MLB free agency predictions - who will go where?

MLB free agency predictions - who will go where?

Now that the lockout is over, it's time to do a turbo Hot Stove League

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Where will Freddie Freeman and Jorge Soler end up?
Where will Freddie Freeman and Jorge Soler end up?
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With over 200 names still facing free agency and less than one month to go before the start of the MLB season, we are in for an absolute flurry of moves. There are still dozens of big names on the table for any team looking to make a game-changing acquisition. Those teams that were right on the border last year could be in for a huge boost as players scramble to sign with teams before the season starts. It should be fun to watch.

As ESPN analyst Buster Olney wrote, “Baseball execs have had nothing to do but plan for more than two months. Similarly, agents have spent days plotting their first phone calls after business resumes — and when it does, there will be a hurricane of activity.” However, this hurricane will not leave behind devastation, only awe and amazement before the next flurry of moves is announced less than 24 hours later.

Here are our predictions for where the top-20 free agents left will land.

(Rankings are based on personal intrigue)

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1. SS Carlos Correa (Age: 27)

1. SS Carlos Correa (Age: 27)

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Projected Contract: 10 years, $320 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $11.7 million

Former Astros’ shortstop and World Series Champion Carlos Correa is undoubtedly the biggest name left on the free-agent board. He was before the lockout and still is. This offseason was supposed to be one of the biggest winters ever for free-agent shortstops and very well could be still. Only one big name shortstop signed before the lockout: Corey Seager, who will be teaming up with Marcus Semien in Texas this year.

With much to prove in 2021, Correa delivered, slashing .279/.366/.485 and finishing fifth in AL MVP voting. There had been some concerns about Correa’s ability to stay healthy considering the former Rookie of the Year played in only 185 games between 2018 and 2019, but after playing in 148 games in 2021, those worries have all but subsided. Correa brings a fantastic glove and powerful bat to the shortstop position and he’s just 27 years old. Expect him to sign a deal similar to what Mets’ shortstop Francisco Lindor signed last season.

Several teams are likely interested in signing Correa, and while it would make sense for a team like the New York Yankees or Philadelphia Phillies to go after Correa in an attempt to win a World Series, perhaps a reunion with the Houston Astros makes sense as well, it seems much more likely that a team looking to build around Correa will spend more on him for more years.

The Chicago Cubs have always been one of the most heavily rumored teams around Correa, and after a tumultuous 2021 that saw Chicago ship off everyone not named Wilson Contreras, they have tons of money to spend. The Tigers likely priced themselves out after signing Javy Báez and the Astros never seemed too interested in re-signing Correa given that their extension talks last year never got past $125 million total. Correa will be looking for much more than that.

Prediction: Chicago Cubs

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2. 1B Freddie Freeman (Age: 32) 

2. 1B Freddie Freeman (Age: 32) 

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Projected Contract Value: 6 years, $180 million

Last Contract: 8 years, $135 million

2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman will set the stage for the remainder of this short free agency period. Where he signs could determine where several other free agents sign. While the Boston Red Sox are the most obvious choice to go after a powerful first baseman, seeing as how they ranked near the bottom of the league in offensive production from that position in 2021. However, several other teams are going to be interested in acquiring Freeman as well.

Born in Southern California, Freeman may be more inclined to sign with a team near his hometown of Fountain Valley. The Dodgers lost Corey Seager to free agency and would definitely be in the market for a great first baseman considering they could just play Max Muncy at second base as they did several times in 2021. While this move would likely mean an end to Clayton Kershaw’s Dodger career and perhaps an end to Kenley Jansen’s as well, the Dodgers can make due with what they have in house.

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers

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3. SS Trevor Story (Age: 29) 

3. SS Trevor Story (Age: 29) 

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $22 million

Last Contract: 2 years, $27.5 million

Jeremy Peña has been in the Astros’ farm system for six years now, yet the team still doesn’t seem sure he’s ready to take over the starting shortstop gig yet. At the earliest, Peña could be ready by the trade deadline, but for a team fighting for a World Series and in dire need of a shortstop should they not be able to re-sign Correa, that’s too long to wait.

Not only would Trevor Story provide similar offensive production to Correa, but he would also be a natural fit for the team given concerns with his arm and ability to produce away from Coors Field. Sign him to a one-year contract. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, bring Peña up and get him going. There’s no harm in giving Story a chance.

