2019 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Corner Outfielders on the Market

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistOctober 24, 2019

2019 MLB Free Agency: Ranking the Top 10 Corner Outfielders on the Market

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    John Minchillo/Associated Press

    There's no Bryce Harper among this year's crop of free-agent corner outfielders, but there are some solid players capable of making a real difference in the middle of a team's lineup.

    Ahead, we've provided our ranking of the top 10.

    No assumptions were made about contract options or opt-out clauses, so the following players were not included in this conversation:

    • J.D. Martinezopt-out
    • Jason Heywardopt-out
    • Kole Calhoun—$14M club option
    • Starling Marte—$11.5M club option
    • Adam Eaton—$9.5M club option
    • Nick Markakis—$6M club option

    From that above group, the most likely to have his option declined is Kole Calhoun, and he would slot into the No. 4 spot in our rankings if that were to happen.

    With that out of the way, let's get started with our No. 10 available corner outfielder.


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10. Hunter Pence

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    It looked like Hunter Pence might ride off into the sunset after wrapping up a five-year, $90 million deal with the San Francisco Giants.

    Instead, during the offseason he headed to the Dominican Winter League, where he reworked his swing, paving the way for a surprising bounce-back season.

    After hitting just .226/.258/.332 with four home runs in 248 plate appearances in 2018, Pence made good on a minor league deal with the Texas Rangers, playing his way onto the AL All-Star team with a stellar first half.

    The 36-year-old hit .294/.353/.608 with 14 doubles, 15 home runs and 48 RBI in 55 games before the break, earning him the starting vote at designated hitter.

    Unfortunately, a groin injury kept him from playing in the All-Star Game, and he also missed time in the second half with a back strain, playing a total of 28 games after the Midsummer Classic.

    At this point in his career, he's best suited leaving his glove in his locker and serving exclusively as a DH, and counting on him to stay healthy for a full season might be wishful thinking. Still, he showed he has something left in the tank in 2019.

              

    Honorable Mentions: Melky Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson, Jon Jay, Adam Jones, Matt Kemp

9. Gerardo Parra

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

    After posting negative-1.6 WAR over the course of a three-year, $27.5 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, Gerardo Parra was forced to settle for a minor league contract with the San Francisco Giants last offseason.

    He broke camp as the team's fourth outfielder but didn't last long. He hit .198 with a 48 OPS+ in 97 plate appearances before he was designated for assignment and eventually granted free agency on May 7.

    Two days later, he was scooped up by the Washington Nationals, and he wound up being a key contributor for the NL pennant winners.

    In 89 games with the Nats, he hit a respectable .250/.300/.447 with 20 extra-base hits in 204 plate appearances, but it was his defensive contributions that drove his value. On the year, he posted 5 DRS with a 9.4 UZR/150 while seeing time at all three outfield spots.

    The 32-year-old might have to once again settle for a minor league deal, but there's a good chance he'll occupy a spot on someone's bench when Opening Day rolls around.

8. Cameron Maybin

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    Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

    The wave of injuries that hit the New York Yankees roster during the 2019 season opened the door for a handful of surprise contributors, including infielder Gio Urshela and outfielder Mike Tauchman.

    Fellow outfielder Cameron Maybin belongs on that list as well.

    For years, the former uber-prospect showed flashes of his vast potential before seemingly settling in as a speed and defense guy off the bench.

    He signed a minor league deal with the Cleveland Indians last offseason and spent most of April with the team's Triple-A affiliate before he was sent to the Yankees in exchange for cash considerations.

    The 32-year-old saw semi-regular action en route to setting career highs in OPS+ (127) and home runs (11) while posting a respectable 1.5 WAR.

    Despite being a right-handed hitter, he fared far better against right-handed pitching (181 PA, .311 BA, .915 OPS) than he did against left-handed pitching (88 PA, .231 BA, .741 OPS).

    Those strong numbers against righties and his ability to play center field should make him one of the more sought-after backup outfielders on the market.

7. Avisail Garcia

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    Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

    Everything finally seemed to click for Avisail Garcia in 2017 when he hit .330/.380/.506 with 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 80 RBI in a 4.6-WAR season with the Chicago White Sox.

    However, below the surface, his .392 BABIP raised the red flag of regression to come, and regress he did to a disappointing .236/.281/.438 line and just 0.3 WAR in 2018.

    The White Sox opted to non-tender him last offseason rather than pay him a raise over the $6.7 million he had earned in his final year of arbitration, and the power-hungry Tampa Bay Rays signed him to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.

    While he didn't return to his previous form, he proved to be well worth that investment, hitting .282/.332/.464 while ranking among the team leaders in doubles (25, T-third), home runs (20, T-third) and RBI (72, second).

    He also posted improved defensive metrics, going from a below-average defender in 2018 (-4 DRS, -4.5 UZR/150) to above-average metrics in 2019 (2 DRS, 3.8 UZR/150).

    Still just 28 years old, Garcia may have played his way into a reasonable multiyear deal this time around.

6. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo

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    Shizuo Kambayashi/Associated Press

    Earlier this month, it was announced that Yoshitomo Tsutsugo would be posted by the Yokohama Bay Stars, according to Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times.

    The 27-year-old has 10 professional seasons under his belt, so he will not be subject to international bonus restrictions. However, interested teams will still have to pay a posting fee.

    So what can he provide MLB teams?

    Tsutsugo is a .285/.382/.528 hitter with 205 home runs and 613 RBI in 4,000 plate appearances since beginning his pro career as an 18-year-old in 2010, and he has averaged 35 home runs and 93 RBI the past four seasons.

