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.