Prediction: Houston Astros

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4. 3B/OF Kris Bryant (Age: 30) 

4. 3B/OF Kris Bryant (Age: 30) 

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Projected Contract Value: 6 years, $150 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $19.5 million

The Seattle Mariners have been making a push for relevancy for years now and it seems like they are right on the brink of achieving it. They just need one more star offensive bat to really put themselves over the edge and give themselves a chance to compete with the Oakland Athletics (probably too soon to say the Astros) for a wild-card spot.

With longtime third baseman and powerful right-handed bat Kyle Seager announcing his retirement at the end of the 2021 season, Bryant would immediately fill the void that Seager left at the position. It’s a natural fit and too good for Seattle to pass up.

Prediction: Seattle Mariners

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5. OF Nick Castellanos (Age: 30) 

5. OF Nick Castellanos (Age: 30) 

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Projected Contract Value: 6 years, $126 million

Last Contract: 4 years, $64 million

Former Cincinnati Reds’ outfielder Nick Castellanos is not good at defense. Thus, with the introduction of the universal DH in 2022, and his interest in becoming a designated hitter, Castellanos’ market is wide open. Several National League teams have never had a need to fill a slot with a designated hitter and because that need is so apparent now, it’s hard to imagine any team not in the Senior Circuit landing looking to land Castellanos.

A team that could really use a great DH is the San Diego Padres. The Pods weren’t particularly outstanding on the offensive or defensive front, but as long as their pitching staff can stay healthy, it’s hard to imagine that side of the ball won’t be able to bounce back. The Padres’ offense struggled mightily in 2021 to the tune of a .722 OPS (outside the top half of the league) and .401 slugging percentage (outside the top-20). Someone as talented as Castellanos would be sure to help those numbers go up, and the Padres are a team that is likely to overpay for his services.

Prediction: San Diego Padres

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6. RHP Kenley Jansen (Age: 34) 

6. RHP Kenley Jansen (Age: 34) 

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $28 million

Last Contract: 5 years, $80 million

The Dodgers don’t need Kenley Jansen to return, but they would definitely love him to. Between Jansen and Kershaw, it seems much more likely that the former returns to Chavez Ravine. The Dodgers have a replacement closer ready to go in Blake Treinen should Jansen opt not to return, but seeing as how Treinen has only finished 13 games and recorded only eight saves since becoming a Dodger, I’m inclined to believe the team would rather be safe than sorry.

Sure, you could argue that Jansen’s struggles in the 2018 and 2020 World Series are reason enough for the Dodgers to look past him, but he still recorded a 2.22 ERA, 3.08 FIP, and 11.2 K per 9 rate in 2021. If that’s a down season, I’m sure several teams are salivating at the chance to add him to their bullpen, or “arm barn” as PETA would like to call it. The Dodgers may have other players on their list ahead of Jansen, but Jansen wants to return, and it makes sense for the team to re-sign him.

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers

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7. OF/1B Kyle Schwarber (Age: 29) 

7. OF/1B Kyle Schwarber (Age: 29) 

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Projected Contract Value: 4 years, $70 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $10 million

Remember everything I said about Nick Castellanos? Yeah, that can pretty much be applied to Schwarber as well. The addition of a universal DH makes Schwarber much more appealing to National League teams, and makes it all the more likely that a team in the Senior Circuit overpays for someone who missed more than a month of the 2021 season with a hamstring injury.

Schwarber is as inconsistent a hitter as they come, but he’s powerful. Any team that struggled in the home run department in 2021 will likely want to get their hands on Schwarber ASAP. How about a team that not only struggled in the power department last season, but also plays in a ballpark that could maximize Schwarber’s strengths? Boom! Sounds like a job for the Colorado Rockies. With Trevor Story likely gone next season, the Rockies will be looking for a powerful bat to put next to Ryan McMahon and C.J. Cron and while Schwarber won’t replace Cron at first, he can definitely slide into that DH role without missing a step.

