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Rosenthal: What I’m hearing about the MLB free agent market with the Padres, Astros and more

A three-year, $58.5 million deal seemed high for first baseman Jose Abreu, who turns 36 on January 29. Athleticism‘s Keith Law criticized the Astros for paying him so much. But the competition for Abreu, according to major league and media sources, may explain how, even at an advanced age, he outgrew his previous three-year, $50 million contract with the White Sox.

The Padres and Guardians also made three-year offers to Abreu. The Red Sox considered him their first outside priority, although the size of their offer is not known. The The marlins were in the game, as are cubs and stingrays. Other teams could also have been involved.

• As AthleticismAs Dennis Lin wrote, the Padres have every reason to take a measured approach this offseason, looking to add depth more than star power. But some in the industry believe chief executive AJ Preller will follow his usual formula and at least try to do something big.

Abreu appealed to the Padres and other clubs in part because he was ineligible to receive a qualifying offer after securing one from the White Sox (and accepting it) in 2019. The Padres, after crossing the luxury tax threshold last season, would lose a second- and fifth-round pick, as well as $1 million from their international signing bonus pool for signing a free agent who rejected an offer qualification – Xander Bogaerts, for example. Such a penalty would be especially painful for a San Diego team that exhausted its farm system at the deadline with trades for Juan Soto, Josh Bell, Josh Hader and Brandon Drury.

The obvious path for the Padres, then, would be to find a first base/DH guy to fill the projected role for Abreu, plus another starting pitcher and a bullpen and bench assist. But Preller, as The New York Post first reports, is exploring the shortstop market. Maybe his inquiries are just the routine due diligence CEOs do at this time of year. But according to major league sources, Preller recently asked Bogaerts’ agent Scott Boras if the shortstop would be open to playing other positions on the field. Others say that Preller, like pretty much every other GM, loves Trea Turner too.

Bogaerts would have special meaning for the Padres if he were willing to play first base or second in the short term, then possibly third if Manny Machado retires after next season. Soto, meanwhile, could leave as a free agent after 2024, potentially creating another offensive void.

The Padres, after re-signing pitchers Robert Suárez and Nick Martinez, moved within $1 million of the first luxury tax threshold according to Fangraphs. They are already all-in. The only question is how far they will go.

Fernando Tatis Jr. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

• Whatever the Padres do, they need to find a place to play Fernando Tatis Jr., who will undergo multiple wrist surgeries, shoulder surgery and an 80-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs that ends April 20.

Ha-Seong Kim emerged as one of the top defensive shortstops last season, placing in the top eight at the position in both the Outs Above Average and Defensive Runs Saved. Of the free agent shortstops, only Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson are comparable defensively.

The Padres were talking about playing Tatis at center before he was suspended. He can also fill a void on the left if free agent Jurickson Profar signs with another club, or on the right if the Padres return Soto to his original position. Second base could be another option, with Jake Cronenworth moving to first.

Much depends, of course, on what the Padres accomplish this offseason.

• The Astros are in talks with free agent Willson Contreras and plan to meet him at winter meetings, according to a source briefed on the situation.

Astros owner Jim Crane called off a Jośe Urquidy-for-Contreras trade at the deadline, as first reported by ESPN. But the circumstances are different now.

Rather than Urquidy, Contreras would cost the Astros their second-highest draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool. Contreras, meanwhile, wouldn’t have to worry about losing playing time in the middle of his walking year.

The Astros love Contreras in part because he can play left field, especially at Minute Maid Park, which has the second-smallest left field in the majors after Fenway Park. Contreras’ most limited time left was in 2016, his rookie season. But in theory, he could alternate with Yordan Alvarez on the left and DH while catching on occasion.

The question is whether the 30-year-old Contreras would still want to be paid as a receiver while playing a lesser defensive role.

• Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, in a phone call Tuesday, made it clear that the team’s number one priority is to acquire an everyday receiver. Asked about the possibility of adding a shortstop, Mozeliak said: “Tommy Edman is a very, very good shortstop.”

Mozeliak admitted that a change in the market might prompt him to adapt in the short term, but he’s unlikely to be able to land a deal in free agency or a trade. When it comes to the outfield, Mozeliak said the Cardinals have plenty of options, describing top prospect Jordan Walker “as the biggest wild card.” He didn’t rule out a veteran addition, but such a player would likely be a replacement behind Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar.

• Shortly after the end of the season, Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto told reporters he would rather land a shortstop who would play second base. But given the expected prices for the four big shortstops, the Mariners are more likely to pursue a left-handed second baseman who can field Dylan Moore, as well as a right-handed outfielder.

The Brewers’ Kolten Wong, earning $10 million, is a second-best option, but the Mariners could also pursue more affordable options that would stay with the team longer. The Rays, for example, feature three such youngsters – Jonathan Aranda and switch hitters Taylor Walls and Vidal Bruján – as well as Brandon Lowe, who is under club scrutiny until 2026 on a below-market salary. Lowe, however, only played 65 games last season due to back and triceps injuries, so the Rays would sell low.

• Speaking of the Rays, they always record the top of the market, so it’s not really a surprise that they made contact with Jacob deGrom, the best pitcher available in free agency. It’s also not really surprising that club officials are pessimistic about their chances, knowing that deGrom’s average annual value is expected to exceed $40 million in a contract of at least three years.

Such an amount would be about half of the Rays’ club-record payroll of $83.9 million in 2022, and they’re already estimated at $67.7 million for 2023. Still, they’ll splurge at times, to their way. They will pay Tyler Glasnow $25 million in 2024, the second year of his two-year extension. They also offered Freddie Freeman two offers last free agency offseason, according to ESPN — six years, $140 million or seven years, $150 million.

Their call for deGrom could include the chance to pitch in his native Florida, a state that doesn’t charge income tax, as well as the chance to work under one of the game’s top pitching coaches, Kyle Snyder. But other teams would almost certainly be willing to pay significantly more.

• The Mets recently reassigned director of amateur scouting Marc Tramuta, making him a top evaluator who will work in both the amateur and international markets. The team, who have yet to announce the move, are currently going through an interview process but a club source expects a promotion from within.

Tramuta joined the Mets as assistant director of scouting in 2012 and became their director of amateur scouting in December 2016. His first-round picks included left-hander David Peterson, third baseman/outfielder Brett Baty, outfielder Jarred Kelenic (traded to Edwin Díaz/Robinson Canó), outfielder Pete Crow-Armstrong (traded to Javier Báez), and pitcher Kumar Rocker (whom the Mets did not sign).

A Mets official declined to comment when asked about Tramuta, saying the team does not discuss employee issues.

(Contraras top photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images))

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