Ranking the Top 25 MLB Players of Upcoming 2022-23 Free-Agent Class

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistApril 29, 2022

Ranking the Top 25 MLB Players of Upcoming 2022-23 Free-Agent Class

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    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    Following a loaded 2021-22 MLB free-agent class, this upcoming offseason could be a letdown by comparison, but that's not to say big names couldn't change teams.

    Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Trea Turner and New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge are the biggest names set to hit the open market, and a solid list of quality starting pitchers includes Joe Musgrove, Noah Syndergaard, Sean Manaea, Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi and Clayton Kershaw.

    Ahead we've laid out our preliminary ranking of the top 25 free agents based on expected production, age and potential earning power.

    These rankings will be updated each month throughout the season, and 2022 performance will become a bigger factor as sample sizes grow.

    Players with opt-outs and team or player options were not included, but the notable opt-outs are listed separately along with some honorable mentions.

    Off we go.

Notable Opt-Outs and Honorable Mentions

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    Xander Bogaerts
    Xander BogaertsMark Blinch/Getty Images


    • RHP Trevor Bauer
    • SS Xander Bogaerts
    • SS Carlos Correa
    • RHP Jacob deGrom
    • 1B Eric Hosmer
    • LHP Carlos Rodon


    Honorable Mentions

    • 1B Brandon Belt
    • LHP Aroldis Chapman
    • OF Adam Duvall
    • 2B Adam Frazier
    • RHP Kyle Gibson
    • RHP Chad Green
    • RHP Zack Greinke
    • 1B Yuli Gurriel
    • RHP Corey Knebel
    • DH Trey Mancini
    • DH J.D. Martinez
    • OF Tyler Naquin
    • LHP Drew Smyly
    • RHP Jameson Taillon
    • RHP Michael Wacha
    • RHP Adam Wainwright

Nos. 25-21

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    Mitch Haniger
    Mitch HanigerQuinn Harris/Getty Images

    25. LHP Andrew Heaney (Age: 30)

    Heaney allowed just four hits and three walks while striking out 16 in 10.1 innings over his first two starts in a Dodgers uniform before landing on the injured list with shoulder discomfort. The left-hander has always had swing-and-miss stuff, including 150 strikeouts in 129.2 innings last year. As long as the shoulder soreness doesn't turn into a bigger issue, he can boost his stock considerably in the coming months.


    24. RHP Chad Kuhl (Age: 29)

    Kuhl was non-tendered by the Pirates at the start of the offseason, which is never a great sign. However, he caught on with the Rockies on a one-year, $3 million deal, and he has been a big part of Colorado's surprising early success. He has a 1.10 ERA and 2.77 FIP in 16.1 innings through his first three starts, and his age gives him more earning upside than some of the other veteran starters on the honorable mention list.


    23. IF/OF Enrique Hernandez (Age: 30)

    Fresh off a 4.9-WAR performance in his Red Sox debut season, Hernandez is off to a slow start at the plate this year, and he could have a tough time duplicating last year's success. That said, his defensive versatility and postseason experience still hold significant appeal, and he should be able to secure another multiyear pact.


    22. RHP Mike Clevinger (Age: 31)

    Noah Syndergaard only needed to throw two innings in 2020 and 2021 combined to secure a one-year, $21 million deal from the Los Angeles Angels. Clevinger offers similar upside and a stronger track record of MLB success, so as long as he doesn't miss the entire season, expect someone to pony up in first foray into free agency.


    21. OF Mitch Haniger (Age: 31)

    After Haniger's 39-homer, 100-RBI season, this might seem low for him, but he has some obvious shortcomings. The most obvious are the .318 on-base percentage and 169 strikeouts that accompanied his gaudy power numbers, and he's off to a shaky start this year in a crowded Seattle outfield. There's a wide range of potential outcomes for his free-agent market.

Nos. 20-16

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    Edwin Diaz
    Edwin DiazJoe Puetz/Getty Images

    20. OF Michael Brantley (Age: 34)

    With one of the sweetest swings in baseball, Brantley is still going strong. He has hit .310/.367/.473 since joining the Astros prior to the 2019 season, and he is right in line with those numbers in the early going this year. He has signed consecutive two-year, $32 million deals in his previous two trips to free agency, and a similar deal seems reasonable if he continues to show no signs of slowing down.


    19. 1B Jose Abreu (Age: 35)

    A 35-year-old first baseman with minimal athleticism will have limited appeal on the free-agent market, even one who has been among the league's best run producers for the better part of a decade. Abreu is probably worth more to the White Sox as a veteran leader than he is to any other team on the open market, and another short-term deal with the South Siders would make sense.


