2022 Top 50 Free Agents

Welcome to perhaps the most uncertain edition of FanGraphs’ annual top-50 free-agent rankings. In past years, luminaries like Dave Cameron, Kiley McDaniel, and Craig Edwards have helmed this exercise. This year, I’ve enlisted a little help from my friends to fill their shoes.

Below, I’ve ranked the top 50 free agents and provided contract estimates for each of them. For the top 25 players, I’ve also written some short commentary, alternately about their potential suitors and what makes them enticing. Devan Fink, Brendan Gawlowski, Kevin Goldstein, Jay Jaffe, Eric Longenhagen, Dan Szymborski, and Jon Tayler have provided their own breakdowns for each player in the top 50 (with me chipping in for a few guys at the end), focusing mainly on the players themselves rather than their market.

Players are ranked in the order that I prefer them. That’s often the same as ranking them in contract order, but not always. In some cases, I’d prefer a player who I expect will get less money over one who stands to make more. I’ll generally make note of that in the accompanying comment, but just to reiterate, the list isn’t exclusively ordered by descending average annual value, or total dollars, or anything of that sort. All dollar amounts are estimated guarantees. Plenty of contracts in the bottom half of this list could end up with team options tacked on, but those aren’t included in these estimates. Some players in the top 10 could end up with opt outs, which also aren’t included. Unless otherwise noted, all projections are Steamer 2022 projections. The listed ages indicate the age-season the player is about to play.

We’ve made a note of which players received a Qualifying Offer, which is worth $18.4 million this year. Teams had five days after the World Series to make those offers, after which time players have 10 days to accept or decline. The uncertain nature of this year’s collective bargaining agreement makes predicting whether players will accept Qualifying Offers more difficult than usual. As a refresher, if a player receives and declines a qualifying offer, the team that eventually signs them forfeits a draft pick, while the team that made the offer gains one. Which draft picks change hands depends on the circumstances of both teams, as well as the total dollar value of the contract signed.

For a comprehensive list of this year’s free agents, which will be updated to include signings as they happen and crowdsource results for those players on whose deals we polled, please consult our Free Agent Tracker.

Of course, free agency kicked off before a new collective bargaining agreement has been finalized, which makes anticipating the direction of this year’s market’s particularly difficult. A new agreement seems unlikely before the end of the year, which will likely slow signings, particularly at the top end of the market, precipitously. Without a clear idea of the economic playing field going forward, who could blame either teams or players for wanting to wait for more certainty?

Any new CBA is unlikely to change the broad economic picture of baseball, but it might have a meaningful effect on the particulars of the free agent market. Moving the competitive balance tax threshold, instituting a universal designated hitter, imposing a new individual or team-wide salary minimum, changing service time rules, abolishing the qualifying offer: all of these things are on the table, and all might change an individual team’s priorities.

Some contracts might be signed before a new agreement is reached, but I expect that most of the top free agents will wait until after a CBA is agreed to to come to terms. The market might move quickly at that point — as the league and the Players Association agree on a broad framework, teams and players will likely have hypothetical discussions based on the prospective new landscape — but it’s hard to imagine Carlos Correa signing a $300 million contract until there’s a guarantee that a work stoppage won’t impact the 2022 regular season.

In other words, take these rankings with a grain of salt. There’s no way of knowing how much this iteration of collective bargaining will change the economic landscape of the league, but don’t underestimate how much it will matter. It’s easy to compare potential contracts to those signed by similar players in the past, but those contracts were both a product of the player and the economic landscape in which teams were operating. Change that landscape — lower the age at which players reach free agency or change the cost of arbitration — and entirely different contracts might make sense. And that’s even before considering how a universal DH might change teams’ shopping lists.

Partially, that’s me hedging. These projections are for a roughly unchanged economic picture, which has been the outcome of the past several CBAs. It would take a major change to alter the paradigm in which teams build their rosters, and here’s a rarely-discussed but true rule: major changes mostly don’t happen. If the status quo carries on, with minor cosmetic alteration, I feel good about these projections.

That extensive caveat aside, this is an exciting free agent class. Correa and Corey Seager headline a dynamic group of shortstops that should find big-ticket suitors. Marcus Semien, Trevor Story, and Javier Báez are hot on their heels, but might also accept shorter deals from teams leery of long-term commitments.

It’s hardly a shortstop-only market. Max Scherzer is the best of a group of pitchers that includes Robbie Ray and Marcus Stroman, as well as some injured-but-enticing stars like Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard, and Clayton Kershaw. This class is deep with starters; 19 number among the top 50, and even the lower-tier options showed promise this year.

In fact, the middle of this list is full of roughly equivalent options. You could reasonably swap anyone in the 25-40 range; position-limited bats and solid pitchers will always have suitors. This class is far deeper than last year’s; the crowd projects our 20th-ranked player to get a deal in the range of four years at $15 million per year. For the past two years, that spot on the list has been the territory of one-year lottery tickets. And that doesn’t even include two late scratches from our list: J.D. Martinez chose not to opt out of his deal, while Wade Miley briefly became Waive Miley when the Reds placed him on waivers, only for the Chicago Cubs to pick him up and exercise the team option in his contract. They’ve both been replaced on the list.

Without further ado, let’s get to the rankings. Players denoted with an asterisk have received a qualifying offer.

1. Carlos Correa*, SS, Age 27
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 9 $33.0 M $297.0 M
Median Crowdsource 8 $30.0 M $240.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 8.27 $29.4 M $243.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
621 11.3% 18.6% .277 .364 .495 .366 131 24.5 5.8 5.1

Ben’s Take
This feels like as good a place as any to talk about the shortstop market. The Yankees will be in search of a premium shortstop. The Dodgers might be, too, unless they move Trea Turner to short and pursue a second baseman. The Tigers, Phillies, Nationals, and Cubs have openings, though not all of those teams are looking to make a big splash. There will surely be some mystery teams in on these guys, too; if you want to jump-start a rebuild, franchise shortstops will certainly appeal.

Correa has one main question mark: health. He’s only put together two 600 PA seasons in his career, though he also played the whole year in 2020. That aside, what’s not to like? He’s a tremendous hitter, combining a plus hit tool with easy power. That works out to a batting line 25% or so better than average, with upside for more. He’s also improved his fielding, which was once a question; the eye test and advanced metrics agree that he’s an above-average defender, and he emphasized that improvement this postseason with a flurry of great plays.

The biggest question with Correa is not whether he’ll get the biggest contract handed out this offseason, but how he’ll fare relative to Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr., the two shortstops who set the market last year. I don’t think Correa quite gets there, but I do think he’ll comfortably set the top of this market. The Astros have reportedly already offered him a five-year contract worth $32 million per year, but there’s little question he’ll get more years, more money per year, or both from an interested suitor.

Player Notes
It’s a deep free agent class, but it’s defined by the outstanding group of shortstops at the top, led by a pair of excessively young, impact-level players: Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. Offensively, they’re quite similar, but Seager has a bit of an edge by being a slightly better pure hitter with underrated power that is every bit equal to Correa’s. Where Correa gains his edge, and it’s a considerable one, is with his defense. In terms of scouting grades, Seager is a 45 shortstop. He’s certainly capable of playing the position, but his range is sub-standard and he just doesn’t get to as many balls as your average player at the position. Correa, on the other hand, is an outstanding defender, with the difference between him and Seager arguably measured in multiple wins. He doesn’t have the twitch you normally expect at short, but his reactions and first step are phenomenal, and having one of the best infield arms in the game allows him to make plenty of plays that others can’t. Throw in the clubhouse and leadership impact he provides, and as good as this class is, there really isn’t much debate as to who should rank number one. – KG

2. Corey Seager*, SS, Age 28
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 8 $30.0 M $240.0 M
Median Crowdsource 7 $28.0 M $196.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 7.13 $27.5 M $196.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
596 10.1% 16.4% .287 .365 .502 .369 133 24.8 0.3 4.5

Ben’s Take
If you’d prefer your young, slugging shortstop to hit lefty rather than righty, Corey Seager has you covered. A mere five months older than Correa, Seager has been his equal in nearly every way. They broke into the league the same year, hitting right from the start, and have both struggled with intermittent injuries, perhaps the consequence of putting their 6-foot-4 frames (they’re the same there, too) through the rigors of playing shortstop in the major leagues.

Seager ranks behind Correa because I have more doubts about his ability to stick at short. In an injury-shortened year, Seager’s bat was every bit as good as advertised, but his defense took a step back, and even at his best, he’s a 50 defender at the position. In a few years, he’ll likely slide over to third base, where he’ll still be an absolutely premium player, just one at a slightly less difficult defensive position.

Every team that’s in on Correa will likely be in on Seager as well, but he’s no mere consolation prize. The hardest-hit batted ball of his career came in 2021. So did his highest walk rate. Meanwhile, he struck out only 16% of the time. He did it by hunting a pitch to drive (he posted a top-10-percent zone swing rate) and mostly laying off balls. If you’re looking for the hitter in this class with the best chance of going nova and putting up Trout-esque numbers, I’d bet on Seager.

Player Notes
A two and a half month absence due to a right hand fracture put a dent in Seager’s season, that after a torrid 2020 showing capped by NLCS and World Series MVP honors. When he played, Seager outhit even his 2016 NL Rookie of the Year-winning campaign via a .306/.394/.521 (147 wRC+) line; all but the batting average were full-season highs, as was his 11.7% walk rate. He raked at an MVP-caliber 169 wRC+ clip after the injury (116 before), with 12 of his 16 homers coming from July 30 onward. Put together his 2020-21 numbers for a full-ish season of data and you get a .306/.381/.545 (148 wRC+) line with 31 homers and 5.6 WAR in 147 games.

Alas, Seager hasn’t played anywhere close to 147 games in a year since 2017 (145), which will limit his payday, but at least fractures don’t portend more of the same the way soft tissue injuries do. The other concern is defense; while still playable at shortstop (-2 DRS, -6.9 UZR, -5 OAA for 2020-21), he’s no Ozzie Smith, and at some point probably bound for the hot corner. He could still return to the Dodgers, but the Trea Turner acquisition makes clear the existence of alternatives. – JJ

3. Marcus Semien*, 2B/SS, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $30.0 M $120.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $23.0 M $92.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.55 $25.0 M $113.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
681 10.0% 18.5% .259 .337 .469 .345 117 16.0 5.5 4.4

Ben’s Take
In two of the last three seasons, Semien has been a stud. In the five other full seasons he’s played, he’s been a solid everyday regular, nothing more. Who’s the real Semien? My best guess — and Steamer’s — is somewhere in between, a fringe All-Star who can handle either middle infield spot, though second looks like a more natural long-term home to my eyes.

Getting that kind of production for the next few years and then a capable middle infielder as he ages (he’s 31 right now) should interest everyone, but particularly teams that think their competitive window has an expiration date. The Phillies and Twins could use a player like that. So could the Yankees, at least as a supplement to their current core. That might keep Semien’s contract short — but he’ll get paid in return for its brevity.

Player Notes
If you thought Marcus Semien’s weak 2020 season proved that his near-MVP performance in ’19 was a stone-cold fluke, he would like to have a word with your manager. While we’d all probably like to forget 2020, Semien managed that feat better than most, nearly matching his ’19 with a .265/.334/.538, 131 wRC+, 6.6 WAR ironman performance that was a big reason the Blue Jays were competitive until the final day of the season. Among players with at least 50% of their games played at second base, Semien even set the single-season record for home runs.

