Top MLB free agents 2021-2022

This will be a fascinating winter in the baseball business world, as the expiration of the Collective Bargaining Agreement just so happens to coincide with one of the deepest and most talented free agent classes in years.

It is anybody’s guess as to how this will all play out -- i.e., how aggressive (if at all) teams will be in making a play for top-tier free agents prior to a new labor contract being worked out.

But for now, we can guess how the free agents will stack up. Here’s a look at the top 25 free agents for 2022.

All player ages are as of Opening Day 2022. They are listed with their 2021 team for reference. Players with an asterisk (*) are not automatically free agents, but have the ability to become free agents if they exercise opt-outs in their contracts. We are also noting which players received a qualifying offer. Players who were traded during the previous season or have previously received a qualifying offer are ineligible.

1. , SS, HOU, age 27
Declined qualifying offer
The big knock on Correa was his inability to stay healthy enough to play complete seasons, primarily because of back issues. But in 2021, he played 148 games, his most since 2016. Going back to his 2015 rookie year, Correa’s 25.1 FanGraphs WAR trails only Francisco Lindor (32.1) and Xander Bogaerts (31.4) among shortstops. Correa’s age and production mean he could be in line for the biggest deal in a loaded free agent shortstop class.

2. , SS, LAD, age 27
Declined qualifying offer
As with Correa, the injury history is the only major concern with Seager. He’s just five months older than Correa and has been extremely productive when healthy. His 132 wRC+ plus mark is the best of any shortstop with at least 2,000 plate appearances since his 2015 debut. Seager was limited to 95 games in 2021 because of a broken hand that cost him two and a half months. The Dodgers’ midseason acquisition of Trea Turner -- a shortstop by trade who played second next to Seager -- could impact their approach to Seager’s free agency.

3. , 3B/OF, SF, age 30
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
Bryant set a high standard for himself by winning the NL MVP honor in his second full season in 2016 and finishing seventh in the voting in a similarly productive 2017. He hasn’t quite gotten back to that level over a full season, but, aside from a rough turn in the shortened 2020 campaign, he’s remained a reliable middle-of-the-order threat (.843 OPS over the last four seasons) while demonstrating the value of his defensive versatility. The Giants will likely try to bring him back.

4. , RHP, LAD, age 37
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
At his age, Mad Max is not in line for the biggest free agent deal in terms of length and total value. But it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that he could command the highest average annual value of any player on the big board. His 2.46 ERA, 166 ERA+ and Major League-best 0.86 WHIP across 30 starts for the Nationals and Dodgers are proof that he’s still got it. The Dodgers will want to keep him, the Nats will want him back, and no shortage of teams will be interested in the services of a future Hall of Famer who immediately improves the morale of any clubhouse he enters.

5. , SS, COL, age 29
Declined qualifying offer
Though he, surprisingly, did not get dealt midway through the 2021 season, Story did recover from an uncharacteristically sluggish first half, posting a .253/.337/.506 slash line after the break. Story is a plus defender with speed and power. His career 112 wRC+ mark, which is adjusted for park effects, ranks ninth among shortstops with at least 2,000 plate appearances since his debut season in 2016. The recent success of players like Nolan Arenado and DJ LeMahieu after leaving Coors Field could help Story's cause.

6. , SS/2B, TOR, age 31
Declined qualifying offer
Semien is one of many pieces of proof that we shouldn’t make much of the statistics from the strange, shortened 2020 season. His difficult 2020 compelled him to take a one-year, make-good pact with the Blue Jays, and all he did was return to the near-MVP-caliber form (45 home runs, 6.6 fWAR) he had displayed in 2019 with the A’s. Semien seamlessly shifted positions, and his 45 homers set a new record for home runs by a second baseman in a single season. Now, he’s a fantastic free agent option at either middle-of-the-infield spot.

7. , LHP, TOR, age 30
Declined qualifying offer
Ray had longed teased us with his power arsenal that frustratingly led to erratic (and walk-prone) outcomes. But there was always enough spin and stuff in there to dream, and in 2021, it all came together. Ray had a Cy Young-worthy season with an AL-best 2.84 ERA, 154 ERA+, 1.04 WHIP and 193 1/3 innings. His 6.7 percent walk rate was his best career mark by a wide margin.

