As the offseason approaches, MLBTR is taking a position-by-position look at the upcoming free agent class. Today, we’ll focus on corner outfield, which features a very obvious name at the top, but several other decent options as well.
Top of the Class
- Aaron Judge (31*)
Did you know that Aaron Judge had a pretty good season in 2022? Many people are talking about it. Perhaps you heard. 62 home runs, 16 stolen bases, a hair away from a Triple Crown, .311/.425/.686, 207 wRC+, 11.4 fWAR, 10.6 bWAR. Judge’s season was so good that he’s going to steal an MVP award from Shohei Ohtani, despite Ohtani having yet another “we’ve never seen this before” kind of season.
Judge will be the top name on this year’s free agent market, regardless of position. He’s long been one of baseball’s preeminent sluggers but took his game up a notch at the perfect time, just on the verge of hitting the open market. In addition to his incredible work with the bat, he also expanded his repertoire with the glove. Though he had 24 games of center field experience coming into this year, he added 78 more. Advanced defensive metrics considered his work passable up the middle, but any team signing Judge to a long-term deal will likely prefer to keep him in a corner.
The major question about Judge’s market will be the length of his next contract. He turns 31 in April, which will likely lead to him getting a deal at eight or nine years, though it will depend how crazy the bidding gets. The Yankees offered Judge a seven-year, $213.5MM extension in the spring, which came with an average annual value of $30.5MM. But he reportedly sought an AAV of $36MM over a period of nine or ten years. The decision to turn down that offer now looks very wise, as he’s done nothing but increase his value since then. He will receive and reject a qualifying offer, though that will be a small matter for teams willing to meet his asking price.
- Andrew Benintendi (28)
During his first few years in the majors, Benintendi seemed like he was on his way to becoming one of the elite players around the league. He produced 5.0 fWAR in 2018 when he was just 23 years old, displaying a five-tool skillset. He took a step back in 2019 and then suffered through an injury-marred 2020 before getting traded to the Royals.
Since then, he’s been able to re-establish himself as a solid everyday player. He might not be able to recapture the form he showed in 2018, but he’s still been plenty useful. Last year, he hit 17 home runs with KC and slashed .276/.324/.442 for a wRC+ of 105. This year, he traded in power for a better approach at the plate, striking out less and walking more. He hit .304/.373/.399 on the season as a whole for a 122 wRC+, including time with the Yankees after a deadline deal. His 2.8 fWAR is his best apart from that 2018 peak. Hamate surgery in early September put an early end to his regular season and may prevent him from appearing in the playoffs with the Yankees, but he’s still shown that he can be a solid piece of an everyday lineup. He is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer due to his midseason trade.
- Michael Brantley (36)
Brantley has dealt with a handful of injuries in his career but has always been an excellent hitter when healthy. He played only 11 games in 2016 and then only 90 in 2017 but then managed to put together a four-year run of good health. He got into 143 games in 2018, 148 in 2019, 46 in the 60-game 2020 campaign and then 121 in 2021. Over that four-year stretch, he hit .309/.366/.472 for a wRC+ of 127.
He was humming along at a similar clip here in 2022, hitting .288/.370/.416 for a wRC+ of 127 through 64 games before a shoulder injury placed him on the IL. That would eventually require season-ending surgery, though Brantley intends to play again next year and should be ready for spring. As he ages, the concerns about durability should grow, but there’s no question he’s an upgrade to any lineup when he’s in it. Brantley is unlikely to receive a qualifying offer after missing the second half of the season.
- Mitch Haniger (32)
Haniger is an excellent hitter and the primary question mark hovering around him is health. For his career, he’s hit .261/.335/.476 for a wRC+ of 122. In 2022, he slashed .246/.308/.429 for a wRC+ of 113. However, he only got into 57 games this year, primarily because of ankle sprains. He was healthy enough to play 157 games in both 2021 and 2018, but those are the only campaigns he’s gotten over the century mark. He also missed the 2020 season entirely.
Haniger’s free agent market will be difficult to predict. On the one hand, he’s been consistently good, producing above-average numbers in five consecutive full seasons. On the other hand, he’s only been properly healthy in two out of the past six years. Someone will surely bet on the upside of his bat, though the size and strength of his contract will depend on how teams weigh the durability concerns. Haniger is a borderline qualifying offer candidate.
