Let’s Sign Some Hitters!

© Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the 79th day of the owner-initiated lockout. It still remains to be seen how long the lockout will last, but whatever its length, we’re likely to see a whirlwind of a mini-offseason as soon as the league and the players come to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement. While that kind of thing is fun to cover — the week before the lockout was a thrilling frenzy — there’s still quite a lot for baseball to do. So let’s roll up our sleeves, lend a hand, and find some new homes for a few of the remaining free agents. The trick here is that they actually have to make at least a lick of sense for the team signing them. But just a lick.

As we have a lot of work to do, we’ll nail down the hitters first and then divvy up the pitchers in another piece to follow.

Carlos Correa to the Angels – Seven years, $240 million

While there has been some speculation around the interwebs about Carlos Correa possibly landing a $300 million deal, I don’t think that is the likeliest result. Correa had a fabulous 2021 season, reminding people of the phenom he was when he won American League Rookie of the Year back in 2015, but there’s going to be at least some concerns about his durability. Not alarming ones, mind you, but the fact is that before 2021’s 148-game campaign, Correa hadn’t played in 120 games since ’16, a long time for a young player, and that’s even ignoring a pandemic-shortened season during which no one could play 120 games. That’s probably not going to scare teams off, but it will inevitably be priced into his offers since front offices these days are populated more by mean nerds like me than they are dewy-eyed optimists.

ZiPS Projection – Carlos Correa
2022 .279 .359 .497 519 89 145 30 1 27 91 64 1 131 5 5.0
2023 .277 .358 .499 495 85 137 30 1 26 89 62 1 131 4 4.6
2024 .275 .356 .499 483 83 133 28 1 26 86 60 1 130 4 4.4
2025 .279 .358 .509 470 81 131 28 1 26 86 57 1 133 3 4.4
2026 .276 .355 .490 453 76 125 26 1 23 79 55 1 128 2 3.8
2027 .271 .349 .474 435 70 118 23 1 21 72 51 1 122 1 3.3
2028 .267 .343 .453 415 64 111 21 1 18 66 46 1 115 0 2.6

At $7.3 million a win and 2% growth — I will use those assumptions for the rest of the deals here, too — the ZiPS projection for Correa’s deal is $216 million. But with multiple teams needing his services, the Angels won’t necessarily get MSRP.

And the Angels have to do something to change their trajectory. What club wants to be known as the team that can’t finish above .500 while employing both the reigning AL MVP and the best player of his generation? It would be like losing the Boston Marathon after they let you use a bicycle. I’d probably like it even better for the Angels if Correa were a pitcher, but it’s not like you can call the factory and ask if they have him in hard-throwing lefty. No contender that’s likely to spend any kind of money this season projects worse at shortstop than the Angels do, so signing Correa would constitute a massive upgrade at a very weak spot.

There have been instances of Los Angeles getting burned on big deals before. The Albert Pujols contract was a terrible idea; ZiPS projected the Angels wouldn’t even get half the desired production from his contract, and they did even worse than that. But a past bad idea doesn’t turn a future good idea into a lousy one. There’s a big difference between signing a great player entering his age-32 season and signing a great player entering his age-27 season. Pujols wasn’t 27; if he had been, ZiPS would have suggested a $300 million deal, not $141 million one. Meanwhile, if Correa were 32, ZiPS would offer $100 million instead.

Freddie Freeman to the Padres – Five years, $150 million

OK, like everyone else, I still believe that, given his history with the team and Atlanta’s obvious, compelling need to retain his services, Freddie Freeman will ultimately sign a contract with the Braves. But he is still unsigned, and as the chaotic neutral writer around here, I’d like to find a more fun destination (sorry, Braves fans).

San Diego fares well in the projections overall, but there’s a fundamental weakness in the offense on the easier side of the defensive spectrum. The team is likely to be below-average — and sometimes considerably so — at first base and in the outfield corners. That doesn’t bode well when it comes to having to cover yet another offense-first position, the designated hitter, which seems nearly certain to be implemented in the National League when baseball returns. Even if you like Wil Myers more than I do, that still leaves the Padres with three key offensive positions to improve.

ZiPS Projection – Freddie Freeman
2022 .284 .381 .496 559 99 159 30 2 28 83 83 7 140 3 4.5
2023 .278 .373 .481 536 92 149 30 2 25 77 77 6 134 2 3.8
2024 .276 .369 .461 510 83 141 27 2 21 69 70 5 127 2 3.2
2025 .272 .360 .449 481 75 131 24 2 19 62 62 5 122 2 2.5
2026 .267 .349 .422 453 66 121 21 2 15 54 53 4 112 1 1.6

ZiPS says $117 million for Freeman, but I don’t think that gets it done in a market that suddenly has many more offensive jobs that need filling and not much competition available at first base. If the Padres are willing to give $144 million to Eric Hosmer under the grossly erroneous belief that he will continue to be a productive first baseman, they ought to be willing to pay a little more for the real thing!

