Best and Worst Landing Spots for MLB's Top 5 Free Agents
When the 2021 Major League Baseball postseason concludes in a few weeks, suitors will start lining up for one of the best free-agent classes in recent memory.
It'll be up to those free agents to choose their next homes wisely.
We have thoughts on the best and worst possible destinations for the top five free agents in the 2022 class. We narrowed our considerations to teams that could hypothetically be in play for them, and otherwise weighed factors such as teams' positional availability, contention window and home ballpark.
Let's count 'em down.
5. 3B/OF Kris Bryant, San Francisco Giants
Best: Philadelphia Phillies
Teams will be interested in Kris Bryant's pedigree as a four-time All-Star, MVP and World Series champion. Plus, it's hard to go wrong with a right-handed slugger who can play third base, first base and all three outfield spots.
However, Bryant isn't a particularly good outfielder. Ideally, he'd play everyday at third base while occasionally moonlighting in the outfield. Apart from that, he might be keen on moving to a true hitter's park after having to rough it at Oracle Park.
That's why the Philadelphia Phillies are the perfect fit.
They could potentially upgrade at third base after Alec Bohm failed to establish himself there in 2021, and there's perhaps no friendlier place for right-handed power hitters than Citizens Bank Park. By way of his 1.074 OPS at Philadelphia, Bryant knows this all too well.
As a bonus, a move to Philly would finally team Bryant up with good friend and fellow MVP Bryce Harper.
Worst: Miami Marlins
Though the San Francisco Giants are open to bringing Bryant back, he should think twice about that. His time in San Francisco has been more good (113 OPS+) than great offensively, and there's no guarantee that he'd play full-time at third base after 2021.
Still, better the Giants than the Miami Marlins.
It's possible that second-year general manager Kim Ng will covet Bryant for an offense that scored only 3.8 runs per game in 2021. If so, there's more than enough space in the club's books to accommodate a nine-figure contract.
Yet Bryant would need to be wary of having to play the outfield on a daily basis in deference to Brian Anderson, who's arguably a better third baseman. As outfields go, the one at Marlins Park is a tad too big for a 6'5", 230-pounder who'll turn 30 on Jan. 4.
Likewise, it might be the worst park in the majors for righty sluggers. So if the Marlins do pursue him, Bryant should only say yes if their offer blows everyone else's out of the water.
4. 2B/SS Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
Best: Boston Red Sox
He could indeed return if the offer is good, but Rogers Centre might be to blame if he doesn't. He didn't take well to Toronto's true home after the team returned there on July 31, hitting only .231 in 36 games.
Besides, it's easy to imagine an even better offer coming from elsewhere in the American League East if the Boston Red Sox come calling.
If the Red Sox were to sign him, they'd plug their hole at second base and free Enrique Hernandez to play center field every day. Semien and Hernandez had 25 defensive runs saved between them at those two spots, so this would be a huge net positive for a defense that has not been great in 2021, to put it lightly.
Because the Green Monster is perfectly tailored to his pull-power swing, Semien would also fit well at Fenway Park. So if anything, the question here is if Boston will pursue him rather than pitching upgrades.
Worst: New York Yankees
Elsewhere in the AL East, the New York Yankees could likewise attempt to sign Semien away from the Blue Jays. However, he would have to move back to his old haunt at shortstop.
Semien might be fine with that, but it would be a risk for the Yankees. They should want more of a sure thing at short after they tried and failed to groom Gleyber Torres for the position.
On top of that, Yankee Stadium doesn't play as well for right-handed sluggers as it does for those of the left-handed vintage. Not unless said righty slugger has plenty of opposite-field power, anyway. With only five home runs to right field for his whole career, Semien doesn't match that description.
Ultimately, the Yankees would be better off pursuing someone else for their need at shortstop. Fortunately for them, this winter's market will have plenty of options in that regard.
3. SS Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
Best: Houston Astros
Though Trevor Story hasn't ruled out a return to the Colorado Rockies, that almost certainly won't happen unless they somehow convince him that they're ready to win. Which they aren't, to be clear.
Outside of Colorado, any number of contenders could be interested in Story, including the Yankees, Phillies, Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals.
Should they fail to re-sign fellow All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa, the Houston Astros might also get in on Story. And even though he hails from the Dallas area, Story might nonetheless be keen on a Texas homecoming.
