Every MLB Team's Most Important Upcoming Free-Agent Decision

Joel ReuterSeptember 15, 2022

Every MLB Team's Most Important Upcoming Free-Agent Decision

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 08: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees reacts after hitting a double to left field in the eighth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on September 08, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
    Aaron Judge (Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

    Two of the best players in baseball are set to reach free agency for the first time this winter as New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge and Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner will take their tremendous talent to the open market.

    Whether those two major market teams are able to retain their stars will be one of the biggest storylines of the upcoming offseason, but they are not the only teams with important free-agency decisions to make this winter.

    Ahead we've highlighted each team's most important free agent, based on his production and the void his potential departure would create on the roster. Player options and contract opt-outs were also included in this conversation since those decisions are precursors to a player potentially reaching free agency.

    Let's get to it!

American League East

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    BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - SEPTEMBER 09: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox runs to first base against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 09, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)
    Xander Bogaerts (G Fiume/Getty Images)

    Baltimore Orioles: RHP Jordan Lyles (club option)

    The Orioles don't have any major free-agency decisions with veteran Rougned Odor and Robinson Chirinos likely to be cut loose, but they do have a tough call to make on an $11 million club option for Lyles. The 31-year-old has worked a team-leading 156 innings and has a 4.62 ERA and 4.37 FIP on the year. Is his veteran workhorse presence preferable to a $1 million buyout?


    Boston Red Sox: SS Xander Bogaerts (opt-out)

    The writing is on the wall that Bogaerts is going to exercise the opt-out in his contract and leave the remaining four years and $80 million of his deal on the table. The question now is how aggressively the Red Sox are going to be in trying to keep him around. Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Wacha are also big free-agency calls.


    New York Yankees: OF Aaron Judge

    There is no question the Yankees would love to keep Judge around, but how far beyond the seven-year, $213.5 million offer he rejected this offseason are they willing to go? He is on his way to a historically good contract year, but his injury history prior to the last two seasons will still be in the back of everyone's mind at the bargaining table.


    Tampa Bay Rays: C Mike Zunino

    After exploding for a 136 OPS+ and 33 home runs last season, Zunino has battled through a tough contract year. The 31-year-old played in only 36 games before undergoing thoracic outlet surgery, and he was hitting only .148/.195/.304 in 123 plate appearances prior to the injury. Will the tight-fisted Rays be willing to take a buy-low flier on the 2021 All-Star?


    Toronto Blue Jays: RHP Ross Stripling

    Stripling has been an invaluable swingman for the Blue Jays this season, logging a 3.03 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in 113 innings over 20 starts and eight relief appearances. The 32-year-old is going to get a healthy raise over the $3.8 million he's making this season, and the Blue Jays might have a tough time keeping him around without guaranteeing him a rotation spot.

American League Central

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    OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 11: Jose Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox hits an rbi double scoring Andrew Vaughn #25 against the Oakland Athletics in the top of the first inning at RingCentral Coliseum on September 11, 2022 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Jose Abreu (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

    Chicago White Sox: 1B José Abreu

    The last time he hit the open market, the White Sox extended Abreu a qualifying offer and then signed him to a three-year, $50 million extension. The 35-year-old is still going strong, hitting .312/.386/.457 with 33 doubles, 15 home runs and 67 RBI, and he's an important clubhouse voice. How much more does he have left in the tank?


    Cleveland Guardians: C Austin Hedges

    Hedges is the only upcoming free agent on the Guardians roster, and with top prospect, Bo Naylor, knocking on the door at Triple-A, he could serve as a useful stopgap option behind the plate until he's ready. The 30-year-old Hedges may not hit much, but he knows how to handle a staff.


    Detroit Tigers: C Tucker Barnhart

    There is a marked difference in the Detroit pitching staff's effectiveness with Barnhart (687.0 IP, 4.03 ERA) behind the plate compared to when Eric Haase (509.0 IP, 4.30 ERA) is in the crouch. Will that be reason enough for them to keep the two-time Gold Glove winner, despite a .208 average and 55 OPS+ in 273 plate appearances?


