The goal of this game is to get home. Sometimes that ambition applies not only on the basepaths, but on the business side as well. Free agency is an opportunity for players and clubs to find a fit, and sometimes the best fit is one that’s been previously broken-in.
Here are a bunch of examples of reunions that would make sense from both a financial and baseball angle in this Hot Stove market.
1. Jon Lester and the Red Sox
Boston regrettably low-balled Lester when trying to negotiate an extension and wound up dealing him to the A’s in mid-2014. Lester went on to build a new legacy with the Cubs, with whom he won his third World Series ring. But on the heels of a declined option year, he stands as a potential short-term patch piece for a Boston rotation that posted a ghastly 5.34 ERA in '20 and -- with Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez questionable for the start of '21 -- has little certainty beyond Nathan Eovaldi.
Lester might be more likely to work out a new deal with the Cubs, but he has expressed openness to the idea of returning to (and possibly finishing his career with) the Red Sox.
2. Didi Gregorius and the Reds
We pitched this a year ago in this space. It made sense then, and it still makes sense now, as the Reds’ bid to upgrade their offense fell flat with a .212 team batting average in 2020.
Gregorius was originally signed by the Reds as an international free agent for $50,000 in 2007. He was blocked by Zack Cozart and played just eight games for Cincinnati in '12 before getting dealt to the D-backs, who later moved him to the Yankees, where he was an effective replacement for Derek Jeter. Gregorius took a one-year deal with the Phillies last winter and raked (.284/.339/.488 slash). The Reds do have young Jose Garcia as a shortstop option, but he jumped two levels to debut in '20 and was overmatched offensively.
3. Jake Odorizzi and the Rays
The defending American League champs had hoped to bring back Charlie Morton after declining his $15 million option, but he opted for a reunion of his own with the Braves, the team that drafted him all the way back in 2002. So Odorizzi would be a suitable replacement. Originally acquired by the Rays in the 2012 blockbuster that sent James Shields and Wade Davis to the Royals, Odorizzi spent five seasons with Tampa Bay before getting traded to the Twins, with whom he went on to have an All-Star season in '19.
Odorizzi took Minnesota’s qualifying offer for 2020 and had a miserable year, limited to four starts by non-arm injuries. He’s a solid bounceback bet this winter.
4. Nelson Cruz and the Mariners
This one’s likely a reach, because, while the Mariners are beginning to assemble the building blocks of a contender and are approaching the offseason with apparent financial flexibility, they’re probably not ready to splurge on a 40-year-old designated hitter. The safest bet is Cruz returning to the Twins and the Mariners giving most of their DH at-bats to infielder Ty France.
But it is fun to think about Cruz returning to Seattle, where he thrived from 2015-18 (averaging 41 homers and 104 RBIs), with a chance to point the M’s to the playoffs for the first time in a generation.
5. Brad Hand and the Marlins
It’s fun to think about J.T. Realmuto coming back to the Marlins to fill a need behind the dish, but the thought of him catching Sixto Sánchez might send Phillies fans into hysterics. As new general manager Kim Ng takes over a Marlins team looking to take the next step, the bullpen figures to be the priority. And it just so happens this former Fish is available to assume Brandon Kintzler’s departed closer duties.
Hand, a second-round Draft pick in 2008, broke into the big leagues with the Marlins in 2011 and fizzled out by '16, when the Padres plucked him off waivers and watched him morph into one of the game’s elite closers. So yes, the Marlins once waived Hand, but perhaps they could wave hello to him again.