The Best Remaining Free Agents

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The expiration of the collective bargaining agreement brought about a November flurry of free agent signings well beyond anything we’ve seen before.  We published our Top 50 MLB Free Agents list on November 8th, and at this point 20 players from that list remain unsigned.  Let’s take a look at who will still be out there when the lockout ends.

1.  Carlos Correa.  The Rangers committed $500MM to Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, while the Tigers signed Javier Baez.  The Tigers doubling up on one of the big five free agent shortstops should, in theory, be a good thing for Correa.  As our top free agent of the winter, we still believe Correa’s agent will find a way to get his client paid.  However, if teams like the Yankees, Astros, Angels, and Phillies truly won’t get near Correa’s assumed asking price (north of Seager’s $325MM), he lacks a contending big market team in need of a shortstop.

3.  Freddie Freeman.  Most observers still consider the Braves the favorite for Freeman.  Last week, I ran through potential matches if the Braves can’t get it done.  MLBTR readers saw the Yankees and Dodgers as clear favorites in that case.  For what it’s worth, I don’t agree with that.

4.  Kris Bryant.  Hours prior to the expiration of the CBA, Jon Heyman mentioned that the Mets, Angels, and Padres had shown interest in Bryant, while the Mariners, Phillies, Rockies, and Astros are among the other teams who have “checked in.”  Bryant’s expected market prior to the lockout remains mostly intact, but the Rangers have committed $561.2MM to free agents and the Mets are in for $254.5MM.  That probably decreased the willingness of those teams to go big on Bryant.

8.  Trevor Story.  Story could serve as the more affordable alternative to Correa, with Baez’s six-year, $140MM deal likely serving as a benchmark.  Story doesn’t have an obvious shortstop-needy team with $100MM+ burning a hole in its pocket, however.

10.  Nick Castellanos.  Castellanos was one of the top available bats at the opening of free agency, and he figures to be easier for a new team to sign than Freeman.  Still, Castellanos is a player with some wide error bars on contract predictions.  MLBTR said $115MM over five years, but outlets like ESPN and FanGraphs were at three years and $54-63MM.

15.  Kyle Schwarber.  Schwarber is a player who works against Castellanos, in that he’s a year younger and didn’t receive a qualifying offer.  He had a similar 2021 season to Castellanos, albeit with less volume.

18.  Carlos Rodon.  We felt that second half health concerns would limit Rodon to one to three years, and we still feel that way.  If that’s correct, his market could be robust given the increasing aversion among teams to long-term contracts.  The chance to get a potential ace on a short-term deal is what made Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander so appealing.

20.  Seiya Suzuki.  When the lockout ends, Suzuki will have 20 days left to sign with an MLB team.  As Brad Lefton of the New York Times pointed out in late November, “Spring training in Japan starts Feb. 1, roughly three weeks earlier than the current MLB schedule. Beyond players with health issues, latecomers are almost unheard-of in Japan. If Suzuki has any thoughts of returning to the Carp, he would probably want to do that with the rest of the group on Feb. 1.”  If we don’t see progress on the MLB lockout this month, it’s possible Suzuki will play another year in Japan rather than wait around in limbo.

21.  Anthony Rizzo.  It’s possible Rizzo would like to see what happens with Freeman to get clarity on his own market, but Rizzo will require a much more modest contract.  He could find a home with a team that won’t be considering Freeman.  Rizzo and his wife have moved out of their longtime Chicago apartment, but if he signs a relatively small contract elsewhere there will be many in Chicago wondering why the Cubs didn’t do it.

25.  Jorge Soler.  Soler’s market hasn’t been altered much by the signings that have taken place.  He’ll be rooting for the National League designated hitter.

29.  Kenley Jansen.  Most of the top right-handed relievers are off the board, like Raisel Iglesias, Kendall Graveman, Hector Neris, Mark Melancon, and Corey Knebel.  But contenders can almost always supplement the bullpen, so Jansen should be fine.  The Angels, White Sox, Astros, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Rays, Phillies, Braves, Dodgers, and Padres are the ten teams who have spent at least $7MM on a reliever so far.

32.  Michael Conforto.  We’ve only seen four major outfield signings so far in Starling Marte, Chris Taylor, Avisail Garcia, and Mark Canha.  We generally didn’t expect Conforto to re-sign with the Mets anyway, so his market is largely unaffected.

33.  Clayton Kershaw.  In a recent MLBTR poll, 81.8% of readers predicted Kershaw would sign with the Dodgers or Rangers or retire.  Hopefully we haven’t seen the last of the lefty, who turns 34 in March.  Kershaw received a PRP injection in his left flexor tendon in October.

34.  Yusei Kikuchi.  One of four starting pitchers remaining from our Top 50 list, Kikuchi is only 30 years old and comes without health concerns.  Despite a 4.41 ERA on the season, the lefty has upside and should be a popular post-lockout target.

40.  Zack Greinke Greinke, 38, seems in line for a one-year deal if he decides to continue playing.

41.  Eddie Rosario.  Rosario seemed like a decent match for the Marlins, who signed Avisail Garcia for $53MM.  Otherwise, his market should be mostly intact.

43.  Jonathan Villar.  Leury Garcia signed a three-year, $16.5MM deal to stay with the White Sox as their jack-of-all-trades utility guy.  Villar generally doesn’t play outfield, but he’s otherwise comparable and may still find a two-year deal.

45.  Ryan Tepera.  Tepera is a solid right-handed setup type.  Hector Neris’ two-year, $17MM deal could be a comparable on the high end.  Tepera may be easier to sign than Jansen, as Tepera doesn’t have any attachment to serving in a closer’s role.

47.  Nelson Cruz.  Like Soler, Cruz will be well-served by a universal DH.

48.  Danny Duffy.  Last month, Duffy told Andy McCullough of The Athletic that he “plans to start a throwing program in March and intends to be ready to pitch by June.”  The 33-year-old southpaw will make for an intriguing one or two-year addition.

Honorable mentions: Tyler Anderson, Andrew Chafin, Johnny Cueto, Josh Harrison, Joe Kelly, Andrew McCutchen, Collin McHugh, Brad Miller, Joc Pederson, Tommy Pham, Michael Pineda

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