Ranking the Top 25 MLB Free Agents of Loaded 2021-22 Class

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2021

Ranking the Top 25 MLB Free Agents of Loaded 2021-22 Class

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    Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

    The 2021-22 MLB free agent class is shaping up to be landscape-altering. It boasts a wealth of middle infield talent and top-tier starting pitching talent.

    In April, we laid out our preliminary ranking of the top 25 free agents based on expected production, age and potential earning power. We updated those rankings in June, and it's time for another rundown of the market's top upcoming talent.

    Francisco Lindor, Salvador Perez, Lance McCullers Jr., Lance Lynn and Brandon Crawford have all signed extensions before hitting the open market, but there is plenty of top-tier talent still set to be up for grabs.

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

Notable Opt-Outs and Club Options

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    Nolan Arenado
    Nolan ArenadoJohn Fisher/Getty Images

    Opt-Outs

    • 3B Nolan Arenado
    • SP Trevor Bauer

             

    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, CWS ($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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    Eduardo Rodriguez
    Eduardo RodriguezNic Antaya/Getty Images

    25. RHP Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets (Age: 29)

    Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery on March 26, 2020, and he is still working his way back after he was shut down in May with elbow inflammation. He threw an inning for High-A Brooklyn on Aug. 26, but he tested positive for COVID-19 a few days later and has been sidelined in protocols for the past few weeks. He might be on his way to a one-year, prove-it deal this offseason.

               

    24. RHP Kendall Graveman, Houston Astros (Age: 30)

    A starter early in his career with the Oakland Athletics, Graveman has reinvented himself as a reliever on the other side of Tommy John surgery. In 46 appearances with the Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros this season, he has a 1.65 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings with 10 saves and nine holds. He offers more upside and is a better candidate for a long-term deal than Mark Melancon and a handful of other aging veterans.

           

    23. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (Age: 28)

    The surface-level numbers don't look great for E-Rod. The left-hander has a 5.15 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 136.1 innings this season in his return from a lost 2020 campaign. However, his 3.55 FIP and a career-high 10.5 K/9 provide reason for future optimism, and he won't turn 29 until after Opening Day in 2022.

           

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

    Acquired from the New York Mets in a January trade, Matz has gone 11-7 with a 3.70 ERA and 122 strikeouts in 129 innings on the year. The left-hander has a 1.63 ERA in seven starts since the beginning of August, and he logged six innings of one-run ball against the New York Yankees on the road in his last time out.

            

    21. OF Kyle Schwarber, Boston Red Sox (Age: 28)

    With a .321/.455/.543 line and 10 extra-base hits in 23 games since joining the Red Sox at the trade deadline, Schwarber has continued to boost his stock after a home run binge during the first half of the season earned him a spot on the NL All-Star team. He has an $11.5 million mutual option for next season, but he'll almost certainly decline it to pursue a multiyear deal.

Nos. 20-16

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    Chris Taylor
    Chris TaylorRob Leiter/Getty Images

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

    In the final season of a six-year, $206.5 million contract, Greinke is still going strong as the veteran leader of a young Houston Astros rotation. The future Hall of Famer is 11-5 with a 3.66 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 110 strikeouts in 159.2 innings, and he'll be an appealing short-term addition for a title contender.

           

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

    DeSclafani struggled to a 7.22 ERA in 33.2 innings during the 2020 season, and he settled for a one-year, $6 million deal from the San Francisco Giants during the offseason. He has rebounded in a big way for the NL West leaders, posting a 3.33 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 137 strikeouts in 146 innings. A multiyear deal seems likely this winter.

             

    18. 1B/OF Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics (Age: 32)

    An on-base machine who can line up at all three outfield spots and first base, Canha has logged a career-high 530 plate appearances this season. The former Rule 5 pick has a 120 OPS+ and a .366 on-base percentage with 41 extra-base hits, 12 steals and 82 runs scored.

            

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

    One of the biggest surprises of the 2021 season, Rodon was non-tendered by the White Sox at the start of the offseason, only to return on a one-year, $3 million deal. He has a 2.41 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 168 strikeouts in 119.2 innings. However, he has also dealt with shoulder fatigue during the second half of the season. The left-hander is going to get a hefty raise, but his lengthy injury history might limit his earning power.

             

    16. IF/OF Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 31)

    Taylor has logged at least 20 games at four different positions this season, and he is one of baseball's most versatile players. An All-Star for the first time, he's hitting .260/.347/.453 with 24 doubles, 20 home runs, 71 RBI, 87 runs and 13 steals in a 2.9 WAR season. The four-year, $56 million deal Ben Zobrist signed with the Chicago Cubs in 2016 could be his baseline for negotiations, and he would make any team better.