While the shortstop market this winter is deep, Semien’s 2021 means that he won’t have to go hat-in-hand on a one-year deal, though a true blockbuster contract is unlikely as he’s on the wrong side of 30. In a flip of the usual dynamic, Semien playing second might make him even more valuable than he would be otherwise, as he’s already shown himself amenable to playing there instead of at short, which might not be the case with the other top free agents at the position.

Semien’s likely entering his decline years, but I’d have no problem considering him a star for at least the next two or three seasons, and playing him at shortstop for at least the beginning of his contract if my roster demanded it. His mid-career turnaround will always be a great example of why you should take every opportunity to let a talented player redefine himself in a positive fashion. – DS

4. Max Scherzer, SP, Age 37
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $35.0 M $70.0 M
Median Crowdsource 3 $32.0 M $96.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.67 $31.9 M $84.9 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
171.0 6.1% 31.1% 35.3% 3.43 3.31 3.46 4.2 4.1

Ben’s Take
“Dead arm” is a scary term. It’s especially scary for a 37-year-old pitcher who had an IL stint this year, though it was for an unrelated issue. Still, uh, have you seen Max Scherzer pitch? He’s one of the best five or so starters in the game, and if you throw out 2020, he hasn’t thrown fewer than 170 innings since 2010. As the adage goes, pitchers don’t age, they break — and if Scherzer’s arm didn’t break, the team that secures his services will instantly have a rock at the top of their rotation.

Fourth sounds high for someone with a dead arm, but consider this a bit of a hedge: teams will get a look at his medicals, and if what we saw in October is truly something more than Scherzer tiring after a mad rush to the finish and a heavy playoff workload, then he shouldn’t be here on the list. This assumes health, because on the outside looking in, that’s the best I can do.

That said — c’mon, be honest, you want your team to sign Scherzer to a two-year, $60 million deal. He’s monomaniacally driven, which is an absolute blast to watch. Your team could do match what the Nationals did on their scoreboard, where they only showed his eyes, with his irises the only part of the image in color. It was awesome! He could issue some quote about how your manager will have to come at him with a pitchfork and a specially designed Scherzer-catching net to get him off the mound. He’ll likely do all of that while posting an ERA with a two handle. It might not be the longest deal on the list — or he might be hurt — but Scherzer is the kind of premium free agent every contender could use.

Player Notes
His final two regular season starts and two of his three postseason ones were mediocre, but that shouldn’t be the lasting impression of Scherzer’s 2021 season. In the final year of one of the sport’s most fully realized free agent mega-deals — $210 million for two Cy Youngs, two no-hitters, a championship, and 39.7 WAR — the 36-year-old Scherzer pitched like a man chasing more hardware, placing second in the NL in ERA (2.46), strikeouts (236), and K-BB% (28.8%), third in WAR (5.4), and fourth in FIP (2.96). His only blemish was a comparatively inflated 1.15 HR/9, but even that was 0.18 below the average starter.

Suffice it to say that Scherzer remains an ace, and will command an ace salary, quite possibly topping Gerrit Cole‘s $36 million AAV on a multiyear deal. The Dodgers likely have the inside track given not only their financial advantages but also a sense of unfinished business after Scherzer was unable to make a second NLCS start due to arm fatigue. Any contender with a need for frontline pitching will kick the tires if the Dodgers don’t land him quickly, but he’ll have no trouble finding a home. – JJ

5. Freddie Freeman*, 1B, Age 32
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 5 $27.0 M $135.0 M
Median Crowdsource 5 $25.0 M $125.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 5.46 $25.6 M $139.8 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
669 12.9% 16.2% .290 .388 .511 .378 140 32.9 -11.3 4.4

Ben’s Take
Win an MVP? Check. Win the World Series in Atlanta? Check. Freeman is heading into free agency after a crowning achievement, and he’s still one of the best hitters in baseball, so he’ll add a stack of loot to his accolades, whether he’d prefer to stick around or find greener pastures.

There’s a broad consensus that Freeman will stay in Atlanta, and I think that’s the most likely outcome. It just makes sense: he likes it there, and the Braves have the resources and desire to re-up. It’s hard to imagine a better situation than staying where you live, joining the reigning World Series champion, and getting more than $100 million to do it. That doesn’t mean other teams won’t pursue him, but it does mean that I’m going to gloss over Freeman’s bona fides a bit. He’s one of the best hitters in baseball. Atlanta knows it, and they’ll likely be the ones to pay him accordingly.

Player Notes
Freeman took a step backward from his MVP-winning 2020 campaign, but given that he posted a .456 wOBA and 186 wRC+ that year, it’s kind of hard to imagine how he could’ve done better. Besides, that step backward amounted to a .379 wOBA and 135 wRC+, along with 4.5 WAR, good for fifth among first basemen this year and making this his sixth full season of 4-plus WAR out of the last eight.

That kind of excellent consistency is Freeman’s hallmark. His triple slash, wOBA and wRC+ in 2021 were almost exact matches for both his career numbers in those categories and his production since the start of ’13. In that span, he’s posted a .388 wOBA and 144 wRC+ over 5,381 plate appearances; among players with 5,000 or more over those nine seasons, he trails only Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt in the former category, and is tied with Votto for first in the latter. Freeman is as close as it gets to automatic production, both at the plate and with the glove, ranking as one of the game’s best defenders at first. That’s worth an easy nine figures, though whichever team hands him that deal will be taking a great leap of faith in hoping an over-30 hitter already at the outermost edge of the defensive spectrum can age gracefully. On the other hand, you’re getting a player for whom a four-win season is the norm and who spent the last three years spitting on the idea of decline. Stability never looked so sexy. – JT

6. Kris Bryant, 3B/LF/RF, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 8 $25.0 M $200.0 M
Median Crowdsource 6 $25.0 M $150.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 5.63 $24.1 M $136.0 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
614 10.8% 23.2% .251 .343 .444 .339 113 11.4 -5.1 2.7

Ben’s Take
If you’re under the age of 50, you probably don’t actually own a Swiss Army knife. You likely know what they are, though: a metal interpretation of Kris Bryant. He slices! He dices! He corkscrews! He takes walks! He hits for power! It’s a solidly above-average offensive profile, and he does it while playing wherever you need him to in the field.

Bryant struggled defensively after his trade to the Giants, but I’m not particularly worried about that. Right field in San Francisco is bizarre. It’s somehow both expansive and cozy, and you might be sprinting headlong into the power alleys or playing a ball on the ricochet off the tall outfield wall — or sometimes both on the same play. Bryant was above average in left and center — and per OAA, somehow four outs below average in only 67 innings in right field.

A reunion with the Giants seems likely, but if he does leave, his blend of power and patience means that he’d be an upgrade in nearly every contender’s lineup. If the Mets are adding this offseason, he’d be a good fit. The Mariners have an open spot at third base, and budget space to replace Kyle Seager. Those aren’t the only possible destinations, either: given Bryant’s ability to handle an everyday role in either outfield corner or third base, tons of teams will check in should his market prove slower or lower than expected.

Player Notes
Bryant was the heartthrob Rookie of the Year in 2015 and a run-away MVP winner a year later. The latter achievement capped a dream season that marked the end of Chicago’s 108-year title drought and established Bryant as one of the game’s preeminent stars.

Bryant couldn’t quite sustain that elite level of production. He accrued nearly half of his 31 career WAR in those first two seasons, and two-thirds of it in his first three. Since then, he hasn’t eclipsed the 148 wRC+ he posted in 2016, or bested the 6.7 WAR he notched in 2017; indeed, he hasn’t touched even five wins in the years since. He’s still good, of course: Even with a disastrous 2020, Bryant has posted a 124 wRC+ since 2018, and his defensive versatility offers value beyond what WAR can capture. Along the way though, he’s slipped from the type of player who starts an All-Star game to one who finishes it, and increasingly it seems like he’s played his best baseball.

The wild card here is if he re-signs with the Giants. If that player development system can turn Darin Ruf into a weapon, perhaps they can put Bryant back on track to Cooperstown. – BG

7. Robbie Ray*, SP, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $28.0 M $112.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $18.0 M $72.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.75 $22.4 M $106.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
186.0 9.0% 30.8% 37.4% 3.77 3.76 3.64 3.6 3.7

Ben’s Take
Ray put his hellacious stuff together this year, pitching to the potential that he showed for years in Arizona. He’s always had strikeout stuff, but often wasted good performances due to his command issues.

About that: he stopped walking people this year. “Continue striking everyone out but cut out the walks” is a neat trick — every big league pitcher would do it if they could. Ray cut his walk rate literally in half, posting a 6.9% rate after a profligate 2020. He also struck out 32.1% of his opponents, the second-best mark of his career. All the strikeouts, none of the walks? It’s clear why Ray was so effective.

Every team shopping at the top of the free agent market will want Ray. Is there a chance he reverts to his previous form? Sure. But if this year’s command improvements even half-stick, he’ll be a top-of-the-rotation starter for years to come.

Player Notes
After years of high strikeout and walk rates, Ray finally tapped into his tantalizing potential this season by lowering the latter without affecting the former. Signed by the Blue Jays on a one-year deal after a horrid 2020 season, Ray quickly became the staff’s ace and very well could end up winning the American League Cy Young Award, thanks to his 2.84 ERA over 193.1 innings pitched. The 6.9% walk rate was by far a career-best, though his FIP — and thus his WAR — didn’t scream as elite because he allowed the seventh-highest HR/9 among pitchers with 150 innings. This is definitely a different Robbie Ray, though, and as long as he remains in control of his stuff, the 30-year-old should be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market. The Blue Jays would probably be remiss to let him sign elsewhere, but a Cy Young-caliber season in terms of run prevention means that his services will be much more in demand this winter than they were just a year ago. Even with a little regression baked in, Ray should be a productive starter again next year, with the potential for more if he repeats his 2021. – DF

8. Marcus Stroman, SP, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $25.0 M $100.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $18.0 M $72.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.17 $20.7 M $86.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
179.0 6.9% 19.2% 52.3% 4.12 4.08 4.00 2.6 2.6

Ben’s Take
Unlike Ray, Stroman has been a consistently solid performer when he’s played. If you want a 3-4 WAR pitcher with durability, Stroman is your man. Pitching-needy teams like the Red Sox, Mets, and Cardinals might be the most interested, but any team on the playoff fringes would benefit from the sure rotation improvement Stroman provides.

Stroman has always gotten grounders, but he supplemented that core skill with an increased strikeout rate this year. His secret? A split change that he leaned on heavily for the first time this season. It was only a fourth pitch, but it served to make everything play up: not only did the splitter miss a ton of bats, but his sinker, cutter, and slider all missed more than they had in previous years.

Combine a new penchant for missing bats and his normal grounder-focused game, and you have a recipe for success. He also made 33 starts, the rare pitcher with a durable 2021 season. It might sound strange that a pitcher with a below-average strikeout rate is a hot commodity in this era of missing bats and taking names, but Stroman does everything else so well that it hardly matters. If he takes another step forward with his splitter in his second year throwing it, there’s even more upside — and we’re already talking about a workhorse with a mid-3.00s ERA.