Even more intriguing to Story could be Houston's contention timeline. Losing Correa so soon after watching George Springer leave won't be easy, but the club's other core players aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
Minute Maid Park could be yet another attraction for Story. The Crawford Boxes in left field are notoriously kind to right-handed sluggers, which Story very much is in addition to a speedster and a savvy defender.
Worst: Los Angeles Angels
No team got fewer wins above replacement out of shortstop in 2021 than the Los Angeles Angels, according to Baseball Reference. That might put them in the market for a new one this winter.
However, Story might want to steer clear.
For one thing, Angel Stadium is more friendly to sluggers who hit from the left side than from the right side. It's been better since the team lowered the home run boundary in right field, but that isn't Story's main power alley.
For Story, an even bigger knock against the Angels could be their contention window. Bad pitching has been a feature for them as they've endured six straight losing seasons, and now Mike Trout (hamstring) and Anthony Rendon (hip) are both north of 30 and coming off injury-ruined campaigns.
Of course, Story might still be interested in joining a lineup with those two and Shohei Ohtani. But even then, the Angels shouldn't be his first choice.
2. SS Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
Best: New York Yankees
In terms of possible shortstop upgrades, Corey Seager is the guy whom the Yankees should really want.
Courtesy of his 147 OPS+, he's been one of the best left-handed hitters at any position over the last two seasons. And while he isn't a dead-pull hitter, his power alley is decidedly on the right side of center field.
It should also interest the Yankees that Seager doesn't strike out much, as he's carried a strikeout rate north of 20 percent in only one of his seven major league seasons. Among the Yankees' primary hitters, only DJ LeMahieu and free-agent-to-be Anthony Rizzo pulled that off in 2021.
Defensively, Seager is more solid than good at shortstop. Yet he'd still be an upgrade over Torres with the leather, and he could easily move to third base whenever super-prospect Anthony Volpe is ready to man short.
The catch here is that the Yankees are already projected for a $222 million luxury-tax payroll in 2022. To sign Seager, they may need either to cut some salary or hope that the next collective bargaining agreement raises the threshold for penalties well beyond this year's $210 million cutoff.
Worst: St. Louis Cardinals
To be frank, it isn't easy to pinpoint a bad fit for Seager. But if there's going to be an interest gap between him and a prospective suitor, that suitor might be the Cardinals.
The Cards' .343 slugging percentage from the left side of the plate was the lowest in MLB this season. That alone is a reason for them to go after Seager, but you might also call shortstop an area of need after Paul DeJong fell out of favor at the position in 2021.
However, Seager should have doubts about playing at Busch Stadium. It's probably more neutral than pitcher-friendly, yet it's definitely not hitter-friendly. Seager knows that from experience, as it's the only park where he has at least 50 plate appearances but no home runs.
There's also something of an uncertain contention window in St. Louis. The Cardinals aren't devoid of young talent, especially in the outfield. But their current star power leans older, particularly with regard to Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Paul Goldschmidt.
The Cardinals wouldn't be a bad fit for Seager. But they aren't an ideal fit, either.
1. SS Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
Best: Toronto Blue Jays
As for where Correa could end up, every team with money and a need at shortstop figures to be in on him. However, his best fit could be with a Blue Jays team that already has a shortstop.
As good as Bo Bichette is, Toronto could be drawn to Correa out of a desire to upgrade defensively. Bichette has been error-prone in his three seasons with the Jays, while Correa just led all shortstops with 21 defensive runs saved.
Meanwhile, Correa's bat would likely fit in just fine at Rogers Centre. Albeit in only eight games and 37 plate appearances, he's mashed there to the tune of a 1.187 OPS throughout his career.
A move to Toronto would also reunite Correa with Springer. Along with Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez, the two of them would be part of a veritable murderer's row in the Blue Jays lineup.
Worst: Detroit Tigers
Before anyone could even call the Detroit Tigers a dark horse in the Correa sweepstakes, MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported they're interested in him.
The Tigers finished second-to-last in rWAR from the shortstop position, so this is square-peg, square-hole situation. They also have the money to make a competitive offer, as Miguel Cabrera is the only big-money player left on their roster.
For Correa, joining the Tigers could also mean catching a rising tide. Their rebuild was slow to yield results, but their 77-85 performance in 2021 was a good start, and there's still plenty of young talent in their farm system.
Still, Correa might sooner sign with a proper win-now team in lieu of a win-soon team. The Tigers also can't offer him a hitter-friendly stadium, as Correa knows well from his struggles at Comerica Park.
So unless the Tigers make an offer nobody else is willing to match, Correa should take his bat and glove elsewhere.