Prediction: Colorado Rockies

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8. 1B Anthony Rizzo (Age: 32)

8. 1B Anthony Rizzo (Age: 32)

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $30 million

Last Contract: 7 years, $41 million

Alright. Here’s an opportunity for the Red Sox to do what they should’ve done at the trade deadline last season. The team’s struggles at first base in 2021 are well-known. Not only would Rizzo provide some great pop and potentially great BABIP as well with the shift gone in 2022, but it would be in a ballpark that is notoriously friendly to left-handed hitters. Rizzo provides fantastic glove work and exactly what the Red Sox need right now to continue competing in the tough AL East.

Prediction: Boston Red Sox

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9. LHP Carlos Rodón (Age: 29)

9. LHP Carlos Rodón (Age: 29)

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $25 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $3 million

Drafted third overall by the White Sox in 2014, Rodón never really lived up to the lofty expectations placed upon him...until 2021. Prior to last season, Rodón spent the previous two years battling an injury. Even when healthy, Rodón never really showed signs of excellence. His career-best ERA was 3.75 in 2015. His best strikeout-to-walk ratio was 3.11. His best ERA-plus was a mediocre 104. Rodón blew all of those away in 2021. He set new career-highs in wins, ERA, WHIP, K:BB ratio, K per 9, and hits allowed per 9. It was as good a season as anyone could’ve predicted and he earned a massive payday in the process.

If there’s one team that needs to take a chance on a one-year wonder like Rodón, it’s the Los Angeles Angels. The team has struggled with its starting pitching for years now and is the main reason why so many people believe the team has wasted Mike Trout’s career thus far. Adding Rodón to the rotation would give the Angels a formidable 1-2 punch with Shohei Ohtani, capable of competing with anyone’s aces in the American League. Sure, the bottom of the rotation would still be shaky, but there have been teams who have done more with less.

Prediction: Los Angeles Angels

UPDATE: Rodon signed with the San Francisco Giants

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11 / 22

10. OF Michael Conforto (Age: 29)

10. OF Michael Conforto (Age: 29)

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $20 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $12.25 million

An underwhelming 2021 season won’t stop teams from lining up outside Conforto’s door. Conforto has a long track record of success as one of the game’s best left-handed hitters, and with the shift coming to an end, it only makes more reason for teams to pay extra for his services. That makes it difficult to pin down exactly who the favorite to land Conforto is. The Guardians, Braves, Cubs, Phillies, Royals, Brewers, White Sox, Padres, and many more teams could all be in the hunt, but the Brewers are especially intruiging given the recent struggles of Christian Yelich.

While the Brewers have reached the postseason each of the last four seasons, they’ve had to work through Yelich’s insane dip in production in 2020 and 2021. With Ryan Braun retiring at the end of last season, the Brewers have an opportunity to move Yelich to the DH spot and Conforto to left in an effort to get Yelich’s offense back to its 2019 form. This would probably be just a one-year deal considering Conforto’s lack of production in 2021, but that’s all the Brewers will need from him if Yelich starts performing again and Burnes, Woodruff, and Peralta all pick up where they left off in 2021.

Prediction: Milwaukee Brewers

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11. LHP Clayton Kershaw (Age: 33) 

11. LHP Clayton Kershaw (Age: 33) 

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $20 million

Last Contract: 3 years, $93 million

Who wouldn’t want a three-time Cy Young Award winner? Even with his injury struggles in 2021, he’s still well-above average and would provide great mentorship to any team with a young pitching staff. Still, the biggest issue on Kershaw’s mind is likely winning a championship. He’s only got one ring to his name and that was during the COVID shortened 2020 season. It counts, but it probably doesn’t feel as great as he would like it to. So, what’s a team that needs a great pitcher ASAP, is trying to compete for a title, and is filled with young pitching talent looking for a mentor? Sounds like the Texas Rangers to me.

The Rangers made their goals clear in 2022 when they signed both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to massive deals before the lockout. Their offense is looking dangerous between those two as well as Adolis Garcis, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, Nick Solak, and Nate Lowe. Their pitching is looking more unstable than the leaning Tower of Pisa though. Kershaw was born in Dallas, Texas. He’s got family ties and a team that would love to add him. They may not contend for a title in 2022, but bringing in Kershaw can only help their young hurlers, and hopefully the team can start contending in 2-3 years.

