For teams turning to the free agent market for a first baseman this winter, Jeff Todd has you covered in today’s video.
2020-21 MLB Free Agents
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, third basemen, center fielders, corner outfielders, and lefty and righty relievers who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Now, we’ll cover the starting pitchers (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).
Top of the Class
- Trevor Bauer (30): An front-of-the-rotation performer in 2018, Bauer managed only a 4.48 ERA in his 213 frames last year while allowing home runs at about three times the rate he did in the season prior. If you value Bauer somewhere in between, he’s still a high-quality performer. The fact that he’s steadfastly claiming interest only in one-year agreements should enhance his appeal to some organizations.
- Mike Minor (33): The past health issues haven’t been a concern of late for the southpaw, who last year topped two hundred frames and posted a 3.59 ERA. His fielding-independent pitching numbers weren’t quite as impressive, but at worst Minor figures to be a quality mid-rotation target.
- Jake Odorizzi (31): He somewhat surprisingly took the qualifying offer after a very strong 2019 showing, but that could still work to Odorizzi’s benefit. He won’t be dragged down by draft compensation and could be the top-available arm. Odorizzi put up a 3.51 ERA last year, though he was only asked to work 159 frames over thirty starts.
- Jose Quintana (32): The results weren’t there in 2019, as Quintana limped to a 4.68 ERA. But he did manage a 3.80 FIP, so if you believe in his ability to keep the ball in the yard even while others around the game can’t, then perhaps there’s still a good bit left in the tank. Quintana has a long track record of success, so the market could buy into a rebound if he’s able to show it.
- Robbie Ray (29): The upside here is tremendous with Ray’s propensity for generating whiffs. But he was also more prone to dole out free passes and surrender long balls than the other members of this group. Ray has been pretty durable and has a strong history of strikeouts. Given his age, he probably has the greatest earning upside of any starter in an underwhelming overall market.
- Marcus Stroman (30): While his strikeout numbers don’t jump off the page, Stroman generates a lot of grounders and has consistently turned in palatable home run tallies. He seems like a good bet for a strong, four-year deal, even if he’s unlikely to take down a monster contract.
- Masahiro Tanaka (32): Tanaka’s swinging-strike rate dropped to 10.7% in 2019 after a two-season surge. But he has had success at that level previously and continues to avoid walks and generate strong groundball numbers. It’s tough to imagine Tanaka again producing the kind of sparkling numbers he did early in his tenure with the Yankees, but he could be a major factor on the market.
- James Paxton (32): The big lefty is healing while everyone else waits for baseball to get started. He’s arguably the most talented pitcher on this year’s market and could still command a big payday if he hits the ground running when he returns.
- Garrett Richards (33): It’s much the same story for Richards as for Paxton. He made it back to the majors briefly in 2019 so should be a full go for the 2020 season. It has been a long time since he has managed a complete season, but there’s a tremendous established ceiling.
- Kevin Gausman (30): Could there still be some breakout potential here? Gausman didn’t have a successful 2019 by most measures, but he did jump up to a 14.8% swinging-strike rate and 10.0 K/9 — both career-high levels. He posted an ugly 5.72 ERA, but ERA estimators were rather more optimistic as to the value of his contributions (3.98 FIP, 4.05 xFIP, 4.10 SIERA).
- Michael Wacha (29): We’ve already seen Wacha turn in quality MLB campaigns from a rotation and he’s still fairly young, so he could be an interesting name to watch if he’s able to author a bounceback campaign.
- Taijuan Walker (28): It’s not promising that the Diamondbacks elected to cut bait after watching Walker return from Tommy John surgery. But he has had plenty of time to rest and is reputedly motivated in his return to the Mariners.
- Alex Wood (30): He has throw 839 innings of 3.40 ERA ball in the majors with metrics to match (3.49 FIP/3.53 xFIP/3.70 SIERA), so there’s no denying Wood’s track record.
- Brett Anderson (33): When he takes the mound in 2020, it’ll be a dozen straight seasons of some MLB action. Despite the many injuries and ups and downs, Anderson is still a useful, groundball-oriented starter.
- Chase Anderson (33): If he’s good enough to be interesting, the Blue Jays will pick up their $9.5MM club option ($500K buyout).
- Chris Archer (32): Likewise, Archer will probably either be a reclamation project or an easy choice to retain on a $11MM club option ($250K buyout).
- Jake Arrieta (35): We’re now three full seasons into obvious decline for Arrieta, but he’s still a factor regardless and could yet have a late-career renaissance of sorts.
- Homer Bailey (35): His deal with the Reds didn’t work out at all, but Bailey settled in last year as a sturdy presence.
- Tyler Chatwood (31): He has found more success of late in the bullpen than as a starter, with his velo trending up in shorter stints, but who knows what the future holds?
- Anthony DeSclafani (31): He quietly turned in a strong rebound campaign in 2019, spinning 166 2/3 innings of 3.89 ERA pitching with 9.0 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9.
- Mike Fiers (36): Though ERA estimators think it’s a mirage, Fiers carries a 3.73 ERA in 356 2/3 frames over the past two seasons.
- Gio Gonzalez (35): Gio had a bit of a quiet resurgence last year. If he can carry that forward, the White Sox can keep him for $7MM (or pay a $500K buyout).
