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Trevor Bauer, Nolan Arenado, Justin Blackmon decline opt-outs; Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard get qualifying offers from New York Mets

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Right-hander Trevor Bauer, third baseman Nolan Arenado, outfielder Charlie Blackmon and infielder-outfielder Jurickson Profar declined to opt out of their contracts to become free agents.

Bauer agreed to a $102 million, three-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers in February and began 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts. He has been on paid leave since July 2 while he is investigated under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He is keeping salaries of $32 million in each of the next two seasons.

Elsewhere, the New York Mets announced Saturday they have extended $18.4 million qualifying offers to outfielder Michael Conforto and pitcher Noah Syndergaard — a day ahead of Sunday’s deadline. Players have 10 days to decide whether to accept the one-year offer.

Arenado was owed $214 million over seven seasons as part of the contract that was amended when he was traded Feb. 1 to the St. Louis Cardinals by Colorado. He had the right to opt out after this season and also has the right to opt out after the 2022 season. Arenado hit .255 with 34 homers and 105 RBIs in his first season with the Cardinals.

Blackmon struck a $108 million, six-year deal with the Colorado Rockies in April 2018 that included a $21 million player option for 2022 and a $10 million option for 2023. He kept his contract for 2022 after hitting .270 with 13 homers and 78 RBIs.

Profar agreed in January to a $21 million, three-year contract with the San Diego Padres and had the right to opt out of a deal that included $6.5 million for 2022, $7.5 million for 2023 and a $10 million mutual option for 2024. He hit .227 with four homers and 33 RBIs for the disappointing Padres.

Gold Glove catcher Tucker Barnhart‘s $7.75 million option was exercised Saturday by the Detroit Tigers, who acquired him on Wednesday for infield prospect Nick Quintana. Barnhart’s option price included a $250,000 escalator for winning a 2020 Gold Glove and would go up again by the same amount if he wins for 2021.

The Chicago White Sox declined a $6 million option on 31-year-old infielder Cesar Hernandez. He hit .232 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs for Cleveland and Chicago, which obtained him on July 29.

Cincinnati Reds left-hander Justin Wilson exercised a $2.3 million player option, part of a $5.15 million, two-year deal he signed with the Yankees. By exercising the player option, Wilson gave the Reds a club option for 2023 at $500,000 above that year’s minimum salary. He had a 2.81 ERA in 21 games after the Reds obtained him on July 28.

Josh Tomlin‘s $1.25 million option was declined by the World Series champion Atlanta Braves, who must pay a $250,000 buyout. The 37-year-old right-hander was 4-0 with a 6.57 ERA but did not pitch in the postseason.

St. Louis declined a $17 million option on right-hander Carlos Martinez, who gets a $500,000 buyout, and a $12 million option on infielder Matt Carpenter, who receives a $2 million buyout. Martinez was 4-9 with a 6.23 ERA, completing a $51 million, five-year contract. Carpenter hit .169 with three homers and 21 RBIs, finishing a $39 million, two-year contract.

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MLB free-agency tracker — Latest moves, grades and analysis

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The 2021-22 MLB free-agency hot stove is cooking, with teams already making some major moves in an effort to win a title next season.

Below is a running list of notable transactions, along with analysis and grades for the most important ones. Remember: Trades and signings can happen at practically any hour of the day, so make sure to check back regularly.

Key links: Everything you need to know about the MLB offseason | All free-agent signings

Nov. 23

Rays go all-in on SS Wander Franco

Sources confirm to ESPN that Wander Franco, 20, has agreed to a 12-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays that guarantees him around $185 million. The deal is worth a maximum of $223 million. Story »

Nov. 22

Angels add LHP Aaron Loup

Aaron Loup and the Los Angeles Angels have agreed to a two-year, $17 million contract. Story »


Giants keep RHP Anthony DeSclafani

Anthony DeSclafani and the San Francisco Giants have agreed to a three-year, $36 million contract. Story »

Nov. 21

Brewers add C Pedro Severino

Pedro Severino and the Milwaukee Brewers have reportedly agreed to a one-year, $1.9 million contract. Story »

Nov. 17

Astros bring back RHP Justin Verlander

The Houston Astros and Justin Verlander have agreed to a one-year, $25 million contract with a player option for a second season. Story »

Grade: Astros bet on more greatness from Verlander. Bradford Doolittle (ESPN+)


Giants retain 1B Brandon Belt

Brandon Belt accepted a $18.4 million qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants, the only one to accept among the 14 free agents who received the offers from their former clubs on Nov. 7. Story »

Nov. 16

Angels add RHP Noah Syndergaard

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Joon Lee breaks down what Noah Syndergaard’s contract with the Angels means for the free-agent pitching landscape.

