ATLANTA — When it comes to free agency, the postseason has a greater chance to hurt than help.
For example, when Max Scherzer did not make his NLCS Game 6 start because his pitching arm did not rebound quickly enough, it had to create some concerns about a 37-year-old who, during his now-completed, seven-year, $210 million contract, produced the most innings and most starts in the game — not even counting his 11 starts and three relief appearances in the postseason.
If you are looking for the scary comparison: Justin Verlander, entering his age-37 season, was arguably the best pitcher in the world and just about to begin a two-year, $66 million contract. He has needed Tommy John surgery and has made one start during the life of the contract.
Since Scherzer was lining up to start if there had been an NLCS Game 7, the case that he was enduring fatigue based on the baseball calendar and unfamiliarly pitching in relief to clinch the Division Series could be made. I would be surprised if he still does not get an annual average value record on at least a two-year contract.
So let’s focus on those who have used the postseason as chicken soup — it is better to succeed because it might not help, but it doesn’t hurt (these are listed in alphabetical order):
1. Kris Bryant: He played well after being traded into a pennant race (Cubs to Giants), then excelled in five postseason games, not only hitting .471 (8-for-17), but also starting at four positions (first, left, center and right). Third base is his natural position. With teams craving diversity and offense, Bryant dropped a calling card of his skill-set.
2. Carlos Correa: Going into Game 4 of the World Series, his postseason numbers are just OK (.747 OPS, one homer). But his success in big games is well-documented. The concerns regarding Correa have been about health and the fact that after playing 148 regular-season games, he had played every inning of the Astros’ first 13 postseason games. His defense has been familiarly fantastic. And he has shown a desire to be a leader and a star. His outsized personality might not play everywhere. But for a team such as the Tigers, who have his former Houston manager, A.J. Hinch, and desire to sign him, the fit might be perfect as they try to construct around a star on and off the field.
3. Kenley Jansen: The overall postseason might hurt Jansen, with non-brand names such as Atlanta relievers Tyler Matzek and A.J. Minter perhaps being the co-MVPs of the whole playoffs. After all, the trend is that relievers are fungible and flammable and easily found and replaced. But Jansen’s specific postseason was eye opening.
Not only did he pitch seven innings of no-run, three-hit, one-walk, 14-strikeout work, but also he threw as well as ever while drifting away from over-reliance on his cutter to incorporate a sinker and slider more often. He’s 34 and, in Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol, the Dodgers might have answers to move on from the most decorated closer in their history. But Jansen sure looked like a pitcher with a lot in his tank in October.
4. Eddie Rosario: Rosario, Joc Pederson and Kyle Schwarber have followed similar paths the past 12 months. Their previous career-long teams did not want them last offseason; Rosario (Twins) and Schwarber (Cubs) non-tendered. All are lefty hitters who play questionable defense who signed one-year contracts for between $7 million and $10 million. All were then traded into a pennant race and have experienced big postseason moments, none more so than Rosario.
I suspect Schwarber, in particular, will do much better this offseason. He will never defend at a high level, but he did add first base to corner outfield and his bat and attitude played in both Washington and Boston. Like Schwarber, Rosario was injured at the time of his trade-deadline acquisition and he did not play right away. But when he did play in September and October, his bat really played.
For an opposite case, Nelson Cruz was traded from the Twins into the pennant race with the Rays, did not perform well and got worse in the postseason. He’s 41, so you can imagine that hurting his market.
What could help Rosario, Pederson and Schwarber? If — as expected — the NL gets the DH. Also, if there are any anti-shift rules established as part of a new collective bargaining agreement, that should benefit lefty hitters.
5. Chris Taylor: He had the walk-off homer for the Dodgers in the wild-card game against the Cardinals and a three-homer game in Game 5 of the NLCS versus the Braves. That helps Taylor’s free agency. So does Enrique Hernandez going from a Dodgers jack-of-all-trades to a Red Sox star in the regular and postseason this year after signing a two-year, $14 million pact.
Taylor’s versatility, power, speed and big-game pedigree are going to net him more than that, even with his penchant for strikeouts. Also note how much talent and depth the Dodgers have bled the last few years. Hernandez and Pederson left in free agency after last season. Two of the Dodgers’ best prospects were dealt for Trea Turner and Scherzer, who along with Jansen, Taylor, Clayton Kershaw, Corey Knebel and Corey Seager are upcoming free agents. The Dodgers’ big free-agent signing last year, pitcher Trevor Bauer, is in baseball purgatory as MLB continues to investigate sexual assault allegations against him.
There is a chance Bauer will be suspended next season. If so, the Dodgers could divert money not paid to him to Scherzer. If they do, it would be a sign the team that should know his health best was not concerned how Scherzer finished his 2021 playoffs.
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