    He also showed well in the last World Baseball Classic, going 8-for-25 with three home runs and eight RBI in seven games.

    While there will always be questions about how power translates across leagues, his 15.8 percent walk rate and .388 on-base percentage this past season speak to a hitter with an advanced approach at the plate.

    Even if he peaks at 20 home runs and provides average defense, his on-base skills and age give him intriguing upside.

5. Corey Dickerson

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Corey Dickerson prior to the 2018 season after he was surprisingly designated for assignment by the Tampa Bay Rays following an All-Star campaign.

    He proved to be one of the steals of the offseason, hitting .300/.330/.474 with 55 extra-base hits for a 118 OPS+ while also recording 16 DRS and an 11.9 UZR/150 in left field to win a Gold Glove.

    While his defensive metrics took a significant step backward in 2019 (-6 DRS, -12.0 UZR/150), he continued to post strong offensive numbers despite missing nearly two months at the start of the season with a shoulder injury.

    The 30-year-old hit .304/.341/.565 with 28 doubles and 12 home runs in just 279 plate appearances, posting a 131 OPS+ and 0.8 WAR in 78 games.

    If his defense falls somewhere in between his 2018 and 2019 levels and he continues to hit in the neighborhood of .300 with an OPS+ north of 110, he's capable of being an everyday option in left field.

    However, he may have to take a pay cut from the $8.5 million he earned this past season if he wants the security of a multiyear deal.

4. Yasiel Puig

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    David Maxwell/Getty Images

    The career of Yasiel Puig has been one of extreme highs and extreme lows.

    Now, the 28-year-old is set to hit free agency for the first time in his MLB career, and teams will have to weigh the pros and cons of signing one of the sport's most polarizing players.

    At his best, he's a dynamic offensive player capable of serving as a run-producer and being a disruptive force on the basepaths thanks to his aggressive style of play.

    At his worst, he's a distraction who makes boneheaded plays in the outfield and on the bases, and he struggled to the point of being demoted to the minors as recently as the 2016 season.

    Splitting the 2019 season between Cincinnati and Cleveland, he hit .267/.327/.458 with 30 doubles, 24 home runs and 19 steals. The counting numbers were solid, but his production amounted to a 100 OPS+ and his 21.8 percent strikeout rate was his highest since his rookie season.

    He might have to settle for a one-year deal to prove he's a fit with his next team.

3. Brett Gardner

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    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Will Brett Gardner return in 2020 for his age-36 season?

    "At this point in the season, I expect to be playing next year. Hopefully it's here," Gardner told Ken Davidoff of the New York Post in August. "I feel like I'm definitely still capable."

    It's hard to argue with that sentiment after he posted career highs in OPS+ (117), home runs (28) and RBI (74) in a 4.0 WAR season.

    A third-round pick in the 2005 draft, Gardner has spent his entire pro career in the New York Yankees organization, and seeing him in another uniform would be strange to say the least.

    Last offseason, he had a $12.5 million club option declined, only to re-sign on a one-year, $7.5 million deal.

    Don't be surprised if he goes year-to-year with similar one-year contracts until he decides to hang it up, and as long as the Yankees are open to bringing him back, it's difficult to imagine he'll even entertain signing elsewhere.

2. Marcell Ozuna

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    Scott Kane/Getty Images

    Marcell Ozuna has established himself as one of baseball's most productive outfielders.

    Over the past four seasons, he's posted a 119 OPS+ while ranking inside the top 10 among all outfielders in home runs (112, ninth) and RBI (377, fourth) during that span.

    Those numbers are inflated a bit by his monster 2017 season in which he had a 149 OPS+ with 37 home runs and 124 RBI, but he has remained a solid run-producer since being traded to the St. Louis Cardinals.

    While his batting average dipped to .241 this past season, he still had a 107 OPS+ with 29 home runs and 89 RBI and swiped a career-high 12 bases.

    His .328 on-base percentage in 2019 was right in line with his .329 career mark, and that lack of elite on-base ability might seem like a limiting factor at surface level.

    However, he raised his walk rate from 6.1 to 11.3 percent this past season, and with better batted-ball luck (.259 BABIP), his 2019 numbers would look an awful lot better.

    He'll likely be saddled with a qualifying offer, but that shouldn't stop him from landing a healthy multiyear contract. The five-year, $60 million deal that A.J. Pollock signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers last offseason looks like a reasonable comparison.

1. Nicholas Castellanos

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Even with his defensive shortcomings, Nicholas Castellanos is still a fairly easy choice as the top corner outfield option of this year's free-agent class.

    For one, he will not be stuck with a qualifying offer after being traded midseason.

    And what a change of scenery it proved to be:

    • Pre-trade: 100 G, 439 PA, .273/.328/.462, 37 2B, 11 HR, 37 RBI
    • Post-trade: 51 G, 225 PA, .321/.356/.646, 21 2B, 16 HR, 36 RBI

    The move from a last-place Detroit Tigers team to a contending Chicago Cubs team seemed to provide a spark to his offensive game, and he boosted his value significantly in the process.

    Also working in his favor is the fact that he will not turn 28 years old until March 4, making him one of the youngest free agents in the class and a far more attractive option for a long-term deal.

    And while he's still far from a Gold Glove defender, his defensive metrics did improve from 2018 (-19 DRS, -12.3 UZR/150) to 2019 (-9 DRS, -4.9 UZR/150), and there's room for further improvement. After all, he's still relatively new to the outfield after coming up as a third baseman.

    He should secure a sizable raise over the $9.95 million he made in 2019, and his age ensures he's a safe bet to sign one of the longer deals of the offseason.

               

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, unless otherwise noted.

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