- Cole Hamels (37): Hamels is taking things one year at a time. We’ll see how he bounces back from an injury that was going to take away a big chunk of the 2020 season before it was paused.
- J.A. Happ (38): We may end up debating Hamels and Happ until one or both finally decide to hang ’em up.
- Rich Hill (41): Another venerable southpaw, Hill is dead set on returning to glory with the Twins and remains a highly talented hurler when he’s able to take the bump.
- Merrill Kelly (32): If he’s not good enough for the D-Backs to pick up with a $4.25MM club option ($500K buyout), we likely won’t be featuring him much in free agency.
- Corey Kluber (35): The Rangers are hoping he’s a slam dunk on a $17.5MM club option; if not, we’ll be talking about a bounceback candidate.
- Mike Leake (33): He’ll take a $5MM buyout on his way out the door. When last he hit the open market, Leake’s appeal was in his youth. Now, he has a lot to show in his platform season.
- Jon Lester (37): Could this be the final run or will Lester keep going?
- Charlie Morton (37): As with Kluber … if he’s what his team expects, his option (in this case, a floating-value vesting/club option) will be exercised.
- Jimmy Nelson (32): The Dodgers hold a cheap club option, but if he throws enough innings it’ll convert to a mutual option that could allow Nelson to revisit the market.
- Ivan Nova (34): Steady innings, we all need ’em.
- Martin Perez (30): The Red Sox went after the southpaw and made sure they’d keep the upside ($6.25MM club option) if he works out.
- Rick Porcello (32): If he can turn things back around with the Mets, Porcello could be a candidate for a multi-year deal.
- Tyson Ross (34): We’re well past wondering whether Ross can regain his earlier-career form, but perhaps he could still settle in as a useful veteran swingman.
- Jeff Samardzija (36): Samardzija rather quietly turned in 181 1/3 innings of 3.52 ERA ball last year for the Giants. The peripherals didn’t exactly suggest he’s in the middle of a Verlander-like late-career run, but Shark could again be a factor.
- Anibal Sanchez (37): Speaking of resurgent hurler, Sanchez will either get a $2MM buyout or pitch again in D.C. on a $12MM club option.
- Drew Smyly (32): Still capable of getting strikeouts and somehow rather youthful, Smyly may yet have another run in his left arm.
- Jordan Zimmermann (35): Unfortunately, there’s really no sugar-coating Zimmermann’s miserable tenure in Detroit.
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, third basemen, center fielders, corner outfielders, and lefty relievers who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Now we’re on to the right-handed relievers (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).
Top of the Class
All four of these hurlers ranked in the top-ten leaguewide in fWAR in 2019. But can they all repeat that showing in their platform seasons?
- Ken Giles (30): There have been some ups and downs, to say the least, but Giles was a beast again in 2019. He worked through some arm issues and spun 53 frames of 1.87 ERA ball with 14.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. And he’s younger than the other major options.
- Liam Hendriks (32): Dropped from the MLB roster in 2019, Hendriks emerged as … arguably the game’s best reliever last year. He was not only exceptionally dominant but did it over a hefty 83-inning workload.
- Brandon Workman (32): Ramping up his curveball usage sure did work out. Workman broke out with a 1.88 ERA in 71 2/3 innings. While walks (5.7 per nine) pose a concern, he only allowed one home run all season long, generated a 51.1% groundball rate, and produced 13.1 K/9 despite a less-than-astronomical 12.7% swinging-strike rate.
- Kirby Yates (34): Think some of those above numbers popped? How about these: 1.19 ERA, 15.0 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 47.9% groundball rate, 0.30 HR/9. Yates was an animal in 2019 and has a few seasons of proof that he is very hard to square up — if you can make contact at all. He’s the odds-on favorite to be the top free agent target (though Giles arguably has the most earning upside given his age).
It’s possible any or all of these three could be big-time open-market targets … but each has much to prove in 2020.
- Dellin Betances (33): If he bounces back to his pre-injury form, Betances will take a $3MM buyout from the Mets and head back to free agency in search of the major deal he had hoped to pursue the last time. His ceiling on the mound is about as high as any reliever in baseball.
- Blake Treinen (33): The stuff is absolutely monstrous and Treinen made it play in a huge 2018 season. But he stepped back last year and has had a lot of trouble with consistency over time. The Dodgers placed a pretty big bet on his ability to put it all back together.
- Keone Kela (28): He has consistently produced double-digit K/9 rates and ran up a 2.12 ERA in 29 2/3 innings last year. There’s a clear path to ninth-inning responsibilities in Pittsburgh and Kela is pretty young. Could he fully emerge in 2020?
But are the certifications out of date? All of the players listed in this section have more than one hundred career saves, though odds are most won’t be considered first-option closers in the 2020-21 offseason.
- Alex Colome (32): You can’t argue with thirty saves and 61 innings of 2.80 ERA ball. But Colome’s 2019 peripherals (8.1 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 45.2% groundball rate) weren’t nearly as exciting.
- Wade Davis (35): Davis is looking to bounce back after an absolutely brutal 2019 season. His $15MM mutual option would convert to a player option if he finishes thirty games … so the Rockies might be wise to utilize recently extended hurler Scott Oberg in the 9th (if they weren’t already so inclined).
