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The Angels after Ohtani, Cody Bellinger, a Dylan Cease trade and more

Mailbag: The Athletic answers some key free agency questions.

(Jae C. Hong | AP) Fans take pictures with the large image of Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani before the team's baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023, in Anaheim, Calif.

Here are answers to your question on some of the top free agents and trade targets, plus my thoughts on a big name who could be in the 2024-25 free-agent class.

Questions have been edited for clarity and length.

If the Angels lose Shohei Ohtani, whom do you see them targeting in free agency (or via trade) to replace him? — Ryan C.

If they lose Ohtani? They’ve lost Ohtani. They are already being aggressive to fill the void. The Angels are trying to land a starting pitcher, bullpen upgrades, a middle-of-the-order bat to “replace” Ohtani, and a corner outfielder. Time will tell how successful they are with that wish list.

Is there any possibility of a structured Ohtani deal where a team pays him $30 million a year plus $1 million per start? — Adam T.

There is no way Ohtani is signing for a $30 million per year base salary. He’s getting closer to $40 million per year. In terms of the $1 million per start idea, that could be added as an incentive bonus for when he is able to pitch again, starting in 2025. In other words, I could see a base salary of about $40 million with incentives based on the number of starts he makes, which could get him to $50 million per year. That’s where I see this contract going. I could be wrong though.

Trade proposal: I like Dylan Cease going to the Reds. What minor-league package plus Jonathan India would it take to acquire him? — Tim O.

You like it, I love it — a Cease trade to the Reds makes a lot of sense. How about India and right-hander Ty Floyd for him? The White Sox have to make that trade. Floyd, 22, was a first-round pick (No. 38) in this year’s MLB Draft after dominating at LSU. The White Sox control Cease for only two more years. They’d get their long-term solution at second base with India and a starter with similar upside to Cease but many more years of team control. Maybe the Reds would have to throw in a kicker too, but there is a deal to be made here.

Do you think it’s wise to give Cody Bellinger a long (five-plus years) deal given his injury history? I think he’s perfect for the Yankees but I worry about his health. — Jim C.

Because Bellinger is only 28 years old (he turns 29 next July), he’s not signing without getting a contract in the five- to seven-year range. There is some risk with him because of the three consecutive down years he had from 2020 to 2022. However, they also can be explained in part due to his shoulder and other injuries, the impact of the pandemic, and the significant mechanical changes he made to his swing. The fact that he was such a dominant player from 2017 to 2019 and got back to that level this year would make me feel comfortable with signing him for the next four years, with risk seeping in on years five and six. He’s the best position player on the free-agent market, and his ability to play first base, right field, center field and left field at an above-average level makes him invaluable. I agree Bellinger is a perfect fit with the Yankees and if I were them I would make him a priority this offseason along with landing an elite starting pitcher such as Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Is this the year we see a small-market team make a big free-agent signing (by its standards) — such as a playoff team like the Orioles or one that could take a step forward (in 2024) like the Pirates? — Daniel K.

I hope this is the offseason the Orioles step up and sign a big-time starter because they are just one or two free agents away from a potential World Series appearance. I’d also like to see a team such as the Reds get more involved in the free-agent market with a big signing because they’re that close — with some key additions — to winning the National League Central in 2024. In terms of the Pirates, they’re not close enough to contending to make a big splash in free agency. Maybe next offseason.

Trade proposal: Giants trade Michael Conforto and Ross Stripling plus Carson Whisenhunt and Heliot Ramos for Mike Trout and some cash to balance the deal. Realistic? — Danny D.

Not realistic. Not enough for the Angels to truly consider it. They would need a package that starts with a top-two prospect from a strong farm system.

How likely is it that the Giants make offers for the MVP- and Cy Young Award-winning free agents (Ohtani and Blake Snell)? Also, if they can’t land Bellinger in free agency, could you see them making an intra-divisional trade offer for Juan Soto?— Aaron K.

I have been told by multiple agents that the Giants are “all-in” on this year’s free-agent market and appear prepared to spend significant dollars on multiple star-level players. I’ll be surprised if they don’t sign at least two impact free agents this offseason. If they can’t land Bellinger, I think they’ll pursue Soto, but I highly doubt the Padres will trade him within their division if they do move him.

What’s the probability Corbin Burnes and Willy Adames stay with the Brewers until the trade deadline? — John R.

I think they both will get traded this offseason. If you want a probability, I’d say there’s a 35 percent chance they stay until the trade deadline and 65 percent chance they get dealt this winter.

