Is a frigid free agent season looming?

After a season of uncertainty - no one knew in July if the year would be played to the finish - baseball now faces more uncertainty. This one involves not games, but salaries and free agency.

Will it be a chilly winter - and we are not talking about air temperatures? It could wind up downright frosty and we’re not talking about precipitation.

There is a feeling around the game that the top free agents this winter may still get their money, but after that elite group, the dollars won’t be there. Many teams are cutting or reigning in spending and many have already had cuts and furloughs of employees.

Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred believes that the lack of attendance this year, when coupled with losses for parking and concessions, amounted to a loss of about 40 percent of revenue for clubs. During the World Series, he told the website Sportico that MLB’s 30 teams lost a combined $2.8 to $3 billion last season.

Anyone can question the numbers, but no doubt there were significant losses that will likely have a trickle-down effect to free agency.

But who will be impacted the most? The so-called middle-of-the-pack free agent? The lower-end free agents and players that might now only get minor league deals? There is a feeling that we will see a large number of players non-tendered, much larger than normal. Those players would become free agents, but likely with many fewer places to turn for deals than in a normal winter. Some players, maybe many, will be playing for less than expected or hoped for.

In projecting its top free agents for this winter, MLBTradeRumors.com projected just three players to get deals of $100 million or more. The site predicted that pitcher Trevor Bauer would sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers for four years at $128 million, that catcher J.T. Realmuto would wind up with the New York Mets at five years and $125 million, and that outfielder George Springer ends up with the Chicago White Sox for five years and $125 million.

In fairness, in recent years, not many players have gotten contracts of over $100 million although Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Gerrit Cole topped the $300 million mark.

So how will it play out this winter for the free agent class heading into 2021?

Speaking of free agents: MLBTradeRumors.com also took an early look ahead to free agency at this time next year, after the 2021 season. There are some interesting names, the list is loaded with top shortstops, and there are a few current and former Orioles.

Thumbnail image for Cobb-throws-orange-0721-sidebar.jpgThe current Orioles headed for free agency after 2021 are shortstop José Iglesias and right-hander Alex Cobb.

Iglesias, over 39 games and 150 plate appearances, hit .373/.400/.556 with an OPS of .956. He led the club in Wins Above Replacement at 1.6, per FanGraphs.com. He led all of baseball with a .476 average with runners on base and ranked tied for fifth with a .421 average with runners in scoring position. The Orioles picked up his $3.5 million dollar option for next season.

Cobb’s four-year deal worth $57 million, signed in March 2018, ends after the 2021 season. He will continue to get deferred money for several years. In 2020, he went 2-5 with a 4.30 ERA in 10 starts. After a mid-year slump, he finished well. He gave up three runs in 13 innings in his last two games versus the Rays and Red Sox. For the year, he gave up two earned runs or less in seven of 10 starts and the Orioles went 5-5 in those games.

Among former Orioles headed for free agency after the 2021 season are Angels right-hander Dylan Bundy. He had his best year with his new team in 2020, going 6-3 with a 3.29 ERA and a WHIP of 1.036. Bundy finished ninth in voting for the American League Cy Young Award. His best ERA as an O’s starter was his 4.24 in 2017. He also drastically cut down on allowing homers. His homer rate in his final O’s season of 2019 was 1.6 and it was 2.1 the year before that. But it was just 0.7 last season when he gave up only five homers over 11 starts.

Bundy threw fewer fastballs and more secondary pitches last summer, but there was not a huge difference from previous seasons with the Orioles. He threw his two- and four-seam fastballs about 47 percent of the time. And all that talk over the years here about how Bundy’s fastball didn’t have enough velocity to succeed was proven unfounded again. His four-seamer averaged 90.5 mph last season, a career low.

If Bundy has a second straight strong year with the Angels, he might be in a real position to cash in next winter, especially if fans and more revenue are in the sport in the new year.

Other former Orioles that could hit free agency after 2021 include pitchers Brad Brach, Kevin Gausman and Mychal Givens, and former O’s minor league hurlers Eduardo Rodriguez and Zach Davies.

Among shortstops that could join Iglesias then in free agency are Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Corey Seager, Trevor Story and Chris Taylor. Also headed for free agency then is 2020 National League MVP Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves. His season began with him battling coronavirus and ended with the MVP honor.

Two accomplished pitchers with five Cy Young Awards among them will be free agents then in right-handers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Scherzer, a three-time Cy Young winner, will turn 38 during the 2022 season. Verlander, a two-time winner, will be 39 heading into 2022.

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