Thursday, May 19, 2022

MLB free agency: Top 10 remaining free agents as Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, more remain unsigned

On Wednesday, three of the top free agents left on the market found homes. Freddie Freeman joined the Los Angeles Dodgers; Seiya Suzuki linked up with the Chicago Cubs; and Kyle Schwarber took his big bat to the Philadelphia Phillies. Factor in the Matt Chapman trade (from Oakland to Toronto) and it was a busy day.

Busy days have been the norm since Major League Baseball’s owner-imposed lockout was lifted a week ago. It would be understandable, then, if you felt overwhelmed and at a loss for who remains on the open market. Heck, we feel the same way. That’s why we decided to gather the best remaining free agents and detail their situations. 

Below, you’ll find the nine remaining free agents who ranked on our top 50 entering the offseason, as well as a list of teams that have been connected to them in recent rumors. We’ve even thrown in a special bonus free agent, because everyone likes round numbers.

1. Carlos Correa, SS, No. 1 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Astros, Cubs, Braves

Top 50 capsule: Correa is such a talent that if he didn’t exist a video-game player would have created him. He’s a well-above-average hitter who walked and struck out at personal-best rates last season, and he did so while achieving maximum exit velocities that were on par with all-world sluggers like Juan Soto and Yordan Alvarez. Unlike Soto and Alvarez, two corner outfielders celebrated more for their work at the dish than in the grass, Correa is a highly proficient defensive shortstop with a big-time arm. He’s constructed of flesh and bone, meaning there are negatives to consider. His attendance was spotty earlier in his career, and it’s to be seen if he can maintain his high level of durability (he appeared in 92 percent of Houston’s games in 2020-21) as he nears his 30s. He’s also no longer a stolen-base threat, the way he was when he first broke into The Show. (He hasn’t attempted one during the regular season since April 2019.) There’s also the sign-stealing scandal. The George Springer precedent suggests Correa won’t have a Poe-like moment this winter, his heart pounding like so many trash-can thuds as lower-than-expected offers pour in. Truthfully, even if teams had shown any inclination to punish Astros players in that manner, they might make an exception for Correa. He might just win an MVP Award someday and, per the authority of this list, is the best player available on the market.

2. Trevor Story, SS, No. 11 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Twins, Red Sox

Top 50 capsule: If you scroll through Story’s Baseball Reference page, you’ll click away thinking his offense underwhelmed while his defense remained rock solid in his walk year. The truth is the opposite. Story’s topline results at the plate were his worst in years, but his underlying measures (exit velocity and launch-angle bins) aligned with his 2019-20 campaigns just fine. The area where decline was most evident with his game was in the field, particularly his arm . He made nearly as many throwing errors last season (11) as he did the previous two years combined (12). Perhaps the offseason will allow Story to rest his weary elbow, yet some teams may already view him as a second baseman. (Heck, one team was reportedly interested in making him a center fielder at the deadline.) Factor in the lingering concerns about his home/road splits (over the last three seasons his OPS was more than 200 points higher at Coors Field) and the bloated shortstop market, and he might end up serving as the winter’s Marcus Semien, settling for a pillow contract before landing the mattress next year.

3. Nick Castellanos, OF, No. 14 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Marlins, Phillies

Top 50 capsule: Castellanos is a well-above-average hitter who has pole-to-pole power, an optimized launch angle, and a preference for hitting the ball back up the middle. For better and worse, that’s the extent of his game. He isn’t a good defender; he doesn’t walk a ton; and he isn’t a stolen-base threat. Castellanos can hit, though, and he’s going to get a lucrative contract because of it.

4. Kenley Jansen, RP, No. 20 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Dodgers, Blue Jays

Top 50 capsule: You can make the case that Jansen isn’t the most desirable closer on the market. He is, nevertheless, the most accomplished and (perhaps) the most consistent; that combination, in this author’s estimation, will make him the most wealthy. Jansen has had more seasons with an ERA+ over 200 than he’s had under 120; he’s recorded at least 30 saves in seven consecutive full seasons; and he’s likely to move into the top eight, if not the top seven on the all-time saves leaderboard next season. Two notes on his season that should encourage teams this winter: 1) his walk rate increased despite him still throwing a well-above-average rate of strikes, suggesting the former was a blip rather than a concern; and 2) he showed increased confidence in his slider, giving him another weapon to deploy as he deems it necessary.

