1 Player Every Team Should Re-Sign in 2021-22 MLB Free Agency
For Major League Baseball's free agents, oftentimes the best move is no move at all.
There were 12 free agents last year who signed a deal with an average annual salary of at least $13 million, and seven of those 12 players did so with the same team they played for in 2020. Seventeen of the 30 teams re-signed at least one player to a deal worth at least $2.5 million.
With that in mind, we've identified the primary free agent that each club should be trying to bring back in 2022.
There has to be a mutual interest, of course. Each team's projected payroll situation also has to be taken into consideration. Thus, we won't necessarily always be choosing the best player, but rather the best fit.
Teams are listed in alphabetical order by division.
American League East
Baltimore Orioles: Matt Harvey, RHP
Well, we're starting the list with a gigantic question mark, because there are no great options for the Orioles. They only have four players becoming free agents, three of whom are relief pitchers over the age of 30 who had an ERA of 5.60 or worse in 2021.
But if the price tag on Harvey (one year for $1 million) doesn't change—hard to imagine he would cost any more than that after posting a negative Baseball-Reference WAR for the sixth time in seven seasons—I suppose it wouldn't hurt to have a veteran arm on what is otherwise a rather young pitching staff.
Boston Red Sox: Kyle Schwarber, 1B/LF/DH
Despite playing in just 113 games, Schwarber mashed 32 home runs with a career-high batting average of .266. Quite the bounce back from a disastrous 2020 campaign in which he batted .188 right before hitting free agency.
Schwarber and the Red Sox have a mutual option for $11 million in 2022, though it seems safe to assume the 28-year-old, left-handed slugger will decline that option in order to procure a more lucrative long-term deal. And given how well he has fared at Fenway Park (.316/.455/.570 with four home runs in 23 career games), Boston should be one of his top suitors. He'll probably get something in the vicinity of a four-year, $60 million deal.
Worth noting here: J.D. Martinez has a $19.35 million player option for 2022. If he leaves, that considerably increases the likelihood of the Sox swinging big for Schwarber.
New York Yankees: Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Rizzo is hitting free agency for the first time in his career at the age of 32, and it will be very interesting to see how long of a contract he is able to get. Despite getting drilled by an average of 25 pitches per season over the past six years, he has kept a pretty clean bill of health throughout his career and theoretically has at least five solid seasons left in the tank.
The Yankees are already committed to roughly $93 million per year for the next four years just between Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton, D.J. LeMahieu and Aaron Hicks, plus Aaron Judge is hitting free agency in one year. Even for a franchise with seemingly bottomless pockets, a six-year, $125 million deal for Rizzo might not be in the cards for the Bronx Bombers. But they will certainly try to bring him back to aim for that short porch in right field.
Tampa Bay Rays: Collin McHugh, RHP
Moving from the starting rotation to the bullpen before the 2018 campaign has resulted in a career renaissance for McHugh. He has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in two of his past three seasons. He did just have a dud in Game 2 of the ALDS against Boston, but he had a 1.55 ERA and a 2.12 FIP during the regular season while on a one-year, $1.8 million deal with the Rays.
The 34-year-old's price tag is all but certain to increase, but perhaps Tampa could bring McHugh back for two years and $8 million. Even for a club perpetually on a budget, that's a small price to pay for what has been one of the league's most reliable middle relievers/occasional openers.
Toronto Blue Jays: Robbie Ray, LHP
After posting an uncharacteristically dreadful 6.62 ERA in 2020, Ray bet on himself with a one-year, $8 million contract for 2021 in hopes of a rebound year and a subsequent megadeal.
Rebound he did, leading the majors with 248 strikeouts and leading the American League in both ERA (2.84) and WHIP (1.045). We'll need to wait a few more days to find out for sure, but there's a very good chance he'll be named the AL Cy Young winner. And when Trevor Bauer won the NL Cy Young in a contract year last season, he got a three-year, $102 million contract.