- Mark Melancon (36): He threw well enough to get the value-focused Braves to take over the back end of his hefty free agent contract, so obviously the veteran still has some gas in the tank. He was tough to take deep and ran up a big 62.1% groundball rate last year while averaging better than a strikeout per nine.
- David Robertson (36): Still working back from Tommy John surgery, Robertson is likely to be sent back to the open market with a $2MM buyout rather than playing on a $12MM club option for the Phillies. Robertson has been very good for a very long time, with a lifetime 2.90 ERA in 663 2/3 innings.
- Steve Cishek (35): Though his days as a ninth-inning stalwart are probably over, Cishek is still a quality hurler and the experience doesn’t hurt. He could end up remaining with the White Sox ($6.75MM club option, $750K buyout) if he turns in a strong campaign.
- Sergio Romo (38): Here’s another established vet who could remain with his current team (Twins) via club option ($5MM; $250K buyout).
- Joakim Soria (37): The results weren’t there in 2019, but Soria still ran up 10.3 K/9 against 2.6 BB/9. He still throws as hard as ever and generated swinging-strikes at a rate (13.1%) above his career average.
- Fernando Rodney (44): Are you going to bet against Rodney launching arrows into his mid-forties? I didn’t think so.
Established Setup Options
- Pedro Baez (33): He has been a steady presence for the Dodgers, spinning 339 innings of 3.03 ERA ball since the start of the 2014 season.
- Jesse Chavez (37): Things didn’t go well last year but Chavez will have a chance to bounce back in the final season of his deal with the Rangers.
- Tyler Clippard (36): Clipp seemed on the decline before turning things back on. He was good for 62 innings of 2.90 ERA ball last year.
- Chris Devenski (30): He’ll need to tamp down on the long balls (1.7 per nine in each of the past two seasons) in order to rediscover his early-career, sub-3.00 ERA form.
- Shane Greene (32): Though he blossomed as a closer early in 2019, Greene struggled in the second half with the Braves and lost the ninth to Melancon. As usual, the truth probably lies somewhere in between.
- Kelvin Herrera (31): If he can rediscover his form the White Sox could pick up a $10MM club/vesting option rather than paying a $1MM buyout, but Herrera has a long ways to go after a brutal 2019.
- Yoshihisa Hirano (37): Though he ramped up his strikeout rate, Hirano went from a 2.44 ERA debut to an ugly 4.75 ERA mark in 2019. If he can return to something like his 2018 results, the veteran Japanese hurler could have another year or two in the majors.
- Jeremy Jeffress (33): The roller coaster has continued, as Jeffress went from a dream 2018 showing (1.29 ERA) to a rough 2019 (5.02 ERA).
- Brandon Kintzler (36): The sinkerballer recovered from a brutal 2018 second half. If he’s able to carry forward the good work of last season, he’ll be a pretty easy pick up at a $4MM club option ($250K buyout).
- Trevor May (31): There’s some possible upside potential here, as May has shown real strikeout capabilities since returning from Tommy John surgery and ramped up to a career-high 95.9 mph average fastball last year.
- Brad Peacock (33): The useful swingman wasn’t at his best in 2019 but could end up featuring as an appealing volume inning contributor.
- Yusmeiro Petit (36): He’s aging like a fine wine, with a 2.83 ERA in 267 1/3 innings since the start of his age-32 season.
- David Phelps (34): 2019 was about getting back to full health after a Tommy John layoff. Phelps is controlled by a $4.5MM club option ($250K buyout).
- Hector Rondon (33): Another veteran late-inning stalwart who can be controlled at a pretty low price ($4MM club option, $500K buyout), Rondon’s strikeout rate fell off quite a bit last year but he still managed a 3.71 ERA.
- Bryan Shaw (33): After two brutal seasons, there’s almost no chance the Rockies are picking up his $9MM club/vesting option rather than paying a $2MM buyout. Shaw had experienced nothing but success before landing in Colorado, so perhaps there’s a chance he rediscovers it.
- Pedro Strop (36): The long-time workhorse ran into hard times in 2019 but had delivered year after year of sub-3.00 ERA ball for the Cubs before that.
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, third basemen, center fielders, and corner outfielders who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Now we’ll turn to the pitchers, beginning with southpaw relievers (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).
Top of the Class
- Sean Doolittle (34): There’s no denying the 2019 downturn for a pitcher that had been among the game’s most dominant relievers for several years beforehand. His swinging-strike rate moved from 16.8% in the prior season down to 12.1%; his ERA shot up from 1.60 to 4.05. But most of the rough outings took place in the month of August, while Doolittle battled through a knee injury that ultimately forced him to the injured list. He returned to perform well late in the season and in the Nats’ World Series run (2 earned runs on 6 hits with 8:1 K/BB in 10 1/3 innings).
- Brad Hand (31): The Indians closer would surely be the top southpaw on this year’s class, but he’s not going to make it to market unless he has a disappointing season. With a typical campaign, the club is sure to pick up its $10MM club option rather than paying a $1MM buyout — though we could still see Hand moved via trade in that event.