Prediction: Texas Rangers

Update: Kershaw re-signed with the Dodgers on a 1-year deal

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12. DH Nelson Cruz (Age: 41)

12. DH Nelson Cruz (Age: 41)

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $12 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $13 million

Did someone say National League? Despite posting his worst season since 2013, Cruz’s advanced metrics showed that the ageless wonder can still swing it with the best of them and many teams should be lining up to inquire about his services. Cruz would likely be best served on a team that needs a home run bat and is looking to contend in 2022.

Not only do the New York Mets have the money to acquire Cruz, but they made it clear that they intend to compete in 2022 with the acquisitions of Max Scherzer and Eduardo Escobar. The team finished 25th in MLB in home runs in 2021, and are going to need all the offensive help they can get with Conforto likely skipping town.

And for those Mets fans old enough to remember, the team for Queens signed a young Cruz way back in 1998, then traded him the the A’s two years later.

Prediction: New York Mets

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13. OF Seiya Suzuki (Age: 27)

13. OF Seiya Suzuki (Age: 27)

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Projected Contract Value: 4 years, $56 million

Last Contract: N/A

A star in Japan and an unknown across MLB. Depending on who you ask, Suzuki is either the best Japanese outfield prospect since Hideki Matsui or someone not worth a bag of balls. While some teams may choose to avoid Suzuki altogether due to the latter opinions, some teams can’t afford to pass up on his potential.

The San Francisco Giants had the best record in MLB last season and never really had a consistent outfield. Aside from Mike Yastrzemski, the most games played by an outfielder was 129 by Austin Slater, and he was considered a rotational piece as well. Suzuki would not only provide the Giants with a great bat in the new universal DH era, but could potentially give the team more consistency in the outfield, too.

I have no doubt that manager Gabe Kapler will continue using a rotation in the outfield. He has to get Slater, Ruf, Wade, Duggar, and Dickerson their time as well, but Suzuki would add a lot more flexibility to that rotation and would hopefully make up for the offense the team lost when Buster Posey retired. Kris Bryant’s departure would just be more reason for the Giants to go after Suzuki.

Prediction: San Francisco Giants

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14. LHP Andrew Chafin (Age: 31) 

14. LHP Andrew Chafin (Age: 31) 

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $15 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $2.75 million

According to reports, Andrew Chafin (above l.) had a tremendously positive impact on the Cubs locker room before he was traded to the Oakland A’s last season. He was a great leader, great teammate, and most importantly, outstanding reliever. Chafin declined his option to return to the A’s, and it only makes sense that he’d return to the team that treated him so well.

Not only do the Cubs need established relievers after giving away everybody last season, including setup man Ryan Tepera and closer Craig Kimbrel at the trade deadline, but the Cubs didn’t have a dominant lefty presence in their bullpen afterwards. Aside from the three I just mentioned, anybody who saw any sort of success out of the bullpen for the Cubs last season was a righty. Adrian Sampson? Righty. Codi Heuer? Righty. Keegan Thompson? Righty. Dillon Maples? Righty.

Brad Wieck showed some potential with his 14.8 Ks per 9, but he pitched only 17 innings. He’d never experienced such success at the Major League level before and it’s questionable whether or not he can sustain that same level of success he saw last season in such a short time. Bringing Chafin back only makes sense for the Cubs.

Prediction: Chicago Cubs

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15. RHP Zack Greinke (Age: 38) 

15. RHP Zack Greinke (Age: 38) 

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $15 million

Last Contract: 6 years, $206.5 million

Zack Greinke is probably the weirdest player in baseball. His mind is an enigma that would give even the Riddler the fits. There are rumors floating around that 2021 could’ve been Greinke’s last season, but Greinke has stated that he has no to leave the game. He has stated however that he would like to return to the National League after being in Houston the last two-and-a-half seasons. However, Greinke made that statement in November, before the MLB lockout and before the universal DH became a factor. Greinke is one of the greatest hitting pitchers of all-time, and perhaps the fact that he’ll no longer be able to produce on the offensive end is enough to point him back in the AL’s direction. That’s just a theory though.

Greinke is not the ace he once was. His strikeout rate took a tremendous dip in 2021 and his velocity is...mediocre at best. Greinke does still possess tremendous control though, and could be a great middle-of-the-rotation piece for any team in dire need of starting pitching. The St. Louis Cardinals have a fine staff, but struggle with control. In 2021, they walked the second-most batters in MLB (608). Snagging someone like Greinke, who is known for his ability to stay in the strike zone and eat innings, would go a long way in improving those numbers, even if Greinke is slated near the bottom of their rotation.

