The frozen free agent market began to thaw this week, giving hope for a steady trickle that might turn into a full-fledged stream of moves in the coming weeks.
Like a string of undelivered text messages all coming in at once upon regaining cell service, three notable middle infielders all agreed to terms with new teams within the span of a few hours Tuesday, as Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons and Tommy La Stella will be playing in new locales in 2021. Those deals came in the wake of one of the bigger free agent signings this winter, as J.T. Realmuto agreed to a long-term deal with the Phillies earlier in the day.
That deal, a five-year, $115.5 million pact, keeps Realmuto in Philadelphia, where he's been since the start of the 2019 season. The 29-year-old backstop has been atop the position for a few years now and is showing no signs of giving up that title any time soon, slashing .266/.349/.491 with 11 homers and four steals in 195 plate appearances last season.
He remains the first catcher going off the board in early drafts and is being taken rounds earlier than his nearest competitor, the Dodgers' Will Smith. Those hoping to secure Realmuto's services in fantasy leagues this year will have to pay up for him.
Semien goes to the 6
One player set to see his acquisition cost rise is Semien, who agreed to a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays just days after the team made waves with the signing of George Springer. Unlike Springer, Semien's bat isn't game-changing, but the 30-year-old is a perfectly capable offensive player in his own right, a year removed from a .285/.369/.522 season with 33 homers, 92 RBI, 123 runs scored and 10 steals.
He'll certainly further lengthen a lineup that already includes Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and others, but more than that, he'll benefit by being a part of said lineup. The runs and RBI projected by various systems prior to the signing should be bumped up slightly by virtue of his being a part of an order that should challenge for the league lead in runs in 2021.
Simba heads to the Twin Cities
Elsewhere among American League contenders, the Twins signed a starting shortstop of their own by inking Simmons to a one-year, $10.5 million contract. One of the slickest fielders anywhere, Simmons will take over at short and Jorge Polanco will slide over to the keystone in response.
The 31-year-old's bat will never catch up to his glove -- a testament to the four-time Gold Glove winner's defense, not a knock on his offensive ability -- but Simmons has become a passable hitter over the years. In 127 plate appearances before opting out of the rest of the 2020 season, Simmons hit .297/.346/.356 this past season and is projected to approach double-digit homers and steals with a full slate of at-bats in 2021.
La Stella stays near the bay
The last deal of the night happened on the West Coast, naturally, when the Giants signed La Stella to what's being reported as a three-year deal worth $19.5 million. La Stella can play all over the infield but will most likely log the bulk of his time at second base and third base, the left-handed complement to Donovan Solano and Evan Longoria, respectively.
It's a wonderful new chapter in La Stella's story, one that almost saw him retire from baseball a few years ago. A utility infielder for the Cubs in 2016, La Stella famously refused to report to the team's Double-A affiliate after he'd been demoted, pondering retirement and citing a lack of "enjoyment of the game" as a reason why.
In the years since he's turned himself into a valuable offensive player, routinely posting above-average wRC+ numbers with the Cubs, Angels and, most recently, Athletics. In the shortened 2020 season the soon-to-be 32-year-old hit .281/.370/.449 with five homers and a stolen base. If he gets something close to a full helping of at-bats on the Giants' infield in 2021, he could be a sneaky-good four-category contributor that can be gotten very late in mixed league drafts.
Cards keep mainstay Wainwright
After a long staredown, the Cardinals finally blinked on Thursday and agreed to retain franchise stalwart Adam Wainwright. The reported one-year, $8 million deal could be the last for the 39-year-old, who has only ever donned a Cardinals uniform at the major league level.
The signing isn't a lifetime achievement award, either, after Wainwright showed out in 2020. Throwing 65 2/3 innings, the right-hander posted a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP across 10 starts, helping the Cards reach the postseason despite being among the hardest-hit by the COVID-altered schedule. We'll see if he can continue to keep Father Time at bay, but Wainwright is a viable option in deep mixed leagues and NL-only formats until he proves otherwise.
Quick Hits: Masahiro Tanaka has officially agreed to a two-year contract with the Rakuten Eagles in Japan. The right-hander began his professional career with the Rakuten Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball way back in 2007 at the age of 18. Now age 32, he posted a sharp 3.56 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 44/8 K/BB ratio in 48 innings (10 starts) last year with the Yankees ... Blue Jays acquired LHP Steven Matz from the Mets for RHPs Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diáz and Josh Winckowski. Matz surrendered a whopping 14 home runs over 30 2/3 innings for the Mets last season. He's due for some better luck in that regard, but pitching in the AL East obviously isn't an ideal landing spot. The left-hander doesn't look like a very wise investment in mixed fantasy leagues ... Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Indians have re-signed second baseman Cesar Hernandez, pending a physical. He'll make $5 million, per Heyman. Per Zack Meisel of The Athletic, it's a one-year deal with a club option for 2022. With Hernandez coming back, this could be a sign that the Indians want to try the recently-acquired Amed Rosario in the outfield, or that fellow Mets transplant Andres Gimenez could begin the year in the minors ... According to WEEI's Rob Bradford, rehabbing starter Chris Sale (elbow) experienced "a setback around the holidays due to neck stiffness. "The good news is that Sale has already resumed throwing on flat ground as he continues his long road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, but this neck issue helps to explain why he has not yet gotten on a mound. He had the reconstructive elbow procedure in March and probably won't be an option for the Red Sox rotation until sometime this May ... According to Jose F. Rivera of Wow Deportes, the Tigers have signed free agent catcher Wilson Ramos. It's reportedly a one-year, $2 million agreement, and there will probably be some incentives. Ramos struggled both offensively and defensively last season with the Mets, who made the easy decision to decline his $10 million club option for 2021 back in late October. But the 33-year-old former two-time All-Star would seem to be a worthwhile gamble for the rebuilding Tigers and fills a big immediate need for them behind the plate ... Yankees re-signed INF DJ LeMahieu to a six-year, $90 million contract. The deal was first reported nearly two weeks ago and has finally become official ... likewise, the Yankees officially signed RHP Corey Kluber to a one-year, $11 million contract ... Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Nationals are signing catcher Alex Avila to a one-year contract. Avila spent 2020 with the Twins and struggled in his small sample with a .184/.355/.286 slash and one homer in 62 plate appearances. He'll likely be the backup or at very best split duties with Yan Gomes to begin the 2021 campaign, with a chance to earn playing time against right-handed pitchers ... Orioles signed INF Freddy Galvis to a one-year, $1.5 million contract. The agreement, which has already been formally announced by the Orioles, includes a $250,000 bonus in the event that Galvis is traded. Galvis projects to serve as the new primary starter at short in Baltimore, at least to begin the 2021 campaign ... No new players were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in this year's balloting.