Solid Setup Options
- Jose Alvarez (32): Not much jumps off the page here. Fielding-independent pitching metrics have never much loved Alvarez and were especially unimpressed in 2019 (4.21 FIP, 4.14 xFIP, 4.17 SIERA). He has never struck out more than a batter per inning or generated dominant groundball numbers. But Alvarez has kept turning in good outcomes. In 122 innings over the past two seasons, he carries a 3.02 ERA.
- Andrew Chafin (31): Chafin could be the top setup option available this fall. He’s relatively youthful in comparison to the alternatives and has rather consistently gotten the job done in recent seasons. Last year, Chafin jumped to a career-best 11.6 K/9, though he also saw his groundball rate drop below 50% for the first time (42.9%) and allowed more than a home run per inning after permitting nary a long ball in 77 appearances in the prior season. Regardless, the results have been good.
- Oliver Perez (39): The late-career renaissance has been something to see, but how long can it last? Perez owns a dominant 2.84 ERA with 11.2 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 since the start of the 2018 campaign. But that was compiled over only 73 frames in 117 appearances. Right-handed hitters beat up on him last year, though that hasn’t been the case historically.
- Tony Watson (36): We were very surprised to see Watson pick up his player option to return to the Giants rather than returning to the open market last fall. He has been so solid for so long that we felt teams would overlook his 2019 struggles, which were driven largely by a jump in home-run rate. He still maintained a typical 12.7% swinging-strike rate, 5.2% walk rate, and 93.5 mph average fastball velocity. And though he is no longer elite at limiting hard contact, as he once was, Wilson was still tough to square up (84th percentile hard-hit percentage; 79th percentile exit velocity).
- Justin Wilson (33): Based upon the most basic 2019 results, Wilson is the top of the class: he worked to a 2.54 ERA. But that output came in only 39 innings and his peripherals — while solid — didn’t quite support it. Wilson gets strikeouts and groundballs, but his strikeout rate has dropped in each of the past two seasons. And he has continued to hand out too many free passes, averaging 5.2 per nine since the start of the 2017 campaign. Still, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wilson emerges as one of the most-pursued arms in this group.
Looking for a Bounceback
- Brett Cecil (34): He’ll need to get back on the mound after a lost 2019 season and then make up for a brutal showing in the season prior, but perhaps there’s still hope.
- Jake McGee (34): There have always been a lot of ups and downs for McGee, who’s likely to be paid a $2MM buyout in favor of a $9MM club option unless he really bounces back strong in 2020. He did manage a 4.35 ERA last year at Coors Field, but that was probably fortunate. McGee was tagged for 2.4 homers per nine while logging a pedestrian 7.6 K/9 — well off his career peak.
- Andrew Miller (36): And that brings us to the final, and most interesting, name on this list. Once one of the game’s ultimate late-inning weapons, Miller has now turned in two-straight marginal seasons. He coughed up 1.8 long balls per nine innings last year while working to a 4.45 ERA over 54 2/3 frames. Miller’s velocity has dropped below 93 mph for the first time since he was moved to the bullpen, and he has settled in with a ~13% swinging-strike rate after topping out much higher. He still managed 11.5 K/9 in 2019, but that came with 4.5 BB/9 and the aforementioned dingers. If Miller is able to return to something like his former self, the Cards could pick up a $12MM club option rather than paying a $2.5MM buyout. That’d take a major turn of events, but it can’t be ruled out for a guy with Miller’s pedigree.
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, third basemen and center fielders who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Next up: corner outfielders (players’ ages for the 2021 campaign are listed in parentheses).
Top of the Class
- Mookie Betts (28): Betts is the standout among not only at his position but on the entire free-agent market. He’s been worth at least six wins above replacement (bWAR) in each of the past five years while averaging 149 games played and 683 plate appearances. The revenue loss in 2020 could impact the extent of the bidding war that emerges for Betts, who might’ve otherwise been in line to command the largest free-agent contract in history. He’ll receive a qualifying offer.
Potential Regulars (based on 2019 playing time)
- George Springer (31): We listed Springer as the top of the class in center field, but a club with a strong center fielder could certainly sign Springer and plug him into right field. Since his MLB debut in 2014, Springer has been at least 26 percent better than the league-average hitter in all but the 2018 season, by measure of wRC+. That year, he was a “mere” 18 percent better. Despite being limited to 122 games last year, he connected on 39 Springer Dingers. A qualifying offer is a given.
- Nick Castellanos (29): Castellanos landed a four-year, $64MM deal that allows him to opt out after each season. That may not happen on the heels of a shortened or canceled season, but if we see some games and an approximation of the outrageous .321/.356/.646 pace he showed in two months with the Cubs, Castellanos could look for a longer deal — especially given his relative youth. He’d surely receive a qualifying offer if things got to that point.
- Marcell Ozuna (30): Ozuna had multi-year offers in free agency but bet on himself with a big one-year pact in Atlanta. He has one elite offensive season in a track record that is otherwise filled with solid, above-average campaigns. He can’t receive another qualifying offer
- Michael Brantley (34): Brantley has been among the league’s toughest strikeouts for the better part of a decade, and only two qualified hitters posted lower strikeout rates last year. He also hit .311/.372/.503 — his fifth straight season of at least a .299 average and .357 OBP (excluding 2016, when he was limited to 11 games by a shoulder operation). When he’s healthy, “Dr. Smooth” is a flat-out hitting machine.