I don’t see the Cardinals outbidding other teams for the top free-agent starting pitchers. Is there any chance they will trade for Cease, Tyler Glasnow or Shane Bieber? — Scott G.

I think there is a chance they could outbid the competition for a top free-agent starter. I also think they have enough depth on their roster and in their farm system to trade for a strong starter. The Cardinals have signed Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson to one-year deals but now need to address the top of their rotation. They’ll be an intriguing team to watch during the Winter Meetings in Nashville.

What will it take for the Astros to re-sign Alex Bregman? — Hugh S.

If I represented Bregman, I’d argue that he should be paid more than Xander Bogaerts, whom the Padres signed to an 11-year, $280 million deal at an older age (30) than Bregman is now. (He turns 30 in March.) The Astros would likely argue that the Bogaerts deal was a “bad” contract and should be ignored, and could counter with Nolan Arenado’s eight-year, $260 million deal. Bregman will probably get something between the two, but I’m not sure the Astros will be the team to give it to him.

Who might take Jake Cronenworth’s contract off the Padres’ hands? — Dan M.

Cronenworth’s seven-year, $80 million extension looked good when he signed it last spring, but his dismal 2023 season — his production was down across the board as he batted .229 with only 10 homers — makes that contract untradeable. However, if he rebounds and has strong ‘24 and ‘25 seasons, anything can happen. He’s still a versatile player. He is never going to hit for a high average, but he should get back to 17- to 20-home run power. He just doesn’t profile well for first base.

What should the Dodgers do other than signing Ohtani? — Mario M.

I think they need to focus on getting multiple starting pitchers and a closer. They should be all in on Yamamoto, Snell, Jordan Montgomery and Sonny Gray. I also think they should make a run at an impact closer like Josh Hader.

With Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, Whit Merrifield, Hyun Jin Ryu, Brandon Belt, and Jordan Hicks all free agents, it seems likely that the 2024 Blue Jays are going to look very different than the 2023 Jays. What would an ideal offseason for the Jays look like to you? — Graham M.

How about signing Bellinger to play left field, bringing back Chapman to play third base, trading for Jonathan India to play second base, and signing Yamamoto to replace Ryu in the rotation?

Trade proposal: The Red Sox send outfielder Alex Verdugo to the Angels for second baseman Brandon Drury. Both are under team control for one more year and the salaries would be close to a wash. From Boston’s perspective, Drury would be a huge offensive upgrade at second base for one year as a stop-gap solution until shortstop Marcelo Mayer gets promoted in 2025 and Trevor Story shifts to second base. Is this a realistic and fair trade? — Jeff S.

I’m OK with this trade. It doesn’t move the needle for me, but it works.

As a Phillies fan, I have been curious to hear what teams may be interested in signing Rhys Hoskins. What are some teams he could sign with? — David L.

I like Hoskins’ fit with the Cubs if they don’t resign Bellinger, as well as the Giants, Padres, Marlins and Guardians.

The Phillies are set offensively for 2024 but could maybe use one more consistent right-handed bat. What’s the best option available via trade or free agency for a platoon outfielder who excels in situational hitting, (driving in runs), moving runners over, making contact, pinch hitting, etc.? — Christoph T.

How about signing Whit Merrifield? He also brings positional flexibility, speed and makeup. He would fit nicely in the Phillies’ clubhouse, which is filled with winning players.

Is this the year the Tigers make the leap to playoff contender? And if so, what moves (should they make this offseason)? I could see some free-agency trepidation due to the Javier Báez debacle but they need significant upgrades at a few key positions (third base, catcher, starting pitching, back of the bullpen). Do you see them going more with mid-tier additions? Or making a big play with a trade? — Ross P.

The Tigers are focused on acquiring a legitimate middle-of-the-order right-handed hitter and more pitching help. I still think they’re a year away from being a serious contender.

In the NL Central, who has the best five-year window starting now? — Adam C.

I think it’s the Reds because of the number of quality major-league players on their roster who are 26 years old and younger. They’ll need to supplement that group with a couple of veteran pitchers and another outfield bat, but they should be good for a long time starting in 2024.

Does Eduardo Rodriguez’s confusing past two seasons (leave of absence and trade rejection) hurt his value? Or will his talent be enough to overcome any issues teams may have with that stretch. — Todd B.

Rodriguez probably hurt his value with the Dodgers when he invoked his no-trade clause to nix the trade to them at the deadline; after that hangup, they will pass on him in free agency. However, that doesn’t mean he won’t fare well on the market this winter — he will. He’d be a strong fit to either re-sign with the Tigers or join a new team such as the Orioles, Brewers or Diamondbacks.

— This article originally appeared in The Athletic.