Nos. 15-11

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    Marcus Stroman
    Marcus StromanMike Stobe/Getty Images

    15. 1B Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees (Age: 32)

    A model of consistency on the field and a proven leader in the clubhouse, Rizzo still has a ceiling on his earning potential as a first baseman on the back end of his prime years. He has a 112 OPS+ with 20 doubles, 18 home runs and 54 RBI this season, and he could have a chance to further boost his stock in October.

             

    14. 2B/SS Javier Baez, New York Mets (Age: 28)

    Baez reportedly turned down an extension offer from the Chicago Cubs in the $180 million range, according to Buster Olney of ESPN. He has a 108 OPS+ with 28 home runs and 77 RBI this season, but his middling .297 on-base percentage and NL-leading 164 strikeouts put him behind the top tier of available shortstops. Can he still land a contract like the one he turned down?

           

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

    "I can honestly say I have no idea what's going to happen," Kershaw told reporters with regard to his upcoming free agency. "I really have no idea. I'm excited to pitch for now. I'm excited to pitch in the playoffs again—which is something I don't want to take for granted."

    The three-time Cy Young winner has a 3.39 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 127 strikeouts in 106.1 innings, but he has not pitched since July 3 while dealing with elbow inflammation.

             

    12. CF Starling Marte, Oakland Athletics (Age: 32)

    Despite missing time early with a fractured rib, Marte is having arguably the best season of his career in his contract year. The best center fielder on the market is hitting .315/.391/.457 with 33 extra-base hits and 43 steals in 46 attempts and a 134 OPS+ in 99 games. He's the first player in MLB history to steal 20 bases in both leagues in the same season.

            

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

    After suffering a torn calf muscle and then opting out of the 2020 season, Stroman accepted a qualifying offer during the offseason. The sinkerballer has a 2.93 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 136 strikeouts in 156.2 innings, and he has 14 quality starts in 29 appearances on the year. En route to his fourth 180-inning season in the last six years, Stroman can be a stabilizing force in a contender's rotation.

Nos. 10-6

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    Freddie Freeman
    Freddie FreemanIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    10. RHP Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants (Age: 30)

    With a 4.56 ERA and 1.42 WHIP in 10 starts since the All-Star break, Gausman has not been the same dominant pitcher he was during the first half, when he logged a pristine 1.73 ERA in 114.2 innings. He will still be one of the most sought-after pitchers on the market, and he won't be eligible for a qualifying offer this winter after he accepted one last offseason.

               

    9. RF Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds (Age: 29)

    According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, Castellanos is "likely" to opt out of the final two years and $34 million of his contract this offseason. That isn't a surprise considering he's hitting .317/.371/.575 for a 139 OPS+ with 35 doubles, 27 home runs and 3.2 WAR. Aside from his stellar offensive numbers, he has also made significant strides defensively in right field.

           

    8. LHP Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays (Age: 29)

    Although Ray struggled to a 6.62 ERA and 7.8 BB/9 last year, the Blue Jays re-signed him to a one-year, $8 million contract in November. That's been arguably the best investment of the offseason. He has a 2.60 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 212 strikeouts in 166 innings, and he's emerged as a serious AL Cy Young candidate with a 1.79 ERA in 10 starts since the All-Star break.

            

    7. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (Age: 31)

    There is still "a gap" in extension talks between Freeman and the Atlanta Braves, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. While a reunion remains the most likely outcome, he remains on the list of potential free agents for the time being. After a slow start to the year, he has a .292/.388/.498 line with 28 home runs, 73 RBI and an NL-leading 103 runs scored. The five-year, $130 million deal Paul Goldschmidt signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2019 should be Freeman's starting point in negotiations with the Braves.

              

    6. RHP Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers (Age: 37)

    Even at 37, Scherzer remains one of the game's elite starters. The three-time Cy Young winner is 5-0 with a 1.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and 63 strikeouts in 43 innings since joining the Dodgers, and he could make a play for the highest annual salary in baseball on a short-term contract. A two-year, $80 million deal might not be out of the question.

5. 3B/OF Kris Bryant, San Francisco Giants

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Kris Bryant has provided a spark for the San Francisco Giants since they acquired him at the trade deadline. He's posting a 118 OPS+ with eight doubles, six home runs and 14 RBI in 31 games while playing third base and all three outfield spots.