- Joc Pederson (29): Pederson a career .188/.263/.310 slash against lefties five-plus years into what has been a somewhat strange tenure with the Dodgers. But Pederson is young, plays good defense and obliterates right-handed pitching — and he’s still only had 375 plate appearances against southpaws due to L.A.’s heavy use of platoons. He probably won’t ever be a great hitter against lefties, but he might be better than he’s been given the chance to show. Even if not, Pederson can still rake as the large half of a platoon.
- Alex Gordon (37): It’ll surely be “Royals or retire” again for the Kansas City icon.
- Josh Reddick (34): Reddick still plays a solid right field, and he’s hit lefties better over the past three seasons. His bat has been a bit below average over the past two years on the whole, but he could be an affordable short-term option.
- Ryan Braun (36): Braun’s $15MM mutual option will likely be bought out ($4MM), but the slugger still showed that he can hit in 2019: .282/.343/.505. Braun has averaged only 460 PAs per year dating back to 2017 and has been tried out a bit at first base.
- Robbie Grossman (31): The A’s gave Grossman a career-high 482 PAs last year, but his production dipped. After three above-average seasons, he hit .240/.334/.348. The switch-hitter is a walk machine (career 12.7%) who has greatly improved his defense in recent seasons.
- Marwin Gonzalez (32): The ultra-versatile Gonzalez can play all four infield spots and both outfield corners. He signed later in Spring Training last year but after shaking off some rust through the first two weeks of the regular season, he slashed .274/.331/.435 through his final 103 games (426 PAs)
- Brad Miller (31): Miller is something of a “jack of all trades, master of none,” but his 2019 campaign was a productive — albeit in a tiny sample of 170 plate appearances. He’s struggled to produce at a consistent level, but Miller keeps landing big league gigs as a bench piece.
- Leury Garcia (30): Garcia saw a career-high 618 PAs last year and hit .279/.310/.378. He doesn’t walk much, but Garcia has hit .270 or better in three straight seasons while adding some value on the bases and playing six positions (all three outfield spots, second base, third base, shortstop).
Part-Time Lefty Bats
- Jay Bruce (34): Bruce hit lefties better than righties in a small sample last year, but platoon issues have been a theme for much of his career. The power is still huge (26 homers, .306 ISO, 333 PAs in 2019), but Bruce’s days as a regular might be behind him.
- Matt Joyce (36): Platoon issues notwithstanding, Joyce is a strong source of OBP thanks to an always-strong walk rate that has ticked up to 15 percent over the past four years.
- Nick Markakis (37): An increasingly crowded outfield should limit Markakis’ time if play is able to resume in 2020. He keeps on hitting righties and is lauded as a clubhouse leader, but Markakis is a .265/.319/.363 hitter against lefties over the past five seasons.
Part-Time Righty Bats
- Yoenis Cespedes (35): Cespedes hasn’t topped 81 games since 2016 and didn’t play at all in 2019. Everyone know how good he can be when he’s healthy, but who knows whether we’ll ever see that version of “La Potencia” again?
- Steven Souza Jr. (32): Souza’s entire 2019 season was wiped out by a catastrophic spring knee injury. He has a recent 30-homer season on his resume, but the stoppage of play in 2020 isn’t doing him any favors in terms of reestablishing himself.
- Hunter Pence (38): Pence posted a monster half season with the Rangers last year and returned to the Giants on a one-year deal, so he’ll see some outfield work if play picks back up. By the time 2021 rolls around, DH at-bats like the ones he saw in Texas might be more crucial.
Club Options to Watch
- Brett Gardner ($10MM option w/ $2.5MM buyout) and Adam Eaton ($10.5MM option w/ $1.5MM buyout) are both plenty productive veterans. If either of these options is bought out, it seems likely to be due to a dip in production that calls into question their status as a regular.
- Giancarlo Stanton will be able to opt out of the remaining seven years and $218MM on his contract, but that seemed like a far-fetched concept even before a February calf injury left him questionable for the previously scheduled opener. The slugger isn’t getting that kind of coin in free agency, but perhaps the extended downtime will help him to heal up and avoid the IL in the future.
Teams seeking a shortstop in the 2020-21 offseason will be able to choose from a 2019 MVP candidate, an all-time elite defender, and a former Yankee with 25 home run pop. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd breaks down the future free agent options in today’s video.
In looking ahead to next winter’s crop of free agents, we’ve already profiled the catchers, first basemen, second basemen, shortstops, third basemen and center fielders who figure to be available (barring extensions between the time the transaction freeze is lifted and the free-agent market opens).
Next year’s market is a bit unique in that it features a few more pure designated hitters than one might expect to find in a given offseason. While it’s true that any player can function as a DH and that some teams prefer not to dedicate just one slugger to that DH position, most of the players in this bucket will only be considered by American League clubs that have ample DH opportunities available. Since there aren’t many on the list, I won’t bother breaking them down into tiers…
- Nelson Cruz: The Boomstick will turn 41 in July of 2021, but he remains one of MLB’s most potent hitters. His 2019 season in Minnesota featured a .311/.392/.639 slash with 41 big flies and 26 doubles. Cruz has played all of nine games in the outfield since the conclusion of the 2016 season and didn’t play so much as an inning of defense with the Twins last year. He and the Twins had reportedly talked about a new deal prior to the transaction freeze, so it’s possible they’ll tack on another year to his time with the “Bomba Squad.”