Could the current MLB all-time leader in K/9 generate an even bigger payday than Bauer's? Probably not. But I would be stunned if he signs for anything fewer than three years and anything less than $20 million per year, which likely puts him out of Toronto's price range. If there's any way the Blue Jays can convince him to stay in Canada, though, that would be huge.
American League Central
Chicago White Sox: Carlos Rodon, LHP
Suffice it to say, the White Sox won't be getting Rodon on another one-year, $3 million deal. Not after a season in which he went at least 5.0 innings and allowed either zero or one earned run in 16 out of 24 starts.
But maybe, just maybe, they'll be able to get a hometown discount for sticking with him until he finally broke out in his seventh season.
By discount, though, we're talking, like, $19 million instead of $21 million or more. And Chicago probably can't even afford that, considering Liam Hendricks, Yoan Moncada, Dallas Keuchel, Lance Lynn, Yasmani Grandal and Jose Abreu are all owed more than $13 million in 2022.
Cleveland Guardians: Bryan Shaw, RHP
In Shaw and Blake Parker, Cleveland has two veteran relievers worth bringing back for another season. But this team clearly loves Shaw more, as he has averaged 76.5 appearances in his six seasons in Cleveland.
The 33-year-old led the majors with 81 appearances in 2021, posting a respectable 3.49 ERA.
It will be interesting to see if they go with such an incentive-laden contract again. Shaw was only guaranteed $1 million in 2021, but he made $1.45 million in incentives based on the number of appearances he made. But that's a small price to pay for a relatively trustworthy set-up guy.
Detroit Tigers: Wily Peralta, RHP
If the Tigers decide not to pursue re-signing any of their five free agents—Peralta, JaCoby Jones, Derek Holland, Jose Urena and Julio Teheran—no one could blame them. But trying to get one more productive year out of Peralta wouldn't be a bad idea.
Peralta had a 2.61 ERA over his final 10 starts, going at least four innings while holding the opposition to three or fewer earned runs in each of those games. However, of the 146 pitchers to log at least 90 innings of work this season, Peralta's 1.53 K/BB ratio ranked third-worst. ERA regression to the mean could be ugly in 2022. But he shouldn't cost more than $3 million and it's not like Detroit has many better options at the moment.
Kansas City Royals: Jesse Hahn, RHP
Hahn missed all of 2018 and most of 2019 following Tommy John surgery, and he missed most of this past season with a shoulder injury. But in 2020, the former starting pitcher was an assassin coming out of the Royals bullpen, allowing just one run and four hits in 17.1 innings of work.
Hahn was on a one-year, $1.75 million deal this season. Given the injury history and the fact that he had a 13.50 ERA in the 3.1 innings he was able to pitch in 2021, that salary might go down if it changes at all. And at that price, the Royals—who are also slated to lose both Greg Holland and Wade Davis from the 'pen—should be willing to bet on a return to 2020 form.
Minnesota Twins: Michael Pineda, RHP
Not trading away Pineda in July when the Twins were already 15.5 games behind the second wild-card spot was certainly a decision. But if they're now able to re-sign a guy who has given them a 3.80 ERA over the past three seasons, it might wind up looking like a good non-move after the fact.
Minnesota signed Pineda to a two-year, $20 million contract in December 2019, this despite knowing he was going to miss the first 39 games of 2020 because of a PED suspension. But they might be able to get him on a cheaper deal this time around, considering he turns 33 in January and already has a declining K/9 rate.
American League West
Houston Astros: Carlos Correa, SS
Since joining the big-league 'Stros in 2015, Correa ranks 21st among batters in FanGraphs WAR, slightly ahead of Anthony Rizzo and slightly behind Joey Votto, despite playing roughly 200 fewer games than both of those multiple-time All Stars.
There's no question Houston would like to have Correa back if they can afford him. Spotrac puts the 27-year-old shortstop's market value at a 10-year, $266 million contract. If anything, that seems like a conservative estimate. And with a lot of money already tied up in Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Lance McCullers Jr. for the next few years, the Astros are probably going to need to choose between re-signing Correa and signing one of the aces available in free agency.
