Preview and Predictions for MLB's Loaded Free-Agent Shortstop Market

Zachary D. RymerNovember 8, 2022

Preview and Predictions for MLB's Loaded Free-Agent Shortstop Market

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    Carlos Correa is looking to get paid. Again.
    AP Photo/Adam Hunger

    For the second offseason in a row, the shortstop aisle of Major League Baseball's free-agent market is the place to go for stars.

    Here's what to know before the shopping begins in earnest.

    We'll start by quickly running through the state of the position and which players will be available. After that, we'll offer our takes and predictions on the four top options: Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson.

    Let's get to it.

The State of the Position

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    New York Mets' Francisco Lindor speaks during a news conference the day before a wild-card baseball playoff game against the San Diego Padres, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
    AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

    Shortstop is fundamentally a defense-first position, slotting just below catcher in terms of importance on the defensive spectrum.

    The position has nonetheless come a long way offensively, particularly since the end of Ernie Banks' career coincided with an offensive nadir for shortstops in the early 1970s. The position's wRC+ has steadily trended upward over the last five decades and has recently been around the league average of 100:

    Graph via Google Sheets

    Nobody should therefore be surprised that modern shortstops are better compensated than most players. Whereas the average salary for all MLB players in 2022 was a little over $4.2 million, the typical shortstop earned north of $5 million.

    Even without counting the $315 million worth of contracts signed by shortstops-turned-second basemen Marcus Semien and Trevor Story, the 2021-22 offseason certainly helped nudge the latter number upward.

    Carlos Correa (three years, $105.3 million) and Javier Báez (six years, $140 million) cleared nine figures, while Corey Seager did so by plenty in securing a 10-year, $325 million deal. Along with Francisco Lindor and Fernando Tatis Jr., Seager is one of three shortstops with a $300 million contract.

    A backdrop like this bodes well for the shortstops who are free agents, so what's say we meet them?

Who Are the Free Agents?

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    Los Angeles Dodgers' Trea Turner (6) celebrates in the dugout after scoring off of a double hit by Freddie Freeman during the eighth inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers in Los Angeles, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. Mookie Betts also scored. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
    AP Photo/Ashley Landis

    The Cream of the Crop

    1. Trea Turner, 29
    2. Carlos Correa, 28
    3. Xander Bogaerts, 30
    4. Dansby Swanson, 28

    These players ranked in the top seven among shortstops by rWAR in 2022, accounting for 5.4 rWAR on average. That's considered All-Star territory, and each of them has actually earned such an honor at least once.

    By way of their Gold Glove Awards, Correa and Swanson are the top defenders. With his elite sprint speed, Turner is the best baserunner.

    All four have the ability to abide by the elevated offensive standards of the position. All but Swanson cleared an .800 OPS, and even he salvaged a safely above average 116 wRC+.

    The Viable Regulars

    1. Elvis Andrus, 34
    2. Jose Iglesias, 32

    Andrus was one of the most ineffective everyday shortstops in 2020 and 2021, mustering only a .608 OPS and 0.2 rWAR. He subsequently revived his career, hitting 17 home runs while posting three outs above average.

    Iglesias finished with zero outs above average. He also hit a relatively empty .292, as he played home games at Coors Field and still clubbed only three home runs. But at the least, he offers bat-to-ball skills and good hands.

    The Bounceback Candidates

    1. Didi Gregorius, 32
    2. Andrelton Simmons, 33

    Gregorius effectively slumped his way out of Philadelphia, hitting just .210 with one home run in 63 games before the Phillies released him. Simmons' season was derailed by injury, as a bum right shoulder kept him out of all but 34 games before he was cut loose by the Chicago Cubs.

    Both veterans should get looks as upside plays. Gregorius, because he was good for 20-plus home runs in his heyday. Simmons, because he had been building a Hall of Fame-caliber career with his defense alone before he started having injury troubles.

    The Utility Types

    1. Aledmys Diaz, 32
    2. Marwin Gonzalez, 33
    3. Johan Camargo, 28
    4. Alcides Escobar, 35
    5. Chris Owings, 31
    6. Jonathan Villar, 31

    Amid an otherwise uninspiring group of players, Diaz is the standout. An All-Star and National League Rookie of the Year contender with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2016, he most recently contributed 12 regular-season home runs to the Houston Astros' championship season.