    18. LHP Taylor Rogers (Age: 31)

    Rogers has been one of baseball's best left-handed relievers since he debuted in 2016, and he has converted 53 of 66 save chances since moving into the closer's role prior to the 2019 campaign. He was traded to the Padres just before Opening Day, and he has yet to allow an earned run through his first six appearances. The three-year, $24 million deal that Kendall Graveman signed during the offseason might be his floor.


    17. RHP Edwin Diaz (Age: 28)

    Age and strikeout rate should make Diaz a shoo-in to be the highest-paid reliever on the market next offseason. Since his rocky first season with the Mets in 2019, he has a 2.87 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 14.1 K/9 in 98 appearances. He nailed down 32 of 38 save chances last year in part because of a 34.6 percent strikeout rate, and his fastball-slider combination is as lethal as ever.


    16. RHP Zach Eflin (Age: 28)

    Eflin is the most underrated player of the upcoming free-agent market. Since his first full season in the Philadelphia rotation in 2018, he has a 4.14 ERA and 4.05 FIP in 475.2 innings, and he just turned 28 years old April 8. That combination of consistent middle-of-the-rotation production and remaining prime years could land him something like the three-year, $36 million deal that Anthony DeSclafani inked last winter.

Nos. 15-11

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    Dansby Swanson
    Dansby SwansonTodd Kirkland/Getty Images

    15. OF Joc Pederson (Age: 30)

    The one-year, $6 million deal that Pederson signed with the Giants is quickly shaping up to be one of the steals of the offseason. He's hitting .347/.377/.755 with six home runs and 10 RBI through his first 53 plate appearances, and he has five home runs and 17 RBI the past two postseasons. The 30-year-old fits best as a platoon player, but he can be an awfully good one and has legit 30-homer potential.


    14. 1B Josh Bell (Age: 29)

    Not far removed from a 37-homer, 116-RBI season with the Pirates in 2019, Bell is a far more appealing option for a long-term deal than Abreu for teams seeking an upgrade at first base. The switch-hitter was equally effective against right-handed and left-handed pitching last year, and he figures to be one of the most sought-after players at this year's trade deadline.


    13. OF Joey Gallo (Age: 28)

    It's been an ugly start to the season for Gallo, and his entire time in a Yankees uniform has been a mess. However, he was a 4.2-WAR player in 95 games with the Rangers last season before he was dealt, and his combination of prodigious raw power and elite outfield defense will be enough to entice teams that believe they can harness his untapped potential. At 28 years old, he is still squarely in the prime of his career.


    12. SS Dansby Swanson (Age: 28)

    Unlike last offseason, the shortstop market will not be quite as robust this winter beyond Trea Turner. That should help boost Swanson's earning power, though it's unclear if the Braves will let him get away, having no clear in-house replacement. His 27 strikeouts in 67 plate appearances are troubling, but it's going to take a bigger sample size to cut into his earning power.


    11. RHP Chris Bassitt (Age: 33)

    Bassitt has quietly emerged as one of baseball's best pitchers, posting a 2.84 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 240 strikeouts in 244.1 innings since the start of 2020. He has finished in the top 10 in AL Cy Young voting each of the past two seasons, and he has a 2.25 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 24 innings in his first four starts in a Mets uniform. Age is not on his side as a late-bloomer, but he should have no problem securing a multiyear deal.

Nos. 10-6

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    Noah Syndergaard
    Noah SyndergaardMichael Owens/Getty Images

    10. RHP Nathan Eovaldi (Age: 32)

    Since posting a 5.99 ERA in 67.2 innings in his first season with the Red Sox, Eovaldi has made good on his four-year, $68 million contract and done a great job shouldering the role of staff ace while Chris Sale has missed considerable time. After he earned his first All-Star selection while finishing fourth in AL Cy Young voting last year, another sizable payday could be waiting this winter.


    9. LHP Clayton Kershaw (Age: 34)

    Kershaw is likely going to sign one-year deals until he retires. It's still hard to picture the Dodgers letting him get away, but it seemed like he seriously considered signing elsewhere for the first time last offseason. The future Hall of Famer is still pitching at an elite level, including seven perfect innings in his season debut and an NL-best 0.59 WHIP through three starts.