8. , SS, NYM, age 29
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
It will be interesting to see how the market values Báez. He’s a magician on the basepaths and in the field and has big power, but his career 29.3 percent strikeout rate (including a career-worst 33.6 percent rate in 2021) diminishes his on-base percentage. Despite the backlash from Báez’s thumbs-down incident in Queens, he did perform well for the Mets, with a .299/.371/.515 slash line in 47 games after the trade from the Cubs.

9. Freddie Freeman, 1B, ATL, age 32
Declined qualifying offer
A consummate pro and a consistent producer, Freeman has not had a wRC+ mark lower than 132 or an OPS lower than .841 in any of the last nine seasons. He’s sat out a grand total of five games over the last four years. If there were a “Mr. Brave” title, Freeman would own it, so one would expect Atlanta to do everything in its power to keep him.

10. , RHP, SF, age 31
Ineligible for qualifying offer (previously received)
Though Gausman had a strong 2020 season, the Giants surprised some when they extended the $18.9 million qualifying offer to him last offseason. But he delivered a truly fantastic 2021, with a 2.81 ERA, a 145 ERA+ and a 1.04 WHIP in 192 innings over 33 starts. He turned his career around in a big way in San Francisco and should profit nicely in free agency.

11. , RHP, NYM, age 30
Ineligible for qualifying offer (previously received)
After accepting the Mets’ qualifying offer on the heels of a lost 2020, Stroman delivered 179 innings with a 3.02 ERA, a 133 ERA+, a career-best 21.7 percent strikeout rate and a 6 percent walk rate that was his best since his rookie year. Stroman doesn’t overpower batters, but he gets them to chase and he limits free passes and home runs.

12. , OF, OAK, age 33
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
Though he missed about a month early in the season with a rib fracture, Marte made a huge impact on both the Marlins and the A’s. Between the two clubs, he had a .308/.381/.456 slash line with a Major League-best 47 stolen bases in 52 attempts. Over the last four years, the only center fielders with a higher WAR mark than Marte’s 13.3 are Mike Trout (22.8) and George Springer (13.6).

13. , OF, CIN, age 30
Declined qualifying offer
Castellanos opted out of the two years and $34 million still owed to him on his contract with the Reds. He’s now easily one of the most valuable bats on the free agent market, and concerns about his defense in the outfield would be mitigated by the potential re-arrival of the universal DH in 2022. Castellanos’ .939 OPS was sixth-best in the Majors this season, and his 140 wRC+ tied for 12th.

14. , OF, BOS, age 29
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)*
Schwarber settled for a one-year, $10 million guarantee with the Nationals last offseason (a deal that includes an $11.5 mutual option for 2022). But he should be in a much better position for a multiyear pact after a fantastic season in which he slashed .266/.374/.554 with 32 homers for Washington and Boston. The only thing that stopped him was a hamstring injury that cost him about six weeks of action.

15. , LHP, CWS, age 29
Did not receive qualifying offer
In the “what a difference a year makes” category, we have Rodón, who last winter was non-tendered by the White Sox and then re-signed to a modest one-year, $3 million deal. In 2021, with fixed mechanics and a fiery fastball, Rodón finally looked like the pitcher taken No. 3 overall in 2014, throwing a no-hitter amidst a 2.37 ERA, a 183 ERA+ and a 0.96 WHIP. He did, however, experience shoulder fatigue and arm soreness late in the season, and his injury history could tame his market.

16. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, NYM, age 29
Update: Signed 1-year, $21 million deal with Angels on Nov. 16
Good luck predicting or projecting Thor’s future performance. Because of Tommy John surgery and then a setback in his recovery, he’s pitched just two innings in the big leagues in the last two seasons, and he scrapped his breaking pitches in 2021 to prevent further setbacks. But Syndergaard’s four-seamer and sinker were in the mid-90s upon his return, and he’s young enough to inspire hope that he can again be elite. He publicly expressed interest in the qualifying offer from the Mets, which would be a good way for him to potentially rebuild his free agent value for next winter.