Player Notes
Marcus Stroman might not be a Cy Young candidate or a pitcher who sits at the top of a rotation, but he’s good in nearly every way, and he achieved what proved to be an exceptionally rare feat in 2021: he took the bump every five days without missing a start. His approach to pitching is unique in today’s game. In an era when baseball has become obsessed with rising, backspinning four-seam fastballs, Stroman utilizes a sinker that is a bit on the soft side in terms of velocity, but becomes plus due to spin, movement and his ability to locate. His off-speed repertoire is actually hard, as his slider and cutter both have above-average velocity, and his newly-found splitter has quickly become an offering he can use to keep hitters off balance. Stroman’s combination of above-average performance and durability is the kind teams pay heavily for, because while fans don’t always focus on these numbers, games started and innings pitched can play a huge role in determining free agent value. – KG

9. Starling Marte, CF/RF/LF, Age 33
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $25.0 M $50.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $18.0 M $72.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.57 $18.0 M $64.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
624 6.6% 18.5% .276 .339 .437 .334 110 10.9 -1.2 3.1

Ben’s Take
At 33, it’s a good bet that Marte won’t repeat his 2021 numbers, but he plays a young man’s game; he’s solid in center field, sprays the ball to all fields, and causes havoc when he reaches base.

If Marte were three years younger, he might make the top five of this list, but teams don’t hand out long contracts to 33-year-old hitters these days. In the last two offseasons combined, only Josh Donaldson and DJ LeMahieu signed deals of four years or longer at age 33 or older, and LeMahieu’s deal was artificially long to spread out the CBT hit.

Like Semien, this makes Marte a bargain for teams that want to compete right this minute without locking up a position for a decade. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Mets could use that. The Astros could too, particularly if they don’t sign a big-ticket shortstop.

Player Notes
The 33-year-old Marte remains in top-of-the-scale physical condition and is coming off a career year, hitting .308/.381/.456 and generating a whopping 5.4 WAR while setting or tying personal bests for OBP (.381), walk rate (8%), and steals (47). It’s reasonable to expect him to continue to be an impact player for the next couple of years, and then merely a productive big leaguer for the life of his next contract considering that athletes like Marte, who is built as if the engineers at Ferrari designed a human person, tend to age well. Despite his age, Marte remains a plus runner (4.2 seconds home to first) and his feel and instincts on the bases are elite. He’s sixth in the majors in baserunning runs since he first debuted in 2012 (Billy Hamilton, Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jarrod Dyson, and Brett Gardner are ahead of him). Though his true talent power (Marte hits the ball on the ground an awful lot, 54% of the time in 2021) is closer to the .420 SLG range, that’s still well above the league average in center field, a position that produced a .243/.314/.405 line across baseball last season. – EL

10. Trevor Story*, SS, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 5 $23.0 M $115.0 M
Median Crowdsource 6 $25.0 M $150.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 5.45 $24.1 M $131.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
655 9.0% 25.4% .246 .322 .449 .330 107 7.6 6.3 3.6

Ben’s Take
Story would have placed higher on the list before this year. He had his worst season since 2017, dropping 30 points of OBP and 80 of slugging percentage compared to his previous three seasons of production. That’s a worrisome trend, but underneath the hood, things still mostly look rosy.

If there’s cause for concern, it’s on defense, and I’ll be honest: I’m not sure what to think. Per DRS, Story was excellent, but DRS seems to systematically overrate Colorado infield defenders. From 2010-21, DRS thought the Rockies had the best infield defense by roughly 130 runs, 285 runs above average. It also thought they had the worst outfield defense, 205 runs below average. UZR and OAA both think that the Rockies have been good at infield defense — they’ve had a ton of talented defenders — but place them firmly in the fray, not head and shoulders above everyone else.

In 2021, DRS thought Story was as good as ever, UZR thought he was slightly above average, and OAA thought he was awful. Which metric teams see as closest to predictive will go a long way towards determining what contract he gets, because a league-average bat at shortstop is valuable, but particularly so if he’s also an elite defender.

Player Notes
Story overcame early-career struggles with strikeouts and ascended to star-level performance in his mid-20s, peaking with a couple 5-to-6 WAR, 35-to-37 homer seasons in 2018 and ‘19. No shortstop (unless you count Manny Machado as a shortstop) has homered more than Story since he debuted in 2016; he has about 50 more home runs than Correa and Seager during that span. While Coors Field is responsible for at least some of Story’s offensive performance (his career xSLG is .468, while his actual is .523), this is still a shortstop with rare power for the position, though Story’s power output in literally every facet (SLG, HR, ISO, average exit velo, max exit velo, etc.) has been slowly declining since that aforementioned two-year peak. This year he began having trouble making strong, accurate throws to first base, often just limply slinging the ball over after taking a running start. Whichever team pays Story will likely be one that isn’t worried about his sudden throwing woes, and to his credit, Story found a way to play around his injury and still make most of the plays one could reasonably expect him to at short. – EL

11. Nick Castellanos*, RF/LF/DH, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $21.0 M $63.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $16.0 M $64.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.13 $19.5 M $80.6 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
666 7.4% 21.6% .269 .330 .484 .344 117 13.5 -15.2 2.1

Ben’s Take
In past seasons, I’d argue that Castellanos was a bit unlucky to not end up with better numbers. This year, he seems to have been slightly fortunate, but make no mistake: he’s been crushing the ball for years on end at this point. He might not be an impact defender, but his 126 wRC+ since 2018 is 12th among hitters with 2,000 PA or more, and that’s not something you can fake. No two ways about it: Castellanos can rake.

With a universal DH looking increasingly likely, there’s less reason to fret about his defense, and he’s durable to boot. A top hitter who rarely misses a game and is only 29? Yeah, that sounds like something a lot of teams will be interested in.

Player Notes
Of Castellanos’ two years in the Queen City, the first was a blah 2020 where he barely squeaked out above league-average production. The second was a very good J.D. Martinez impersonation, in which he set new career highs in home runs, each triple slash stat, wOBA (.391), wRC+ (140), ISO (.267), and WAR (4.2). That last figure is hurt by his defense, which grades out negatively per both our metrics and Statcast’s Outs Above Average (-6, 221th in the majors); like Martinez, he’s better off leaving his glove at home. Offensively, though, Castellanos is as good as it gets if you’re looking for right-handed power in a corner outfield spot, and he won’t turn 30 until next March.

Whether he can stay on this Martinez-like path depends on a few factors. He needs to keep the positive developments in his swing decisions: fewer strikeouts and whiffs and more contact than his weak 2020, and an emphasis on hunting and punishing fastballs and pitches in the zone. The NL adopting the DH would only expand his market. And he also needs to choose his next home carefully. Castellanos raked at Great American Ball Park, one of the majors’ best stadiums for right-handed hitters, posting a 1.109 OPS there with a .702 slugging percentage in 2021, but was mortal on the road, hitting .260/.319/.454. He’ll give front offices a lot to chew on, as there’s a drive into deep left field, and that’ll be a home run. – JT

12. Javier Báez, SS/2B, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $20.0 M $80.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $20.0 M $80.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.38 $19.9 M $87.2 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
574 5.1% 31.2% .242 .288 .443 .310 94 -2.9 3.6 2.0

Ben’s Take
You should want your team to sign Javier Báez. You might not know this to be the case; maybe you think you’re set in the middle infield, or don’t think his numbers are sustainable, or think his plate discipline will catch up to him soon. He struck out more than a third of the time this year and had one of the worst chase rates in baseball; it’s not hard to convince yourself that he might have some downside risk.

And yet, you should want your team to sign Báez. Baseball is a game, and I can’t think of many players who have more fun playing it or produce more memorable moments. Dazzling defensive plays, genius-level baseball IQ, wild swings at shoelace-high pitches that nonetheless produce home runs; Báez does it all, and he does it with an infectious grin. You’re going to watch a ton of your team’s games; those games will be more enjoyable with Báez playing in them.

Oh yeah: he’s good, too. Maybe he won’t replicate his offensive numbers again, but he’s a sterling defender with plus power. At only 28 (29 next season), he could be a force for years to come. That and the sheer joy he plays the game with? It’s a hard package to dislike.

Player Notes
Welcome to the winter’s most fascinating free agent. Báez’s track record is as excellent as his approach is horrifying, and that alone makes for a zesty profile. On top of that, Báez is also the only star free agent shortstop who comes without a qualifying offer attached, a significant consideration in the prospect-hugging era. Undoubtedly, many clubs will be spooked by his regressing plate discipline, particularly as he enters his 30s: Báez’s game only works because of his electric bat speed, and even the brightest physical attributes fade with time.

But anyone who can stomach potential snake eyes has plenty to gain if they roll boxcars. Toss out 2020, and Báez has averaged nearly 4.5 wins over his last three full seasons. That’s well ahead of Carlos Correa and Cory Seager’s production, and he doesn’t have any of the scary nagging injuries that have dogged those two in recent seasons. Wherever he goes, a short, front-loaded, high-AAV deal seems like the sweet spot for all parties. Teams like Detroit and Seattle, clubs with money to spend, wins to chase, and a good reason to hang on to their 2022 draft picks, should be very interested. – BG

13. Eduardo Rodriguez*, SP, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $20.0 M $80.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $18.0 M $72.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.81 $18.2 M $69.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
185.0 7.8% 26.2% 44.4% 3.65 3.68 3.72 3.7 3.8

Ben’s Take
Good pitching is hard to come by. You can’t always check every box, which is why teams will back up a truck full of money for Rodriguez despite his 4.74 ERA in 2021. He was wildly unlucky on batted balls, allowing the second-highest BABIP in baseball.

If you think Rodriguez will be less snakebitten next year, there’s a lot to like. Aside from a health scare that caused him to miss the 2020 season, he’s rarely missed a turn, making 31 starts this season and 34 in 2019. He doesn’t always give you great length — this year’s 31 starts covered only 157.2 innings — but turn a few more batted balls into outs, and the length could appear out of nowhere. Of the top 25 free agents, Rodriguez might be the least decorated — but he also might be the best bargain for a contender who believes in his peripherals.

Player Notes
Rodriguez missed the entire 2020 season due to myocarditis stemming from COVID-19 but came back to log 157.2 innings of roughly league-average run prevention in ‘21. His strikeout and walk rates were both career bests, however, and he ended up setting a career high in WAR as a result. A .363 BABIP allowed, in combination with a career-low 68.9% strand rate, oddly yielded a career-high ERA, despite everything else being seemingly very solid. A lot of these woes were mostly relegated to the first half, including a horrid May that saw him allow 24 runs in 29.2 innings; from August 1 through the end of the season, on the other hand, Rodriguez pitched to a 3.26 ERA and produced 1.7 WAR. Overall, Rodriguez isn’t a frontline starter, but he’s the type of pitcher who will do many things slightly better than league-average, culminating in a productive arm pretty much every season. At just 28, Rodriguez also has the distinction of being the youngest starting pitcher on our top 50, perhaps suggesting that he is among the likeliest candidates to receive a longer-term deal if he wants it, even though he may not be one of the flashiest names on this list. – DF

14. Kevin Gausman, SP, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $18.0 M $54.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $19.0 M $76.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 4.3 $22.2 M $95.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
188.0 6.8% 26.7% 42.1% 3.78 3.69 3.68 3.6 3.6

Ben’s Take
Gausman had his best year in 2021, his second straight season of delivering on the promise he showed as a prospect. He’s a two-pitch starter with roughly average velocity. That doesn’t sound exciting, but one of those pitches is his devastating splitter, which he sets up adeptly with a four-seam fastball. Batters struggle to differentiate the two pitches, which come out of his hand at similar angles before diverging by roughly two feet vertically.