If I'm Houston, I'd rather lock up Correa long term than hope for the best on a two-year or three-year deal for Max Scherzer or Clayton Kershaw. We'll see which way they go, though.
Los Angeles Angels: Dylan Bundy, RHP
Both Bundy and Alex Cobb are free agents, and of the two, Cobb had the substantially better season, posting an ERA of 3.76 and WHIP of 1.26 compared to Bundy's 6.06 and 1.36, respectively.
But Bundy is five years younger than Cobb, was nearly $7 million cheaper in 2021 and finished ninth in the AL Cy Young vote in 2020. For a team that owes Mike Trout, Anthony Rendon and Justin Upton a combined total of more than $100 million in 2022, Bundy should be the preferred target.
Here's hoping they can at least get one of them back, though. If Cobb and Bundy both walk, L.A. might be going to war with Jose Suarez and Patrick Sandoval as its No. 2 and No. 3 starters.
Oakland Athletics: Andrew Chafin, LHP
After coming over from the Cubs a few days before the trade deadline, Chafin quickly became Oakland's most valuable reliever. He had a 1.53 ERA, five saves and five holds during his brief time with the A's. The lefty now has a 3.30 ERA in his eight-year career in the majors.
He has a $5.25 million mutual option for 2022, and this looks like the rare case where both parties are happy with that figure.
Seattle Mariners: James Paxton, LHP
The Mariners traded James Paxton to the Yankees during the 2018-19 offseason and then brought him back on a one-year, $8.5 million deal this past February...only to have him make one, 1.1-inning start before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
That was a major bummer for a team that came oh so close to making the playoffs in 2021, but it should mean they can bring back the soon-to-be 33-year-old on the cheap.
If they decide he's not worth the risk, though, maybe they bring back Tyler Anderson instead. He has had a sub-5.00 ERA in five of the past six seasons and should be a cost-effective innings eater at the back of whichever rotation he joins.
Texas Rangers: Brock Holt, UTIL
Texas traded away all of its free agents with any value back in July, so the pick'ens are slim here. My choice would have been Mike Foltynewicz if they hadn't already released him earlier this month, so I guess let's go with Holt instead.
The 33-year-old merely had a .209 batting average this past season, but he's a career .262 hitter who can play anywhere aside from catcher. He made $1.75 million in 2021, and his positional flexibility and experience on an otherwise very young roster would make him worthy of a similar amount in Texas in 2022.
National League East
Atlanta Braves: Freddie Freeman, 1B
Freeman is one of those guys who simply wouldn't look right in a different uniform. The five-time All Star has spent his entire 12-year career in Atlanta, and the Braves ended up getting one heck of a bargain out of that eight-year, $135 million deal he had from 2014-21.
Another eight-year contract probably isn't happening, but he might stick in the ATL on something in the vicinity of five years for $125 million. They already have both Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies signed through at least 2026 on very reasonable contracts, so giving Freeman a 10-15 percent pay raise for another half-decade of work is plenty feasible.
Miami Marlins: Austin Pruitt, RHP
Miami has six players hitting free agency: Joe Panik, Sandy Leon, Luis Madero, Austin Pruitt, Bryan Mitchell and Shawn Morimando. The only one of the bunch who had a positive Baseball-Reference WAR in 2021 was Pruitt, who pitched a grand total of 4.2 innings for a 0.1 WAR.
So, sure, bring that guy back if you want. It's better than re-signing Panik or Leon, each of whom had a slugging percentage below .270 this past season.
New York Mets: Take Your Pick
The Mets are slated to lose Marcus Stroman, Javier Baez, Michael Conforto, Noah Syndergaard, Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar and a bunch of not-irrelevant relief pitchers. They do still have Jacob deGrom, Francisco Lindor, Pete Alonso and others, so it's not a complete rebuild or anything. But there might be a lot of new faces in new places in 2022.