- J.D. Martinez: JDM chose not to opt out of the remaining three years and $62.5MM on his Red Sox deal at the beginning of this past offseason, but he has another opt out this winter. With two years and $38.75MM left on the deal, a return to the open market seems more plausible this time around — assuming some form of season is played. Martinez has hit .317/.392/.593 with 79 homers, 70 doubles and four triples in two years with Boston, where he’s made 200 appearances as DH. He’ll be 33 in 2021.
- Edwin Encarnacion: The White Sox hold a $12MM option ($2MM buyout) on the 37-year-old slugger, so like Martinez, he might not actually reach the market. Encarnacion has belted at least 34 home runs in each season since 2012, but he hasn’t logged even a half season’s worth of innings at first base since 2014. He’ll split time with Jose Abreu between first and DH with the ChiSox, but it’s highly unlikely that any team would sign Encarnacion as a full-time first baseman heading into what would be his age-38 season.
- Shin-Soo Choo: In fairness to Choo, he split his time between DH and the outfield corners pretty evenly last year … but the results weren’t pretty. Choo’s -17 Defensive Runs Saved, -14.1 UZR/150 and -12 Outs Above Average were among the worst marks for any outfielder in the game. He’ll turn 39 in July of 2021, and there’s little reason to expect a late renaissance with the glove. Choo is still an OBP-machine with some pop in his bat, though; last year he batted .265/.371/.455 with 24 dingers, and he even swiped 15 bases as well.
- Hunter Pence: An NL team did sign Pence, so perhaps he’s not quite restricted to DH work, but Pence is a clear bat-first player at this point. The Rangers game him 46 starts at DH — hence Choo playing in the outfield as much as he did — and it probably would’ve been more were they not rotating the two veteran sluggers. A resurgent Pence slashed .297/.358/.552 and smacked 18 dingers in 316 plate appearances last year after reworking his swing in the Dominican Winter League. If he hits again in 2019, someone will have interest in adding that bat and that personality to the roster. He’ll turn 38 next April.
You could certainly argue others have a place on this list — someone might roll the dice on a 35-year-old Yoenis Cespedes or a 34-year-old Jay Bruce in this role — but this quintet’s 2019 production and general track record make them the likeliest DH targets for clubs seeking a short-term jolt in the lineup.
Regardless of whether a 2020 season actually occurs, the prominent players who are currently on schedule to reach free agency after the campaign will stay on that track. MLBTR’s Jeff Todd just examined the catchers who could wind up on the open market next winter. Let’s now turn our focus to the potential shortstop group…
Top Of The Class
- Marcus Semien (30): If we’re going by 2020 production, there’s no touching Semien in this category. He was a 7.6-fWAR player last season, after all, but had only gotten to the halfway point of that number once prior to then. So, was last year a fluke, a significant breakthrough or something in between? It’ll be interesting to see how teams evaluate Semien in the event that a season doesn’t happen.
- Andrelton Simmons (31): Simmons is one of the greatest defensive players in the history of the game, and he added to his value with slightly above-average offense from 2017-18, but has typically failed to reach those heights at the plate. Last season was a rough one on offense for Simmons, who dealt with ankle issues throughout, though he could further position himself for a sizable payday with a bounce-back showing.
- Didi Gregorius (31): Although Gregorius was an eminently valuable member of the Yankees between 2017-18, last season represented a major step back. Gregorius sat out the first couple months of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and then batted a disappointing .238/.276/.441 in 344 plate appearances. As a result, he didn’t quite cash in as hoped as a free agent this past winter, signing a one-year, $14MM contract with the Phillies.
Other Regulars (based upon 2019 playing time)
- Freddy Galvis (31): He’s a switch-hitter who has some pop, but if we’re to believe the wRC+ metric, Galvis has never quite approached league-average offensive production. An inability to consistently get on base has been a problem; just last season, for instance, Galvis hit .260/.296/.438 with 23 home runs in 589 trips to the plate between the Blue Jays and the Reds. That amounted to an 89 wRC+, a career-high showing but one that didn’t blow anyone away. But Galvis is extremely durable, having totaled five straight seasons ranging from 147 to 162 games, and someone who has tended to mix passable offense with plus defense. In other words, a shortstop-needy team could certainly do worse.
- Jose Iglesias (31): Iglesias isn’t all that dissimilar from Galvis, in that he’s also an acceptable stopgap. While Iglesias has never been a force at the plate, his impressive defense has helped make him an essentially average contributor during his career. That said, whether Iglesias will reach free agency next offseason is in question. The Orioles, who signed him in January, have the ability to control Iglesias in 2021 with a $3.5MM club option (as opposed to a $500K buyout). That looks fair relative to what he brings to the table.
