Pitchers and catchers are set to report to spring training in less than a month, meaning the clock is ticking for teams to put the finishing touches on their roster through free agency—and there are still a number of high-profile players available on the market.
The 2020 COVID-shortened season is definitely a prime cause for a “slow” market, as teams across the board lost revenue due to the fewer number of games and lack of ticket sales. Many teams are actually looking to shed salary rather than take more on – just look at the motivation behind the Indians’ trading of franchise star Francisco Lindor on Jan. 7.
So, while leverage on both the teams’ and players’ sides may be lacking, the hot stove should heat up the closer we get to spring training. A reigning Cy Young winner, the best two-way catcher in baseball, one of 2019’s best relievers and a bunch of former All-Stars headline our “MLB All-Remaining Free Agent Team”:
C: J.T. Realmuto (111 raw value+)
UPDATE: Signed five-year, $115.5 million deal with the Phillies
Realmuto is not the best pure hitter on the free-agent market simply going by Raw Value (RV+), but given the scarcity of catchers who can hit (he slashed .273/.335/.492 over two seasons in Philly) and defend (2019 Gold Glove Award winner), Realmuto is not just the best catcher on the free-agent market this year, but he may be the most valuable free agent available as well.
1B: Asdrubal Cabrera (98 RV+)
UPDATE: Signed with Diamondbacks
Would’ve been: Carlos Santana (signed with Kansas City Royals)
Cabrera is not a first baseman by trade—he was a Gold Glove finalist at shortstop way back in 2011. And as recently as 2019, Cabrera played the majority of his games at second base for the Washington Nationals. But last season, he made 36 of his 53 appearances at either first base or designated hitter, and that’s likely the defensive role he’ll end up as on a team in 2021. Cabrera can still provide value as a hitter moving forward—his .447 slugging percentage in 2020 and 98 RV+ are both within 3% of league average.
2B: Tommy LaStella (112)
UPDATE: Signed with the Giants
Would’ve been: DJ LeMahieu (signed with New York Yankees)
La Stella has been one of the more underrated offensive middle infielders in recent years, posting a .800 OPS or higher in three of the last four seasons, albeit over a somewhat limited sample size (233.3 plate appearances/season). In 2020, La Stella played 28 games for the Los Angeles Angels before a trade to Oakland, where he finished his 2020 season with a 112 RV+.
3B: Justin Turner (134)
UPDATE: Re-signed with Dodgers
The World Series champion Turner is reportedly looking for a four-year contract, according to ESPN MLB Insider Ken Rosenthal, and rightfully so. There are some long-term defense concerns with the 36-year-old Turner (how long until he is a permanent DH?), but offensively JT is still a weapon. On top of his 134 RV+, Turner hit .300 or better for the third time in four years (he only hit .290 in 2019) and capped it off with six extra-base hits in six games in the World Series, helping the Dodgers win their first World Series in 32 years.
SS: Didi Gregorious (88)
UPDATE: Re-signed with the Phillies
After an injury-riddled 2019, Gregorious bounced back in 2020 by playing all 60 games for the Philadelphia Phillies and hitting 22 extra-base hits en route to a .827 OPS. A top-20 MVP finisher for the Yankees in both 2017 and 2018, Gregorious is one of the more underrated offensive shortstops in MLB considering his left-handed power hitting. He could end up as the sleeper of this year’s free-agent class.
OF: Marcell Ozuna (166)
UPDATE: Re-signed with the Braves
Ozuna had a monster season for the NL East champion Atlanta Braves, posting a 166 RV+ (sixth among all players with at least 180 plate appearances) and finishing fourth in the majors with a .338 batting average, third with 18 home runs and second with 56 RBIs. However, a relatively small sample combined with the fact that Ozuna played DH for the Braves and is considered a negative defensive outfielder has driven his value down this offseason, as Rob Manfred has yet to announce whether the universal DH will return in 2021.
OF: George Springer (141)
UPDATE: Signed six-year, $150 million deal with the Blue Jays
Springer is one of the most sought-after players remaining on the free-agent market after a seven-year career with the Houston Astros. The 2017 World Series champion centerfielder led the Astros in RV+ last season and is an impact top-of-the-order bat, as he’s hit the second-most home runs from the leadoff spot (136) since entering the league in 2014—only Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies has more (147).
OF: Michael Brantley (121)
UPDATE: Signed two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros
Brantley snapped a streak of three straight All-Star seasons for the Astros in 2020, but that’s not to say he fell off at all. In fact, the 33-year-old outfielder might have been even better in 2020 than he was in the first two of those three all-star seasons. He had a higher OPS and slugging percentage than in 2017 and 2018 and hit over .300 for the third straight year. Brantley’s game is conducive to the aging curve as well—he swung at 1,008 pitches in 2020 and only missed 111 times. His 11% whiff rate was third lowest in baseball, and his contact+ of 107 was 26th best.
DH: Nelson Cruz (143)
UPDATE: Re-signed with the Twins
Cruz has aged like a fine wine, if there was any wine strong enough to hit 450-foot homers. At this point in his career, the 35-year-old Cruz is strictly a DH, which could limit his market exclusively to the American League if the universal DH doesn’t remain. But there is no doubt that Cruz can rake. In 2020, he ranked 11th in MLB in BIP+ in his second year with the Minnesota Twins and hasn’t hit fewer than 37 bombs in a full season since 2013.
SP1: Trevor Bauer (41 RV-)
UPDATE: Signed with the Dodgers
The last time a reigning Cy Young award winner was a free agent was Roger Clemens in 2004, who re–signed in Houston. The last time a pitcher switched teams as a free agent the offseason following a Cy Young was Greg Maddux in 1992 when he left the Chicago Cubs for the Atlanta Braves. Both Clemens and Maddux set MLB records (at the time) with their free-agent contracts. Bauer finished first in MLB with both a 41 RV- and a 1.73 ERA and is in line for a huge payday himself. He probably won’t reach Gerrit Cole’s nine-year, $324 million contract, but something with an AAV in the ballpark of Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year $245 million contract with the Nationals is definitely possible.
SP2: Masahiro Tanaka (92)
UPDATE: Signed with NPB’s Rakuten Eagles
Tanaka has been everything he was hyped up to be since coming over from Japan in 2013. Now a free agent for the first time in his MLB career, the 32-year-old Tanaka will bring his elite command to whatever team signs him next. After leading the majors with a command+ of 132 in 2019, he ranked fourth (119) among those who faced at least 180 batters last season.
SP3: James Paxton (93)
UPDATE: Signed with Mariners
The Big Maple’s Yankees career was derailed by injuries, most recently a myriad of back problems caused him to only make five starts in 2020. However, when healthy, the left-hander has been a strikeout machine and finished seventh in the majors with a whiff+ of 133 in 2019. He could be a high-reward signing for a team on a short-term deal.
RP: Kirby Yates (41 in 2019)
UPDATE: Signed one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Blue Jays
Would’ve been: Liam Hendricks (signed with Chicago White Sox)
Injuries derailed Yates’ 2020 season, but there’s a reason the Padres’ closer finished ninth in the Cy Young voting in 2019. The potential for Yates to bounce back and resemble his stats in 2019—a 1.19 ERA over 60.2 innings and 15.0 K/9—makes him the best remaining reliever still on the market.
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