    Despite a trying 2020 season and a variety of injuries in recent years that have sapped his power production, he still has a career 133 OPS+ over seven MLB seasons. He also has 2015 NL Rookie of the Year, 2016 NL MVP and World Series champion on his resume, all before his 30th birthday.

    Bryant's power potential, on-base ability and defensive versatility will be enough to drive interest, but there is also no ignoring his middling hard-hit rate (37th percentile) and average exit velocity (26th percentile) numbers in 2021.

    Sprinkle in the fact that Scott Boras is his agent, and Bryant could be one of the more polarizing players on the free-agent market this offseason.

4. 2B/SS Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    Marcus Semien will turn 31 later in September. That's the only reason he doesn't rank ahead of Trevor Story, Corey Seager and Carlos Correa, all of whom are multiple years younger but aren't quite matching his level of production.

    After finishing third in AL MVP voting in 2019 during an 8.4 WAR season, Semien took a step backward last year and settled for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays with the hope of rebuilding his value. He's done that and then some.

    Semien is currently posting a 137 OPS+ with 35 doubles, 38 home runs, 90 RBI, 99 runs scored and 14 steals. His 6.4 WAR trails only Shohei Ohtani (7.9), Robbie Ray (6.6) and Zack Wheeler (6.6) among all players in 2021.

    The longtime shortstop has also handled a shift to second base with aplomb, and his stellar defensive metrics (8 DRS, 5.6 UZR/150) could very well result in a Gold Glove win. He could still be targeted as a shortstop this winter, but defensive versatility only adds to his appeal.

3. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies

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    Icon Sportswire/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    A 30-homer, 20-steal player with stellar defensive metrics at shortstop and at least 6.0 WAR in 2018 and 2019, Trevor Story has the tools to be a superstar wherever he lands as a free agent this offseason.

    He got off to a mediocre start this season and struggled through a brutal month of July, but he has a .928 OPS with 19 extra-base hits in 131 plate appearances since the beginning of August after unexpectedly staying put at the trade deadline.

    He's highly unlikely to return to a Colorado Rockies team that doesn't seem to have anything resembling a long-term plan, though he is a lock to receive a qualifying offer.

    Like many Rockies players, the elephant in the room is his dramatic home/road splits. His OPS is more than 200 points higher at Coors Field than it is on the road over the course of his career.

    However, DJ LeMahieu showed over the past few years that getting away from Coors Field can help that level off in a positive way, and Story has the well-rounded skill set to succeed anywhere.

2. SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    Age: 27

    Corey Seager might have made a serious run for the No. 1 spot in these rankings had he not missed 65 games at midseason with a fractured right hand. However, he has picked up right where he left off since returning on July 30.

    In 36 games since coming off the injured list, the 2020 NLCS and World Series MVP is hitting an impressive .306/.399/.500 with 16 extra-base hits in 148 plate appearances.

    With a 6'4", 215-pound frame, he may need to shift to third base in the future, and defensive metrics have not painted a good picture of his range at shortstop over the past two years. However, he has more than enough punch offensively to still be a valuable player at the hot corner.

    Seager will not turn 28 until after Opening Day next year, so a long-term deal would lock him up throughout his prime. The Los Angeles Dodgers' move to acquire Trea Turner at the trade deadline theoretically makes it more likely that Seager will be suiting up elsewhere in 2022 and beyond, though.

1. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros

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    Steph Chambers/Getty Images

    Age: 26

    Carlos Correa made his MLB debut before his 21st birthday, winning 2015 AL Rookie of the Year honors when he slugged 22 home runs in 99 games.

    That early arrival in the majors will make him a free agent for the first time ahead of his age-27 season. He's the safest candidate for a lucrative, long-term deal given all of the prime years he has remaining.

    It also doesn't hurt that he's having a fantastic 2021 season.

    The two-time All-Star leads all shortstops with 6.1 WAR, and he's hitting .280/.371/.486 for a 133 OPS+ with 31 doubles, 22 home runs and 74 RBI. With good range and a rocket for an arm, he has also posted some of the most impressive defensive metrics (14 DRS, 3.0 UZR/150) of any shortstop in baseball.

    Correa's inability to stay healthy was the biggest knock on him early in his career. However, he played in 58 of 60 games last season, and he has taken the field for 128 of the Houston Astros' 139 games this year entering play Thursday.

    If anyone is going to secure a 10-plus-year deal in this free-agent class, it's Correa.

                 

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

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