After several offseasons in which most of the big fish weren’t reeled in until well after the new year, it was a pleasant surprise this time around to see so many free agents find new homes before the calendar turned to December. In fact, 26 of Sports Illustrated’s initial top-50 free agents signed before the league’s collective bargaining agreement expired on Dec. 1.
And there was no lack of fireworks—among the players who already got deals done, Corey Seager (No. 2) and Marcus Semien (No. 4) both decided to join the same 100-loss ball club. The sport’s active strikeout leader signed with one of the sport’s richest yet most dysfunctional franchises. And the newly crowned American League Cy Young winner agreed to terms with the team that owns the longest postseason drought in U.S. professional sports.
Unfortunately, that flurry of activity predated what’s looking like will be a long standoff between MLB and the players’ union. It may be a while before another star puts pen to paper, but we may as well set the scene now for how the rest of free agency could play out once order is restored.
In our initial ranking of the top-50 free agents, we also forecasted where each player may end up. Our returns on those predictions were ... not great: 1-for-26, to be exact, with the No. 50 player (Cesar Hernandez to the Nationals) hilariously being our only hit. This is harder than it looks! But with more pieces of the puzzle in place, we’re expecting a more functional crystal ball this time around (only eight of our predictions remained the same).
So, go ahead and check out how we foresee the rest of the offseason playing out. It’s not like there’s much other baseball news to talk about.
Notes: Each player’s listed age reflects how old he will be as of June 30, 2022. This page will be updated throughout the offseason as players sign with teams.
1. Carlos Correa, SS
Age: 27 | Former Team: Astros | Initial Rank: 1
Initial Prediction: Tigers | Revised Prediction: Tigers
Correa put to rest any lingering concerns after his down 2020 season with a superb year in ’21, during which he set career bests in home runs (26), walk rate (11.7%) and strikeout rate (18.1%). He did that while ranking among the top shortstops in outs above average, and his career numbers in the postseason should set him up for an enormous payday this winter.
We’ll stick with our initial call on having Correa reunite with former Astros manager A.J. Hinch in Detroit. It’s true the Tigers signed Javier Báez last month, but we’ve already seen one team use free agency to completely reshape its middle infield and Detroit was closer than the Rangers to playoff contention in 2021. The Tigers also still have the payroll room to make another big splash, especially since Miguel Cabrera is only on the books for another two seasons.
2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
Age: 32 | Former Team: Braves | Initial Rank: 3
Initial Prediction: Braves | Revised Prediction: Braves
Freeman could not have elevated his stock any higher as he enters free agency for the first time. He followed up his 2020 MVP campaign with another stellar season at the plate, capping it off by leading the Braves to their first World Series title in 26 years. Freeman has missed a total of seven games over the last four seasons, and he’s had an OPS+ of 132 or better in each of the last nine years.
Given how much Freeman has meant to Atlanta for the past 12 years, it was pretty surprising to see the Braves leave him on the market ahead of the lockout. His return seemed like somewhat of a formality in the aftermath of the World Series win, but the Dodgers, Yankees and Red Sox reportedly are showing interest, which has made this much less of a sure bet than it was a month ago. We’ll still project Freeman to stay with the only major league organization he’s ever known, lest the Braves risk blowing a ready-made repeat opportunity.
3. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF
Age: 30 | Former Team: Giants | Initial Rank: 5
Initial Prediction: Mets | Revised Prediction: Mariners
Bryant put a miserable, injury-plagued 2020 season behind him with a strong ’21 that places him in a favorable position to hit the open market. Bryant’s walk (10.6%) and strikeout rates (23.0%) returned to his career norms, and he reached double-digit steals for the first time since his rookie year, doing so at a strong success rate (10 bags in 12 attempts). Bryant spent more time in the outfield than at third base for the first time in his career, and it will be interesting to see how teams view him defensively and whether he projects to play at the hot corner long-term. Wherever he plays on the diamond, he’s a safe bet to remain an All-Star-caliber bat.
Even after reeling in AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to head up their pitching staff and trading for All-Star infielder Adam Frazier, the Mariners are still projected by Spotrac to carry a payroll around $70 million. That’s $20 million lower than last season’s figure, and GM Jerry Dipoto has already said he’s been given the green light by management to increase payroll. Replacing longtime third baseman Kyle Seager with Bryant would boost Seattle’s offense as it looks to snap the longest active postseason drought in baseball.