It’s fair to wonder how sustainable that is, but it worked quite well this year, and that’s two years in a row at this point. Teams may not get a guaranteed Cy Young contender, but they also won’t pay those marquee prices. Few pitchers are even capable of throwing 192 innings of 2.81 ERA excellence, so some team will absolutely give him a multi-year chance to continue his two-pitch experiment.

Player Notes
I was born and raised in the land of Old Bay and gritty David Simon cop dramas, so I’ve always had a great deal of affection for Gausman, but 2021 was the first season in which his performance actually matched my warm feelings. There are usually a lot of reasons a team outperforms expectations by more than 30 wins, and Gausman settling in as a durable ace was one of San Francisco’s big ones. My complaint about Gausman’s repertoire earlier in his career was that he never developed a killer breaking pitch to go along with his heavy fastball and nasty splitter, as seen by the fact that he was one of the relatively rare starting pitchers with long-term reverse platoon splits. He didn’t actually develop that pitch, but he did the next best thing, using the lively splitter in locations and counts against righties as if it was a slider, which paid off to tremendous effect.

Gausman was less effective late in the season, but not so much that I’m apprehensive about his near-term future. He nearly matched his career-high for batters faced in a season while coming off one artificially shortened campaign and another in which he spent the end of the season as a reliever. Even if he’s not a top Cy Young contender going forward, I think he makes a great case for being somewhere at the back of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball. – DS

15. Noah Syndergaard*, SP, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $18.4 M $18.4 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $18.4 M $18.4 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.75 $17.8 M $31.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
154.0 6.5% 19.5% 47.0% 4.44 4.26 4.23 2.4 1.7

Ben’s Take
Sadly, this list isn’t “Top 49 Free Agents Plus a Shrug Emoji.” I have legitimately no idea what to make of Syndergaard, who missed all of 2020 and threw a grand total of 10 competitive innings in 2021. His velocity was way down, hardly surprising given the rust, and he didn’t throw a breaking pitch in either of his major league innings. Teams will see more behind closed doors, but it’s still a mystery box situation: clubs could get 2019 Syndergaard, which would mean he’s far too low on this list, but they also might get a rusty pitcher who needs a year to get back into form.

If I were Syndergaard, I’d likely pursue a pillow contract, either by accepting a qualifying offer (as I’ve projected for him here) or by simply agreeing to a one-year deal with another team. It’s tough to imagine a team shelling out for a long-term contract that pays Syndergaard what he surely thinks he’s worth; he’s a rotation-anchoring starter when healthy, after all. One year to re-establish that baseline might be beneficial for everyone involved.

Player Notes
Though he has never been as dominant as he was during his incredible 2016 season, Syndergaard was still a front-end arm in ‘18 and ‘19 after missing most of ’17 with a lat tear. Then he suffered a UCL tear during 2020 spring training and missed most of the last two seasons rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, dealing with a couple of setbacks (elbow inflammation and COVID) along the way. As a result, he ended up making just five total appearances in 2021: three minor league rehab starts and two single-inning big league outings. He sat 92-95 mph in the August 26 rehab outing for which data is publicly available, then sat 96 in his first big league start before falling back into the 92-94 range in his second after a week of rest. Syndergaard also limited his usage to fastballs and changeups. Teams tend to take expensive, short-term fliers on pitchers like this, à la Garrett Richards and Blake Treinen.

Healthy Syndergaard would just be the best pitcher on the market, and the possibility that he might again be an impact piece means he’ll be highly sought after. But teams who aren’t inclined to take a $12-15 million gamble because failing to hit on a free agent of that magnitude would be fatal to their contention hopes will probably be less inclined to engage with Syndergaard at a competitive price because of how his stuff looked during his brief periods of health in 2021. – EL

16. Chris Taylor*, 2B/3B/SS/OF, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $15.0 M $60.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $15.0 M $60.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.53 $15.2 M $53.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
548 10.7% 27.5% .242 .331 .409 .321 102 2.0 -2.6 1.8

Ben’s Take
At this point, Taylor and “can he keep this up?” questions go hand-in-hand. To me, they seem overblown: he’s compiled 2,382 plate appearances since the start of the 2017 season and is hitting .265/.343/.461 over that time period, solidly above average. The positional versatility is great, too.

Depending on what you think of his defense, he’s somewhere between solid regular and star, a valuable player either way. Given the Dodgers’ huge class of free agents, Taylor might be plying his trade elsewhere next year. It will be interesting to see how another team will utilize his versatility, and to see whether they can keep his bat in high gear — but at this point, expecting him to turn back into the low-power 25-year-old the Dodgers first acquired is foolish.

Player Notes
Before a season-ending 8-for-72 slump took some of the shine off his final numbers (.254/.344/438, 113 wRC+, 3.1 WAR), Taylor earned his first All-Star berth while helping the Dodgers weather the injuries of Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. The mechanical adjustments he made prior to the 2020 season have helped him rein in his long swing and take a more disciplined approach; he set full-season career highs in O-Swing% (24.7%), walk rate (10.8%) and barrel rate (10.2%), though on that last mark, he remains the poster boy for the Dodgers’ “barrels are overrated” ethos, as his overall quality of contact stats remains middling.

Taylor once again put the super in superutilityman, making 48 starts in center field, 33 at second base, 19 at shortstop, 16 in left, and nine at third. He’s no fielding whiz, but that versatility goes a long way, and as the heir to the tradition of Ben Zobrist, he’s in line for a Zobristian multiyear deal, though a return to the Dodgers might depend upon Seager’s whereabouts. – JJ

17. Carlos Rodón, SP, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $15.0 M $45.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $19.0 M $76.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.83 $20.0 M $76.6 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
154.0 7.6% 30.6% 40.4% 3.47 3.37 3.45 3.8 3.6

Ben’s Take
A year ago, the White Sox non-tendered Rodón. The former top prospect had seen injuries derail his career, and he signed a prove-it deal in his last year before free agency. He proved it: he started throwing 99 mph, pitched a ton of innings, and threw a no-hitter that put a punctuation mark on his sudden ascent to prominence.

Did he wear down as the season ground on? Indubitably. But you try throwing more than 50 innings for the first time since 2017 (he finished with 135 IP counting the playoffs) and see how your arm feels. When Rodón is right, he’s simply overpowering, the kind of top-of-rotation monster teams dream about. How likely that monster is to appear is an open question — in fact, the White Sox chose not to extend Rodón a Qualifying Offer, which presumably means they aren’t trying to retain him and worry he might accept it.

If you’re signing Rodón, you’ll need to do so with a plan to get the most out of him, including some good upper-minors pitching to shoulder some innings. That narrows the field, but might create a value for a team constructed to harness his upside. If I’m signing Rodón, I want several bites at the apple, which is why I’m projecting a medium-AAV, four-year deal. That gives whichever team signs him multiple looks at another Cy-caliber season while spreading the cost out.

Player Notes
After years of injuries, ineffectiveness, or a combination of both, Rodón finally put it all together in 2021, turning in one of the best pitching seasons in baseball. His 4.9 WAR was third among all AL pitchers, behind only Nathan Eovaldi (5.6) and Gerrit Cole (5.3), even though he threw roughly 50 fewer innings than either. As you’d expect, then, Rodón dominated in the rate stats, leading the AL in ERA, FIP, and strikeout rate just to name a few. The rebound was clouded somewhat by recurring injury issues, including left shoulder fatigue that kept Rodón to just 28 innings from August 1 through the end of the regular season. The shoulder is probably of greatest concern for teams interested in signing him this winter, but the rest of the profile looks outstanding. He recorded a ton of swings and misses and limited hitters to nothing more than weak contact when the ball was put in play. What else could you want?

The downside, though, is that he’s only topped 150 innings once in his career, and a long-term deal may be a risky proposition given the injury history as well as the fatigue and diminished velocity he showed down the stretch. On a per-inning basis, I’d argue that Rodón has a case for being the best starting pitcher on our list, but significant volume concerns have relegated him to the back half of the teens. – DF

18. Clayton Kershaw, SP, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $18.0 M $18.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $26.0 M $104.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.59 $23.2 M $60.0 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
148.0 5.7% 25.3% 46.7% 3.57 3.57 3.49 3.2 3.2

Ben’s Take
Kershaw is still a premium pitcher — in fact, he posted his lowest FIP and xFIP, and highest strikeout rate since 2017 this year. He’s also an injury risk — he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2015, and has only crested 170 innings pitched twice in that span. The end might be near, or a long way off. The Dodgers only added to the intrigue when they chose not to extend Kershaw a qualifying offer. I had his market pegged higher before that decision, and I’m not sure what to make of it — I’m still projecting him to make more than the qualifying offer, but there are some wide error bars around my projection, to put it mildly. An elbow injury that ended his season adds to the confusion — he won’t need Tommy John surgery, but elbow injuries are never welcome signs.

Ultimately, I think he’ll take a short deal to return to the Dodgers, but it’s fun and strange at the same time to picture him in a different jersey. If he leaves, his next contract could resemble Justin Verlander on the Astros — or Zack Greinke on the Astros. That wide range makes him one of the most compelling free agents, in addition to one of the best.

Player Notes
It’s tempting to assume that Kershaw, who has reached free agency for the first time, isn’t heading anywhere new. The last time he was here (after opting out of his contract in 2018), he lingered on the market for about 10 seconds before re-upping with the Dodgers on a three-year, $93 million deal that extended his previous contract by a year. That second pact has now reached its conclusion, and he came out the other end still pitching like an ace, age and all.

To be fair, “and all” is doing a lot of heavy lifting in that sentence. Kershaw didn’t make it to the finish line in 2021, missing out on the final two months of the season with a forearm strain that turned into elbow pain and cost him the entirety of Los Angeles’ postseason run. The good news is there’s no ligament damage; the bad news is, well, the fact that a soon-to-be 34-year-old pitcher who’s thrown nearly 2,500 career innings was experiencing elbow pain, and the Dodgers’ decision not to extend him a Qualifying Offer is ominous. But assuming Kershaw checks out health-wise, his upside and track record will outweigh that worry, particularly for a team that could use a top-of-the-rotation starter for a championship run. And hey, that perfectly describes the Dodgers, whose 2022 rotation is currently Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, and a whole lot of question marks, and who watched their title defense go up in smoke in part because of Kershaw’s absence. He doesn’t like to rock the boat, and they’re not likely to throw him overboard; the safe bet here is that he returns to the only team he’s ever known on another short-term contract. – JT

19. Justin Verlander*, SP, Age 39
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $18.4 M $18.4 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $20.0 M $20.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.52 $21.3 M $32.4 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
161.0 6.0% 29.9% 34.8% 3.54 3.49 3.58 3.6 3.6

Ben’s Take
Oh, you thought Carlos Rodón was a wild card? Verlander threw all of six innings in 2020 and didn’t pitch at all in 2021. He’s also 38, not exactly an age associated with fast recoveries. On the other hand, Verlander is a unicorn; he was one of the most durable pitchers in the game before his elbow blew out, topping 200 innings pitched in 12 of the previous 13 seasons.