17. , RHP, HOU, age 39
Declined qualifying offer
You didn’t forget about this guy, did you? Though absent all of 2021 and virtually all of 2020 because of an elbow ligament tear that required Tommy John, Verlander’s track record speaks for itself. He won his second Cy Young Award at age 37 in 2019, and while it might be foolish to dream he can get back to that level again, this will still be an opportunity to add a Hall of Fame arm hungry to reassert himself in a rotation on a short-term deal.

18. , LHP, LAD, age 34
Did not receive qualifying offer
It feels strange putting Kershaw so low on this list, but the left forearm injury that prematurely ended his 2021 season obviously complicates his case considerably. This past season, Kershaw regressed from his 2020 renaissance by posting a 3.55 ERA and a 115 ERA+ in 22 starts. He was still effective, but with more than 2,500 career innings between the regular season and postseason and recent arm trouble, it’s difficult to know what to expect from this future Hall of Famer moving forward.

19. , OF, NYM, age 29
Declined qualifying offer
Conforto had a disappointing walk year, with his worst OPS (.729) and wRC+ (106) since his first full season in 2016. Still, over the last five seasons, his 14.1 fWAR ranks 13th among all outfielders, and his 128 wRC+ ranks 14th. So he’s a good bounceback candidate who is still south of 30.

20. , 1B, SF, age 33
Update: Accepted qualifying offer from Giants on Nov. 16
Though Belt was limited to 97 games by multiple injuries, including a broken thumb suffered in late September, he had a terrific 2021 at the plate. His .975 OPS was a career-best for a full season, and his 29 homers were also a career-high. Belt also grades out well at first base. He’s been a reliably above-average run producer throughout his career.

21. , UTL, LAD, age 31
Declined qualifying offer
Though his numbers tailed off in the second half (prior to his walk-off homer in the NL Wild Card Game and three-homer game in the NLCS), Taylor had a solid season that resulted in his first All-Star selection. Over the last two years, he’s delivered a .259/.350/.448 slash line while playing center and left field, third base, shortstop and second base.

22. , 1B, NYY, age 32
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
Rizzo is well past his offensive peak, power-wise, but he still brings an above-average bat with good discipline and good defense to the table. In 2021 with the Cubs and Yankees, his 9 percent walk rate was down from his career norm but was still just above the league average (8.2 percent), and his 15.1 percent strikeout rate was well below the league average (21.1 percent).

23. , DH, TB, age 41
Ineligible for qualifying offer (traded midseason)
Cruz will be back on the market again, likely looking for another one-year contract with the promise that he can provide thump and valuable veteran leadership to a club with an eye on contention. The wrinkle this time is the distinct possibility of the DH rule coming to the National League, which would positively impact his market. Cruz has had at least 32 homers in each of the last seven full seasons, though he didn’t get on base at his usual clip after a midseason trade to the Rays. He’s just 51 homers shy of 500, and you have to think he’d really like to get there.

24. , RHP, LAA, age 32
Declined qualifying offer
Over the last two seasons, Iglesias’ 3.1 fWAR is second among relievers, trailing only Liam Hendriks (4.1). This past season with the Angels, his strikeout-minus-walk percentage of 33.3 percent ranked behind only Hendriks (39.7) and Josh Hader (34.8). Iglesias’ strong track record is not quite as long as that of fellow free agent Kenley Jansen (who has an argument to be on this list too), but he has less mileage.

25. , LHP, BOS, age 28
Update: Signed 5-year, $77 million deal with Tigers on Nov. 16
Rodriguez will turn 29 just a week into the 2022 season, and his age and position play into his inclusion here. No, the 4.74 ERA and 1.39 WHIP from 2021 are not exactly encouraging, but today’s front offices will likely be paying more attention to the 3.55 xERA, 27.4% strikeout rate and 7.0% walk rate, all of which were career bests. He is now more than a full year removed from the heart ailment that developed after he contracted COVID-19 in 2020, and he presents a lot of upside at a position of need.

Other notable free agents (in alphabetical order): Alex Cobb, RHP, Angels; Anthony DeSclafani, RHP, Giants; Avisaíl García, OF, Brewers; Jon Gray, RHP, Rockies; Kenley Jansen, RHP, Dodgers; Eddie Rosario, OF, Braves; Kyle Seager, 3B, Mariners; Jorge Soler, OF, Braves; Seiya Suzuki, OF, Hiroshima (NPB, expected to be posted).

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