    Kansas City Royals: RHP Zack Greinke

    Greinke returned to Kansas City on a one-year, $13 million deal this past offseason, but that doesn't necessarily mean this season was a farewell tour. The 38-year-old has a 4.00 ERA and 101 ERA+ in 114.2 innings, and he has a 1.61 ERA in 22.1 innings over his previous four starts. Bringing him back for another year at the same price would make a lot of sense.


    Minnesota Twins: SS Carlos Correa (opt-out)

    The Twins signed Correa to a three-year, $105.3 million during the offseason, but the prevailing assumption is that he will exercise one of his two opt-outs this winter to test the free-agency waters once again. The 27-year-old has spoken positively of his time in Minnesota, so even if he does opt out, there's a chance the Twins could be in the running to ink him to a longer, more lucrative deal.

American League West

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 05: Martin Perez #54 of the Texas Rangers delivers during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 05, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
    Martin Perez (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    Houston Astros: RHP Justin Verlander (player option)

    Verlander has a $25 million player option for the 2023 season that vested when he reached 130 innings pitched, but he'll almost certainly decline that in search of a larger deal. Will the Astros be willing to offer up something similar to the three-year, $130 million deal that Max Scherzer signed with the Mets? That's likely what it's going to cost to keep him.


    Los Angeles Angels: RHP Michael Lorenzen

    Lorenzen was a breakout candidate when the Angels signed him to a one-year, $6.8 million deal and made him a full-time starter, but injuries have limited him to only 14 starts and 76.2 innings. He allowed just one run in 5.2 innings against the Astros on Sept. 9 in his first start in more than two months, and a strong finish could make him a candidate to be re-signed.


    Oakland Athletics: OF Chad Pinder

    The longest-tenured player on the Oakland roster, Pinder has been a valuable super-utility guy for years. The 30-year-old has played primarily outfield this season, and he has 11 home runs and 41 RBI in 341 plate appearances. He should garner widespread interest this winter as the type of player who could fit on any roster.


    Seattle Mariners: OF Mitch Haniger

    After a 39-homer, 100-RBI season in 2021, Haniger missed 99 games earlier this year while battling an ankle injury and he's hitting just .242/.305/.375 in 141 plate appearances since returning. The M's have a crowded outfield, so splurging to re-sign him might not make sense, but if the price is right a reunion is not out of the question.


    Texas Rangers: LHP Martín Pérez

    The Rangers opted against shopping Pérez at the deadline, despite the fact that he was playing on a one-year, $4 million deal. That would seem to indicate they have every intention of re-signing him to a long-term deal. With a 2.77 ERA in 172 innings, the 31-year-old is going to get a massive raise one way or another.

National League East

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 31:  Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts after the final out of a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on August 31, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Edwin Diaz (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    Atlanta Braves: SS Dansby Swanson

    After hitting .294/.353/.481 with 15 home runs during the first half of the season, Swanson has seen his production drop off considerably since the All-Star break. That said, the 28-year-old still has a chance to be a $100 million player this offseason in the midst of a 116 OPS+ and 5.2-WAR season. With no clear in-house replacement, re-signing him should be a priority.


    Miami Marlins: IF Joey Wendle (mutual option)

    An All-Star in 2021, Wendle was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays prior to the 2022 season, and despite middling offensive production he has still been a 2.0-WAR player thanks to his terrific defense. The 32-year-old has a $6.3 million mutual option with a $75,000 buyout for the 2023 season, and it will be interesting to see if a reunion can be worked out.


    New York Mets: RHP Edwin Díaz

    Díaz has a chance to be the first $100 million reliever this offseason, but with so much money already on the books the Mets might not be the team to give him that contract. On the other hand, with Adam Ottavino, Seth Lugo and Trevor May also headed for free agency they might prioritize stabilizing the ninth-inning role. Center fielder Brandon Nimmo is also a key player headed for free agency.


    Philadelphia Phillies: 2B Jean Segura (club option)

    Playing in the final season of a five-year, $70 million deal, Segura has a $17 million club option with a $1 million buyout for next season. With $115.9 million already committed to Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber next year, they may prefer to shed a big number from the books.


    Washington Nationals: RHP Joe Ross

    Ross has shown flashes throughout his MLB career, including a 4.17 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 108 innings last season, but he has missed the entire 2022 season recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. With the Nationals in the early stages of rebuilding, buying low on his return could prove useful.