The Astros extended Verlander a qualifying offer, and it wouldn’t be a shock if he accepted it. For Verlander, working with the team that keyed his late-career success might be a draw. On the other hand, a bag full of money is also a powerful draw, and if the medicals look good, he might be able to coax a longer deal out of someone desperate for premium pitching. The most likely outcome is still a reunion in Houston, but I don’t think it’s a done deal.

Player Notes
A Tommy John surgery recipient in the summer of 2020, you can look at Verlander one of two ways. The optimistic view is that an 18-month break isn’t the worst thing for a pitcher who will be 39 in February and is on the cusp of 3,000 career innings, and he’s still Justin Verlander, now with a new UCL. The pessimistic view is that gambling on the surgically reconstructed elbow of a 39-year-old who’s thrown more innings than all but one active pitcher — former Astros teammate Zack Greinke, visibly running on fumes — and has missed the last two seasons is, to put it mildly, pretty wild.

The long layoff (and likely high price tag) will scare away plenty of would-be suitors, and Verlander’s market will be further complicated by the presence of Max Scherzer, the other future Hall of Famer and free agent whose elbow ligaments are very much intact, thanks for asking. (If Kershaw leaves L.A., that will muddy up the waters even more.) Not that his end of the free-agent pool was going to be anything but shallow; like Scherzer and Kershaw, Verlander will be targeted exclusively by contenders who won’t mind paying him a lot so long as they don’t have to pay him for long. That should fit him to a tee, and it helps that he was brilliant in two-plus seasons with Houston. Plus, coming back from devastating injuries is kind of his thing. So long as his new team accepts that his first steps back might be wobbly, he seems poised to contribute quality innings for a World Series hopeful. – JT

20. Kyle Schwarber, LF/DH, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $15.0 M $60.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $15.0 M $60.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.71 $14.9 M $55.2 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
583 12.9% 26.8% .238 .344 .494 .356 125 17.0 -10.9 2.6

Ben’s Take
For two weeks this year, Schwarber was the best hitter on Earth. The rest of the year, he looked like vintage Adam Dunn; walks, strikeouts, and homers galore, with little else going on. He’s likely headed for first base permanently; he’s not getting any faster, and he was already a dicey left fielder at best.

That kind of lefty power bat isn’t always in high demand without defensive value, but Schwarber is good enough that he’ll still get paid for those increasingly common skills. He’s also still only 28, so there are probably plenty of good years left in his bat, and if you’re an optimist, you can see the potential for more walks in his improving plate discipline.

He may not be a perennial All-Star, and there will always be health issues given his uneven history there, but the gap in value between Schwarber and some power-only Quad-A slugger you can find on the scrap heap is wide enough that he’ll likely get a solid deal out of his 2021 power surge from one of many teams with a fluid first base situation.

Player Notes
Last December, following a subpar campaign, Schwarber was non-tendered by the Cubs, thus beginning their teardown. The stocky slugger landed on his feet, though his season was rather uneven; he hit for a 103 wRC+ with nine homers in April and May before going on a 16-homer, 183 wRC+ binge in June. He played just two more games for Washington before a right hamstring strain sidelined him for six weeks, and when he returned, he was trying to learn first base for the Red Sox, which wasn’t pretty but shouldn’t be judged by 10 games worth of bad metrics. Most importantly, he continued to thump, finishing with 32 homers, 3.1 WAR, and career bests across the board via a .266/.374/.554 (145 wRC+) line.

Schwarber benefited from a more disciplined approach, swinging at a career-low 23.3% of pitches outside the zone and a career high of 67.6% in the zone. He annihilated four-seamers and sinkers even better than in 2019, and set career bests in barrel and hard-hit rates (17.5% and 52.5%, respectively); his actual numbers were a ringer for Statcast’s expected ones. Given three straight years in the red for his outfield defense (pick your metric), the universal DH would certainly improve his market. – JJ

21. Avisaíl García, RF/LF, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $15.0 M $15.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $9.0 M $18.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.33 $12.0 M $28.0 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
554 7.4% 23.4% .265 .330 .455 .335 111 6.7 -3.9 2.1

Ben’s Take
García was comfortably the best bat in the Brewers’ outfield this year, continuing his five-year pattern of alternately mashing or disappointing. This year was the best-looking yet, though, which raises the prospect that García has leveled up as he oscillates around average.

Always a free swinger with contact issues, García leaned into his identity by swinging more often at first pitches, particularly first-pitch fastballs. That helped him unlock a bit of power; his 13 first-pitch extra base hits were in the top 20 in baseball. He’s always had plus raw power, as evidenced by his 98th percentile max exit velocity; it’s a matter of getting to it in games, and getting aggressive seemed to help.

Corner outfielders with pop aren’t exceedingly rare, but I think enough teams will be interested in García that he’ll get a decent raise on his most recent deal, a two-year, $19.5 million pact. You’ll notice that I have him pegged for a lower AAV (and in most cases fewer years) than the free agents around him on the list. That’s because I just think he’ll be that much of a bargain. If a team can’t get one of the top outfield/DH bats on the market, I don’t think they can do better for a short-term contract than García.

Player Notes
García is a nice two-to-four win corner outfielder who nonetheless can still drive a team crazy. As has been the case since he signed with the Detroit Tigers out of Venezuela in 2007, some of García’s tools rate with the best in baseball. His raw power approaches the rarified air of an 80 grade, and despite carrying somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 pounds on his bulky, 6-foot-4 frame, he’s a plus runner, and even better underway. He’s also a good defensive outfielder, and his arm is a weapon. There’s just that pesky hitting tool that keeps getting in the way. While García has tightened up his strike zone a bit over the last few seasons, he remains a streaky, overly-aggressive hitter who is prone to chasing and can get beat by good breaking balls pretty consistently. That, combined with his propensity to land on the injured list once or twice a season, has limited him to being a valuable player as opposed to a star. He’ll likely begin free agency as the primary backup plan for teams that start by aiming for some of the bigger outfielders names. – KG

22. Michael Conforto*, RF/LF, Age 29
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $18.4 M $18.4 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $17.0 M $17.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.26 $16.0 M $36.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
607 12.3% 21.9% .254 .358 .452 .350 120 15.2 -10.7 2.5

Ben’s Take
Perhaps no free agent hitter faces a more uncertain market than Conforto. A sterling 2020 was a great runway for his walk year, which could have made him a top free agent outfielder this offseason.

To put it mildly, that didn’t quite work out. Conforto was both hurt and ineffective this year. He struggled to a 106 wRC+ over 479 plate appearances. He did improve as a hamstring injury healed — a 118 wRC+ in the second half keyed by a white-hot August is a good sign — but he’s not the slam dunk All-Star outfielder he looked like a year ago.

The crowd is predicting an accepted qualifying offer, and I don’t hate it. It would give Conforto a platform to rebuild his value and let him dodge CBA uncertainty. If I’m any of a number of teams looking for impact outfielders, though, I’d try to make it a tough decision for him. The upside is still here, and if you offer him a multi-year deal with an AAV in the $20 million range, he’d likely take it. I’m just not sure that anyone will do it — which is why I have him accepting a QO.

Player Notes
Are Conforto’s bout with COVID and his 2021 hamstring injury viable explanations for his power swoon? Or is he experiencing an early physical decline? Conforto slugged a career-low .384 in 2021, well below both his career average (.468) and his 2020 mark (.515). His xSLG indicates that some of this downturn is just bad luck, as Statcast saw him as a .430 SLG hitter in 2021 based on his quality of contact. That’s still well below his career norms, but also the power output of a viable everyday corner outfielder if indeed Conforto ends up hitting at that level going forward. There’s no other season-long data point (such as Conforto’s Sprint Speed, high-end exit velos as a proxy for strength, etc.) that would indicate his hamstring or the fallout from COVID altered him physically, as all those metrics were in line with prior norms.

Instead, Conforto’s issue might have been with the shift. Conforto went from being shifted in half his 2020 plate appearances to being shifted roughly two thirds of the time in ‘21. While teams may have made a relevant adjustment to Conforto in this regard, it’s unlikely to prevent him from being a good big league hitter in the immediate future on its own. He has fantastic control of the strike zone (his walk rate is among the top 40 for qualified hitters since his debut season and his K% is in line with league average) and a platoon advantage most of the time. Will Conforto try to take a short-term deal in an effort to reboot some of his market value, or will a team that thinks they’re effectively buying low on a heart-of-the-order hitter be able to tempt him with a long-term deal? – EL

23. Mark Canha, OF/DH, Age 33
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $15.0 M $30.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.32 $10.8 M $25.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
621 12.0% 21.5% .240 .354 .414 .338 112 9.3 -8.5 2.2

Ben’s Take
Canha is better than you think. Now that you’ve re-evaluated him based on me saying that, re-evaluate him higher again. He’s better than that. Four straight seasons from a multi-position player with a 115 wRC+ or higher is no joke, even if his defensive value is more “pick an outfield corner, any outfield corner” than truly multi-positional.

Given that he’s already 32, teams probably won’t bowl Canha over with a lengthy offer. Players of his ilk often end up signing a flurry of one- and two-year deals, with the next one contingent on performance in the current iteration. That’s surely frustrating for someone with Canha’s track record, but on the other hand, picking what city to live in and making $15 million while you decide if you like it there doesn’t seem so bad.

The only place I’d rule out is Oakland; I think Canha is likely to be too pricey for the Athletics’ liking, particularly given how they’ve handled past departing free agents. Aside from that, Canha fits anywhere that can spare an outfield corner spot, and he can fake first base in a pinch or rotate through DH. Walks, doubles, and homers combine to make for a useful player at any of those positions.

Player Notes
In many ways, Mark Canha is the quintessential Oakland Athletic. He was never considered a significant prospect, just another guy who could draw walks, hit the odd home run, and lacked an obvious defensive position. The Marlins were so uninterested in Canha after drafting him that while he hit .303/.384/.505 for Triple-A New Orleans in 2014, Miami preferred having 37-year-old Reed Johnson as their go-to utility outfielder. Canha never got into a single game for the Marlins, and the A’s, knowing that finding guys like him is the key to their strategy of never spending a lot of money, acquired him for minor leaguer Austin House, by way of the Colorado Rockies.

Canha was the starting first baseman practically immediately, albeit with mixed results. His 2016 was ruined by surgery on his left hip, and in ’17, he slumped his way to a stint in the minors and required offseason wrist surgery. Pleasantly surprised by how not-awful Canha had been in center, Oakland used him there aggressively in 2018. Since the start of that season, he’s hit .249/.366/.441 (good for a 126 wRC+), so while he lacks the infield abilities of a Tony Phillips or an Enrique Hernández, the A’s could play him at first or any outfield position without any real hesitation.

Thirty-three for the 2022 season, it’s unlikely Canha will match his .273/.396/.517 line from 2019, his likely peak. But if he can get on base at a .350 clip, hit 20 homers, and not be an embarrassment in center, he has a varied enough skillset to make his next team happy for the next few years. After all, it’s not like he’s heading for a blockbuster deal. I do think the end for Canha will come quickly when it happens; he’s an aging fastball hitter and likely to be dominated by righties once his bat speed slows significantly, leaving him with a future role as a Wes Helms-type reserve. – DS

24. Raisel Iglesias*, RP, Age 32
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $15.0 M $45.0 M
Median Crowdsource 3 $10.0 M $30.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.81 $10.6 M $29.8 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
68.0 7.2% 31.9% 40.3% 3.18 3.13 3.23 1.1 1.1

Ben’s Take
Iglesias has been a reliever for six years, and he’s posted an ERA above 3.00 only once. ERA can be finicky, but everything about his performance has always looked the part. In 2021, he turned in his best performance yet, as he paired a 37.7% strikeout rate with a 4.4% walk rate, both the best marks of his career.