4. Trevor Story, SS
Age: 29 | Former Team: Rockies | Initial Rank: 6
Initial Prediction: Rangers | Revised Prediction: Astros
Story’s player profile has a lot to like. He’s been durable, is at least a solid defender with good power and speed, and his strikeout rate has declined in each of the past two seasons to a career-low 23.4% in 2021. Story saw a steep decline in BABIP this year, with a .293 clip after a career mark of .347 before this year. That’s likely tied to a dip in line drives and uptick in ground balls, though his average exit velocity and barrel rate were mostly in line with his career marks. A mechanical adjustment could be the remedy there and would likely elevate Story back to his All-Star form.
Houston may not want to shell out the cash necessary to retain Correa, but Story would represent a nice consolation prize for a team currently projected to defend the AL championship with Aledmys Díaz at shortstop. Story would benefit from the short porch of Houston’s Crawford Boxes in left field, and his salary shouldn’t put the Astros close to the luxury tax threshold.
5. Nick Castellanos, RF
Age: 30 | Former Team: Reds | Initial Rank: 11
Initial Prediction: White Sox | Revised Prediction: Padres
Castellanos enters free agency coming off a career year at the plate, setting new highs in home runs (34) and wRC+ (140) while posting his lowest strikeout rate (20.7%). Since 2018, he ranks fourth among all outfielders in RBIs (296), 11th in home runs (98) and 15th in wRC+ (126). Castellanos has always punished lefties, but he hit righties just as well in ’21, posting nearly identical splits.
Sluggers of his profile who don’t project well defensively will benefit from the expected adoption of the designated hitter in the National League. San Diego needs another bat after its offense collapsed in the second half, and Castellanos would fit the bill.
6. Clayton Kershaw, SP
Age: 34 | Former Team: Dodgers | Initial Rank: 13
Initial Prediction: Dodgers | Revised Prediction: Dodgers
For the first time in his storied career, Clayton Kershaw is a free agent. As has been the case for the last several seasons, the lefthander was effective when he was able to get on the mound in 2021, even if his 3.55 ERA represents his worst since his rookie year in ’08 (seriously). Kershaw missed two months while dealing with left elbow and forearm inflammation, returned in mid-September but then left his Oct. 1 start with the same issue and didn’t pitch in the postseason. His health will be the biggest determining factor in what kind of deal he gets and makes him a particularly difficult player to rank in this list.
A return to Los Angeles is still possible even though Kershaw wasn’t extended a qualifying offer. With the Dodgers having already lost Max Scherzer and Seager during free agency, it seems they’d be more willing to keep their beloved three-time Cy Young winner at Chavez Ravine.
7. Seiya Suzuki, OF
Age: 27 | Former Team: Hiroshima | Initial Rank: 17
Initial Prediction: A’s | Revised Prediction: Rangers
After starring for Nippon Professional Baseball for the past six seasons, Suzuki is ready to make the leap overseas. In 133 games last season, he hit a career-high 38 home runs with a .319/.436/.640 slash line. Over the past three years, Suzuki has more walks (263) than strikeouts (241), and 91 home runs in 391 games. Suzuki is a right-handed hitter who’s spent some time in the infield during his career but has played exclusively in the outfield since 2015 and projects as a right fielder after winning his fifth NPB Gold Glove there last season. Though strikeout rates in NPB are not as high as in MLB, Suzuki’s modest 16.4% strikeout rate since ’18 is an impressive mark for a power hitter of his caliber.
After the Rangers signed Semien and Seager, we said the team’s path to contention would depend on who would follow those two to Arlington. If Suzuki settles in the Lonestar State to fill one of the Rangers’ outfield spots, they’d be well on their way.
8. Michael Conforto, RF
Age: 28 | Former Team: Mets | Initial Rank: 20
Initial Prediction: Marlins | Revised Prediction: Reds
Conforto was one of several Mets hitters who lost the plot at the plate last season. He also took a marked step back in the field after leading all outfielders with six assists in 2020. But he won’t turn 30 until March ’23, and some teams will be willing to bet on the '20 All-MLB second-team outfielder. Conforto was also one of only five hitters who slashed at least .300/.400/.500 in the pandemic-shortened campaign; the others were Juan Soto, Freeman, Marcell Ozuna and DJ LeMahieu. It could make sense for the former first-round pick to reestablish his value on a one-year pact.
