Which Free Agents Have Boosted Their Value the Most?

Willson Contreras
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Compared to the never-ending trudge of MLB’s CBA negotiations this winter, the 2022 season feels like a drag car race; I find it difficult to believe we’re already just two months away from the playoffs. But while playoff-relevant teams and their players are primarily thinking about October right now, it would be a lie if they claimed there was no peeking ahead to free agency. After all, decisions to sign or not sign will be among the most significant that players will make in their professional lives, and the right contract can change the fate of a franchise, for good or ill.

As we reach baseball’s trade deadline, the point of no return, I thought I would enlist ZiPS to the task of projecting which possible free agents have helped their cases this year. After all, the salaries players can expect to get in free agency can change decisions teams make right now. Just to keep everything on an even playing field, the exact order is based on theoretical four-year contracts.

1. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees (+$32 million)

Judge made a massive gamble on himself entering the season by turning down a deal worth $230.5 million over eight years, and while I don’t think there’s any possible season that would have actually catapulted him into the $300 million-plus territory that’s generally populated by younger players playing more crucial positions, he’s done about all he can to make his case. The projection systems all have his mean outlook getting him just over that 50-homer line for the second time in his career, and in a much more difficult environment for home run hitting than existed in 2017.

ZiPS isn’t convinced, though, that Judge is going to do better than the Yankees’ initial offer, and as great as he’s been, I still share that skepticism. He’s establishing a higher baseline for himself from which to decline throughout his 30s, but some of the reasons that hold down his value still remain: he’ll be 31 in 2023, and he’s a corner outfielder. I don’t think there’s any team in baseball that will give Judge more money than the Yankees will be willing to, and I don’t think the Yankees have any intention to offer him $280 million. Feel free to pop back into the comments in six months if I’m wrong!

ZiPS Projection – Aaron Judge
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .283 .364 .580 540 106 153 25 0 45 115 70 155 8 151 6 5.6
2024 .282 .362 .575 511 99 144 24 0 42 109 66 147 7 149 6 5.2
2025 .276 .355 .554 493 92 136 23 0 38 99 62 138 7 142 5 4.5
2026 .271 .348 .527 469 83 127 21 0 33 88 57 127 6 134 5 3.7
2027 .265 .338 .497 445 74 118 19 0 28 77 50 114 6 123 4 2.8
2028 .257 .325 .456 417 63 107 17 0 22 64 43 99 5 109 4 1.8
2029 .251 .314 .419 387 54 97 14 0 17 54 36 83 4 97 2 0.9

2. Martín Pérez, Texas Rangers (+$32 million)

Pérez isn’t heading for a massive payday given his history, but he’s put himself back on the map in 2022. He’s already set a career high in WAR, at 2.4, and unlike in past seasons when his cutter started fading as temperatures heated up, he’s continued to be solid. I was highly annoyed that Dylan Cease didn’t make the All-Star Game, but it’s not Pérez I would have cut to make room.

The Rangers have expressed reluctance to trade Pérez, but I think that’s a mistake; even as a short-term rental, there are teams that could benefit from his services that don’t want to pay the much higher cost of a Luis Castillo. No law says they can’t sign him back this offseason, after all.

ZiPS Projection – Martín Pérez
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 9 7 0 3.97 31 27 156.3 154 69 16 51 129 110 2.6
2024 8 7 0 4.00 27 24 139.3 139 62 14 45 110 109 2.3
2025 8 7 0 4.14 27 24 137.0 139 63 15 46 107 105 2.1
2026 8 6 0 4.16 25 22 127.7 129 59 14 42 99 105 1.9

3. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs (+$29 million)

Contreras is a good example of a player whose big season has been camouflaged by the disappearance of offense around baseball this year. For those not keen on stats like wRC+ (133) or WAR (2.4), his 2022 doesn’t look much different than his past; his Triple Crown stats will end up at their usual levels, and his current .821 OPS isn’t appreciably different from his career .809 mark. Still, Contreras will likely finish the season with numbers among the top tier of catchers, which tends to be useful when you’re headed to the open market.

With more exciting catchers like J.T. Realmuto, Alejandro Kirk, and Will Smith all unavailable, Contreras ought to do well in free agency. Unlike the Rangers and Pérez, I would be shocked if the Cubs didn’t trade him before the deadline.