Like many converted starters, Iglesias is all fastballs and sliders against righties, then swaps in changeups for sliders against lefties. All three pitches serve him well; both secondaries are excellent, and his four-seamer (with occasional sinker cameos) gets the job done. It might not be upper 90s gas with an unhittable slider, but his way of doing things works just as well.

The main thing holding Iglesias back from a bigger deal is his age. He’ll turn 32 before the start of next season, and 32-year-old relievers aren’t generally hot commodities. Liam Hendriks is probably the ceiling for old relievers, and he got $54 million over four years (ish). That likely means Iglesias will come in a bit below that, though still make a princely sum.

Player Notes
As good as Kenley Jansen’s bounce-back 2021 campaign was, Iglesias’ was even better, and he’s two years younger to boot. He also possesses a skill that the Angels frankly didn’t utilize enough: he’s both capable of and comfortable with getting more than three outs to close out a win. Like many late-inning relievers, Iglesias possesses an upper 90s fastball and a sharp slider, but his outstanding changeup makes him tougher to predict and nearly neutralizes any kind of platoon advantage. The biggest story for Iglesias in 2021 was a career-high strikeout rate and career-low walk rate, as his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 103-to-12 in just 70 innings is the stuff of Mariano and Eck. This is the best closer in the class, and a durable one at that. In a world that’s starting to embrace some out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to pitcher utilization, putting Iglesias in a role that allows him to reach 100-plus innings of high-leverage relief could pay off handsomely. – KG

25. Kenley Jansen, RP, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $15.0 M $30.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $12.0 M $24.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.36 $12.6 M $29.7 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
67.0 9.8% 27.4% 36.3% 4.06 4.05 4.20 0.5 0.4

Ben’s Take
Jansen reinvented his game with diversification; he threw a career-low 58% cutters this year and supplemented them with a sinker and slider. He also started throwing harder, posting his best velocity since 2017. The result was a 2.22 ERA, though some of his peripherals were concerning; he gave up a ton of walks and got tons of help from his defense (.213 BABIP against). He’s probably not as good as his ERA, but there’s plenty of room to have worse than a 2.22 ERA and still be a good closer. That’s where Jansen sits, and he’s an intriguing case where adding to his arsenal might offset aging, at least for a little bit.

At 34, I think teams will want to keep offers short, but even with the walks, there’s a ton to like here: he’s always suppressed hard contact, he still strikes out a ton, and someone (likely the Dodgers) will pay to park him at the top of the bullpen. I have him down for two years, but a one-year deal for more money wouldn’t surprise me, nor would a two-year deal with a vesting option for a third. He’ll be an interesting case study in what teams will pay for proven relievers.

Player Notes
A slightly more vertical release point and much more varied pitch deployment (Jansen has gone from throwing 88% cutters in 2019 to 58% cutters and many more four-seamers and curveballs in ‘21) have helped Jansen continue his dominance into his mid-30s, and he was more consistent in 2021 than in ‘20 even though his rate stats in both years were similar. Jansen’s four-seamers averaged 93.9 mph in 2021, tied for the firmest heater of his illustrious career. That, as well as his dominant postseason performance (7 IP, 14 K, 1 BB) will likely give prospective suitors confidence that Jansen can continue to perform at a level befitting a late-inning reliever for at least another couple of years. – EL

26. Yan Gomes, C, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $12.0 M $12.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $6.0 M $6.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.54 $6.7 M $10.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
399 6.5% 21.6% .248 .305 .415 .308 93 -4.6 7.8 1.5

Player Notes
As he’s matured, Gomes has calmed the wild year-to-year fluctuations in his game. That’s probably for the best, as the yo-yo from 2014 Silver Slugger winner to 30-wRC+-haver to 2018 All-Star seems a little stressful for my tastes. Now 34, Gomes has settled in as a fringe-average bat with good defense behind the plate and a great clubhouse presence to boot. Given the dearth of available alternatives and the dire need most teams have for anything resembling competent hitting from their backstop, Gomes is well-positioned to get a substantial raise from the $5 million he earned last season. – BG

27. Nelson Cruz, DH, Age 41
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $15.0 M $15.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $14.0 M $14.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.12 $12.7 M $14.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
580 9.2% 23.4% .266 .342 .499 .353 123 13.6 -15.5 1.8

Player Notes
Now 41-years-old, Nelson Cruz almost certainly won’t get more than a one-year contract. Of course, some version of that sentence has been applicable for use on this list for the last several years and likely will be for several more to come, with the only necessary edit being to up the slugger’s age by one. On the surface, it looks like there were a few signs of aging starting to catch up to Cruz in 2021, as he slugged under .500 for the first time since ‘12. But in terms of the metrics teams actually lean on, he still looks very much like the Nelson Cruz everyone knows and loves. He actually swung-and-missed at a dramatically lower rate than in the previous two seasons, and his exit velocities have remained fairly steady. Age catches up to everyone at some point, but there is little evidence to suggest that it has caught up to Cruz, and another .850 OPS season with his usual positive impact on the clubhouse feels like a safe bet even with the slugger set to turn 42 next July. – KG

28. Brandon Belt*, 1B, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $18.4 M $18.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $16.6 M $33.2 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.24 $16.2 M $36.2 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
559 12.7% 24.7% .246 .348 .482 .353 123 14.5 -9.7 2.4

Player Notes
Thanks to a more favorable ballpark configuration and a new coaching staff bringing a philosophy that clicked with so many of the Giants’ veterans, Belt has hit for more power over the past two seasons — .285/.393/.595 (163 wRC+) with 37 homers in 560 PA — than ever before. Despite middling average exit velocities that owe at least something to his shift-beating bunts (on which he went 5-for-7 in 2021), his 17% barrel rate in that span places him in the 96th percentile, and his 13.9% walk rate in the 93rd percentile.

Belt’s defense has slipped a bit according to the variety of metrics, but as ever, the real knock on him is durability. In 2021 he lost six weeks due to right knee inflammation and served additional IL stints for an oblique strain and a fractured left thumb; over the past decade, he’s played in just 77% of the Giants’ games, only some of which is due to his latter-day woes against lefties (89 wRC+ since 2017). Buster Posey’s sudden retirement increases the likelihood of Belt’s return, but if not, he’ll attract plenty of interest from other contenders. – JJ

29. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Age 32
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $13.0 M $26.0 M
Median Crowdsource 3 $16.0 M $48.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.43 $16.5 M $56.7 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
608 10.1% 15.8% .257 .354 .462 .351 121 13.9 -9.6 2.5

Player Notes
The good news here is that Rizzo’s underlying skills seem largely intact. His walk and strikeout percentages have barely budged since his heyday. Ditto his exit velocities and hard hit metrics. There are year-to-year performative fluctuations against lefties and pitch types, but no red flags.

The bad news is that Rizzo’s numbers have declined anyway. 2021 was the worst year of his career (unless 2020 counts) and his power numbers in particular were down. A few trends explain why. His BABIP, never particularly high to begin with, is under .250 since the start of 2020. Perhaps relatedly, he’s not doubling very often anymore; he hit 29 in 2020 and ‘21 combined after averaging 34 in his five previous seasons. I’m not sure why this is happening, but I don’t think it’s the shift: In a reversal of career norms, Rizzo actually hit better against shifts than defenses playing straight up last year. More likely it’s a positioning issue, with deeper defenses turning some of his doubles into loud outs and long singles. It could also just be a lousy BABIP streak, and if so, there may even be a little upside here. – BG

30. Kyle Seager, 3B, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $13.0 M $26.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $12.0 M $24.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.07 $12.2 M $25.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
636 9.1% 21.3% .230 .307 .436 .318 99 -2.4 0.5 1.9

Player Notes
I’m highly disappointed that Kyle Seager is done with the Mariners, but it was almost inevitable once contract incentives increased the value of his 2022 option year from $15 million to $20 million. While it was a little odd to see Seager named one of the finalists for the Silver Slugger award at third base given his .723 OPS, the fact that managers and coaches voted that way is indicative of the respect that he earned in his decade in Seattle.

That being said, a team looking at Seager has to be realistic about what they’re getting at this point. He recovered from a career-worst 2018 season but never got close to his 2013-16 peak, and is now well into the years where you expect his decline to accelerate. But there’s still a lot to like so long as a team’s expectations are in line with his present abilities. Seager still hits for power, which may play even better in a smaller park, and he remains a capable defensive third baseman. There aren’t any intriguing third basemen who’ll still be in their 20s come Opening Day 2022, meaning there’s a good argument to be made for a contending team to sign Seager to a rich one-year contract if Kris Bryant proves too rich for their blood. – DS

31. Steven Matz, SP, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $14.0 M $42.0 M
Median Crowdsource 3 $12.8 M $38.3 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.68 $13.2 M $35.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
158.0 7.2% 22.6% 45.7% 4.19 4.16 4.03 2.3 2.3

Player Notes
Sentenced to the harsh and borderline cruel punishment of having to pitch in the AL East, Matz was a surprisingly positive and stable presence in the back of Toronto’s rotation, making 29 starts and throwing 150.2 innings of sub-4.00 ERA ball. And while the overall numbers weren’t anything special or pretty, they were both a massive improvement from his dreadful 2020 and in line with his better years on the Mets, suggesting that the pandemic-shortened season was more blip, or at least worst-case scenario, than ominous portent. Still, the upside here no longer feels very high. A sinker-first pitcher like Matz will always live or die with his defense, and the Jays’ piecemeal and sluggish infield did him no favors in that regard. Nor is there anything in his profile to suggest there’s another level to reach, barring a massive change in velocity, arsenal or approach. By this point, Matz is what he is: a mid-tier starter with good control who’ll toss a gem every now and again. You can do better, but you can also do far worse. – JT

32. Jon Gray, SP, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 3 $13.0 M $39.0 M
Median Crowdsource 3 $15.0 M $45.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.22 $14.5 M $46.8 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
169.0 8.2% 23.6% 45.3% 4.13 4.08 4.04 2.4 2.5

Player Notes
Perhaps it’s unfair for the industry to have expected more from Gray, or for it to have expected the Rockies to coax more out of the former third overall pick. After all, Gray has produced between 2.5 and 3.5 WAR in each full season of his major league career and is ranked 32nd in WAR among qualified starters since his debut, ahead of Eduardo Rodriguez, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell during that span. His 4.59 career ERA is excellent for having pitched in Coors, and shockingly, he has slightly better home splits than road. He’s done that despite dramatic year-to-year fluctuations in his fastball velocity. As Gray’s career has progressed he’s added pitches and increased their usage: backing off of his fastball, adding a second breaking ball, and mixing in more changeups over the last two seasons. Leaving Coors may enable him to pitch toward the top of the strike zone with his fastball more often without as much fear of being punished by the long ball. That could unlock a bat-missing gear we haven’t seen here yet. Having reportedly rejected a three-year, $35-40 million deal to stay in Colorado (the Rockies then curiously declined to make Gray a Qualifying Offer), Gray enters free agency as a somewhat inefficient mid-rotation arm with upside created by room for a change to how he attacks hitters. – EL

