No shortage of talent even after pre-lockout signing frenzy

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Dec. 8—While the expiration of baseball's collective bargaining agreement has shut down MLB's hot stove for now, the looming threat of a lockout created something akin to an early offseason signing deadline, prompting the kind of frenzy normally seen only around the trade deadline.

Quite a few of the offseason's top free agents signed ahead of the lockout, but when a new CBA is worked out there will still be quite a few prized players available. As we await the lockout's end, here are 10 free agents to watch when the offseason resumes.

Carlos Correa, SS

The top player available when the offseason began remains the top player available now. Correa, still only 27, has already played seven seasons in the big leagues and is coming off an MVP-caliber 2021 in which he led the Houston Astros to their third World Series appearance in five years. Correa just won the Platinum Glove, awarded to the best defensive player in baseball, and batted .279 with 26 home runs, 92 RBI and a .850 OPS. He will likely command a monster contract close to 10 years and well north of $300 million, but for one of the best players in baseball only now entering his prime, that could still be a bargain.

Kris Bryant, 3B/OF

A former MVP who led the 2016 Chicago Cubs to their historic World Series championship, Bryant is a proven winner who also demonstrated a unique versatility in 2021. Bryant morphed into a super-utility player who could play pretty much any position, and by batting .265 with 25 home runs, 73 RBI and a .835 OPS he demonstrated he's still a formidable hitter even after a lost 2020 season. Bryant will be 30 when the 2022 season starts, but after the 31-year-old Marcus Semien signed for seven years and $175 million the market for Bryant should be similarly robust.

Freddie Freeman, 1B

It's hard to imagine Freddie Freeman playing anywhere but Atlanta. The 32-year-old has played his entire 12-year career with the Braves, and during that time he's earned five All-Star nods, won the 2020 NL MVP Award and led the Braves to their first World Series title in 26 years this fall. Still, Atlanta could have worked out an extension with Freeman long ago, and now he could conceivably leave in the wake of a title much like Albert Pujols a decade ago after leading the Cardinals to the 2011 championship.

Trevor Story, SS

Trevor Story has consistently been among the top hitting shortstops in baseball over his six seasons in the big leagues, and in addition to his outstanding bat he's also a sneaky dangerous baserunner. At 29 he's still in the prime of his career and should fetch a big long-term contract, though likely not quite a Correa-level deal, which should make him attractive to mid-market teams looking to make the leap to playoff contention.

Seiya Suzuki, OF

The reigning MVP of Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball league, Seiya Suzuki was posted by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp and is considered the best Japanese baseball player to make the jump to MLB since Shohei Ohtani. The 27-year-old Suzuki is known for his Juan Soto-like combination of power and plate discipline, and he also boasts an excellent throwing arm.

Nick Castellanos, OF

Nick Castellanos has developed into one of baseball's most prolific power hitters. The 29-year-old enjoyed a breakout 2021 season in which he hit a career-high 34 home runs with 100 RBI to earn his first All-Star appearance.

Clayton Kershaw, SP

A future Hall of Famer and one of the best pitchers of his generation, the 33-year-old Kershaw may be coming to the end of his time with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kershaw posted a 3.55 ERA in 2021 but mounting injuries are becoming a significant concern. If he opts to continue his career and stays healthy Kershaw could be a fantastic signing for whatever team he lands with, but on some level it's hard to imagine him pitching anywhere but Chavez Ravine.

Kenley Jansen, RP

One of the best closers of the past decade, Kenley Jansen showed he's still got it after posting 38 saves with a 2.22 ERA for the Dodgers last season. At 34 Jansen is on the older side, but he remains among the top relief pitchers available and should be in high demand.

Carlos Rodon, SP

Carlos Rodon has some question marks about his health and consistency, but on a per inning basis he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. Last year the 28-year-old enjoyed a breakout season in which he posted a 2.37 ERA with an eye-popping 185 strikeouts in only 132.2 innings.

Kyle Schwarber, OF

Kyle Schwarber posted one of the most prolific months by any player in baseball history in June, hitting 16 home runs while with the Washington Nationals, and after coming over to the Boston Red Sox at the trade deadline he helped lead the club to the ALCS. Beyond his home run power, Schwarber's patient approach at the plate sets him apart, as does his propensity to come up big in key spots.

Email: mcerullo@northofboston.com. Twitter: @MacCerullo.

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