- Trey Mancini (31)
Mancini had a tremendous 2019 season where he hit 35 home runs and produced a batting line of .291/.364/.535, wRC+ of 132. He then missed the entire 2020 season while undergoing treatment for colon cancer. After recovering, he’s returned to be a solid, above-average regular, though not quite at that 2019 level. Over 2021 and 2022, he hit 39 home runs in 290 games, slashing .247/.323/.412, wRC+ of 104. He’s better suited to be a regular at first base but still played 31 games in the outfield corners this year. He is ineligible to receive a qualifying offer due to his midseason trade.
- Andrew McCutchen (36)
McCutchen is a few years removed from his MVP form but can still be a serviceable player. In 134 games this year, he hit 17 homers and stole eight bases. His overall batting line was .237/.316/.384, just a hair below league average with a wRC+ of 98. He also provided adequate defense, with all of DRS, UZR and OAA considering him to be average or above in the field. He’s better against lefties and would perhaps be best suited to something less than a full-time role, but he’s not going to kill you if he’s in there every day. He put up a 106 wRC+ against lefties this year and a 95 against righties.
- Joc Pederson (31)
Pederson had subpar seasons in both 2020 and 2021 and had to settle for a one-year, $6MM deal with the Giants. Pederson responded with perhaps his best season to date, putting up a .274 batting average that was more than 20 points above his previous career high. The power was still there as well, as he hit 23 long balls. His overall line was .274/.353/.521, production that was 44% better than league average as measured by wRC+.
For his career, Pederson has had noticeable platoon splits, producing a 127 wRC+ against righties but just a 72 against lefties. However, he showed a marked improvement in that department this year, with a 149 wRC+ while holding the platoon advantage but a 112 when facing southpaws. This is a small sample, however, with the Giants giving him just 57 plate appearances against lefties.
Defensive metrics have never been kind to him but were especially harsh this year. He posted a -10 UZR, -15 DRS and -11 OAA. It’s certainly a flawed profile, but Pederson still produced 2.1 fWAR this year, his best campaign since 2019.
- Michael Conforto (30)
Conforto missed all of the 2022 season after suffering an offseason shoulder injury that required surgery. He wasn’t at peak form in 2021 either, hitting .232/.344/.384 through 479 plate appearances. The shoulder issue means Conforto may well be looking at a one-year bounceback deal to try to propel himself back into the multi-year deal territory he’d been seeking early last winter during a return trip to free agency in 2023-24. He raked at a .265/.369/.495 clip between 2017-20, making him a very interesting rebound candidate.
Platoon Options/Veterans Coming Off Down Years
- Corey Dickerson (34)
Dickerson played 97 games for the Cardinals this year, hitting .267/.300/.399 for a wRC+ of 98. This was his third straight year of being just a bit below league average. He doesn’t strike out much, as he hasn’t had a rate above 20.1% in the last five years and was at just 16.2% this season. However, he also doesn’t walk often, with a 5.8% rate in that department for his career and just 4% this year. He got a one-year deal last winter and will likely be looking at the same scenario this offseason. He was much better against righties, though the Cards only let him get 28 plate appearances against southpaws.
- Adam Duvall (34)
Duvall had perhaps the best season of his career in 2021, mashing 38 home runs and winning a Gold Glove for his work in right field. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to carry it forward into 2022. He limped to a line of .213/.276/.401 over 86 games and then required season-ending wrist surgery in July. He’s always been a wide variance guy, hitting lots of homers but also racking up lots of strikeouts. He’d be an interesting low-risk flier but his market will likely depend on his health.
- Joey Gallo (29)
Gallo is perhaps the most mercurial player in the league, occasionally looking like one of the best hitters alive but then looking completely hopeless for extended stretches. The poster boy for the three true outcomes, he always piles up huge amounts of strikeouts, walks and home runs.
From 2017 to 2019, he hit 103 homers while striking out in 36.8% of his plate appearances and walking in 14.3% of them. His .217/.336/.533 batting line led to a 120 wRC+. He slumped in the shortened 2020 season to the tune of .181/.301/.378, wRC+ of 86. In the first half of 2021, he rebounded by hitting .223/.379/.490 for a 128 wRC+ with the Rangers. But after a trade to the Yankees, he hit just .160/.303/.404, 95 wRC+. He was still with the Yanks to start 2022 but struggled again, hitting .159/.282/.339, wRC+ of 82. A trade to the Dodgers improved things, but only slightly, as Gallo hit .162/.277/.393 in Los Angeles for a wRC+ of 91.
