With it soon to be entering triple digit days since the MLB lockout has begun, the whole sport is hurting right now as the billionaire owners and Rob Manfred continue to kill the game we all know and love with their egregious negotiating. Players, fans, and ballpark staff are all being affected by the work stoppage that just seems to drag on and on. Spring training games and now the first two weeks of the regular season have all been canceled, as more games are set to learn their fate should the negotiations between MLB and MLBPA continue to go on.
Not only have games been affected, but many free agents continue to be uncertain of their future during the lockout. Names like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Kris Bryant, and others are still unsure where they will be playing this upcoming season whenever it does ultimately start. However, when the smoke finally clears and the Players Association and owners finally reach some kind of deal, the free agent market is almost certainly going to be affected. One would imagine that the layover between the end of the lockout and the start of spring training/summer camp/whatever they decide to call it this year, is going to be very close.
While marquee free agents like Correa and Freeman most likely have multiple lucrative offers on the table that they have been sitting on during the lockout, there are a bunch of free agents that could possibly be wanting to join a team quickly so they can start training with them and get settled in somewhere for the season. These free agents may not particularly be loving the multi-year offers they have received in free agency, or their market just isn’t as active as one would expect. As a result, there is a chance these free agents could take a one-year, high AAV deal to get themselves on a team, bet on themselves, and attempt to build their value back up for next year’s free agency when there will not be a lockout. We saw this with Marcus Semien last offseason, as he came off a down year in the Mickey Mouse season and did not have a market like he had wanted, and he ultimately ended up settling for a one-year, $18m contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. As we know, Semien ended up going on to finish third in the AL MVP voting for the second time in 3 years with one of the best second base seasons of all time, and he then proceeded to ink a 7-year, $175m deal with the Texas Rangers.
While I’ve said many times the Nats need to sign a building block in free agency to complete a piece of the rebuild and entice Juan Soto to stay in Washington long-term, they should also be all over these 1-year deals. According to Spotrac, the Nationals projected payroll in 2022 is currently slated to be around $103m accounting for arbitration, the lowest it has been in years and less than half the amount of the CBT that will likely be set post-lockout. They have so much room to add salary it’s not even funny, and the following free agents would make absolutely way too much sense for them to sign for 2022:
At 38 years old and coming off one of the lesser seasons of his career, it might be a bit of a stretch to call Zack Greinke a major free agent, and he will almost certainly be receiving a 1 or 2-year deal. However, as early as 2019, we saw the Houston Astros trade a haul to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline to further anchor a rotation that already included Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander, but sadly fell victim to Howie Kendrick and the absolute wagon that was the 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals.
This past season in 30 starts and 171 innings, Greinke pitched to a 4.16 ERA with a 4.71 FIP, 6.32 K/9, 1.89 BB/9, 1.58 HR/9, and accumulated a 1.3 fWAR. The guy certainly isn’t getting younger and this season looked a lot like father time starting to take its effect. However, should he bounce back, this is another prime candidate for the Nationals to flip at the deadline, and Lord knows they need all the rotation help they can get. Greinke would be able to provide the Nats innings at a minimum, something they are going to need from a veteran starter so young arms don’t get overworked. This also feels like a very Mike Rizzo move more than anything and it reminds me a lot of the Jon Lester move from last offseason, although this one actually wouldn’t suck.
Conforto had a rough 2021 and dealt with some injuries, but Nats fans have seen the type of player he typically is while facing him numerous times in games against the divisional rival New York Mets. In 125 games in 2021, Conforto slashed .232/.344/.384 with a .729 OPS, 106 wRC+, .322 wOBA, 14 HR, 20 2B, 55 RBI, and accumulated 0.8 fWAR. What stands out the most here is the abysmally low slugging, as this is a guy who hit 33 homers in 2019, 28 in 2018, and 27 in 2017. He also played the worst defense of his career in RF with a -6.8 UZR/150.
While the numbers here aren’t impressive whatsoever, there is plenty reason to believe Conforto can bounce back as he enters his age 29 season. Steamer projects him to, as it has him slashing .254/.358/.453 with a 121 wRC+, .350 wOBA, 25 HR, and accumulate 2.5 fWAR. Conforto might not get what he is looking for this free agency, as rumors surfaced that he was seeking around $200 million for an extension with the Mets around a year ago. He certainly will not be getting that in free agency this offseason, but could get it next year if he turns it around. This is a prime candidate for the Nats to sign to a one-year high AAV deal and flip at the deadline if he is performing, and they could slot him in left field with Soto entrenched in right. Even if he has another mediocre season, the beauty of a one-year deal is that you know he’s off the payroll after that season and is not your problem anymore. It would also be a pretty funny middle finger to the Mets if he joined a rival and destroyed them Daniel Murphy style.
Much like Conforto, Story had a down season in 2021. However, there are a variety of different factors to consider when looking at Trevor Story as a player and the situation he is in. The Colorado Rockies are one of the most dysfunctional franchises in the MLB, and Story has certainly made his displeasure of playing for him known. They traded his former teammate Nolan Arenado for essentially nothing, and he did not have much to work with in Colorado. In 142 games in 2021, Story slashed .251/.329/.471 with a .801 OPS, 100 wRC+, .370 wOBA, 24 HR, 34 2B, and accumulated 3.5 fWAR.
We all know Trevor Story is better than this, and this isn’t particular even a bad season, but there is no denying that his down season may affect his market a little bit. I do ultimately think Story will land a multi-year deal, as this is a guy that had a 5.1 and 6.0 fWAR season back-to-back in 2018 and 2019 and clubbed 37 and 35 HRs from a position that hasn’t had a lot of power until those like Fernando Tatis Jr. showed up. While his defense did decline from the impressive 21 DRS he had in 2019, Story had 9 DRS in 2021 and has always been a solid defender.
I would be more than fine with the Nats signing Story to a multi-year deal to be their shortstop of the future, but if he were to be available on a 1-year deal it’s an absolute no-brainer. The Nats could give him 1-year, $28 million if they wanted to, they have the payroll room for it. They could flip him at the deadline if extension talks don’t go anywhere for a decent haul if he returns to form. Seeing Trevor Story hit nukes in the Nation’s Capital would be lit, so make it happen Rizzo. In fact, make all of these happen Rizzo. I expect nothing less.