Prediction for Dansby Swanson

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    Atlanta Braves' Dansby Swanson runs the bases on a two-run home run against the New York Mets during the fifth inning of a baseball game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brett Davis)
    AP Photo/Brett Davis

    What Does He Bring to the Table?

    Swanson's reputation as a quality defender only grew this season. He had good metrics across the board, with the best of all being his position-high 21 outs above average.

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    Swanson's bat typically isn't as consistent, but it's getting better. He has hit 52 home runs over the last two seasons, the latter of which also included career bests for average exit velocity (90.2 mph) and hard-hit rate (46.3 percent).

    It should also count for something that the Vanderbilt product is experienced and proven as a playoff performer. He's appeared in 37 postseason games with Atlanta, notably aiding the club's championship run in 2021 with two home runs in the World Series.

    What's His Price Tag?

    If Báez and Story could get six-year, $140 million contracts last offseason after relatively modest campaigns in their age-28 seasons, then that should be the baseline for Swanson.

    Granted, Swanson's earning power could prove to be even greater. An expert that Jon Heyman of the New York Post spoke to pegged him for a seven-year, $175 million deal.

    Which Teams Need Him?

    Swanson's free agency has left a massive hole in Atlanta, and in that same boat are the Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox. Any of the three could pivot to Swanson if Atlanta doesn't make a strong enough push to retain him.

    There's otherwise no shortage of teams that could stand to upgrade at shortstop. Among them are the Phillies, Cubs, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, Colorado Rockies and Baltimore Orioles.

    The Yankees need Swanson's defense more than most. With Isiah Kiner-Falefa getting most of the reps, their shortstops posted minus-four outs above average in 2022.

    Which Team Gets Him?

    We'll go with Atlanta.

    It does bear mentioning that Swanson is represented by Casey Close, who was famously unable to secure a new deal for Freddie Freeman with Atlanta. It's nonetheless hard to imagine Swanson will leave, as he's a Georgia native who has been an essential part of some great teams over the last seven seasons.

Prediction for Xander Bogaerts

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    Boston Red Sox's Xander Bogaerts watches his line out during the first inning of a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

    What Does He Bring to the Table?

    Only the most consistent bat that the position has to offer. Bogaerts is a .292 career hitter and the only shortstop to post at least a 128 OPS+ in even three of the last five seasons—and he's done it all five times.

    Even though Bogaerts isn't much of a base stealer, only Andrus has more career baserunning runs among shortstops. That speaks to the Aruba native's instincts for avoiding outs and making things happen.

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    XANDER BOGAERTS, YOU ARE THE MAN. <a href=""></a>

    The knock on Bogaerts, a two-time World Series champion, has typically been his defense. But less so now. He's fresh off being named a Gold Glove finalist for the second time, and not undeservedly on account of his metrics.

    What's His Price Tag?

    Bogaerts opted out of three years and $60 million to become a free agent. In all likelihood, he has his sights set on a long-term deal with a total guarantee that begins with a two.

    It would be surprising if he had to settle for less than $200 million, but how far above that mark he'll go will depend on the length of the deal. As next year will be his age-30 season, an eight-year deal is probably the best he can hope for.

    Which Teams Need Him?

    The Red Sox obviously have a Bogaerts-size hole at shortstop, and they figure to face stiff competition in their pursuit to bring him back.

    The Giants (per Bob Nightengale of USA Today) and Phillies (per Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe) have been connected to Bogaerts, who would provide a huge offensive upgrade for either team. As previously noted, the Dodgers, Twins and Atlanta also have holes to fill.

    The Angels are likewise worth keeping an eye on. Whether owner Arte Moreno wants to spend while he's looking to sell the team is a good question, but the 68 wRC+ that the Angels got from their shortstops in 2022 marked a cry for offensive help.

    Which Team Gets Him?

    We'll go with the Red Sox.

    Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters in early October that retaining Bogaerts will be the team's top offseason priority. The club's recent spending habits raise some doubt in this regard, yet its payroll is nearly $100 million lighter than it was at the end of the season.