Right-hander Noah Syndergaard and the Los Angeles Angels are in agreement on a one-year, $21 million deal, pending physical. Story »

Grade: Is Thor the hero the Angels need? Alden Gonzalez (ESPN+)


Blue Jays extend RHP Jose Berrios

Jose Berrios has reached agreement on a seven-year, $131 million extension with the Toronto Blue Jays. Story »

Nov. 15

Tigers add LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

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Joon Lee breaks down how Eduardo Rodriguez signing with Detroit affects the Tigers and Red Sox.

Former Boston Red Sox left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez and the Detroit Tigers are in agreement on a five-year deal worth $77 million. Story »

Analysis: Under-the-radar Eduardo Rodriguez brings competitive fire to the Tigers. Buster Olney (ESPN+)

Grade: Tigers add E-Rod, make offseason’s first splash. Bradford Doolittle (ESPN+)


Braves add C Manny Pina

Manny Pina signed with the World Series-champion Braves on a two-year, $8 million deal after hitting 13 home runs in 75 games with the Brewers in 2020. Story »

Nov. 14

Marlins add RHP Louis Head

The Miami Marlins acquired right-hander Louis Head from the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday for a player to be named later or cash. Story »

Nov. 13

Rays trade INF Mike Brosseau to Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers acquired infielder Mike Brosseau from the Tampa Bay Rays for minor league pitcher Evan Reifert on Saturday in a trade between division winners. Story »


Rockies keep RHP Jhoulys Chacin

Jhoulys Chacín is staying with the Colorado Rockies, agreeing Saturday to a guaranteed $1.25 million, one-year contract that allows him to earn an additional $500,000 in performance bonuses. Story »

Nov. 10

Yankees keep LHP Joely Rodriguez

Left-hander Joely Rodriguez and the New York Yankees agreed to a $2 million, one-year contract, three days after New York declined a $3 million option in favor of a $500,000 buyout. Story »

Nov. 8

Dodgers add LHP Andrew Heaney

The Los Angeles Dodgers, who entered this offseason with several holes to fill on their pitching staff, signed Andrew Heaney to a one-year contract worth $8.5 million. Story »


Cardinals keep LHP T.J. McFarland

Left-handed reliever T.J. McFarland became the first of this year’s major league free agents to reach an agreement, getting a one-year, $2.5 million contract to stay with the St. Louis Cardinals. Story »

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Major deal for Tampa Bay Rays young star Wander Franco

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The Tampa Bay Rays saw enough in the 70 major league games that shortstop Wander Franco played to wrap him up with a massive contract.

Sources confirm to ESPN that Franco, 20, has agreed to a 12-year contract that guarantees him around $185 million. The deal is worth a maximum of $223 million.

That dwarfs the previous record contract for a player with less than one full year of service time. At age 21 in 2019, Ronald Acuna Jr. signed an eight-year, $100 million deal with the Braves.

Franco hit .288 with seven homers and 39 RBIs last season and finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. He stepped up his game in the postseason, batting .368 with two homers and four RBIs in four games.

Franco wasn’t set to become arbitration eligible until 2024 and couldn’t become a free agent until 2027, but that was under the current collective bargaining agreement, which expires on Dec. 1.

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MLB hot stove survey – Where will the star free-agent shortstops land? Who will spend big? Execs weigh in

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The MLB hot stove is up and running this month — there have been some significant signings already — but that could come to a halt when the current collective bargaining agreement ends on Dec. 1. If there is a lockout, trades and free-agent negotiations will stop until a new deal between the players and owners is hammered out.

Until then, it’s business as usual — at least that’s what the general managers were saying at their meetings in California recently.

In that vein, we polled 20 team executives and MLB insiders from across both leagues about free-agent landing spots and who’s likely to get moved in trades this offseason. Voters were assured anonymity and were given the option to skip any questions that hit too close to home.

Here’s how they voted — and what they had to say about their picks.


Where will each star free-agent shortstop land?

Javy Baez: Mets 10, Astros 3, Rangers 3, Cubs 2, Mariners 2
Carlos Correa: Tigers 10, Rangers 6, Yankees 3, Astros 1
Corey Seager: Yankees 12, Tigers 4, Rangers 2, Dodgers 2
Marcus Semien: Mariners 8, Tigers 5, Rangers 4, Blue Jays 3
Trevor Story: Rangers 8, Tigers 5, Astros 3, Yankees 2, Mariners 2

Though in most cases there were clear majorities for where these stars would play in 2022, most respondents weren’t very sure of their answers. They hedged their bets, mentioning more than one team for several players, though we counted only the top choice for each. The teams looking for a shortstop don’t seem to be up for debate, but there were plenty of conflicting thoughts on who ends up where.

