Around the Horn: What’s next for these World Series stars?

Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, MLB, MLB Free Agency, MLB Postseason

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As soon as the World Series ended, the MLB offseason began. Where could these key pieces for the Atlanta Braves and Houston Astros be playing next?

When Freddie Freeman hit a home run in the top of the seventh inning on Wednesday night, extending the Braves’ lead to 7-0, Joe Buck said “that could’ve been Freeman’s last homer as a Brave.”

The odds of that being the case, however, are small. The expectation throughout the industry, and something I heard at the World Series, is that the Braves’ top priority is to re-sign Freeman. He has made it clear that he wants to stay in Atlanta and when there is clear mutual interest, a deal often gets done.

What might a deal look like? A template could be Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130 million contract that he signed in 2019. Freeman, 32, is relatively the same age as Goldschmidt when he signed the extension (31) and they’ve had similar production throughout their careers (Freeman: .295/.384/.509 in 12 seasons; Goldschmidt: .293/.389/.521 in 11 seasons).

Austin Riley is still hunting

When Mike Brumley worked with Austin Riley in January, he was drawn back to his experiences working with Kyle Seager.

Like Riley, Brumley worked with Seager early in his career. He could see the talent almost immediately and knew that he was destined for a long career in MLB. Years later, Seager signed a seven-year, $100 million contract extension and immediately bought a 180-acre ranch.

Brumley could see that Riley was on a similar career path and, knowing that he is an avid hunter and fisherman and dreams of owning his own ranch, approached him to tell him this was attainable if he translated his offseason work to the regular season.

“In late January, I told him, ‘Riley, here’s what we’re fighting for: you can hunt on your own land the rest of your life or you can hunt on someone else’s land the rest of your life,” Brumley said. “You do what you’re capable of, you’re hunting on your own land. I already had that experience with Seager and was like, ‘Man, that totally relates to Riley.’”

Riley, meanwhile, went on to hit .303/.367/.531 with 33 home runs and 107 RBI. He is likely to finish in the top-10 in MVP voting and could receive some top-5 votes, with his path to stardom growing as he proved to be a nightmare for opposing pitchers hitting No. 4 in the Braves’ lineup during the postseason.

Carlos Correa is no longer an Astro

After losing Game 6, Carlos Correa told Sports Illustrated that “I’m no longer an Astro.”

Correa, 27, has been with the Houston Astros for seven seasons. He won a World Series, made it to the ALCS in five consecutive years, established himself as the premier shortstop in a league that features many great shortstops. He was also part of a sign-stealing scandal that has tainted the Astros’ legacy and what will prevent them from being considered a dynasty.

But Correa will be the top-ranked free agent this winter and should command a deal worth north of $200 million that could approach $300 million. The writing has long been on the wall that 2021 would be his last season in Houston, with negotiations before the regular season quickly fizzling after the Astros extended a six-year, $120 million offer, per Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The Astros have not given up hope of re-signing Correa – they will extend him the qualifying offer – but barring a major upset, he will be playing somewhere besides Houston in 2022.

Brent Strom is headed somewhere else

Carlos Correa will not be the only significant departure for the Astros. Brent Strom, who is regarded as the best pitching coach in baseball, announced after the game that he will not return to the position in 2022.

“I cannot put into words how huge a loss this is for the Astros,” former Astros executive Kevin Goldstein said.

Strom, 73, developed a reputation of salvaging careers and taking major-league pitchers to the next level in eight seasons with the Astros. The team is in capable hands moving forward with pitching coach Josh Miller and assistant pitching coach Bill Murphy — Strom has endorsed both — but players and coaches who have worked with Strom have marveled at his ability to blend analytics with his own methods.

Strom has not decided what is next. He could stay in the Astros’ organization in a different capacity. He could retire. He told that he could join another organization as pitching coach if the right opportunity presented itself.

But losing Strom, and most likely Correa, on the same night is a crushing way to start the Astros’ offseason. Replacing one will prove difficult, but replacing both may be impossible.

Jorge Soler made himself a lot of money in the World Series

Jorge Soler was the World Series MVP. He hit .450 with three home runs in 20 at-bats, including a towering three-run homer that left Minute Maid Park in Game 6 — and what proved to be the dagger in the Astros.

“Good time for him to be a free agent,” one rival evaluator said.

That evaluator added that no player made themselves more money than Soler this postseason. Of course, Soler is only hitting .246.331/.465 in eight career seasons, but he is 29 and only two seasons removed from hitting 48 home runs and 117 RBI in 162 games in 2019.

The Braves’ other free-agent outfielders, Eddie Rosario and Joc Pederson, will be coveted after strong postseason performances. Retaining all three will be difficult for general manager Alex Anthopoulos, but it’s possible that at least one returns, though their priority will be to sign Freeman to a long-term extension.

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