ZiPS Projection – Willson Contreras
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .246 .353 .448 426 67 105 21 1 21 64 54 125 4 116 2 3.5
2024 .245 .350 .450 404 62 99 21 1 20 61 50 116 4 116 1 3.2
2025 .243 .345 .429 387 57 94 19 1 17 54 46 109 4 109 0 2.6
2026 .240 .338 .414 367 52 88 17 1 15 49 41 99 4 104 -1 2.0
2027 .234 .330 .387 346 46 81 15 1 12 42 36 88 4 95 -3 1.4

4. Tyler Anderson, Los Angeles Dodgers (+$23 million)

Early in his career, Anderson was among the more underrated starters, a curse shared by mid-rotation Rockies pitchers of any age. Knee problems derailed his career a few years ago, and since returning in 2020, he’d only had forgettable stints with the Giants, Pirates, and Mariners. Anderson found no better bidder than the Dodgers, who offered him a one-year, $8 million contract in March. But as my colleague Jake Mailhot wrote last month, Anderson’s revitalized changeup has powered his first All-Star appearance, despite him not even starting the season in the rotation. ZiPS isn’t going all-in on him given his up-and-down-history, but the computer does now think he’s done enough to attract interest as a mid-rotation inning-eater, like Steven Matz last winter.

ZiPS Projection – Tyler Anderson
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 9 8 0 4.22 28 25 143.0 143 67 20 33 123 103 2.0
2024 8 7 0 4.32 25 22 127.0 130 61 18 30 108 101 1.7
2025 8 7 0 4.39 24 22 125.0 129 61 19 30 106 99 1.5
2026 7 7 0 4.41 23 20 116.3 120 57 17 28 99 99 1.4

5. Jameson Taillon, New York Yankees (+$22 million)

Taillon isn’t blowing away his projections like some of the names on this list; his ERA- of 100 is just a hair above the 98 projected for him entering the season. But what he has done is remained healthy, something he has struggled with throughout his career. Since being drafted with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, he’s missed most or all of five seasons due to Tommy John surgery, a sports hernia, flexor tendon surgery, a UCL revision surgery, and fighting a battle with testicular cancer. But the reality is that attendance counts when you sign a pitcher. ZiPS now expects Taillon to finish around 160 innings, his second-highest total as a professional and the most he’s thrown since 2018. The Yankees are paying him only $5.8 million this year; his next team won’t get such a nice discount.

ZiPS Projection – Jameson Taillon
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 10 7 0 3.87 27 27 144.3 144 62 18 28 123 113 2.6
2024 9 7 0 3.93 25 25 130.7 132 57 16 25 109 111 2.3
2025 8 7 0 4.04 24 24 127.0 130 57 17 25 104 108 2.0
2026 8 6 0 4.05 22 22 117.7 121 53 15 23 97 108 1.9

6. Josh Bell, Washington Nationals ($21 million)

Hopefully the second half of the 2022 season will go better for Bell than the other time he was an All-Star. In 2019, he scorched the ball for the first three months of the season, hitting .302/.376/.648 through the All-Star break. While the extent of his collapse that season has sometimes been exaggerated, his .233/.351/.429 line was much less exciting, as was his miserable .226/.305/.364 triple-slash in the shortened 2020 season.

Once again, Bell has put up a genuinely elite first half of a season, though his improvement is very different than last time. Instead of adding power, he went into the season with a focus on making more contact, and while that approach doesn’t work for a lot of players, it’s paid off so far for him. Also helping is that he’s a much more competent defensive first baseman than he was back in his Pittsburgh days.

ZiPS Projection – Josh Bell
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .283 .366 .503 513 79 145 28 2 27 97 65 100 0 133 -2 3.0
2024 .278 .360 .489 489 73 136 27 2 24 90 61 96 0 128 -2 2.5
2025 .275 .356 .479 472 68 130 26 2 22 85 57 91 0 124 -2 2.1
2026 .268 .348 .456 447 62 120 23 2 19 75 53 83 0 117 -3 1.5
2027 .264 .339 .434 424 55 112 20 2 16 67 46 74 0 109 -3 0.8

7. Edwin Díaz, New York Mets (+$21 million)

The only reason Díaz doesn’t rank higher on this list is that ZiPS already liked him quite a bit entering the 2022 season, projecting him as the eighth-best reliever in baseball. He has ripped that already sunny projection to shreds, going to his physics-violating slider more than ever, resulting in a shocking 1.18 FIP and 18 batters struck out per nine innings. No pitcher has ever struck out two batters per game in a 50-inning season; Aroldis Chapman is the current record holder at 17.67 in 2014.

Before the season, ZiPS thought Díaz would get one of the biggest closer contracts ever. Now I’m wondering if he’ll be the first closer to get a deal that hits an average annual value of $20 million per year.

ZiPS Projection – Edwin Díaz
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 6 2 8 2.45 64 0 62.3 42 17 6 24 105 178 1.9
2024 5 2 8 2.44 60 0 59.0 39 16 6 23 100 179 1.8
2025 5 2 8 2.51 58 0 57.3 37 16 6 22 98 174 1.7
2026 5 2 8 2.56 54 0 52.7 34 15 5 21 90 170 1.5
2027 5 2 8 2.54 50 0 49.7 33 14 5 20 85 172 1.5

8. Dansby Swanson, Atlanta Braves (+$20 million)

As I wrote about last month, Swanson has long been in danger of falling into the Gregg Jefferies category: a highly-touted elite prospect who committed the crime of merely becoming a good player. But 2022 has changed that storyline somewhat, and it’s Swanson who has been Atlanta’s best player, not Ronald Acuña Jr. or Austin Riley or Ozzie Albies. Even with the six-WAR season he’s projected to finish 2022 with, it would be unrealistic to expect him to be in the same financial category as Corey Seager or Carlos Correa, but I think Swanson gets a nine-figure deal this winter, and if the right team has an interest, his deal could be similar to Trevor Story’s in Boston.

