Updated Rankings for the Top 25 MLB Players in the Upcoming Free-Agent Class

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2021

Updated Rankings for the Top 25 MLB Players in the Upcoming Free-Agent Class

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    Mike Carlson/Associated Press

    With a wealth of impact shortstop talent and high-profile starting pitching, the 2021-22 MLB free-agent class will be a memorable one.

    In April, we laid out our preliminary ranking of the top 25 free agents based on expected production going forward, age and potential earning power.

    Those rankings will be updated each month throughout the season with 2021 performance a bigger factor as sample sizes grow. It's time for our first update to that initial list.

    Players with opt-outs and team or player options were not included, but we listed them separately at the beginning.

    Off we go.

Notable Opt-Outs and Club Options

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    Trevor Bauer
    Trevor BauerAshley Landis/Associated Press

    Opt-Outs

    • 3B Nolan Arenado
    • SP Trevor Bauer
    • RF Nick Castellanos

         

    Notable Club Options

    • C Tucker Barnhart, CIN ($7.5 million)
    • SP Johnny Cueto, SF ($22 million)
    • RP Jake Diekman, OAK ($4 million)
    • RF Avisail Garcia, MIL ($12 million)
    • 1B Yuli Gurriel, HOU ($8 million)
    • RP Craig Kimbrel, CHC ($16 million)
    • LF Andrew McCutchen, PHI ($15 million)
    • SP Wade Miley, CIN ($10 million)
    • C Roberto Perez, CLE ($7 million)
    • C Buster Posey, SF ($22 million)
    • 3B Jose Ramirez, CLE ($11 million)
    • 3B Kyle Seager, SEA ($15 million)

Nos. 25-21

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    Matt Barnes
    Matt BarnesCharles Krupa/Associated Press

    25. RHP Kendall Graveman, Seattle Mariners (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: NR

    Derailed by injuries after a promising start to his career in the Oakland rotation, Graveman has reinvented himself as a reliever. With an overpowering sinker-slider pairing, he has allowed six hits and three walks in 16.2 scoreless innings, tallying five saves and four holds in 14 appearances. He could be the Drew Pomeranz of this free-agent class.

        

    24. RHP Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies (Age: 29)

    Previous Rank: 22

    After an ugly 2020 season, Gray has rebounded with a 3.71 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in 60.2 innings. His numbers have been significantly better at Coors Field (7 GS, 2.36 ERA) than on the road (4 GS, 6.75 ERA), which will be worth monitoring, but his age and power stuff will drive interest.

        

    23. IF/OF Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: NR

    The Dodgers' Swiss Army knife is enjoying the best offensive season of his career. Taylor is hitting .281/.403/.480 for a 147 OPS+ with 17 extra-base hits and six steals, and he continues to develop as a hitter with a career-high walk rate (14.1 percent) and a career-low strikeout rate (24.3 percent). His ability to play all over the field gives him mass appeal.

        

    22. RHP Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants (Age: 31)

    Previous Rank: 25

    DeSclafani was one of the most intriguing buy-low arms on the free-agent market last winter, and he has delivered with a 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 58 strikeouts in 66.2 innings on a one-year, $6 million deal with the Giants. The right-hander struggled in 2020, but he had a 3.89 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 166.2 innings in 2019, so there is plenty of reason to believe his 2021 performance is for real.

         

    21. RHP Matt Barnes, Boston Red Sox (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: NR

    Barnes has struck out 41 of 85 batters this season while converting 12 of 13 save chances with a 2.63 ERA and 0.67 WHIP in 23 appearances. The most important stat for his free-agent stock might be a career-low 1.9 walks per nine innings after entering the year with a 4.2 BB/9 career mark. He could be the most sought-after bullpen arm on the market.

Nos. 20-16

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    Anthony Rizzo
    Anthony RizzoPaul Sancya/Associated Press

    20. LHP Steven Matz, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: 20

    A change of scenery and a clean bill of health have Matz on his way to the best season of his career. The left-hander is 6-2 with a 4.22 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 64 strikeouts in 59.2 innings, and his 3.47 FIP paints an even more promising picture of his first two months in a Blue Jays uniform. Can he surpass his career high of 160.1 innings?

         

    19. OF Michael Conforto, New York Mets (Age: 28)

    Previous Rank: 14

    After a 33-homer season in 2019 and a career-high 154 OPS+ last year, Conforto is off to a disappointing start in his walk year. Sidelined with a strained hamstring, he was hitting .230/.356/.336 with two home runs in 135 plate appearances prior to the injury. His age, on-base ability and power potential will keep him from falling out of these rankings, but he needs to return strong to maximize his value.