Of the bunch, I would think the guy they most want to hang onto is Thor. Syndergaard missed all of 2020 and the vast majority of 2021 following Tommy John surgery, but he was a star from 2016-18, and he's still plenty young enough (turned 29 in August) to make a full recovery.
Because he was also injured for most of 2017 (torn lat muscle), I'd be surprised if anyone is willing to give him the type of eight-year, $200 million deal his talent once deserved. But maybe he'll come back to Queens on a one-year, $20 million flyer with plans to sign that big-time deal next winter.
Philadelphia Phillies: Brad Miller, UTIL
In Hector Neris, Archie Bradley and Ian Kennedy, the Phillies have a bunch of relief pitchers hitting free agency. But if they replaced literally the entire bullpen with the exception of Ranger Suarez, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single Philly phan shedding a tear.
Instead, bringing Brad Miller back for another year or two could be a good move. The utility man hit 20 home runs in 2021 and only committed five errors while playing five different positions. Only Andrew McCutchen (144) and Bryce Harper (141) played in more games than Miller (140), so they'll miss his flexibility if he doesn't return.
Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
If they had another free agent worth re-signing, we wouldn't be highlighting this 37-year-old, 16-season veteran who played for $1 million in 2021. But if "Mr. National" wants to give it one more season, Washington would surely welcome the fan favorite back with open arms.
Zimmerman did hit 14 home runs in just 255 at-bats this past season, so there is still some pop in that bat. Keeping him around as the backup to Josh Bell would be more than just a good chemistry decision.
National League Central
Chicago Cubs: Matt Duffy, INF
As was the case in both Texas and Washington, you'll recall that Chicago traded away most of its worthwhile assets in July, reducing its list of viable free agent re-signees to Matt Duffy or Zach Davies. And while Davies would be a fine option if he can promise to get his walk rate back to what it was from 2016-20 (2.5 BB/9) as opposed to what it was in 2021 (4.6), I like Duffy here for the same reason I like Brock Holt for Texas and Brad Miller for Philadelphia: inexpensive-but-experienced positional flexibility.
Duffy was on a one-year, $1 million deal this past season, which is quite the bargain for a career .283 hitter who can play third, second or short. Considering Chicago ended the season with David Bote and Sergio Alcantara both hitting right around the Mendoza Line while serving as the primary middle infielders, Duffy is surely worth keeping around for one more season. Even if the Cubbies go out and get one of the star shortstops becoming free agents in a few days, Duffy would be good for the depth chart.
Cincinnati Reds: Mychal Givens, RHP
The dream in Cincinnati is getting Nick Castellanos to exercise his player option and stick around for another two years at $16 million a pop. But after the MVP-caliber season he just had, Castellanos will likely choose free agency for a bigger contract, and Cincinnati—a small-market club already on the hook for more than $52 million in each of the next two seasons just between Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas and Eugenio Suarez—is unlikely to win that bidding war.
The more realistic option is bringing back Givens, who had eight saves with a 2.41 ERA through his first 10 appearances with the Reds after a midseason trade with the Rockies. The bullpen was a never-ending nightmare for Cincinnati this past season, and Givens actually tied for the team lead with those eight saves.
The Reds had a 5.87 ERA in the eighth inning and a 9.00 ERA in extra innings. Givens isn't a lights-out closer by any means, but those numbers could get even worse if they let him walk.
Milwaukee Brewers: Eduardo Escobar, 3B/2B
In each of 2017, 2018 and 2019, Escobar hit at least 20 home runs and batted better than .250. And after a woeful run through the truncated 2020 campaign, he was back to his usual self with 28 home runs and a .253 average in 2021.
In the barely two months that he was with the Brew Crew, the 2021 All Star hit .268 with an .800 OPS.
Escobar was on a three-year, $21 million contract, and I wouldn't bet on that salary decreasing in the new deal that the 32-year-old infielder signs. But if either Avisail Garcia or Jackie Bradley Jr. declines his player option for 2022, Milwaukee would have the money to make it happen.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Erik Gonzalez, INF
This is the biggest shoulder shrug of them all.
