Jurickson Profar was one of just three players on our annual Top 50 free-agent list here at MLBTR who hadn’t agreed to terms on a new contract prior to the calendar flipping to 2023. Two months later, Profar is still a free agent and, unsurprisingly, is the final unsigned member of that same top 50 list.
It’s fair to wonder just how aggressive he and agent Scott Boras were early in the winter. Profar began his offseason by declining a $7.5MM player option. While he never seemed likely to sign any kind of mega-deal, even as someone who’s more bearish on the player than many, I anticipated that he’d surpass that level of compensation. We put a relatively modest two-year, $20MM prediction on Profar’s eventual contract, but MLBTR was lower than many on the veteran switch-hitter; the New York Post’s Jon Heyman put down a four-year, $48MM estimate, and The Athletic’s Keith Law pegged him at $15-18MM annually over a term of three to four years. To be clear, the intent in highlighting those predictions is not to criticize them — we’ve had more than our share of misses in this regard — but rather to highlight that there was a wide range of outcomes that onlookers viewed as reasonable with regard to Profar.
Whatever contract Profar and Boras sought clearly hasn’t been there to this point. Brendan Kuty of The Athletic wrote this morning that Profar was at one point seeking a contract that’d pay him $10MM per season. It’s worth emphasizing that Kuty doesn’t specify whether that’s a current asking price or whether it’s on a multi-year pact. Regardless, Profar turned down a $7.5MM deal to remain in San Diego, so it’s not a huge shock to see there’s been a point where his camp was eyeing an eight-figure annual salary.
It’s hard to imagine Profar securing that $10MM AAV at this point, even on a one-year deal. Prices on recent free-agent signings have been more modest than early in the winter. Late signees like Matt Moore ($7.55MM), David Peralta ($6.5MM), Andrew Chafin ($6.25MM), Michael Fulmer ($4MM), Elvis Andrus ($3MM), Brad Hand ($2MM), Robbie Grossman ($2MM) and Will Smith ($1.5MM) have all come in south of that $10MM sum. No free agent has reached a $10MM AAV since Carlos Correa finalized his deal to return to the Twins on Jan. 11.
Perhaps Profar can yet buck that trend. He only just turned 30 and is coming off a decent 2022 season in which he batted .243/.331/.391 with 15 home runs and a career-high 36 doubles. He has above-average bat-to-ball skills, has upped his walk rate over the past couple seasons, and generally graded as an average or slightly worse defender in left field for the Padres.
That last point, in particular, is worth expanding on a bit. Many onlookers have wondered why Profar hasn’t emerged as a more viable option for the many teams in need of infield help. Profar, after all, was the game’s No. 1 overall prospect a decade ago when he was rising through the Rangers’ ranks as a shortstop. However, he’s since had a pair of shoulder surgeries, moved to the other side of the second base bag, and (during his time with the A’s) developed a case of the yips that eventually pushed him to left field.
The A’s traded Profar to San Diego after just one year, and the Padres gave him all of 197 innings at second base from 2020-22 — none of which came this past season. The Friars were shorthanded enough in the infield that they signed Robinson Cano after he was released by the Mets on the heels of a .195/.233/.268 showing. That they were content to give that version of Cano 40 innings at second base but didn’t move Profar into the infield isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of his ability to play the position.
At this point, it’s hard to consider Profar anything other than a left fielder. He’s played 156 innings of center in the big leagues (2020-21 in San Diego) and 208 innings in right field (again, 2020-21 with the Padres), but neither sample drew strong or even average ratings. Profar’s average sprint speed, per Statcast, was in the 32nd percentile of MLB players in 2022. His outfield jumps were in the 37th percentile, and his 87 mph average velocity on his throws from left field ranked 95th among 156 qualified outfielders. With limited speed, below-average jumps and below-average arm strength, center or right could be a stretch for Profar.
Profar is a switch-hitter with slightly better-than-average results at the plate, modest defensive upside in left field and perhaps an emergency infield option. He walks at a high clip and puts the ball in play far more often than the standard big league hitter. The quality of that contact isn’t particularly strong (87.5 mph exit velocity, 34.3% hard-hit rate, 4% barrel rate), but there’s something to be said for just putting the ball in play — particularly as shifts are more limited in 2023 and beyond. A slightly above-average offensive left fielder isn’t a star, but it’s a solid player. Jean Segura has a similar skill set in the infield, and he received $17MM on a two-year deal.
Even that type of deal might be out of reach at this point, but assuming Profar can still land a one- or two-year deal in the near future, he can obviously help a club in search of some corner outfield reinforcements. MLBTR’s Anthony Franco took a look back in early January at which teams made the most sense for Profar based on their lack of left field production in 2022, but it seems like an exercise worth revisiting. The market and many rosters have changed since that time. Profar is now the only viable regular remaining in free agency, and several teams that might’ve made sense as a suitor back on Jan. 2 look less likely to add him now. The Rangers, for instance, have since signed Robbie Grossman. The Marlins moved Jazz Chisholm Jr. to center and acquired Luis Arraez to play second, which means they’ll stick with Jesus Sanchez and Bryan De La Cruz in left.
Let’s take a look at some clubs that still seem like they could use in left field — and perhaps why those teams haven’t yet more earnestly pursued Profar. He’d likely require somewhere that can grant him mostly regular playing time, which makes the incumbent Padres a tough fit once Fernando Tatis Jr. returns and joins Juan Soto and Trent Grisham in the outfield.