National League Central

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 19: Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs at bat against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on August 19, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
    Willson Contreras (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

    Chicago Cubs: C Willson Contreras

    The biggest surprise of the 2022 trade deadline was the Cubs deciding to hold onto Contreras, who was in the midst of an All-Star season and headed for the open market. That sparked some renewed optimism that the two sides might still be able to come to terms on a new deal, though that certainly becomes more difficult once the other 29 teams are involved.


    Cincinnati Reds: IF Donovan Solano

    The Reds have been aggressive sellers on the trade market in recent years, and as a result there are very few upcoming free agents on the roster. The best of the bunch is Solano, who signed a one-year, $4.5 million deal during the offseason and is hitting .302 with a 100 OPS+ in 250 plate appearances. He can be a valuable backup for a young infield if he returns.


    Milwaukee Brewers: C Omar Narvaez

    With 19-year-old prospect Jeferson Quero still several years away from reaching the majors and Victor Caratini best suited in a backup role, the Brewers will be without a starting catcher if they let Narvaez walk in free agency. The 2021 All-Star has missed some time with a quad injury during the second half, but he is still the team's best option behind the plate.


    Pittsburgh Pirates: OF Ben Gamel

    Gamel has been a nice diamond in the rough for the Pirates this season after signing a one-year, $1.8 million deal in free agency. The 30-year-old hit .263/.324/.434 with 10 extra-base hits in 108 plate appearances in August, and his 127 total bases rank fourth on the team behind Bryan Reynolds, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Michael Chavis.


    St. Louis Cardinals: RHP Adam Wainwright

    With a 3.33 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 134 strikeouts in 173 innings, Wainwright still has plenty left in the tank at 41 years old. He could choose to ride off into the sunset with Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols this offseason if they both retire as expected, but he could also return on another one-year contract after signing a $17.5 million deal last offseason. If he keeps playing, it's hard to picture him anywhere else.

National League West

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 03: Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner (6) hits a two-run home run in the first inning during a regular season game between the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers on September 03, 2022, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    Trea Turner (Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    Arizona Diamondbacks: RHP Zach Davies (mutual option)

    The D-backs don't have any upcoming unrestricted free agents, but Ian Kennedy ($4 million) and Davies ($1.5 million) both have mutual options. Davies, 29, has a 4.09 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 116.2 innings this year after struggling to a 5.78 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in 2021 with the Chicago Cubs. Even if he declines his end of the mutual option, the D-backs could still pursue a reunion.


    Colorado Rockies: SS José Iglesias

    The Rockies waited all offseason to address the departure of Trevor Story in free agency, signing Iglesias to a one-year, $5 million deal on March 16. The slick-fielding shortstop has been a quality contact hitter throughout his career, and he's batting .300/.337/.392 in 451 plate appearances this year. Who plays shortstop in Colorado next year if he walks?


    Los Angeles Dodgers: SS Trea Turner

    The Dodgers have an abundance of big decisions to make this offseason, including the free agency of Clayton Kershaw, a club option on Justin Turner ($16 million), whether to tender Cody Bellinger a contract, and the free agency of 2022 All-Star Tyler Anderson. However, the biggest decision of the winter will revolve around Turner and whether he returns as the starting shortstop. The 29-year-old is a candidate for a $30 million annual value on his next deal.


    San Diego Padres: 1B Josh Bell

    With Eric Hosmer traded and Wil Myers headed for free agency, the Padres could make Bell more than just a two-month rental. The 30-year-old is hitting just .206 with an 85 OPS+ since joining the Padres in the Juan Soto blockbuster, but he has a 135 OPS+ and 3.3 WAR on the year. The starting rotation will also be a major focal point with Sean Manaea and Mike Clevinger set to hit the open market.


    San Francisco Giants: LHP Carlos Rodon (opt-out)

    With a lengthy injury history, Rodon was unable to find a long-term deal in free agency last offseason, instead settling for a two-year, $44 million deal that included an opt-out, essentially making the 2023 season a player option. The 29-year-old has a 2.93 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 212 strikeouts in 162.2 innings this year, and with another healthy season under his belt a long-term deal should be easier to come by this time around.


    Stats via Baseball Reference and up to date heading into Wednesday's games.

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