         

    18. RHP Zack Greinke, Houston Astros (Age: 37)

    Previous Rank: 18

    Set to turn 38 years old in October, Greinke is unlikely to land another long-term deal, but he has plenty left in the tank. The future Hall of Famer has a 3.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 73.2 innings as the elder statesman of a young Houston rotation. The one-year, $15 million deal Charlie Morton signed with Atlanta seems like a reasonable comparison for his earning power.

        

    17. LHP Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox (Age: 28)

    Previous Rank: NR

    There is no ignoring the track record of injuries and middling production, but few players have done more to boost their stock than Rodon. The left-hander was non-tendered by the White Sox last offseason before signing a one-year, $3 million deal to return. He has a 1.98 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 80 strikeouts in 54.2 innings. If he can stay healthy enough to throw 150 innings this year, he'll cash in. This is a cautiously optimistic ranking.

        

    16. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (Age: 31)

    Previous Rank: 16

    Rizzo is probably worth more to the Cubs than he is on the open market, given his standing as a leader in the clubhouse and in the community. The three-time All-Star and four-time Gold Glove winner has been his usual productive self with a 129 OPS+ and 18 extra-base hits in 49 game. The North Siders will likely do everything they can to ensure he retires in a Cubs uniform.

Nos. 15-11

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    Lance Lynn
    Lance LynnJim Mone/Associated Press

    15. CF Starling Marte, Miami Marlins (Age: 32)

    Previous Rank: 15

    A glaring lack of viable center field options will drive Marte's market beyond what it might be in a deeper free-agent class. He missed 35 games with a fractured rib earlier this year, but he's back in the lineup and is hitting .320/.422/.547 with 10 extra-base hits in 90 plate appearances.

        

    14. RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 28)

    Previous Rank: 11

    One of the biggest wild cards of the 2021-22 free-agent class, Syndergaard has yet to make his season debut as he works his way back from Tommy John surgery. He suffered a setback in his rehab last week and was shut down for six weeks, leaving his status up in the air. His best move may be to follow in the footsteps of teammate Marcus Stroman and accept a qualifying offer, but he could still return strong and prove he's healthy in the second half.

        

    13. 1B/OF Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics (Age: 32)

    Previous Rank: 19

    Far from the prototypical leadoff hitter, Canha has been a weapon for the Athletics in that role with a .382 on-base percentage and an AL-leading 44 runs scored. The former Rule 5 pick can play all three outfield spots and first base, and he has pop with a 26-homer season in 2019 and 10 long balls in 2021. He's a sleeper candidate for a lucrative long-term deal.

        

    12. RHP Lance Lynn, Chicago White Sox (Age: 34)

    Previous Rank: 12

    In 10 starts, Lynn has gone 7-1 with a 1.23 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 58.2 innings while tossing his first complete-game shutout since 2014. The burly 6'5", 270-pound workhorse has been durable throughout his career aside from a 2016 season lost to Tommy John surgery, but his age will be a limiting factor in his earning potential. On a two-year deal, he could be the most attractive arm on the market.

         

    11. SS Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (Age: 28)

    Previous Rank: 9

    Even with a sub-.300 on-base percentage and a 36.9 percent strikeout rate, Baez is a dynamic option at the shortstop position. He has a 118 OPS+ and 14 home runs, and he is one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. It remains to be seen if he will surpass the $160-170 million extension offer he turned down, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

Nos. 10-6

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    Freddie Freeman
    Freddie FreemanJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    10. LHP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 33)

    Previous Rank: 8

    Kershaw returned to the Dodgers on a three-year, $93 million deal the last time he hit free agency. He has a 2.93 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 307 innings under that contract, and a similar deal is not out of the question to keep him in Dodger Blue for the remainder of his career. He's 7-4 with a 3.33 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 77 strikeouts in 70.1 innings this year.

         

    9. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Age: 31)

    Previous Rank: 4

    The Braves have been one of baseball's biggest disappointments, and Freeman is no exception. The reigning NL MVP is hitting .227/.356/.443 with 12 home runs, and his .800 OPS is a dip of more than 300 points from his 2020 mark. He's a bona fide superstar, but he's also a first baseman who's coming out the other end of his prime. Re-upping with the Braves seems like the most likely outcome.

         

    8. RHP Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals (Age: 36)

    Previous Rank: 13

    It's fair to wonder how many bullets are left in an arm that has thrown 2,538.2 innings, including the postseason, but Scherzer is showing no signs of slowing down. While he'll turn 37 in July, he has a 2.34 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and a dominant 95-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69.1 innings. That helps him climb ahead of Kershaw in the aging aces contingent.

