even if none of those deals come to fruition, the Reds’ stable of young infielders, bolstered by the additions of Noelvi Marte and Edwin Arroyo in the Luis Castillo trade, gives the team numerous options going forward.
The Reds’ top five prospects and seven of their top eight are infielders, according to Baseball America’s latest rankings, which will be published this week. For now, the Reds are dealing with the glut by trying some of their shortstops at other positions.
Elly De La Cruz played third base and Matt McLain played second at Double A last season to make room for each other at short. Marte played third in the Arizona Fall League and Jose Barrero appeared in seven major-league games in center field in 2021. De La Cruz also is a possibility in center — he runs well, covers ground and has good instincts, Reds people say.
• And finally, while it’s fairly rare for free agents to re-sign with their own clubs, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw, Mets’ Brandon Nimmo, and Yankees’ Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo all have done it this offseason, and it’s still possible Carlos Correa (Twins), Carlos Rodón (Giants) and Dansby Swanson (Braves) could follow suit.
By my rough calculation, with help from ESPN’s free-agent tracker, 16 percent of the free agents who signed contracts of $50 million or more from 2006 to 2021 stayed with their own clubs. My guess was that Scott Boras clients changed teams more often, but at 14 percent he kept players with their clubs at nearly the same rate. Four of Boras’ 28 free agents in that period — Alex Rodriguez, Matt Holliday, Chris Davis and Stephen Strasburg — stayed put.
(Top photo: Hannah Foslien / Getty Images)