9. Carlos Rodón, SP
Age: 29 | Former Team: White Sox | Initial Rank: 21
Initial Prediction: Cardinals | Revised Prediction: Red Sox
Rodón finally put everything together in 2021, showing why he was the No. 3 pick in the ’14 draft. The only issue—as has been the case for virtually his entire career—was durability. Shoulder issues limited him to just 24 starts, and he didn’t pitch more than five innings in any of his outings after July 18 (though he remained sharp with a 2.51 ERA in those games). A team that signs Rodón would be wise to not do so in the hopes he’ll make 30 starts per year, as his track record does not portend such a development as he nears his 30s.
10. Kyle Schwarber, OF/DH
Age: 29 | Former Team: Red Sox | Initial Rank: 22
Initial Prediction: Red Sox | Revised Prediction: Dodgers
Schwarber reached his final form this year. You may remember him single-handedly keeping the Nationals in contention by tying an MLB record with 16 home runs in a calendar month—all of which occurred over an 18-game span between June 12 and June 29. He injured his hamstring just a few days later, earned his first career All-Star nod and was traded before the deadline to Boston … where he was even better than he was in Washington by most metrics. The former No. 4 pick ranked 10th in wRC+ (148) among players with at least 450 plate appearances, ahead of sluggers like Max Muncy, Castellanos and Yordan Alvarez. The main blemish on his outlook is that it’s clear his time to permanently slide to DH is approaching; this is a guy who accounted for -3 defensive runs saved at first base in just 10 games there with the Red Sox.
He’d make a perfect lefty-hitting addition for the Dodgers if they can’t lure away Freeman from Atlanta.
11. Kenley Jansen, RP
Age: 34 | Former Team: Dodgers | Initial Rank: 25
Initial Prediction: Blue Jays | Revised Prediction: Blue Jays
Jansen might be the preferred scapegoat among Dodgers fans during tough times, but the righthander was quietly excellent in 2021 after posting three straight seasons with ERAs more than 3.00. Jansen pitched 69 games—tied for his most since ’16—with 2.22 ERA and 38 saves in 43 opportunities. His 2.83 expected ERA and 3.08 FIP support his results, as does the return of his velocity: Jansen’s cutter clocked in at 92.5 mph on average, his fastest since ’17. His walk rate ballooned to 12.9% last year, easily his worst since his rookie season. That and his mounting workload over the years are the biggest red flags for an otherwise extremely reliable closer.
12. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
Age: 32 | Former Team: Yankees | Initial Rank: 27
Initial Prediction: Yankees | Revised Prediction: Yankees
The longtime Cub surprisingly saw his slugging percentage and home run rate drop after moving to New York despite Yankee Stadium’s short right-field porch being tailor-made to a lefty pull hitter like himself. No longer a high-average or high-power threat, Rizzo doesn’t profile as a premier hitter for his position going forward. But the four-time Gold Glove winner still gets on base at an above-average clip and will continue to play a smooth first base as long as he’s in the league.
13. Kyle Seager, 3B
Age: 34 | Former Team: Mariners | Initial Rank: 30
Initial Prediction: Blue Jays | Revised Prediction: Blue Jays
Long underappreciated on struggling Mariners teams, it would’ve been nice to see Seager end his career in Seattle with a playoff appearance. As it were, he at least got to participate in a playoff race while embracing more of an all-or-nothing approach at the plate. Corey’s older, more demonstrative brother set new career highs for home runs (35) and RBIs (101) while posting career-worst marks for batting average (.212) and strikeout rate (24%). The result was a perfectly average output at the plate by OPS+ standards (100).
Presumably, Seager is aiming to sign with a contender, so the Blue Jays could slide Cavan Biggio to second and put Seager in a platoon at the hot corner with Santiago Espinal We’d love to see it.
14. Nelson Cruz, DH
Age: 41 | Former Team: Rays | Initial Rank: 34
Initial Prediction: Mariners | Revised Prediction: Brewers
Even in his age-40 season, Cruz ranked in the 93rd percentile of average exit velocity and hard-hit rate. This wasn’t a trademark Boomstick campaign, though. While Cruz notched his seventh All-Star appearance while looking like an elite bat in his half season with Minnesota, it looked like Father Time was finally catching up to Ol’ Nelly with the Rays. Perhaps Florida’s booming retiree population rubbed off on him. He slashed .225/.283/.442 for a .725 OPS with Tampa Bay, his worst mark since becoming a full-time player in 2009.