        

    7. RHP Marcus Stroman, New York Mets (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: 7

    Stroman turned 30 on May 1, making him one of the safest targets for a long-term deal among the upcoming crop of starting pitchers. After opting out of the 2020 season following a calf injury, the sinkerballer has returned with a 2.66 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 64.1 innings on a one-year, $18.9 million qualifying offer. A five-year, $100 million deal might be his floor.

         

    6. 2B/SS Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 30)

    Previous Rank: 21

    After a 33-homer, 8.6-WAR season in 2019 to finish third in AL MVP voting, Semien hit .223 with a 90 OPS+ last year and tanked his free-agent stock. He settled for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Blue Jays, shifting from shortstop to second base to accommodate Bo Bichette, and he has returned to elite form. He is hitting .301/.372/.546 with 13 home runs and 32 RBI, and he has tallied five defensive runs saved at second base. That big multiyear deal is coming, just a season later than expected.

5. RHP Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Age: 30

    Previous Rank: 6

    It was surprising to see Kevin Gausman receive a qualifying offer from the San Francisco Giants last offseason, and when he accepted, his salary more than doubled from $9 million to $18.9 million.

    Two months into the 2021 season, that looks like a steal.

    Armed with a lethal splitter that has limited opposing hitters to a .136 average with a staggering 46.3 percent whiff rate, Gausman has gone 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 83 strikeouts in 70.2 innings.

    It's taken time for him to deliver on the potential that came with being the No. 4 overall pick in the 2012 draft, but he looks like the best long-term investment among any of the starters set to hit the open market this offseason.

4. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    Age: 28

    Previous Rank: 2

    Trevor Story is a dynamic power-speed threat and a rock-solid defender at shortstop

    After back-to-back 30-homer, 20-steal seasons in 2018 and 2019, he posted a 120 OPS+ with 11 home runs and an NL-leading 15 steals last year to finish 11th in NL MVP voting.

    The offseason trade of Nolan Arenado only magnified the dysfunction of the Colorado Rockies, and it's a safe bet Story will abandon that sinking ship.

    That said, he got off to a relatively slow start with a .255/.322/.424 line and 95 OPS+ in 205 plate appearances, and he's sidelined with elbow inflammation.

    He looks like a clear No. 3 behind Corey Seager and Carlos Correa among available shortstops. If he's moved at the July 30 trade deadline, it would help his free-agency stock by removing the potential for a qualifying offer, which Correa and Seager are almost certain to receive.

3. IF/OF Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Age: 29

    Previous Rank: 5

    Kris Bryant has taken a lot of flak over the past few years for battling injuries and failing to live up to the expectations that came with winning NL MVP honors in his age-24 season.

    He's finally back to elite form.

    Bryant is hitting .316/.395/.596 with 16 doubles, 12 home runs and 36 RBI in 220 plate appearances. The .596 slugging percentage represents a career high and the return of his elite power, which had been sapped by injuries.

    He has not played third base since April 20, splitting his time between the three outfield spots and first base while Anthony Rizzo was sidelined, and a full-time move to the outfield could be inevitable.

    As long as he's healthy, he'll be a game-changing addition to the middle of any team's lineup, and he's in the middle of his prime.

2. SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Age: 27

    Previous Rank: 1

    Unlike the nagging injuries that can sometimes tank a player's free-agency value, Corey Seager is sidelined because he took a 90 mph pitch to the right hand.

    The fracture did not require surgery, which should mean a shorter stay on the injured list. As long as there are no lingering effects, teams won't give the injury a second thought this offseason.

    There remains some question whether the 6'4" Seager will need to shift to third base when he loses a step, but that should not be a factor for several years. After an epic postseason performance last year that included winning NLCS and World Series MVP honors, he is a proven winner and an impactful up-the-middle addition to any World Series hopeful.

    With potential extensions for Cody Bellinger and Walker Buehler on the horizon, while Gavin Lux is looking more and more comfortable in the majors, it's not a foregone conclusion that Seager will re-up with the Dodgers.

1. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press

    Age: 26

    Previous Rank: 3

    The biggest knock on Carlos Correa has been his inability to stay healthy.

    He played in only 60.5 percent of the Houston Astros' games from 2017 to 2019, including 75 games during the 2019 season, which undercut his standing as one of the game's elite shortstops.

    However, he has played in 111 of 116 games since the start of last season, and his continued ability to stay upright will be the biggest factor in his free-agency stock.

    He has a 128 OPS+ with 13 doubles, eight home runs and 28 RBI in 230 plate appearances while playing his usual stellar defense at shortstop. The offensive production is right in line with his career 127 OPS+.

    At 26 years old, he'll have more prime seasons up for grabs than any other player in this free-agent class, and that should appeal to World Series contenders and teams on the rise alike.

         

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs and accurate through Thursday's games.

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