5. Michael Conforto, OF, No. 23 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Marlins, Diamondbacks, Rockies

Top 50 capsule: There may not be a good time for a player to have an underwhelming season, but there is a bad time. Conforto learned that lesson the hard way by hitting .202/.341/.298 in the first half of his walk year. Though he rebounded to an extent in the second half (.252/.347/.445), his chances of cashing in this winter were already dashed. Conforto, it turns out, may disagree with that assessment. He appeared to be an obvious candidate to accept the qualifying offer, but a report from last month indicated that he intended to decline and seek out something better on the open market. Good luck.

6. Michael Pineda, SP, No. 32 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Tigers, Twins

Top 50 capsule: Pineda required three injured list stints last season, including one for right elbow inflammation and another for a strained oblique. He hasn’t started 30 games or more in a single season since 2016. Though you don’t know how much of him you’re going to get, you do know what he’ll deliver when he’s available as his game is mostly untouched. Pineda has lost some velocity (he was down to 90 mph in 2021) and he remains home-run prone, but his gyro slider remains his most effective offering and he still fills up the strike zone. It’s probably safest to peg him as a back-end starter heading forward. Another short-term deal, either a year or two in length, seems likely.

7. Danny Duffy, LHP, No. 36 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Unknown

Top 50 capsule: Duffy is a wild card in more ways than one. He didn’t pitch after July 16 because of a left flexor strain. That same injury had sidelined him earlier in 2021, and this time it wiped out the rest of his season, preventing him from making an official appearance with the Dodgers following a deadline trade. Duffy is both younger (nearing 33) and better (105 ERA+ since 2018) than most would expect. His fastball fits the modern parameters, in that he gets deep extension on it and induces good vertical break. An adventurous club might sign him with an eye on tweaking his pitch mix to optimize his performance. At minimum, he has experience in both the rotation and the bullpen and could prove to be a value addition if his arm holds up heading forward.

8. Jorge Soler, OF, No. 39 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Rockies, Marlins

Top 50 capsule: Sometimes, baseball makes no sense. When Soler was traded to the Braves at the deadline, he was hitting .192/.288/.370 with 13 home runs in 94 games. His ball-tracking metrics indicated better times were ahead. Sure enough, they were. He batted .269/.358/.524 the rest of the way, even launching 14 homers in his final 55 contests. Here’s the catch: his exit velocity with the Braves was nearly three ticks lower than it had been with the Royals. Go figure. Soler remains a poor defensive outfielder who should be used as a DH as frequently as possible. One development with his game worth monitoring: he cut into both his strikeout and whiff rates. Even if those gains prove unsustainable, his walking and bopping will keep him in the lineup.

9. Tommy Pham, OF, No. 46 free agent entering offseason

Teams rumored to have interest: Padres

Top 50 capsule: It would be reasonable to scoff at Pham’s inclusion. Not only is he a couple of years removed from his last big showing at the plate, he’s now nearing his age-34 season. Concluding that he’s just a league-average hitter nowadays would be sensible. The counterargument is that Pham still commands the strike zone, and that he proved last season he can still hit the ball hard and on a line. Indeed, 32 percent of his batted balls had a launch angle between 10 and 30 degrees; additionally, 48 percent of his batted balls had an exit velocity of at least 95 mph. Here are some players who had similar breakdowns, along with their seasonal OPS+: Freddie Freeman (133), Max Muncy (138), Ketel Marte (143), Corey Seager (145), Brandon Belt (160); you get the point. Pham probably won’t deliver a season as good as any of those hitters did, but there’s enough underpinning there to justify counting on him as an above-average hitter.

10. Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, unranked entering offseason 

Teams rumored to have interest: Cardinals

Capsule: Pujols’ value is limited in scope. He’s a right-handed hitter who can’t run and who isn’t able to defend any position other than first base. His recent platoon splits suggest he’s best served as a part-time player, taking his cuts as frequently against left-handers as possible. That’s how the Dodgers used him last season, and it worked to great avail: he batted .294/.336/.603 with 13 home runs in 146 trips to the dish. Pujols is 21 home runs from 700, so a noncompetitive team might sign him with an eye on selling some extra tickets and merchandise if he can reach that number. Otherwise, he’s going to spend most of the year sitting on a contender’s bench. 

Related articles

Comments

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share article

Latest articles

Newsletter

Subscribe to stay updated.