Gonzalez is a career .245 hitter who has yet to play in more than 81 games in a season in his six-year career. But who else is Pittsburgh going to re-sign? Trevor Cahill and his 6.57 ERA? Todd Frazier and his .086 batting average?
What the Pirates should actually do this winter is take a page from Atlanta's playbook with Ozzie Albies and sign Bryan Reynolds and Ke'Bryan Hayes to long-term deals before they get too expensive. Would be nice if they could actually keep some of their best players around into their 30s for a change.
St. Louis Cardinals: Nolan Arenado, 3B
If he declines the opt-out clause both this winter and next winter, Arenado is still owed $179 million for the next six years. But that's a reasonable price to pay for a six-time All Star, eight-time Gold Glove winner and four-time Silver Slugger who is still in his prime.
While the Cards don't need to re-sign Arenado, they do need to convince him to stick around. Because he's due $35 million in 2022 and could still opt out after that, convincing him to stay this year should be a whole lot easier than it will be next year.
National League West
Arizona Diamondbacks: Tyler Clippard, RHP
Arizona only has two guys hitting free agency, and one of them (Chris Devenski) had a 10.64 ERA in just 11.0 innings of work since the beginning of 2020. So the choice here is obviously Clippard, who made six saves for the Diamondbacks in the second half of the season.
Clippard and the D-Backs have a mutual option for $3.5 million, which might be agreeable to both sides. Maybe Arizona declines and tries to get him on a cheaper one-year deal, though, as there's probably not that much external interest in the soon-to-be 37-year-old reliever.
Colorado Rockies: Trevor Story, SS
By his standards, Story had a down year in 2021. He still batted .251/.329/.471, stole 20 bags and hit 24 home runs. But that was a big step backward from the previous three seasons in which he hit .292/.355/.554 with a 162-game pace of 37 home runs.
Considering Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien are all also becoming free agents this year, would Story perhaps consider doing one more year in Colorado before hoping to sign his megadeal next winter?
If not, Colorado's top target for a re-sign likely becomes Jhoulys Chacin, who—after a rough start—fared rather well in his first full season as a reliever and only cost the Rockies $1 million in 2021. From June 25 on, Chacin had a 3.15 ERA and racked up 18 holds, landing on a very short list of relievers the Rockies could trust this season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Corey Seager, SS
The Dodgers are overflowing with quality free agents, most of them pitchers. Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson are all due for new contracts. So is utility man Chris Taylor, whose price may have gone up when he smacked three home runs in Game 5 of the NLCS.
But Seager is the one they should be targeting first and foremost, because shortstops with a career OPS of .870 don't exactly grow on trees.
They do still have Trea Turner for at least one more year, and he primarily played shortstop while with Washington. So they could slide him back over there, put Gavin Lux at second base and get along just fine without Seager. Still, letting him walk seems like it would be a big mistake.
San Diego Padres: Mark Melancon, RHP
Melancon and the Padres have a mutual $5 million option for 2022, but good luck getting the guy who just led the majors in saves to agree to that figure. It won't be a long-term deal considering he'll turn 37 before the start of next season, but the 2021 All Star with a career 2.79 ERA is bound to have some desperate suitors.
Even if he costs them closer to $10 million next year, the Padres should do what it takes to bring him back. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? And it would be a shame if Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Chris Paddack turned things around next year just to have some budget guy blowing saves in the ninth.
San Francisco Giants: Kris Bryant, 3B/OF
Kevin Gausman has had one heck of a two-season run in San Francisco, giving the Giants a 3.00 ERA and 10.9 K/9 over the course of 45 appearances. They will certainly be interested in keeping him around.
But if they had to choose between Gausman and Bryant, the four-time All Star and 2016 NL MVP is probably the way to go, in part because they could use a star batter who hasn't even turned 30, given how many of their primary hitters are already in their mid-30s—Buster Posey, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, etc.