33. Collin McHugh, RP/SP, Age 35
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $12.0 M $24.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $5.0 M $5.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.5 $5.5 M $8.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
60.0 7.6% 26.3% 41.2% 3.74 3.72 3.88 0.6 0.6

Player Notes
It’s amazing that McHugh made this list, much less as one of its top relief options. An elbow injury dogged his 2019 and kept him out for the start of the ‘20 season, and he ultimately chose to opt out of the pandemic-shortened campaign. Unsigned until mid-February, he latched on with the Rays for just $1.8 million in a move that looked more like a contender adding cheap depth than a high-leverage arm. Instead, he ended up being one of Tampa Bay’s most effective, reliable and durable relievers, posting a 1.55 ERA and career-low walk and home-run rates. His numbers are near replicas of his excellent 2018 in Houston, but that success was built on a fastball-slider-curveball combo. With the Rays, he ditched the curve and throttled back on his four-seamer, instead embracing the slider, which he threw half the time, and a cutter that he hadn’t used regularly since his last days as a starter. That change worked wonders: Batters hit just .177 against the slider, and the cutter — 3 mph slower than his fastball but with more spin and vertical break — helped keep them guessing. If his good health holds, he’s in line for a bigger and better deal than the one that didn’t just keep his career going, but also resuscitated it. – JT

34. Seiya Suzuki, OF/DH, Age 27
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 4 $10.0 M $40.0 M
Median Crowdsource 4 $11.0 M $44.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 3.97 $11.4 M $45.2 M
2022 ZiPS Projections
AB BB SB AVG OBP SLG HR OPS+ WAR
495 49 9 .281 .350 .469 21 118 2.2

Player Notes
Suzuki has been one of the, if not the, best hitters in Japan for the last several years, posting a .316/.415/.572 career line, notching a 20/20 season in 2019, and setting a career-high in homers (38) in ‘21. The righty-hitting outfielder has plus power that comes from a dip-and-rip style of hitting, where he just sort of collapses his back side and tries to pull the ball with power as often as possible.

That’s not to say Suzuki is a power goof. He has a cogent two-strike approach in which his leg kick gets toned down, and he’s great at recognizing and crushing breaking balls. In fact, if there’s one hole to his game it’s that he can be vulnerable to velocity on the inner third. Suzuki is at his best when he’s getting his arms extended on pitches well out over the plate, but he tends to foul off or swing under fastballs creeping in on him. It’s tough to say whether this would be exploited more in MLB and impact his success, and it’s even harder to say whether Suzuki will be able to adjust to MLB velocity (pitchers’ fastballs in Japan averaged 90 mph in 2021) until we see him face it. He has the talent to be an everyday right fielder with some hit tool risk because of the leap in stuff he’d need to deal with. – EL

35. Kwang Hyun Kim, SP, Age 33
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $7.0 M $14.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.84 $7.6 M $14.0 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
129.0 7.8% 18.3% 45.2% 4.54 4.61 4.61 1.3 1.2

Player Notes
Like most great Korean pitchers, Kim is a contact manager. Opponents don’t hit the ball particularly hard against him, and between that and above-average groundball and popup rates, he’s able to keep the ball in the yard. That goes some way toward compensating for a low whiff rate, and for the cost of $8 million, the 145 innings Kim gave the Cardinals were a bargain.

Still, there are a couple of orange flags in his game. The first is his platoon splits. He had a 4.92 FIP against righties, who hit all 12 homers that Kim surrendered, meaning any lineup with six or seven right-handed bats will present a stiff challenge. The second is length, as even by contemporary standards, Kim doesn’t work deep. He averaged fewer than five innings per start last year and he only finished the sixth inning five times. Even if he offers No. 3 starter production on a per inning basis, he’s more of a No. 4 when you account for the lack of volume. That makes him a good fit as a backend guy for a division contender who can slide him into a relief role come playoff time. – BG

36. Anthony DeSclafani, SP, Age 32
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $9.5 M $19.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.55 $13.2 M $33.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
169.0 6.9% 20.8% 41.9% 4.54 4.48 4.38 1.9 1.8

Player Notes
It’s really not that complicated sometimes. When Anthony DeSclafani is healthy, he’s a pretty good starting pitcher, as we saw in 2021. We also saw that in 2015, his first full season in the big leagues, and in ‘19, which was almost a mirror image of this season other than the home runs, which were mostly driven by playing in Great American Ball Park. DeSclafani’s problem is that in his four other seasons in the majors, he’s averaged just over 10 starts with an ERA of nearly four-and-a-half. He’s a high-risk/high-reward type who might make playoff starts for your team, or might be unavailable come October. That combination of upside and concern tends to affect length more than AAV in terms of offers, and DeSclafani should have a large number of suitors willing to offer far more than the $6 million he earned in San Francisco this season. – KG

37. Corey Kluber, SP, Age 36
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $10.0 M $10.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.3 $10.4 M $13.5 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
150.0 8.0% 21.9% 43.7% 4.43 4.38 4.32 1.8 1.8

Player Notes
From 2014-18, Corey Kluber accumulated 30.3 WAR, never posting fewer than 4.9 wins in any of those five seasons. He won a pair of Cy Young awards, finished in the top three four times and was ninth during his one “off” season. He also averaged more than 227 innings per year, and has never been the same since. Looking to bounce back from a 2019-20 run that saw him throw just 36.2 innings combined, Kluber had his moments in 2021, including a May no-hitter against the Rangers, and was generally an above-average pitcher. But shoulder issues cost him half the season and he was only able to deliver 80 innings of work. Since his glory days, Kluber has lost more than two ticks of velocity across the board, and while his once deadly breaking ball is still plenty effective, he has problems setting it up, as far too often, his harder offerings have a tendency to find the barrel of opposing bats. Kluber’s bounce-back campaign really only lasted half a season, and on-going concerns about his arm health could make it difficult for him to match the $11 million he earned from the Yankees in 2021. – KG

38. Alex Cobb, SP, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $11.0 M $22.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.83 $11.1 M $20.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
151.0 7.5% 21.9% 51.5% 3.95 3.92 3.84 2.4 2.4

Player Notes
To be a contributor, Alex Cobb has to do two things: be healthy and prevent batters from getting any good golf swings on his low stuff. While no pitcher wants to see lofty launch angles from an opposing batter, all three of Cobb’s good primary pitches — a sinker, a heavy splitter, and a knuckle-curve — are most effective low in the zone. He kept them there in 2021 and gave up dramatically fewer home runs. As in his early career with the Rays, both the knuckle-curve and the splitter were solid swing-and-miss pitches, and Cobb survived long enough against hitters to actually put them away. From 2016-20, Cobb struck out 16.3% of the batters he faced; his 24.9% in 2021 represented a 50% improvement.

It’s the other prerequisite, health, that continued to be a problem. While Cobb didn’t have the same serious issues he had earlier in his career when he needed Tommy John and suffered a series of other ailments, a stubborn blister and later wrist soreness cost him a large chunk of the season. If not for the injury concerns that have long plagued his career, a 2.92 FIP might have resulted in him landing significantly higher in these rankings. As comeback seasons go, this was a quiet one, possibly because it would be cruel to expect people to watch the Angels when Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout aren’t on screen, but it was a comeback season nonetheless. – DS

39. Eduardo Escobar, 3B/2B, Age 33
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $10.0 M $10.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.31 $10.9 M $25.1 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
598 7.6% 20.0% .246 .306 .438 .317 99 -1.8 0.9 1.9

Player Notes
When evaluating Escobar’s free agent case, you almost want to squint and avoid looking at his 2020 numbers entirely. If you do, you see three seasons with above-average offense, solid defense, and more than 3 WAR apiece. That puts Escobar in a small class of just 32 position players to put up at least 3 WAR in each of the last three full baseball seasons. He’s a super utility player — Escobar appeared at first, second base, and third base, as well as shortstop (albeit for just two innings) this year, and managed to slash .253/.314/.472 in 599 plate appearances split between the Diamondbacks and Brewers. That was good for a 107 wRC+. It was quite the rebound for the soon-to-be 33-year-old, who posted a mere 55 wRC+ in the COVID-19-shortened season the year prior, Escober’s worst offensive output in any season with a sizable sample of plate appearances.

Since he started hitting for more power in 2018, he has been quite the productive player, and will likely be a great addition to any team in need of an infielder who can play every day at multiple positions. If Escober continues to be a 3-WAR player going forward, there’s quite the bargain to be had here. – DF

40. Zack Greinke, SP, Age 38
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $11.5 M $11.5 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.23 $12.0 M $14.8 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
160.0 5.4% 18.9% 45.1% 4.42 4.38 4.27 1.9 1.8

Player Notes
Time comes for them all, and we can’t help but wonder whether the sand is running out of Greinke’s hourglass. The plummeting strikeout totals, hair-metal fastball, and career-worst home run rate suggest as much, as does Dusty Baker’s very cautious usage pattern: Had Lance McCullers Jr. stayed healthy, the future Hall of Famer may not have cracked Houston’s World Series rotation. At this point, Greinke still throws strikes and can keep hitters guessing with a well-rotated pitch mix, but he no longer misses bats and he’s not a particularly good contact manager.

Still, if there’s anyone who can figure out a way to whip a bunch of underwhelming ingredients into 140 innings of league-average ball, it’s Greinke. A large park and a good outfield defense can help in that regard, but wherever he winds up, I suspect that Greinke and his signature grunt will find their way to a playoff contender this winter. – BG

41. Mark Melancon, RP, Age 37
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $7.0 M $7.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.26 $6.0 M $7.6 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
66.0 8.5% 19.8% 53.6% 4.02 4.06 4.06 0.3 0.4

Player Notes
Melancon was one of the few things that went and stayed right for San Diego. On paper, his time with the Padres was a success: a major league-high 39 saves, a .270 wOBA, a jump of almost 10 points in strikeout rate from 2020, excellent numbers in high-leverage spots, tons and tons of groundballs, and even a slight spike in velocity. But that improvement in strikeout rate merely took him from bad to average in that regard, as Melancon still leans on his 92-mph cutter to do most of the work and on his big, slow curveball to clean up messes, and at 36 years old, it’s unlikely that approach will or even can change. Your interest in him is directly tied to how comfortable you are with the idea of a reliever who relies more on soft contact and called strikes than whiffs to do his job, and it makes him a questionable choice to be the high man on the bullpen depth chart. The edge of the cliff looms even as Melancon keeps his foot on the gas. – JT

42. Joc Pederson, RF/LF, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $9.0 M $18.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.88 $8.5 M $15.9 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
523 8.8% 23.3% .236 .316 .448 .327 106 3.5 -6.5 1.5

Player Notes
At this point, the book on Pederson has largely been written: He can mash right-handed pitching (to the tune of a career 123 wRC+) but struggles mightily versus lefties (68 wRC+), making him a prime candidate to serve in a corner-outfield platoon. Of course, you’d hope that he could at least become somewhat serviceable against southpaws so that he could play every day, but the numbers haven’t been good enough to warrant such a move. Pederson spent 2021 splitting time between the Cubs and Braves, and as he has in other Joctobers, turned up his performance in the postseason. He slashed .276/.323/.586 with three homers through the first two rounds of the playoffs, helping propel the Braves to a World Series, though his bat cooled considerably once Atlanta got there. Still, teams will surely focus more on Pederson’s 93 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR since the beginning of 2020. If there’s any bright spot from this stretch, it’s that Pederson’s numbers versus lefties have improved (99 wRC+), but it’s still too small of a sample to conclude he’s turned a corner. Thus, whichever team signs Pederson should hope that his performance against righties returns to where it was during the 2019 season (136 wRC+ in ‘19 vs. 91 wRC+ since) and bolsters his production overall. – DF

