With pitchers and catchers supposedly reporting to camp in a few weeks, there are still a great many unanswered questions that need to be settled: How many playoff teams will there be? Will the National League use the designated hitter again? Also, when will the season, you know, actually start?
Perhaps a larger unresolved issue is the stagnant pace of the free agency market. As of this writing, 35 of Sports Illustrated's top 50 free agents remain unsigned, including seven of the top 10. For teams in need of improvement, there’s plenty of reinforcements still available at every position—so much so that a lineup composed of the game’s currently unemployed players would stack up quite favorably to any shortlist of World Series contenders.
So if you’re not a Mets or Padres fan and you’re frustrated with your favorite team’s stagnant offseason, here’s a condensed look at the possible acquisitions still on the table.
Each player listed is the highest-ranked at his position, per SI’s free-agent rankings. All stats are 2021 projections by Steamer, courtesy of FanGraphs.
JT Realmuto, C, 30 (24 HR, 7 SB, .265/.329/.457, 4.1 fWAR)
Tommy La Stella, 1B, 32 (17 HR, 3 SB, .284/.356/.450, 2.4 fWAR)
Kolten Wong, 2B, 30 (10 HR, 13 SB, .261/.343/.390, 1.8 fWAR)
Justin Turner, 3B, 36 (22 HR, 2 SB, .282/.372/.479, 3.2 fWAR)
Marcus Semien, SS, 30 (24 HR, 11 SB, .253/.336/.436, 3.0 fWAR)
Marcell Ozuna, OF, 30 (35 HR, 5 SB, .277/.357/.514, 2.9 fWAR)
Jackie Bradley Jr., OF, 31 (20 HR, 10 SB, .226/.315/.401, 1.4 fWAR)
Michael Brantley, OF, 34 (19 HR, 5 SB, .289/.353/.458, 1.9 fWAR)
Nelson Cruz, DH, 40 (31 HR, 1 SB, .256/.344/.490, 1.1)
Unsurprisingly, there’s a high-impact player at every position. Realmuto reportedly has a five-year deal on the table worth over $100 million to return to the Phillies, so perhaps he’ll be removed from this list soon enough. This lineup would have excellent defense up the middle, with Wong, Semien and Bradley forming as strong a trio as any team could assemble.
At the corners, Ozuna and Brantley rank among two of the best corner outfielders in the league. Brantley is reportedly being pursued by the Blue Jays and could follow his old teammate, George Springer, to Toronto, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. Ozuna’s market is somewhat murky given the uncertainty of the DH rule in the NL, so clarity on that issue could open up more options for him. Turner and La Stella are on the older side, but Turner’s been a proven postseason performer for the Dodgers while La Stella’s defensive versatility makes him even more valuable. The 40-year-old Cruz would anchor a lineup that boasts a combined 21.8 projected fWAR, which would likely rank among the top 10 of the league in position player WAR before accounting for this team’s hypothetical bench production.
Trevor Bauer, RHP, 30 (203 IP, 12-11, 4.08 ERA, 3.8 fWAR)
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, 31 (166 IP, 10-10, 4.26 ERA, 2.6 fWAR)
Taijuan Walker, RHP, 28 (159 IP, 9-11, 5.00 ERA, 1.2 fWAR)
Jake Odorizzi, RHP, 31 (149 IP, 9-10, 4.64 ERA, 1.8 fWAR)
James Paxton, LHP, 32 (151 IP, 9-9, 4.22 ERA, 2.3 fWAR)
Clearly, the gem of the free-agent class still available is Trevor Bauer, the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner. After him, there’s a fairly significant drop-off. The top of the starting pitching market dried up quickly when Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman accepted qualifying offers from their respective clubs. There’s a chance Tanaka will return to pitch in Japan, per MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, which would only further deplete the available options.
Walker is an intriguing option, as he’s among the youngest free agents out there. He was Dr. Jekyll with the Mariners and Mr. Hyde after a midseason trade to the Blue Jays in 2020, so interested teams will need to determine which version is closer to Walker’s true form. Odorizzi and Paxton had been consistent, middle-of-the-rotation arms but missed the majority of last season due to injury.
Alex Colomé, RHP, 32 (65 IP, 3-3, 4.49 ERA, 0.1 fWAR)
Shane Greene, RHP, 32 (62 IP, 3-3, 4.68 ERA, 0.1 fWAR)
Trevor Rosenthal, RHP, 31 (63 IP, 3-3, 3.86 ERA, 0.4 fWAR)
Brad Hand, RHP, 31 (64 IP, 3-3, 4.02 ERA, 0.4 fWAR)
Jeremy Jeffress, RHP, 33 (64 IP, 3-3, 4.58 ERA, 0.0 fWAR)
Among all the position groups, the relief pitching market has been arguably the fastest-moving. Of the 13 top-50 free agents to sign, three have been relief pitchers: Blake Treinen (Dodgers), Greg Holland (Royals) and Liam Hendriks (White Sox). In all, 20 relief pitchers have signed major league contracts, with five being multiyear deals: Hendriks, Treinen, Trevor May (Mets), Pedro Báez (Astros) and Tommy Kahnle (Dodgers).
What’s left is still a collection of serviceable arms, though Steamer isn’t particularly bullish on the group as a whole. Rosenthal has the rosiest outlook among this quintet. He enjoyed a bounce-back year in 2020, striking out 41.8% of opposing hitters with a 1.90 ERA and 11 saves in 23.2 innings pitched. Though Steamer sees some decline in store for Hand, it should be noted that he led the majors with 16 saves in 2020 and had a 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP in 23 games.