Top Timeshare Candidates
- Eric Sogard (35): Age isn’t on Sogard’s side, but he at least possesses defensive flexibility (he played all over the infield and outfield in 2019). Of course, while Sogard hit quite well last year between the Blue Jays and Rays (.290/.353/.457 across 442 PA), offense typically hasn’t been the now-Brewer’s forte.
- Ehire Adrianza (31): Adrianza saw time all over the diamond last year, though he didn’t garner a ton of action at short (152 innings). No matter, the switch-hitting Twin’s versatility and – if he hits like last season (.272/.349/.416 in 236 PA) – decent production at the plate could make him an appealing target.
- Adeiny Hechavarria (32): Count Hechavarria as another member of this list who’s known more for his defense than his offense. The light-hitting journeyman (he played for a least two teams in each season from 2017-19) lined up at short, second and third last year.
For more on the 2020-21 MLB free agent shortstop class, check out Jeff Todd’s video below.
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, first basemen, and third basemen who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the offseason rolls around in several months. Next up: center fielders (players’ listed ages are for the 2021 campaign).
Top of the Class
- George Springer (31): After a relative down season in 2018, Springer bounced back to top form last year. He ended with a monster .292/.383/.591 batting line, 39 home runs, and strong grades on his glovework in center and right field. If teams feel they’ll be able to trust him up the middle for a few more campaigns, they’ll presumably be all the more motivated to bid.
- Starling Marte (32): Based upon performance to date, Marte is the only other potential star of the class. Trouble is, a high-end performance in 2020 would mean the Diamondbacks are sure to exercise his $12.5MM club option rather than paying a $1MM buyout. They gave value to get him this winter with just that scenario in mind. Marte is a career .287/.341/.452 (116 wRC+) hitter as well as a quality baserunner and defender (though metrics were less enthused with his work in the field in 2019).
Other Potential Regulars (based upon 2019 playing time)
- Jackie Bradley Jr. (31): Though he remains well-regarded as a fielder and baserunner, Bradley just hasn’t gotten it done offensively for some time now. He has settled in as a roughly ten percent below-average hitter over the past three seasons. If he can bounce back to his well-above-average form from 2015-16, he’d obviously stand to substantially boost his earning outlook.
- Brett Gardner (37): The grizzled veteran keeps grinding out useful seasons, filling in reliably when a need (seemingly inevitably) arises in the Yankees’ outfield. Whether the club will exercise a $10MM club option or instead pay him a $2.5MM buyout remains to be seen, but odds are the sides will work something out if Gardner remains productive and wants to go for a 14th campaign in the Bronx.
- Kevin Pillar (32): Pillar is to center field what Freddy Galvis is to shortstop. Neither has really performed to the typical standard of a year-in/year-out regular, but each has done just enough, stayed on the field, and landed in the right situations to gather up tons of playing time. That’s not to disparage Pillar’s value — like Galvis, he’s a gamer who’s worthy of a significant role on a big-league roster — so much as to say his future likely doesn’t lie in everyday duties. Pillar’s glove is no longer elite and he owns a lifetime .296 on-base percentage.
Top Timeshare Candidates
- Jarrod Dyson (36): Still a burner on the bases and in the field, Dyson’s bat has fallen off quite a bit over the past two seasons. Even as a very marginal MLB hitter he’s a useful player, but it’s tough to guess how much longer he’ll remain one.
- Enrique Hernandez (29): Though he couldn’t sustain a 2018 uptick with the bat, Hernandez remains a highly useful player. Much of the appeal lies in his versatility; last year, he appeared at every spot on the field except outside of the battery.
- Jake Marisnick (30): Outside of a career year in 2017, Marisnick has profiled as a speedy, glove-oriented part-time player. So long as he remains an elite defender who provides palatable offensive work, he’ll hold appeal.
- Cameron Maybin (34): The market didn’t buy fully into Maybin’s surprising showing last year with the Yankees (.285/.364/.494), as he rode a hefty .365 BABIP and benefited from a Statcast spread between results (.363 wOBA) and expectations (.337 xwOBA) based upon batted-ball quality. But the fact he trended up in hard contact shows that Maybin could yet have some more seasons in the tank.
- Michael A. Taylor (30): Tantalizing though his physical tools may be, Taylor just hasn’t consistently produced at the plate in the majors. He was buried in the minors for most of 2019 but ended up delivering when the Nats most needed it in the postseason. Taylor has had one roundly impressive MLB campaign (2017), so perhaps it’s not impossible to imagine him turning into an interesting open-market target with a strong showing in 2020.