Gallo’s now over a year removed from looking like a competent hitter, but he was red hot just before then. Despite the struggles, he keeps getting attention from contending teams and is sure to get interest this winter based on his tremendous power and relative youth.
- Ben Gamel (31)
Game spent 2022 as the solid veteran on a Pittsburgh team full of youngsters still trying to find their footing. He performed decently in that role. In 115 games, he hit nine long balls, stole five bases and drew walks in 11.3% of his plate appearances. He finished with a batting line of .232/.324/.369, just barely below league average with a wRC+ of 97. He was way better with the platoon advantage, hitting .252 against righties with a 112 wRC+, while hitting .175 against southpaws with a 56 wRC+.
- Robbie Grossman (33)
Grossman had an excellent showing in the shortened 2020 season and the Tigers took a chance on him repeating that. They gave him a two-year deal that looked like a shrewd move after a 2021 campaign where the switch-hitter went deep 23 times and hit .239/.357/.415, wRC+ of 116. Unfortunately, he took a step back this year, hitting just seven homers and slashing .209/.310/.311, 82 wRC+. He’s been much better against lefties this year and in his career overall, perhaps suggesting he’s best suited to be in the short side of a platoon.
- Tyler Naquin (32)
Naquin played well enough for the Reds this year that he was acquired by the Mets at the deadline, primarily because he’s a left-handed bat who generally fares well with the platoon advantage. Between the two clubs, he hit .241/.300/.446 for a 105 wRC+ against righties, but just .180/.206/.328 against southpaws for a 43 wRC+. His career splits are similar but not quite as pronounced, 109 wRC+ against righties and 62 against lefties.
- David Peralta (35)
Peralta had spent his entire career with the Diamondbacks up until a few months ago. With some exciting young outfielders bubbling up to the majors, it came time to make some room for them, with Peralta getting dealt to the Rays. He was a bit above average overall this year, bouncing back after a down year in 2021. This season’s batting line was .251/.316/.415 for a wRC+ of 104. However, it wasn’t a strong finish, as he produced a 111 wRC+ before the deal and a 91 after. Peralta has always been better against righties but his platoon splits were especially pronounced this year, leading to a 38 wRC+ against southpaws but a 116 when holding the platoon advantage.
- Albert Almora Jr. (29)
Almora is considered a glove-first player and lived up to that reputation this year. In 64 games with the Reds, he hit .223/.282/.349 for a wRC+ of 71 but also produced 8 DRS, 6 OAA and 7.8 UZR in 523 innings across all three outfield positions. He was released in September and will likely be looking at minor league deals.
- Jackie Bradley Jr. (33)
Bradley has long been an excellent defender but has been less steady at the plate, having some excellent offensive seasons but also some poor ones. After a strong campaign in 2020, he was able to secure a two-year, $24MM contract from the Brewers. Unfortunately, he was a disaster in 2021 and got traded back to the Red Sox for 2022. Boston was surely hoping for Bradley’s bat to reverse course again but it never happened and he got released, signing with the Blue Jays shortly thereafter.
Between the Sox and Jays, he finished 2022 with a line of .203/.255/.311, wRC+ of 56. He hasn’t been above-average at the plate in a full season since 2016 but still gets excellent grades for his defense. He could draw some interest as a depth outfielder, or perhaps a rebuilding team would give him regular at-bats and hope for another bounceback so that he could become a deadline trade chip.
- Aledmys Diaz (32)
Diaz has been serving a utility role for the Astros in recent years, playing all over the infield as well as time in left field. He’s not a true outfielder but can be stashed in a corner when needed. In each of the past three seasons, he’s been just barely below league average at the plate. His 2022 batting line was .243/.287/.403 for a wRC+ of 96.
- Nomar Mazara (28)
Once considered one of the top prospects in baseball, Mazara has failed to live up to the hype. After seven seasons in the big leagues, he’s shown good power but never walked much or hit for a high average, never producing a wRC+ higher than 95. This year, he hit .264/.316/.352 for the Padres, producing a wRC+ of 94. He was released in August and will have to settle for a minor league deal, just like he did a year ago.
- Chad Pinder (31)
Pinder hit 12 home runs this season, his highest total since 2019. However, his 3.7% walk rate and 31.1% strikeout rate were both career worsts. His batting line of .235/.263/.385 was 14% below league average by measure of wRC+. The most-recent and only time he cracked 100 in that department was back in 2018. Pinder played all over the infield earlier in his career but was mostly on the grass this year.
