Much has changed since our last installment of these rankings back on June 10th. Six players signed extensions in lieu of free agency, none beyond Lance Lynn’s two-year, $38MM deal with the White Sox. Trevor Bauer has been removed from the rankings, as he remains on paid administrative leave after being accused of sexual assault.
Four players who might have been considered for qualifying offers were traded in July: Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, and Starling Marte. Those players are now ineligible for qualifying offers. Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, and AJ Pollock are among those who are ineligible on account of having received one previously. The Rockies inexplicably retained Trevor Story at the trade deadline, so he will be subject to a qualifying offer.
As a reminder, these power rankings are based on my projection of the players’ earning power. Keep in mind that the current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, though that doesn’t necessarily mean free agency will be frozen.
1. Carlos Correa. Prior to this year, Correa had played 110+ games in a season with a 120 wRC+ exactly once, back in 2016. This year, Correa has avoided the regular injured list and is fourth among qualified shortstops with a 136 wRC+. Correa did go on the COVID-19 IL in July, but he missed only a week.
Just 27 years old in December, Correa also has youth on his side, and appears headed toward a monster free agent contract. The $340MM deals of fellow shortstops Fernando Tatis Jr. and Francisco Lindor will surely be a target.
2. Corey Seager. After getting hit by a pitch and suffering a broken right hand in mid-May, Seager missed two and a half months. Upon his return July 30th, the Dodgers had acquired another of the game’s top shortstops in Trea Turner. Turner has switched to second base as a member of the Dodgers, but serves as a strong option at shortstop for 2022 for L.A. Seager didn’t have much to say on the topic, but clearly his negotiating leverage took a hit with the Turner acquisition.
As for what Seager can control, he’s shown no ill effects from the broken hand. He’s got a stellar 134 wRC+ in 87 plate appearances since returning from the injury. Seager is only about five months older than Correa, so he too will be seeking a very long contract in excess of $300MM.
3. Kris Bryant. 19 games into his Giants career, Bryant’s solid season has continued. The Giants have enjoyed his versatility, playing Bryant at third base as well as all three outfield positions. He’s saying all the right things about the possibility of staying in San Francisco long-term, telling Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area, “It’s definitely enticing.” Even with a new deal for Brandon Crawford, the Giants have less than $36MM on the books for 2022, so they could certainly afford Bryant.
4. Trevor Story. Though Story expressed confusion at the Rockies’ decision not to trade him, he hasn’t let it affect him on the field. Since the trade deadline, Story sports a 147 wRC+ in 81 plate appearances. 29 in November, Story isn’t quite as young as Correa and Seager, but he’s still in good shape for a contract well beyond $100MM. There’s still a case to be made for Story above Bryant, and the Rockies’ shortstop has outplayed Bryant since June.
5. Freddie Freeman. Freeman has turned it on since June, posting a 151 wRC+ in 324 plate appearances. 32 in September, Freeman remains one of the best hitters in baseball. The Braves wisely held onto the 2020 NL MVP despite a 12% chance at the playoffs at the trade deadline, and now the club has a 77% chance according to FanGraphs. Braves fans continue to wonder why the club hasn’t hammered out a deal with their perennial All-Star.
6. Kevin Gausman. Gausman has scuffled as of late, with a 5.17 ERA and 10.6% walk rate in his last seven starts. However, he remains the prize pitcher of the free agent class, and he has seven regular season starts plus the playoffs to cement his free agent bona fides. Dating back to 2020, Gausman has a 2.94 ERA and and 30.4% strikeout rate in 205 2/3 innings for the Giants.
7. Marcus Semien. Semien joins this list for the first time, as he’s putting together his second MVP-caliber season within three years. Maybe his 53-game 2020 season was the fluke, and Semien really is one of the best players in the game. 31 in September, he’s a candidate for at least a strong five-year deal in free agency. Semien has played mostly second base this year in deference to Bo Bichette, but as a free agent he’ll be a consideration at both middle infield positions. Semien’s 5.2 WAR is only bested among position players by the incomparable Shohei Ohtani.
8. Marcus Stroman. Stroman, 30, ranks seventh among qualified NL starters with a 2.84 ERA in 145 1/3 innings. He succeeds on the strength of his home run prevention and solid control and is a candidate for a five-year deal. Stroman has shown no rust after opting out of the 2020 season.
9. Robbie Ray. Ray, with an identical WAR to Stroman at the moment, presents an interesting contrast. Ray’s 30.7% strikeout rate ranks second in the AL, coupled with a career-best 6.4 BB%. It’s truly shocking to see Ray with such a low walk rate, as he had baseball’s worst walk rate – by far – last year among those with at least 50 innings. He ranked the second-worst in that regard in 2019. While Toronto’s $8MM deal for Ray has turned into a masterstroke, the lefty will be very difficult to value as a 30-year-old free agent.
10. Nick Castellanos. With a 146 wRC+, Castellanos has been the seventh-best hitter in the NL this year. He sports a solid 121 mark since returning from a microfracture in his right wrist on August 5th. Castellanos, 30 in March, has the ability to opt out of the remaining two years and $34MM on his contract with the Reds after the season. He’ll almost certainly do that, and reject a qualifying offer from the Reds as well.
Scherzer and Rodon in particular just missed making my top 10. Even at age 37, Scherzer could land a three-year deal in the $100MM range. But he could also seek something just above two years and $72MM, which would result in a new record for average annual value. Rodon is having a season for the ages after being non-tendered by the White Sox and then returning on a $3MM deal. However, he’s currently on the IL for shoulder fatigue, and even at age 29 he’ll be hard-pressed to find a five-year deal given his health history. Taylor, the Dodgers’ super-utility man, has a 133 wRC+ since the start of 2020 and will likely surprise many with the size of his next contract. Still, it figures to fall short of $100MM.