ZiPS Projection – Dansby Swanson
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2023 .263 .324 .453 578 87 152 31 2 25 78 49 156 14 109 4 3.7
2024 .266 .326 .467 542 82 144 30 2 25 76 46 142 12 112 3 3.6
2025 .263 .324 .462 524 78 138 28 2 24 73 44 135 11 110 2 3.3
2026 .260 .321 .445 503 73 131 26 2 21 67 42 126 10 106 1 2.7
2027 .257 .316 .434 479 67 123 24 2 19 61 39 116 9 102 0 2.2
2028 .254 .310 .415 453 61 115 21 2 16 55 34 103 7 95 -1 1.6

9. José Quintana, Pittsburgh Pirates (+$17 million)

Boy, Quintana’s time with the Cubs did not go the way I expected! From a disappointingly adequate first year at Wrigley, things only got worse, and he finished his stint in Chicago on the Injured List after lacerating his thumb in a lost battle with… soapy dishes. His one-year, $8 million contract with the Angels in 2021 was a disaster, and after losing his starting job and heading to the Giants on a waiver claim, he finished the year as a nearly forgotten mop-up guy in San Francisco. If last year’s deal could be termed a “pillow contract,” then this year’s one-year, $2 million deal with the Pirates may be described as a “rolled-up towel contract.” Pittsburgh mainly signed Quintana because, well, if you don’t get the opposing team out 24 or 27 times, games don’t actually end, something that was a genuine concern for the Bucs given the holes in their depth chart.

With the Pirates, Quintana has focused on becoming more of a changeup pitcher at the suggestion of Pittsburgh’s pitching coach, Oscar Marin:

Manager Derek Shelton says Quintana’s willingness to use his changeup more, at the urging of pitching coach Oscar Marin, is a big reason for the Colombia native’s success.

Quintana had thrown a changeup on 9.4 percent of his pitches through the first 10 seasons of his career. That usage has risen to 30.2 percent this year.

“I think the changeup has been that pitch that I need, and right now, I have control with it,” Quintana said. “I think it makes my fastball and curveball — my strengths — get better. I think I’ll get in a better position to get swings and misses. It’s huge.”

Quintana isn’t headed for a massive payday this winter, but he’s put himself back on the radar as a veteran innings-eater. That won’t buy a solid gold house and a rocket car, but it pays the bills.

ZiPS Projection – José Quintana
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 6 6 0 4.41 29 27 138.7 142 68 19 46 128 99 1.7
2024 5 5 0 4.52 26 24 123.3 128 62 18 42 112 96 1.3
2025 5 5 0 4.68 24 23 116.3 122 60 17 41 105 93 1.1

10. Daniel Bard, Colorado Rockies (+16 million)

Bard’s return to the majors in 2020 after the better part of a decade and more than two years after he announced his retirement is one of my favorite feel-good stories. That he didn’t just revive his career in a short-lived stunt but found real success in the majors makes it even better. Bard’s not going to keep his .185 BABIP this year any more than his .353 BABIP in 2021, but he should be a solid addition to a bullpen for a few years, though probably not the four I assumed for the rankings. It would be nice if his command was a little better, but any reliever who can throw a 99-mph sinker somewhere in the vicinity of home plate will attract a lot of interest. Naturally, the Rockies have expressed a desire to extend Bard rather than trade him at the deadline, the team’s top need obviously being a 37-year-old closer.

ZiPS Projection – Daniel Bard
Year W L S ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2023 6 4 3 3.51 51 0 51.3 39 20 5 28 67 124 0.7
2024 5 4 3 3.77 45 0 45.3 35 19 5 26 59 116 0.5





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

39 Comments
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Psychic... Powerless...
2 months ago

Hello, Dan! Just so you’re aware, the author bio at the end of your articles states that you **used to be** a guest on radio shows and a voting BBWAA member.

4onejrmember
2 months ago

He must of got expelled from the Cincinnati charter for criticizing the chili 🤷🏼‍♂️

sbf21member
2 months ago
Reply to  4onejr

Ugh. Sorry. Language police here. My biggest pet peeve. Readng your comment is almost as bad as hearing nails on a chalkboard.

“Must of….” No. It’s “must have.” You should’ve paid more attention in school.

airforce21one
2 months ago
Reply to  sbf21

Pot, meet kettle…