- Stephen Piscotty (32)
Piscotty had some nice seasons earlier in his career but the last time he was above-average with the bat was 2018. This year, he hit .190/.252/.341 for a wRC+ of 70. He only walked in 6.5% of his plate appearances and struck out in 34.5% of them. He was released by the A’s in August and signed a minor league deal with the Reds.
- AJ Pollock (35), $13MM player option with $5MM buyout
Pollock signed a four-year deal with the Dodgers prior to the 2019 campaign, with that deal carrying a player option for 2023. The base of the option was originally $10MM with a $5MM buyout, though that salary could be pushed up based on plate appearances. Pollock could kick it up by $1MM for hitting 400, 450, 500, 550 and 600 plate appearances in 2022. In the end, he got to 527, adding an extra $3MM. That makes this a net $8MM decision for Pollock.
Even before those escalators were tacked on, Pollock was likely leaning towards exercising the option based on his weak season this year. In the first three years of his contract, Pollock hit .282/.337/.519 for a wRC+ of 125. But after being traded to the White Sox, he hit .245/.292/.389, wRC+ of 92. He still mashes lefties, putting up a 161 wRC+ against them this year, compared to just a 69 against righties. He would certainly get interest from teams looking to put him into a platoon role, though it might be wise for him to simply collect his salary and stay with the Sox for another season.
- Jurickson Profar (30), $7.5MM player option with $1MM buyout
Profar signed a three-year deal with the Padres prior to the 2021 campaign, with the contract allowing him the opportunity to opt out after each season. The first year did not go well, as Profar hit just .227/.329/.320 in 2021, producing a wRC+ of just 86. However, he had a much better campaign this year, hitting .243/.331/.391, 110 wRC+.
Defensively, Profar has played many positions in his career but the Friars kept him in left field exclusively this season. The consistency seems to have suited him, as he posted a DRS of 2 and a UZR of 1.1, though OAA was less enthusiastic and gave him a -4. With his decent showing on both sides of the ball, he’s been worth 2.5 fWAR this year.
Given the buyout, this is effectively a $6.5MM decision for Profar. He’s not among the game’s elite but is solid enough that he should be able to find more than that on the open market. He’s also having a nice postseason so far, walking more than he strikes out, and could boost his earning power if he can keep that up.
- Kole Calhoun (35), $5.5MM club option with no buyout
2022 was the worst full season of Calhoun’s career. In 125 games for the Rangers, he hit .196/.257/.330 for a wRC+ of 67, his lowest such mark outside of a cup of coffee in his 2012 debut. He struck out in 32.1% of his plate appearances, easily eclipsing his previous career high of 25.6%. The Rangers are sure to pass on his option and look for alternatives in the outfield for next season.
- Wil Myers (32), $20MM club option with $1MM buyout
Myers has been floated in trade rumors for years but has still stuck around San Diego. That’s more a reflection of his contract than his performance, as Myers is still been an above-average hitter for the majority of his career. He and the club signed a six-year, $83MM extension prior to the 2017 season. That extension was heavily backloaded, with Myers earning $20MM in each of the final three years.
Since joining the Padres in 2015, Myers has mostly been solid, though not elite. His overall batting line in those eight seasons is .254/.330/.451, wRC+ of 111. He slumped in 2019 and had a wRC+ of 97 then rebounded with a huge 155 wRC+ in 2020. Apart from that, he’s been between 104 and 115 in each season in San Diego. In 2022, he hit .261/.315/.398 for a wRC+ of 104, though injuries limited him to just 77 games.
There’s no way the Padres will exercise that option, with Myers sure to get the buyout instead. He’ll head to free agency as a guy capable of being a solid regular somewhere. He’s earned good defensive marks for his work in the outfield while also spending some time at first base.
- Tommy Pham (35), $12MM mutual option with $1.5MM buyout
Pham was a free agent a year ago, securing himself a $7.5MM guarantee from the Reds. That came in the form of a $6MM salary and a $1.5MM buyout on a mutual option for 2023. Some reporting had the value of the option as $6MM but it was recently reported to actually be $12MM.
The outfielder took a step back this year, hitting .236/.312/.374 for a wRC+ of 89, a drop-off from his 2021 line of .229/.340/.383, 102 wRC+. The Red Sox, who acquired Pham midseason, won’t be interested in paying him a $12MM salary after that slide. As is so often the case with mutual options, the result will be free agency.
* Player age for 2023 season