Trevor Story to the Yankees – Five years, $130 million

If Correa is likely to be the beneficiary of a big season at a crucial juncture, pour one out for Trevor Story, who was well off his 2018-20 level last season. (And don’t forget him the next time you hear someone bemoan how players are fantastic in their walk years 145% of the time.)

It would be unfair to characterize Story as having actually had an lousy season; most players would gladly sign up for a nearly four-win “bad year.” But Story’s .251/.329/.471 line was distinctly inferior to the .276/.341/.530 triple-slash he posted over the previous three years combined. Story also had the misfortune of hitting the market at the same time as two other shortstop stars, Correa and Corey Seager, who are both likely superior talents while also being younger.

With the Gleyber Torres experiment over and Gio Urshela not exactly a standout at the position, the Yankees have an obvious need at short. ZiPS is very, very high on two of the team’s shortstop prospects, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza (tune in next week during Prospects Week to hear more!), but the need is right now. Growing up an O’s fan in Baltimore, I couldn’t just give the Yankees the best shortstop available, and in any case, the shorter commitment and smaller cap hit (it’s soft, but it’s a cap) may both be contract details the Yanks value highly.

ZiPS Projection – Trevor Story
2022 .248 .325 .469 544 87 135 28 4 28 74 56 23 113 4 4.1
2023 .250 .328 .474 511 82 128 28 4 26 71 53 19 115 3 3.9
2024 .249 .326 .472 494 78 123 27 4 25 68 51 17 114 2 3.6
2025 .246 .323 .461 475 73 117 25 4 23 63 48 15 111 1 3.1
2026 .243 .316 .448 453 67 110 22 4 21 58 44 13 106 0 2.5

ZiPS projects a deal worth $130 million over five years, which seems reasonable to me. Twenty-nine is hardly ancient, but Story is older than the top options here, and teams will take into account that they don’t know exactly which version of him they’ll get. Story wants to keep playing shortstop for now — and he should — but he may very well be amenable to a move to second or third down the road, depending on the fates of Torres, Urshela, and DJ LeMahieu, and the development of Volpe and Peraza.

Michael Conforto to the Phillies – Two years, $35 million

Seiya Suzuki should be Philly’s top target, but with the Red Sox heavily linked to NPB’s star slugger, we may have to go another way with this signing. The Phillies could use help in both left field and center, but getting a center field upgrade in free agency is going to be a tricky feat given that the best players available there are likely Odúbel Herrera and Brett Gardner, which … yeah. Philadelphia has suffered from a real lack of ambition outside of the occasional big deal, leaving the team a very expensive squad that hangs around .500. It would be a grand failure if the Phillies entered the season without adding a significant outfield bat. Enter Michael Conforto.

ZiPS Projection – Michael Conforto
2022 .260 .363 .454 458 68 119 24 1 21 78 66 3 117 0 2.5
2023 .260 .362 .456 439 64 114 24 1 20 75 62 3 117 0 2.3

I could be convinced either way on Conforto or Nick Castellanos, but with the Mets swooping in on Starling Marte, who would’ve been a terrific signing for the Phils, it would be more chaos-inducing to give their rival’s ex-employee the chance to have a big comeback season. Conforto’s a bit riskier than Castellanos, coming off a rather mediocre 2021 during which he was hampered by a sore hamstring, but he may have the higher upside, and the Phillies could sure use some ambitious gambling. Let’s not forget that Conforto hit .322/.412/.515 during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, so it’s not as if this is a case of a player who has been declining for years.

How much of a mess are the Phillies in when it comes to left field? Let me put it this way: the team that is currently projected to give Nomar Mazara the most at-bats of any left fielder on their roster ranks ahead of Philadelphia in our depth charts.

Kyle Schwarber to the Brewers – Four years, $80 million

After a miserable 2020, Kyle Schwarber put himself back on the map in the follow-up, posting the best offensive season of his career in ’21. After hitting .253/.340/.570 with a 136 wRC+ for the moribund Nationals, he found his way to the Boston Red Sox at the deadline. Fenway Park is a notoriously tough home for left-handed sluggers, but Schwarber’s top-notch power cared little for our fancified park effects, and he hit even better for the Sox, putting up an eye-popping .291/.435/.522, 161 wRC+ line.