- Yankees: The Yankees are one of the most oft-cited — if not the most oft-cited — speculative fits for Profar. It’s not hard to see why, considering their left fielders combined for a .224/.312/.391 output last season. Oft-injured Aaron Hicks, still owed three years and $30.5MM on his contract, and young Oswaldo Cabrera are the two favorites. The latter outproduced the former by a wide margin last season, but Hicks’ contract will probably get him another look. The Yankees are loath to step into the fourth and final luxury-tax tier, however, and signing Profar (or just about anyone, really) will put them into that bracket and come with a 90% dollar-for-dollar hit on any contract. There’s also no clear indication that Profar is a huge upgrade over in-house options. His .243/.331/.391 slash line last year isn’t that different from the .224/.312/.391 output for which the Yankees combined. Yes, Profar’s numbers would probably tick up a bit playing his home games at Yankee Stadium instead of Petco Park. But even the Yankees’ tepid left field production last year was good for a 103 wRC+; Profar was at 110 himself.
- Braves: Atlanta’s left fielders hit .238/.285/.431 in 2022, and that includes a combined 175 productive plate appearances from Adam Duvall, Robbie Grossman and William Contreras, none of whom are on the team any longer. Veterans Marcell Ozuna (.226/.274/.413 in 2022) and Eddie Rosario (.212/.259/.328) are the primary options here, with Sam Hilliard, Jordan Luplow, Eli White and non-roster invitees Kevin Pillar and Magneuris Sierra providing depth. There’s clearly room for an upgrade, but the Braves are paying Ozuna and Rosario a combined $27MM in 2023 and probably don’t want to sign a third left fielder to add to that sum. More broadly, the Braves just haven’t spent much of anything in free agency this winter; their lone big roster splash was a trade bringing Sean Murphy in from the A’s. They’re into the first tier of luxury territory, so Profar would cost them 20% penalty on top of his contract.
- Rays: Tampa Bay has been looking for a left-handed bat for much of the winter. Profar would help to balance out the lineup, likely splitting time with Randy Arozarena in left field and at designated hitter. That could cut into Harold Ramirez’s playing time or push him to first base more often, with Yandy Diaz sliding back to third (at the expense of Isaac Paredes). As with most Rays moves, it’d require a whole lot of moving parts and likely push some MLB-worthy bats off the roster and into the upper minors to serve as depth in the event of injuries. Profar’s offensive upside is limited, so the Rays probably feel confident they can match it with in-house options. The likely price tag hurts as well.
- Rangers: The Rangers already signed Grossman, so perhaps they have no interest in adding another outfielder. Grossman’s not a clear everyday option in left field, though, and center fielder Leody Taveras is a little banged up, which could push Adolis Garcia from right to center early in the season. If Texas had a clear option at DH, this wouldn’t work as well, but they don’t. The Rangers could add Profar, go with him/Taveras/Garcia across the outfield when everyone’s at full strength, and use Grossman as a reserve corner outfielder and part-time DH.
- Royals: Kansas City doesn’t have a single established outfielder on the roster. They’ll go with a combination of Edward Olivares, Kyle Isbel, Nate Eaton, catcher/outfielder MJ Melendez, corner bat Hunter Dozier and, once healthy, former top prospect Drew Waters. Olivares, Isbel, Eaton, Melendez and Waters all have minor league options remaining. Non-roster vets like Franmil Reyes and Jackie Bradley Jr. could eventually impact this group, too, but there’s room for a solid veteran right now. Then again, the Royals waited until they’d cleared the salaries of Adalberto Mondesi and Michael A. Taylor in respective trades with the Red Sox and Twins before they even brought righty Zack Greinke back on a one-year, $8.5MM contract. They may not want to or have ownership permission to sign another free agent with a notable salary.
- Reds: The Reds will cycle through Wil Myers, TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley, Will Benson, Nick Solak, Stuart Fairchild and perhaps non-roster veteran Chad Pinder in the outfield corners this season. Myers will see his share of time at first base, too, as Joey Votto recovers from 2022 shoulder surgery. Friedl and particularly Fraley hit well enough last year that it’s understandable if Cincinnati wants to get them some extra looks, but Fraley has been on the IL five times in the past three seasons, including a 60-day IL stint last year for knee troubles. Center fielder Nick Senzel has also had repeated health troubles. Signing Profar deepens the lineup and adds a potential deadline chip for a rebuilding Cincinnati club, but the Reds have spent under $14MM in free agency and probably view Myers as the lone corner-outfield addition they’d prefer to make.
- Tigers: The Detroit outfield is composed largely of rebound candidates, where each of Akil Baddoo, Austin Meadows and top prospect Riley Greene will look for better results in 2023 than they had in 2022. Twenty-five-year-old Kerry Carpenter will also get his share of opportunity after a blasting 36 homers between the upper-minors and MLB. Reserve option Matt Vierling can and will at times handle all three outfield spots. From a depth standpoint, prospects Parker Meadows (Austin’s younger brother) and Justyn-Henry Malloy could both reach the big leagues in 2023, but Meadows hasn’t played above Double-A and Malloy has only eight games there.
Realistically, you could squint and shoehorn Profar onto a number of teams. He’s not going to be so highly compensated that he couldn’t be pushed to a bench role eventually or even traded, and enough teams have at least one shaky option in the outfield corners that you could justify signing him as an upgrade. At this point, it could take a spring injury to really motivate a team to sign him at a decent salary, though.
The other element at play here is the looming World Baseball Classic. Profar, a native of Curacao, is suiting up for the Netherlands and could look to use the tournament to showcase himself for MLB clubs. The WBC will give him some reps to help get ready for the season, and it’s possible that a big league team will suffer an outfield injury while the tournament is ongoing. If that happens, Profar could pitch himself as a game-ready replacement who could join up with a new team and be ready to step right onto the Opening Day roster.