43. Kirby Yates, RP, Age 35
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $6.0 M $6.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.23 $4.7 M $5.7 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
59.0 8.3% 29.0% 39.4% 3.70 3.65 3.74 0.6 0.6

Player Notes
Thanks first to bone chips and then a torn UCL in his right elbow suffered in late March, Yates has thrown just 4.1 innings since the start of 2020. He was elite in 2018 and ‘19, leading all relievers in WAR with 5.2 over both years combined and ranking fourth in strikeout rate at 38.7%, but as noted, that was two years and two surgeries ago. If there’s a silver lining for Yates and any teams interested in him, it’s that he blew out in spring training, which means that, barring setbacks, his recovery timeline should allow him to pitch at least part of this coming season. Depending on how he looks in workouts, he could be a worthwhile gamble for a contender willing to wait a bit to see if he can recapture his pre-injury success and provide quality high-leverage innings down the stretch and in the postseason. – JT

44. Andrew McCutchen, LF/RF/DH, Age 35
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $7.0 M $14.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $12.0 M $24.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.28 $9.7 M $12.3 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
580 12.8% 22.6% .235 .338 .422 .330 108 4.1 -14.2 0.9

Player Notes
McCutchen remains a decent hitter, but his defense took quite a nosedive this year. UZR (-7.8) and DRS (-8) were in close agreement on McCutchen’s fielding, while Statcast’s Outs Above Average graded him as one of the worst left fielders in baseball (-4 OAA, 32nd of 41). And though he still posted a decent .222/.334/.444 line, he probably needed to slash something better in order to make playing him in the outfield worth it — 1.2 WAR in 144 games played is not great value. On the brighter side, though, McCutchen’s plate discipline is still elite, with a chase rate ranking among the best in the game. It’s just hard to know if the dip in his quality of contact can see a recovery, or if it’s another sign that age is catching up to him. At this point in his career, McCutchen is probably best suited to slide in as a designated hitter, but teams would have to hope that getting him off his legs will help him hit better in order to make a move to DH actually worth it. – DF

45. Kendall Graveman, RP, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $7.0 M $7.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $6.5 M $13.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 2.43 $6.8 M $16.6 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
64.0 8.7% 25.1% 49.9% 3.69 3.71 3.73 0.5 0.6

Player Notes
And here’s Exhibit 748 on how shifting to relief can rejuvenate your career. After three useful, if largely forgettable years in Oakland’s rotation, Graveman never looked right in 2018, and underwent Tommy John that summer. He didn’t pitch again until 2020, when he appeared sparingly in Seattle. He shined enough in limited action to earn another contract with the Mariners in 2021, which ultimately became a breakout season. Working exclusively in relief, Graveman’s heater spiked four ticks, and his slider jumped 7 mph from his career norm. He was nigh-unhittable in the first half of the year, and he posted a sub-1.00 ERA as Seattle’s relief ace.

He’s not quite that good. A higher walk rate after a deadline deal to Houston helped send both his FIP and ERA into the threes, and Dusty Baker appropriately deployed him as a setup man. Even if Graveman’s not quite closer caliber, he’s still a very good reliever with an elite out pitch. Opponents batted just .130/.193/.196 against his slider, which helped him notch a career-best 27.5% strikeout rate. He’ll be an attractive target for contending teams that need to shore up their bullpen depth. – BG

46. Aaron Loup, RP, Age 34
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $7.0 M $14.0 M
Median Crowdsource 1 $5.0 M $5.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.55 $5.7 M $8.8 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
65.0 8.2% 23.7% 48.2% 3.71 3.82 3.92 0.5 0.6

Player Notes
Aaron Loup feels like the kind of reliever you saw more often 30 years ago. He’s a sidearmer (which means I already like him no matter what) who isn’t reliant on having a wipeout slider with massive break aided by the sidearm motion (an example of this type of pitcher would be Mike Myers). Instead, Loup relies on control and changing speeds, with his usual combination a sinker and cutter that algorithms frequently confuse with a slider. As a result, he doesn’t tend to have the large platoon splits that so many sidearmers and submariners end up with, even the stalwart sidewinders of my youth like Dan Quisenberry and Mark Eichhorn. Loup doesn’t need to be limited to LOOGY duty, either, which adds to his value.

Loup almost always feels like he’s just on the very edge of a major league roster but now stands at a 3.05 career ERA and 3.35 FIP after a decade in the big leagues. He’s yet to get his first multi-year deal. For large parts of the season, he was arguably the most effective reliever on the Mets. There are times you would much prefer having the classic power reliever closing out the game, but give me four or five guys like Loup and I won’t be shuffling at the deadline for bullpen help. – DS

47. Michael Pineda, SP, Age 33
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 2 $6.0 M $12.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $10.0 M $20.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.65 $9.1 M $14.9 M
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
160.0 5.8% 19.1% 42.1% 4.68 4.57 4.48 1.5 1.4

Player Notes
Between an abscess on his inner thigh, an inflamed elbow, and a strained oblique, Big Mike missed about eight weeks in 2021, but amid the Twins’ utter collapse he was pretty solid over the course of a 21-start season, pitching to a 3.62 ERA and 4.21 FIP in 109.1 innings. As a free agent, however, he offers some worrisome signs. The average velocity of his low-spin four-seam fastball was down nearly two full clicks from 2019 (from 92.5 mph to 90.6) — I’m skipping his PED suspension-shortened five-start 2020 here — and over the same span his strikeout rate was down more than four percentage points (from 23.3% to a career-low 19.2%). His 91.2 mph average exit velo and his 46.7% hard-hit rate both ranked in the bottom five percent among qualifiers, and his 4.92 xERA, well, yikes. Pineda’s slider still gets enough swings and misses to keep him afloat, but unless he can restore some velocity and limit hard contact, he’s in for some rough sledding, and so is whoever signs him. – JJ

48. Jonathan Villar, 3B/2B/SS, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $7.0 M $7.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $6.0 M $12.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.74 $6.4 M $11.2 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
459 9.0% 24.9% .249 .321 .394 .311 95 -1.5 -2.2 1.2

Player Notes
Due to injuries to fellow infielders J.D. Davis and Jeff McNeil, Villar received much more playing time than the preseason projections had pegged him for. He ended up being a mainstay in the Mets lineup, posting a .249/.322/.416 slash line in 505 plate appearances, good for a 105 wRC+. He wasn’t a great defender — that’s been the story for the majority of his career — but Villar added versatility and still ended up producing 2.1 WAR overall. Though he struggled through the shortened 2020 campaign, this season marked Villar’s second in the last three of above-average offense, decent defense, and good overall value.

He probably won’t match the 3.9 WAR he produced while with the Orioles in 2019 again, but Villar can be a useful utility player for a contender (his initial role with the Mets) or a starter for a rebuilding team, with the ability to add additional value on the bases, though even that may be a question mark for him going forward — his sprint speed ranked in the 73rd percentile in 2019, when he stole 40 bases, but fell to just the 58th percentile in ‘21. Villar will likely earn a short-term contract, with the expectation being that he’s a depth addition for 2022, albeit a good one. – DF

49. Jorge Soler, OF/DH, Age 30
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource 2 $9.0 M $18.0 M
Avg Crowdsource 1.94 $9.1 M $17.7 M
2022 Steamer Projections
PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ Off Def WAR
631 11.1% 25.8% .238 .331 .469 .343 116 10.3 -15.8 1.6

Player Notes
Soler was really bad in Kansas City this year, so much so that the Royals sent him to Atlanta in exchange for a minor league reliever with command issues. He improved across the board after the change in scenery, which will make him an intriguing option for many teams, particularly if the universal DH is in place. I think he’ll get a prove-it deal, because 30-year-old DHs with middling career offensive numbers aren’t exactly in demand, but if his Atlanta form is real, he’ll garner interest next year. – BC

50. Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Age 31
Contract Estimate
Type Years AAV Total
Ben Clemens 1 $8.0 M $8.0 M
Median Crowdsource N/A N/A N/A
Avg Crowdsource N/A N/A N/A
2022 Steamer Projections
IP BB% K% GB% ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR
152.0 8.4% 22.9% 48.5% 4.03 4.08 3.96 2.2 2.4

Player Notes
We actually didn’t have Kikuchi on our list until last week; he seemed like such a lock to exercise his player option for 2022 after the Mariners declined his four-year team option that we didn’t even ask readers to predict his next deal. Then he opted out, though I don’t think he’ll find a better offer than what he turned down, at least stateside. He held his increased velocity from 2020, but the results didn’t show it; the strikeout and walk numbers aren’t inspiring, and batters hit him hard when they connected. My guess is that he’ll return to Japan, because I don’t think any major league team will offer him more money than the $13 million he turned down, even spread out over two years.

I considered putting Alex Wood in this spot on the list, and his crowdsourced contract projection looks quite reasonable: three years at $11 million per. I think he’ll get substantially less than that — he signed a one-year deal for roughly $10 million in his first foray into free agency, when he was younger and more projectable — but I’d prefer him to Kikuchi. Why list Kikuchi then? It’s an interesting situation, and there’s at least a chance that he turned down his player option because he expects something better to materialize on an MLB team. Consider this a joint spot for the two of them. – BC





Ben is a writer at FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @_Ben_Clemens.

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MikeS
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MikeS

I don’t understand the White Sox not extending the Qualifying Offer to Rodon. The only real way that makes sense is if they think he’s hurt worse than they let on for the last two months of the season, that no one else will take a shot on him even at Ben’s 3/$45 number, and they will be stuck paying $18.6M for a guy who doesn’t throw 50 innings next year.

sadtrombone
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Member
sadtrombone

If his medicals check out and 3/$45 is really his projection…I’d be all in on him if I were a mid-size team or bigger. Pitchers who put up close to 5 wins in their walk year and hit FA at 29 don’t exactly come along that often. Sure, it’s a risk, because he’s never done this before and he’s not a workhorse, but you have to think about the whole pitching staff as a portfolio. It’s okay to balance risk with other, safer options.

tz
Member

Feels a lot to me like the Nathan Eovaldi situation when he hit free agency with the Red Sox. A history of health breakdowns is scary, but I’d rather take a chance on a guy who’s shown some progress post-TJ vs. someone who’s been a workhorse but has some red flags for wear-and-tear about to maybe get ugly (Scherzer??)

carter
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Member
carter

Wanting Rodon over Scherzer is taking crazy pills

CC AFC
Member
Member
CC AFC

I think you’ve got it. There’s probably some bad medical info that they know better than anyone else.

pbarston
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Member
pbarston

To reference the write-up too, extending a QO doesn’t really take advantage of his risk profile.

If he accepts a QO, likely case is the Sox gain a bit of value on an oft-injured pitcher. If he breaks out then you only have that one year, and if he simply breaks then you’re down a good chunk of salary. I would bet his youth and his tease of a 2021 actually puts him more into the length over AAV end of the spectrum.