Prediction: St. Louis Cardinals

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16. LHP Danny Duffy (Age: 33) 

16. LHP Danny Duffy (Age: 33) 

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Projected Contract Value: 1 year, $10 million

Last Contract: 5 years, $65 million

With Clayton Kershaw likely out in Los Angeles, the Dodgers aren’t just going to let Danny Duffy walk away easily. They brought him on at the trade deadline last year because they knew what he was capable of when healthy. They saw his 1.94 ERA posted through seven outings and thought: “If this guy can get healthy, he’s going to be a difference maker.” While the Giants likely had their eye on Duffy as well, signing Rodón likely makes them less desperate for a lefty starter, making Los Angeles’ path to re-signing that much easier.

Prediction: Los Angeles Dodgers

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17. LHP Yusei Kikuchi (Age: 30) 

17. LHP Yusei Kikuchi (Age: 30) 

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $22 million

Last Contract: 3 years, $43 million

The Cubs have signed both Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley this offseason. After a 2021 trade deadline that saw the team ship everyone away, many thought the Cubs were going to rebuild. However, as the offseason has progressed, it appears they’re opting to reload instead. 2021 All-Star Yusei Kikuchi makes a lot of sense for Chicago. Not only would Kikuchi add a second southpaw to the rotation, but it would definitely be an upgrade over what the Cubs have currently. There are some concerns with Kikuchi, namely his 6.22 ERA and 10.3 BB% from July 7 to the end of the season, but that could have been a result of wear and tear he suffered. As long as the Cubs’ coaching staff takes it easy on Kikuchi, he could be a helpful addition.

Milwaukee and St. Louis might be the favorites in the NL Central, but Kikuchi could add some stability to a Cubs rotation that is shaky on the back end. They need help in a lot of places, but have the pieces in place to exceed expectations in 2022.

Prediction: Chicago Cubs

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18. RHP Collin McHugh (Age: 34) 

18. RHP Collin McHugh (Age: 34) 

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $13 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $1.8 million

Former Tampa Bay Ray Collin McHugh is going to have a massive market, and thus, a bidding war could start that pushes small-market teams out of contention, but I’ll be damned if McHugh and Cincinnati aren’t a match made in heaven.

The Reds’ bullpen was atrocious in 2021, posting a 4.99 ERA (fourth-worst in MLB). McHugh is obviously a tremendous fit for a team that struggled in that department. While the team may be more focused on re-signing key offensive contributor Nick Castellanos, the Reds’ money would be better served allocating resources to the bullpen, and McHugh would be an incredible first step.

Prediction: Cincinnati Reds

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19. OF Eddie Rosario (Age: 30)

19. OF Eddie Rosario (Age: 30)

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Projected Contract Value: 2 years, $16 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $8 million

The World Series champs should have one goal ahead of the 2022 season: bring back everyone who helped them win it all last year. Rosario was a key contributor to the team’s championship run and has been a productive hitter for almost the entirety of his career. While recency bias might play a factor in his contract negotiations, it’s hard to envision a world where anyone pays more for Rosario than the team he won NLCS MVP with. They don’t beat the Dodgers without Rosario. The Braves’ front office knows it. Braves fans know it, so re-signing Rosario is likely at the top of their list of priorities.

Prediction: Atlanta Braves

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20. OF Jorge Soler (Age: 30)

20. OF Jorge Soler (Age: 30)

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Projected Contract Value: 4 years, $48 million

Last Contract: 1 year, $8.05 million

Jorge Soler might not be one of the actual top-20 free agents available, but you can’t leave the reigning World Series MVP off a list like this, come on now.

There are two reasons I believe the Braves will re-sign Soler:

1) I mean, did you see what he did with them? He was spectacular in the second half of last season. From July 20 onward, Soler posted a 144 wRC+, the 21st-best mark in all of baseball. The Braves have only seen him be great and would love nothing more than to retain him until he isn’t great.

2) Universal DH

Soler will draw attention from several teams across the league for his power, but the Braves have seen it firsthand. They have a loaded outfield already and thus their DH spot is ripe for the picking. Soler makes sense, and the team wants him back badly.

Prediction: Atlanta Braves

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