The 2021 MLB free agents class are ready to cash in after six years of indentured servitude. But with no season, how will they fare? That depends on who you are.
The players in the Class of 2021 MLB free agents have reached a milestone in their baseball career. Taken
for granted by players now as a rite of passage, most, if not all, would have a hard time recalling the names behind the history of a system that developed and was fought for well before they were born.
Free agency in MLB was born in the aftermath of the 1972 Curt Flood v. Kuhn Supreme Court case. One of the landmark decisions in the wake was the Andy Messersmith/Dave McNally
Arbitration, also known as the Seitz Decision, which effectively destroyed the “reserve clause” in baseball, which held a player as the “property” of their team.
Free Agents: Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss
Still, players today are placed in a six-year holding pattern before they become free agents. For the first three years, a player is controlled by his team. Things loosen up a bit in the next three years when a player moves into arbitration.
Arbitration is what happens when a player and team cannot agree on a salary number for the upcoming season. A hearing is held between the club and the player, which is heard by independent arbitrators. Then, the arbitrators rule in favor of the player or the club.
Every player on the list of 2021 free agents has completed that process, and freedom looms following the end of the 2020 World Series when they can declare themselves as a free agent for employment in the 2021 season.
Free Agents Caught In A Spider Web
Typically, next year’s free agents would be playing in what’s called their “walk year.” This would be the time to have all cylinders in your game firing. The bigger the numbers, the bigger the contract.
The trouble, of course, is there are no games and, therefore, no opportunity for a player to display his plume. Free agents, like the MLB 2020 season, are in limbo – all dressed up with nowhere to go.
The 2020 season, if it ever gets underway, will be an abbreviated version of a regular season.
That together with whatever plan MLB devises as a Postseason, will push the end of the baseball year well into November and even December.
In effect, the “signing season” then becomes shortened considerably, putting additional pressure on teams, free agents, and their reps or agents to close a deal.
So under these unusual circumstances, who among the 2021 free agents stand to gain, versus those who may find themselves taking a defensive rather than offense driven stance in negotiations with teams for their services.
The first thing for us to do is take a look at the Class of 2021 free agents. Spotrac has a handle on that, so we’ll use them to predict possible winners and losers.
We can’t look at each of the 358 free agents identified by Spotrac, so let’s go with players who made $20 Million or more in 2019, assuming they will be the main guns for hire.
First, eliminate the green (player option) and the red (team option). What’s left?
Who needs a boost from their efforts to have a “career year” of production, and who can sit back resting on their laurels over the years, knowing their track record is more than enough to make them the target of multiple teams when the 2021 Sweepstakes (finally) gets underway?
Okay, What Would You Do? – Sorting It Out
First, imagine yourself a General Manager interested in signing one of these free agents. What’s the first thing you notice?
Is it not the fact that only one player is under 30 (Mookie Betts)? And that six are 35 or older? Should that be a red flag or not?
I suppose the first rule of being a GM is we do not stereotype.
Just the same, though, we know that Yadier Molina, Shin-Soo Choo, Jordan Zimmerman, Jake Arrieta, and Yoenis Cespedes are indeed well past their prime and not likely to match prior production.
Therefore, each needs to be out there, putting up numbers to get noticed when they become free agents. That is not happening, and with the non-season, so goes their dreams of cashing in on a big payday.
For these players, they likely go into our “Hold, let’s see how this plays out” bucket. No team is likely to jump in to sign them in a rush – so let’s hang around as the price drops, and we’ll take another look later.
The remaining free agents all have considerable clout based on their age and past performance. Masahiro Tanaka (32), George Springer (31), and Mookie Betts (28) have resumes that demand big bucks based on their consistency over the past few years.
2021 Free Agents – Winners And Losers
The Yankees will likely pursue Tanaka with an extension sometime soon.
At the same time, the Dodgers, who are missing out on a full season of production from Betts following a trade in which they gave up considerable minor league talent, are likely to push hard seeking a long term deal with a true superstar.
Springer emerges a wild card.
At this point, the Astros don’t seem to know which way is up and which way is down following the embarrassment of the sign-stealing scandal.
Plus, they have Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick, and Brad Peacock (also free agents) to contend with.
As for the rest in the Spotrac list of 2021 free agents, they will mostly enter the fray of free agents with one arm tied behind their back.
This year, there’s no what have you done for me lately. There’are only past seasons by which to judge the player’s future.
In many cases, look like undiscovered gold, but baseball is also riddled with free agents who are signed for big money – only to flop big-time afterward.
GM’s always play in a court filled with mines and disasters just around the corner. But the intrigue goes up a notch given MLB’s forced hiatus for the 2020 season.