    8. OF Andrew Benintendi (Age: 27)

    Benintendi was once the No. 1 prospect in baseball and a rising star for the Red Sox, but his development stalled and the Red Sox traded him to the Royals. He posted a 105 OPS+ with 17 home runs and 73 RBI and won a Gold Glove in his Royals debut, finishing the season with a stellar final month, and he has picked up right where he left off with a .389/.431/.481 line through 58 plate appearances. The youngest player on this top 25 list, he's a great candidate for a five-year deal.


    7. LHP Sean Manaea (Age: 30)

    Manaea set career highs in starts (32), innings pitched (179.1) and strikeouts (194) last season while posting a rock-solid 3.91 ERA and 1.23 WHIP for the Athletics. He was traded to San Diego as part of Oakland's offseason fire sale, and he has looked sharp through his first four starts with his new team. At 30 years old and with a strong track record of producing like a No. 2/3 starter, he'll generate a ton of interest in free agency.


    6. RHP Noah Syndergaard (Age: 29)

    Playing on a one-year, $21 million deal after missing the entire 2020 season and pitching just two innings in 2021, Syndergaard has a 2.12 ERA and 0.82 WHIP in 17 innings over his first three starts in an Angels uniform. His fastball velocity is down nearly three MPH from where he was at pre-injury. That has been a trend around the league following the shortened spring training, but it's worth monitoring.

5. CF Brandon Nimmo

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    Brandon Nimmo has had a difficult time staying healthy during his career, playing more than 100 games just once in his first six seasons, but if he can buck that trend in 2022, he stands to be one of the market's most sought-after players.

    With a .393 on-base percentage and 14.9 percent walk rate for his career, he is an extremely attractive offensive player in today's game, where home runs and strikeouts reign supreme, and his ability to play a solid center field adds to his value.

    He could make a run at matching the five-year, $100 million deal that Nick Castellanos signed with the Philadelphia Phillies.

4. C Willson Contreras

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    Rob Leiter/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    The list of elite catchers is short.

    J.T. Realmuto, Salvador Perez, Yasmani Grandal and rising star Will Smith make up baseball's top tier of backstops, and Willson Contreras belongs in the conversation.

    His 4.1 WAR last season trailed only Perez (5.3) at the position, and the two-time All-Star has been a consistent offensive performer during his career, posting a 112 OPS+ and three 20-homer seasons.

    He has also developed into a solid all-around defensive catcher and a vocal leader for the young Chicago Cubs, but it's unclear if the team will make an effort to retain him or if he'll be the next homegrown player on his way out the door.

3. SP Joe Musgrove

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    Rebecca Noble/Getty Images

    Age: 29

    After showing flashes during his time with the Pirates, right-hander Joe Musgrove put together a true breakout season with the San Diego Padres last season after he was acquired in a three-team deal that sent four prospects to Pittsburgh.

    He threw a no-hitter in his second start last season and finished 11-9 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 203 strikeouts in 181.1 innings.

    At 29 years old, he's the youngest of the market's top-tier starters, and that should help him land the largest contract of the bunch.

    The pacts that Robbie Ray (five years, $115 million) and Kevin Gausman (five years, $110 million) signed this past offseason should be a reasonable expectation for what Musgrove will command if he continues to pitch at the same level we've seen since the beginning of last year.

2. RF Aaron Judge

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    Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Age: 30

    After slugger Aaron Judge turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer from the New York Yankees shortly before Opening Day, all signs point to his hitting the open market.

    He played in only 63 percent of the team's games during the three-year span from 2018 through 2020, and his long track record of time spent on the injured list will undoubtedly be a factor when teams consider shelling out a long-term deal.

    However, after he hit .287/.373/.544 for a 147 OPS+ with 39 home runs and 5.0 WAR while finishing fourth in AL MVP voting last year, it's also not hard to see why he thinks he can exceed that offer after Corey Seager inked a 10-year, $325 million deal during the offseason.

    He may not be No. 1 in these rankings, but expect his free agency to be the biggest storyline of the offseason.

1. SS Trea Turner

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Age: 28

    Can Trea Turner top the 10-year, $325 million deal that Seager signed with the Rangers?

    He'll be two years older than Seager was when he hit the open market, but he also offers a more complete skill set with plus defense, an elite mix of power and speed, and a better track record of staying healthy in recent seasons.

    If nothing else, he's a shoo-in to be the next member of the $200 million club, and last season he led the NL in batting average (.328), hits (195) and steals (32) while launching a career-high 28 home runs in a 6.5-WAR season.

    The Dodgers could shift Gavin Lux to shortstop and slot top prospect Michael Busch at second base, especially if they decide to prioritize extensions for Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias over spending big on Turner.


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