In recent days, we’ve run through the most notable catchers, second basemen, shortstops, and first basemen who are slated to reach the free-agent market once the winter rolls around in several months. We’ll continue our breakdown of the upcoming crop of free agents with a look at the third baseman who, barring extensions, will be freely available for clubs to sign. Players making the jump from professional leagues in Asia and others who are non-tendered will quite likely add to this list, but here’s how things are expected to look as of today…
Top of the Class
- Justin Turner: He’ll play the 2021 season at 36, but Turner remains an elite hitter who perhaps doesn’t get the credit he deserves because he’s surrounded by so many strong hitters. But over the past three seasons, Turner has raked at a .307/.397/.519 clip with 62 dingers in 1518 plate appearances — including a .290/.372/.509 mark in 2019. Turner has been at least 20 percent better than a league-average hitter each season since 2013, and while he’s not the defensive powerhouse he once was, Statcast still credited him with 4 Outs Above Average at the hot corner. Defensive Runs Saved (-3) and Ultimate Zone Rating (-6.7) were more bearish, but it’s unlikely that any team would consider him a major liability at the position. It’s also worth remembering that Turner was dogged by hamstring and ankle issues in 2019 even though he avoided an IL stint, so better health could lead to better ratings. Even if he’s an average or below-average glove at third base at this point, his offensive excellence is inarguable. Under normal circumstances he’d be a surefire qualifying offer candidate, but we don’t yet know how the shortened (or canceled) season will impact those decisions.
Other Potential Regulars
- Jake Lamb: Shoulder surgery torpedoed Lamb’s 2018 season, and he was hobbled by a quadriceps injury that cost him nearly half the season in 2019. However, Lamb clubbed 59 homers for the D-backs as their primary third baseman in 2016-17. He’ll be heading into his age-30 season when he hits the open market and won’t see much in the way of competition in terms of prime-aged third base candidates. His struggles against left-handed pitching make it tempting to label him platoon player — he’s a career .169/.275/.319 hitter against southpaws — but Lamb still has only 440 career PAs against lefties. His .259/.345/.468 line against right-handed opponents, meanwhile, is solid. And his 130 wRC+ against righties in that aforementioned two-year peak shows how good can be when he’s at his best.
- Asdrubal Cabrera: A late Herculean surge with the Nationals (145 wRC+ in 146 plate appearances) salvaged what was shaping up to be a dismal campaign for the veteran switch-hitter. No one is expecting that level of production, but Cabrera could be an average or slightly better bat with third-base defense that graded out well per both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average. He’ll be 35 by the time the 2021 campaign gets underway, so perhaps some teams will view him as a part-time option. Cabrera has tallied at least 514 plate appearances in each of the past nine seasons, though.
Second Basemen with Experience at Third Base
- DJ LeMahieu: It was no surprise to anyone that LeMahieu topped our list of next year’s second basemen after a monster Bronx debut season, but might another team in need of help at the hot corner consider playing him there? The Yankees trotted LeMahieu out for an even 400 innings of defense at third base — the first time in nearly five years that he’d slotted in there. Despite having tallied just 245 innings there previously, the results were solid (break-even in terms of Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating; +2 Outs Above Average), which could create some optimism among his suitors. Sterling glovework at second base has long been one of the most compelling aspects (if not the most compelling aspect) of LeMahieu’s game, so some may be wary of moving him off the position. But if he’s able to recreate his 2019 thunder at the plate, then he’ll be providing ample value even if he’s not playing plus defense.
- Tommy La Stella: It’s perhaps easy to forget about La Stella’s budding breakout that was interrupted when he fractured his leg upon fouling a ball into his shin. But prior to that grisly, tough-luck injury, La Stella was mashing like never before: .295/.346/.486. Through 321 plate appearances, the former Cubs utilityman had swatted more dingers (16) than he had in his entire career (10 through 947 PAs in 2014-18). Like LeMahieu, La Stella has been primarily a second baseman but saw sparing action at the hot corner in ’19 (234 innings). La Stella has virtually even platoon splits in his career, though, and a team convinced of his ability to handle third base could look at him as a low-cost option. If nothing else, a familiar multi-position role with some occasional reps at third seems eminently reasonable.
- Adeiny Hechavarria: The defensive standout has never been much of a threat at the plate, but he’s a highly regarded defender at shortstop who has considerable experience at third base. He’s a nice utility option.
- Eric Sogard: Like Hechavarria, Sogard has more limited experience at third base but a solid defensive reputation at the middle infield spots. His surprising power output with the Blue Jays tapered off following a trade to the Rays, but the affable Sogard is popular among fans and teammates alike and should be considered a useful utility player.
- Brad Miller: The versatile Miller is something of a “jack of all trades, master of none,” but his 2019 campaign was a productive — albeit in a tiny sample of 170 plate appearances. He’s struggled to produce at a consistent level, but Miller keeps landing big league gigs as a bench piece.
- Zack Cozart: Injuries have decimated the former Reds All-Star over the past few years. The Angels traded away their 2019 first-round pick (Will Wilson) to rid themselves of the final season of Cozart’s deal. He hasn’t been a productive player since 2017, but he was worth five wins above replacement back in 2017.
- Jed Lowrie: The switch-hitting veteran has more than 1000 innings of experience at the hot corner, but he’s a total wild card after missing nearly the entire 2019 season. Even before the MLB shutdown, Lowrie was expected to miss Opening Day, and the Mets had no timetable for his return.
Club Options to Watch
- Both Todd Frazier ($5.75MM club option, $1.5MM buyout) and Jedd Gyorko ($4.5MM club option, $1MM buyout) have been infield regulars for much of their careers and have ample experience at third base (almost exclusively so in Frazier’s case). But both options are so affordable that there’s virtually no way either would hit free agency if he performed well enough to be considered a regular option at third base (or any other position). If either player’s option is bought out, it’s unlikely a new team would consider him for an everyday role in 2021.