Prediction for Carlos Correa

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    Minnesota Twins' Carlos Correa celebrates while crossing home plate after hitting a two-run home run during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the Cleveland Guardians, Friday, Sept. 9, 2022, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)
    AP Photo/Abbie Parr

    What Does He Bring to the Table?

    Correa leads all shortstops with 39.5 rWAR since the year of his debut in 2015, and that figure derives from a little bit of everything.

    He has been a well above average hitter, including across the last two seasons, as he's put up an .842 OPS with 48 home runs. The 28-year-old has also typically rated well defensively, never more so than in 2021 when he netted Gold and Platinum Gloves.

    October-wise, Correa's 18 postseason home runs put him in a tie for seventh on the all-time list. There's no getting around what the Astros did in 2017, yet it's only fair to also note that 11 of Correa's playoff homers came after that year.

    What's His Price Tag?

    Correa never got the $330-350 million deal that he was reportedly looking for last offseason, and chances are he's not going to get it this time either. If for no other reason than he's now a year older.

    And yet his youth and talent may push his price tag close to or even over the $300 million threshold. If not by way of a 10-year deal worth $30 million annually, then perhaps by way of an eight- or nine-year deal that beats or exceeds the $35.1 million AAV of his last contract.

    Which Teams Need Him?

    The Twins would like to bring Correa back, as chairman Jim Pohlad recently told Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that he's "totally on board" with re-signing him.

    Whether that will be possible hinges on how much interest deeper-pocketed clubs have in Correa. To that end, the Phillies, Giants, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees are hypothetical fits.

    And also, the Dodgers. It may be that their fans have neither forgotten nor forgiven Correa's role in the 2017 club's loss to the Astros in the World Series, yet Heyman reported Oct. 28 that the organization is interested in Correa all the same.

    Which Team Gets Him?

    We'll go with the Dodgers.

    Why? Maximum chaos, for one thing. For another, the baggage shouldn't obscure how well Correa fits the Dodgers based on their hole at shortstop and the substantial funds in their coffers. They can sign him and trust that he'll make the haters and naysayers come around.

Prediction for Trea Turner

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    Los Angeles Dodgers' Trea Turner celebrates as he runs the bases on a solo home run against the San Diego Padres during the third inning in Game 2 of a baseball NL Division Series, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
    AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

    What Does He Bring to the Table?

    Let's first acknowledge what Turner doesn't bring to the table, which is much in the way of defense. He's fresh off making a career-high 16 errors, and the metrics he's put up over the last four years lean negative.

    It's a good thing, then, that Turner is the most dynamic offensive player at shortstop or perhaps any other position. Over the last three seasons, he's hit .316 with 162-game averages of 27 home runs and 31 stolen bases.

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    Though Turner is only a .238 career hitter in the playoffs, he did win a ring with the Washington Nationals in 2019. And because of his speed and base-stealing prowess, he will benefit more than most from the larger bases and pitch clock coming to MLB in 2023.

    What's His Price Tag?

    Though next year will be Turner's age-30 season, it would be his age-29 season if the cutoff was July 1 and not June 30. So whereas an eight-year deal is Bogaerts' ceiling, it may be more like Turner's floor.

    Factoring in an average annual value that could fall between $30 million and Correa's shortstop high-water mark of $35.1 million, Turner should be in for a guarantee of at least $240 million. At best, he'll break $300 million.

    Which Teams Need Him?

    Perhaps the Dodgers will end up with Correa, but for now they should be considered the favorites to land Turner. They certainly have the need and funds to re-sign him.

    The Giants, Phillies, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees are also potential fits for Turner, but dare we mention the Twins as a dark horse?

    They stole a major league-low 38 bases in 2022, so Turner would be a natural solution if they get it in mind to add some athleticism. In all likelihood, signing him also figures to be cheaper than re-signing Correa.

    Which Team Gets Him?

    We'll go with the Phillies.

    Bryson Stott is a promising young player, but the National League champs could shift him to second base to accommodate Turner. Turner would also be a better fit for the leadoff spot than Kyle Schwarber, who clubbed 46 home runs but got on base at a modest .323 clip in 2022. Plus, the team's payroll has gotten $64 million lighter since free agency opened.