It’s time for a fresh installment of our 2021-22 MLB Free Agents Power Rankings, where we rank players by their potential earning power should they reach the open market as scheduled. For this exercise, I’m setting aside the uncertainty of the collective bargaining agreement expiring on December 1st. For the full list of free agents, click here.
1. Corey Seager. Seager suffered a broken hand after getting hit by a pitch in mid-May, and seems likely to return around early July. It will be interesting to see how Seager hits once he returns. In 169 plate appearances to start the season, he sits at a 122 wRC+. That’s strong work, but perhaps a bit short of Seager’s own standards, as he entered the season with a career mark of 130.
2. Carlos Correa. Correa is raking this season, with a 147 wRC+ that ranks second only to Xander Bogaerts among shortstops. He’s also managed to play in all but three of the Astros’ games and hasn’t been on the IL since late in the 2019 season. I debated Correa vs. Trevor Story back in mid-April…but can Correa move past Seager? Correa’s Statcast hitting numbers are strong this year, and he even ranks fifth among shortstops in Outs Above Average on defense. Plus, Correa is not set to turn 27 until September.
3. Kris Bryant. Bryant is having a monster season, posting a 160 wRC+ that ranks second among all free agents (assuming the Astros pick up Yuli Gurriel’s option). Bryant is on pace for a six or seven WAR season. That’s on par with the production of the first three years of his career, which netted him the 2016 NL MVP award. Though Bryant once looked like an obvious trade candidate, the Cubs are currently clinging to first place in the NL Central. FanGraphs puts their playoff odds at about 40%. If that holds for the next month, trading Bryant won’t be a viable option for GM Jed Hoyer. In that case, Bryant’s final overture from the Cubs may come in the form of a qualifying offer after the season.
4. Trevor Bauer. After the season, Bauer must decide whether to opt out of the remaining two years and $62MM on his contract with the Dodgers (causing a large chunk of his ’21 salary to be deferred) or potentially opting out of only the 2023 season, leaving just $17MM on the table. Bauer’s calculus may be changing in light of MLB’s impending crackdown on the use of foreign substances. Through Bauer’s first 12 starts, his four-seam fastball had 2,840 RPM at a velocity of 93.8 mph. But on June 6th in Atlanta, Bauer’s spin rate dropped to 2,612 while staying at virtually the same velocity.
Will Bauer continue to post Cy Young level numbers for the remainder of the season if MLB’s sticky stuff rules are fully enforced? If he slips – even if it has nothing to do with foreign substances or spin rate – the perception might be enough to prevent him from opting out.
5. Trevor Story. Story owns just an 89 wRC+ through 50 games; he hasn’t had a stretch this bad since 2017. Plus, he hit the IL with right elbow inflammation in late May. He’s expected to be activated today, and has plenty of time to right the ship before the Rockies most likely trade him in July.
6. Freddie Freeman. In 2018, a season in which Freeman finished fourth in the NL MVP voting, he had a 58-game stretch during which he posted a .780 OPS, which is a bit worse than what he’s done this year. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with the reigning NL MVP, even with a wRC+ all the way down to 111. But the timing isn’t great for Freeman, who turns 32 in September and may have to be content getting a bit past Paul Goldschmidt’s five-year, $130MM deal.
7. Kevin Gausman. Gausman has sustained his strikeout rate from last year, improved his control, and has benefitted from a 7.1% home run per flyball rate and .212 BABIP. Since joining the Giants in 2020, Gausman has a 2.29 ERA in 137 1/3 innings. Maybe his skills are more indicative of a 3.00 ERA, but that’s still top shelf work that may put him in the $100MM discussion. Gausman bet on himself this year by accepting the Giants’ qualifying offer, and that decision is looking prudent so far.
8. Javier Baez. It’s tough to predict how the market will treat Baez. The Cubs’ 28-year-old shortstop continues to do things you’ve never seen before on a baseball field, but he also owns a .240/.276/.480 swing-for-the-fences batting line with a 36.7 K%. With potentially nine starting shortstops on the free agent market this winter, teams will have options.
9. Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw has thrown four clunkers in his last seven starts, sending his ERA from 2.09 to 3.66. Overall, though, I don’t think his skills have changed. The 33-year-old should still be able to land a three-year deal at a premium salary, even if he limits his potential destinations.
10. Max Scherzer. Scherzer turns 37 in July, and will be highly sought-after if the Nationals are willing to trade him this summer. Normally a pitcher at Scherzer’s age has little chance at a three-year deal, but so far he has a 2.22 ERA, 36.1 K%, and 5.2 BB%. I think someone might spring for the third year.
Nick Castellanos, J.D. Martinez, Mark Canha, Brandon Crawford, Chris Taylor, Marcus Semien, Buster Posey, Starling Marte, Craig Kimbrel, Lance Lynn, Carlos Rodon, Robbie Ray, and Marcus Stroman are among those having big years, though if we set the bar for the top ten at $100MM they’ll have a hard time getting there.
A couple of Mets, Michael Conforto, and Noah Syndergaard, have been bumped from the top ten. Conforto has failed to hit for power thus far, while Syndergaard had a setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery. Dylan Bundy also fell off the list, as he’s given up 23 runs in his last 21 innings. There are others who fall somewhere in-between, having a solid but not spectacular year, like Anthony Rizzo, Avisail Garcia, Zack Greinke, Anthony DeSclafani, Garrett Richards, Nathan Eovaldi, and Wade Miley.