Because an NL Central team has to do something interesting, let’s tighten up the division and send Schwarber to Milwaukee.

ZiPS Projection – Kyle Schwarber
2022 .249 .357 .555 422 74 105 19 1 36 81 69 2 138 0 3.1
2023 .251 .359 .554 406 71 102 19 1 34 77 66 2 139 0 3.0
2024 .247 .354 .534 393 66 97 18 1 31 72 63 2 132 0 2.5

Sure, the Brewers have Rowdy Tellez, but as “grip it and rip it” large adult sluggers go, Tellez is just the base model. Schwarber’s got the optional turbo engine, the leather seats, and the spoiler you’re a little embarrassed to have when you’re parked at work but are also secretly delighted your co-workers get to see. The Brewers need a first baseman and a DH, so they don’t have to even kick Rowdy out of the garage. Brewers fans have a long history of ample support for their fun sluggers, and American Family Field (ugh, that name) is a wonderful home park for a lefty masher. Schwarber could very well hit 40 home runs playing for the Brew Crew in 2022.

Getting another DH-type complicates matters for Keston Hiura, but Milwaukee is in contention now and needs offense, and it’s hard to count on Hiura given his severe contact problems. If Hiura blooms in the minors or in part-time work in 2022, well, having too much awesome isn’t actually a problem for a team with the tiniest bit of imagination.

Kris Bryant to the Blue Jays – Four years, $90 million

This was a tough one for me. From a projection standpoint, Kris Bryant’s in a bit of a squeeze. He’s now on the wrong side of 30, and while 2021 was a solid bounce-back season, it didn’t restore him to his peak levels of offense. He’s already showing some signs of defensive decline at third, meaning he may see more time in left field in coming seasons. So he needs a home that can actually value his ability to play both positions, and since I think it’ll take a bigger deal to land him than ZiPS projects is prudent, he needs a team in win-now mode. So let’s send KB to the Blue Jays, even if he’s not related to a former major leaguer. I guess we can call him a long-lost Iorg if it makes the Jays feel better.

ZiPS Projection – Kris Bryant
2022 .264 .353 .489 515 85 136 31 2 27 77 59 7 127 -7 3.0
2023 .262 .351 .487 485 79 127 30 2 25 72 56 6 126 -8 2.6
2024 .259 .346 .469 467 73 121 28 2 22 66 52 6 120 -9 2.0
2025 .254 .340 .447 445 67 113 25 2 19 60 48 5 113 -10 1.4

ZiPS only wants to give Bryant $67 million, which I don’t think closes the deal, hence a team in a mood to be aggressive. After being the losing squad in the AL East’s four-team melee in 2021, the Jays may be that club. They have decent options at third and in left in Santiago Espinal and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but neither should be written into the lineup with permanent marker. Gurriel had a rather unimpressive 2021, and Espinal’s breakout was quite surprising. Even if both players work out marvelously, you can configure the lineup to have room for all three of these players in addition to Teoscar Hernández, as I doubt anyone’s putting all their eggs into Randal Grichuk’s basket. The matchup isn’t even all that weird; there were some whispers that the Jays were interested in Bryant last summer. Giving up money rather than prospects has its advantages.

So where should Nick Castellanos go? Or Anthony Rizzo? There’s still more work to be done, so roll up your sleeves, grab your money shovel, and let us know where you want to send some free agents in the comments! You can’t expect me to give away hundreds of millions of dollars all on my own. And keep an eye out next week, when we find homes for some of the remaining free agent pitchers.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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4 months ago

Anthony Rizzo to the Red Sox

4 months ago
Reply to  larry

I bet they roll with Dalbec at 1B until Casas is ready probably at mid-season. I think Rizzo gets a 2 year deal somewhere, so not really a great fit with Boston.

Art Fay
4 months ago
Reply to  larry

Wow I feel like the whole world forgot about Rizzo. Just not an interesting player to follow, I feel bad for him. Just never was the star or leader they tried to pretend he was. Good, decent player though. Hope he gets $50M bucks from somebody.

David Kleinmember
4 months ago
Reply to  Art Fay

What? By all accounts he was and is a leader and he was a very strong player with the Cubs and a top five first baseman before declining the last two years.

4 months ago
Reply to  David Klein

How far away is Casas? They did recently sign Roberto Ramos to a minor league deal, so maybe they consider him a stop gap? It was the Rockies and all, but he always seemed like a guy who they could of given a shot. I’d like to see him do well.

4 months ago
Reply to  carter

Casas is projected to debut this year. Roberto Ramos will have no effect on whether that happens or not