“Everyone assumes AJ Hinch and Correa will be reunited in Detroit, but don’t count out Texas,” one voter said. “They need to build around someone and think they’ll draw well at their new stadium if they have a star or two. Winning won’t happen right away, and Correa is young enough to be part of whatever they build.”

“The Yankees need Seager,” another voter said. “They can’t add another right-handed bat when a lefty-hitting shortstop is staring at them. It makes too much sense. And we know he can handle the spotlight after playing in Los Angeles. I pick him as the guy least fazed by accepting a huge free-agent contract to play in New York.”

“I think a Javy Baez reunion with the Cubs could happen if Baez wants to reenter the market in a year,” another voter said. “But if he’s willing to stay at second base, then the Mets make all the sense in the world.”


Which shortstop will get the biggest deal — and for how much?

Carlos Correa (unanimous) — Average answer: 10 years, $304 million

This was a unanimous choice, perhaps because he’s the youngest of the group. Though he’s had some injuries, voters overlooked any of those issues while offering up huge contract numbers. The highest was $350 million over 12 years, while the lowest came in at eight years, $250 million.

“His size makes him a perfect fit to move over to third base eventually,” one voter said.

“He picked a good year to win the Gold and Platinum gloves,” said another voter. “You’ll get that during his peak years here, but no one can predict where his defense will be as he ages. Third base will be a good option as he enters his mid-30s.”


Who will be the biggest name traded this winter?

Matt Chapman, 9
Matt Olson, 5
Byron Buxton, 4
Willson Contreras, 1
Josh Hader, 1

The two Oakland players dominated this question, as the A’s have signaled to other teams they are open for business. Most respondents who chose Chapman as their No.1 choice mentioned Olson, and vice versa. People are convinced at least one will be moved. A few thought it was now or never for Buxton and the Twins: Either sign him to a long-term deal this offseason or trade him.

“The A’s will be smart about this and dangle their players with more than a year before free agency as to maximize their return or simply hold off on a deal until they hear the right thing,” one voter said. “There is no immediate urgency other than any payroll concerns.”

“Chapman’s OPS+ has gone down each of the last four years, but he can still pick it at third,” another voter said. “The thing about both [A’s] players is their age makes them right for a rebuild or a ready-now team.”


Which team will make the biggest splash?

Tigers, 8
Rangers, 5
Mariners, 4
Padres, 1

The question was asked before the Tigers signed Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year deal, so they’re off to a good start. Most believe they’ll get a shortstop in addition to any pitching they acquire. The steps they took in 2021 under Hinch have led them to believe they’re getting very close to contending in a weak American League Central — though that description could change in 2022. “The Tigers have always been willing to spend under their ownership, so it’s not a surprise that [Chairman] Chris Ilitch is indicating it’s time they do again,” one voter said. “They think they hit a home run with Hinch running the club. Maybe they have.”

“Texas just seems ready to do something,” said another voter. “Their attendance was surprisingly good in 2021. And they have some pieces to build around in [Adolis] Garcia as well as some young pitching. They’re not ready to contend, but I can see them taking some steps forward this offseason.”


Which of these aces are you most confident in returning to form in 2022 after being injured: Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw or Noah Syndergaard?

Verlander, 16
Kershaw, 4
Syndergaard, 0

If the vote seems lopsided, it’s probably because Verlander is getting past his injury problems after undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all of 2021, while voters were a little unsure of Kershaw’s situation. He missed this year’s postseason with left elbow/forearm issues, while Verlander has been declared healthy and has already signed back with Houston. Syndergaard has signed with the Angels, but no voters chose him over the two former Cy Young winners.

“It’s nothing against Kershaw, but Verlander is in a better spot for a comeback,” one voter said. “He’s been written off before only to return to Cy Young form.”

“Syndergaard is the youngest of the three, but I can’t choose him over the other two Hall of Fame pitchers,” another voter said.


Which player in this year’s free-agent crop is most likely to win Cy Young or MVP in 2022?

Max Scherzer, 9
Freddie Freeman, 6
Carlos Correa, 3
Nick Castellanos, 1
Kyle Schwarber, 1

Voters were keen on Scherzer specifically for 2022, as he’s one of the oldest free agents available. At some point the 37-year-old will show some decline, but the majority of respondents didn’t indicate it will be next year. Correa would probably have to improve on his career numbers to win the award, while those who voted for Freeman considered him “money in the bank.”

“Put Scherzer on a good team and/or in a pitcher’s ballpark, he’s nearly automatic to be in the running,” one voter said. “He showed as much with the Dodgers, and if he re-signs there, he’s as good of a pick you can make in November.”

“One of these years, I’m hoping to be right about Schwarber,” said the one voter who chose the Red Sox free agent. “He showed he has monster power and now can hit for some average. If he plays some first base, outfield and DH, who knows?”

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