The Brewers lost their 2021 home run leader, Avisaíl García, to the Marlins in November. Cruz would make a lot of sense in Milwaukee if the DH is adopted by the National League as part of the new CBA.
15. Michael Pineda, SP
Age: 33 | Former Team: Twins | Initial Rank: 35
Initial Prediction: Mariners | Revised Prediction: Rangers
When healthy, Pineda is a solid starting pitcher. He’s put up a 3.80 ERA over the last three seasons, though he hasn’t topped 146 innings since 2017. The underlying stats don’t paint as pretty a picture, though; Pineda’s expected ERA last year was just shy of 5.00, and his hard-hit rate allowed of 46.7% ranked among the bottom 4% of the league. Even though opposing hitters feasted on his fastball to the tune of a .284 batting average and .493 slugging percentage, he actually threw the pitch more frequently (54.2%) than he has in a decade. An adjusted pitch mix would likely lead to more effectiveness for Pineda going forward.
16. Kwang Hyun Kim, SP
Age: 33 | Former Team: Cardinals | Initial Rank: 38
Initial Prediction: Giants | Revised Prediction: Phillies
A lefty who won the KBO’s MVP award at age 20 in 2008 and won four league championships in Korea before signing with St. Louis ahead of the ’20 season, Kim relies on a standard four-pitch mix to induce soft contact. Most of his fastballs don’t touch 90 mph, and he has a pretty high walk rate (8.6%) for someone who doesn’t miss a lot of bats. The Cardinals moved him to the bullpen in September to try to keep him healthy after he experienced elbow soreness. Philadelphia has a much worse infield defense than the Cardinals do, so Kim’s performance could decline if he signs with the Phillies. But they certainly need pitching help, and the ’08 Olympic gold medalist has the résumé and surface-level results to improve the rotation.
17. Jorge Soler, OF
Age: 30 | Former Team: Braves | Initial Rank: 39
Initial Prediction: Rangers | Revised Prediction: Cardinals
The 2021 World Series MVP has a wide range of future outcomes, but there are signs he could soon be one of the sport’s most feared sluggers. For one, he absolutely crushes the ball when he makes good contact, routinely ranking in the 98th percentile of max exit velocity and boasting MLB’s longest average home run distance (423 feet), a statistic no one will be surprised to learn after witnessing his World Series moonshot. His approach also showed signs of maturation this summer, as he struck out at a career-low 23.6% clip with a chase rate that ended up in the 80th percentile of the league. That’s solid growth from the ’19 American League strikeouts leader. Soler best profiles as a mashing DH who doesn’t have to concern himself with improving his sloppy glovework.
Pending the adoption of the universal DH, it’d be neat to see Soler sign with St. Louis to give the Cardinals some needed pop. After all, his colossal home run in Houston during the World Series clincher recalled Albert Pujols’s majestic shot in the same stadium during the 2005 NLCS.
18. Eddie Rosario, OF
Age: 30 | Former Team: Braves | Initial Rank: 40
Initial Prediction: Braves | Revised Prediction: Braves
Rosario’s star turn this October surely didn’t hurt his free-agent prospects. The outfielder was a godsend for the Braves even before their postseason run. He batted .271/.330/.573 in 106 plate appearances and then caught fire in the NLCS. From 2017 to ’19, Rosario hit .284/.317/.495 with 83 home runs while averaging 590 plate appearances per season and put up similar numbers in the abridged ’20 campaign. Though not a plus defender at a nonpremium position, Rosario is a low-walk, low-strikeout lefthanded bat with power who has earned a chance at everyday playing time in ’22 and beyond.
19. Collin McHugh, RP
Age: 35 | Former Team: Rays | Initial Rank: 41
Initial Prediction: Rays | Revised Prediction: Cardinals
Since becoming a (basically) full-time reliever in 2018, McHugh has been remarkably successful, posting a 2.82 ERA over 211 innings. Opposing hitters were simply unable to square him up last season, as his 2.5% barrel rate was the fourth-lowest among relief pitchers with as many batters faced. McHugh has shown an ability to pitch in a variety of roles, and he recorded at least six outs in 21 of his 37 games last season. He’s on the older side of the ledger, but he’ll be a valuable addition to any bullpen.
20. Zack Greinke, SP
Age: 38 | Former Team: Astros | Initial Rank: 42
Initial Prediction: Phillies | Revised Prediction: Yankees
The active leader in innings pitched saw his strikeout rate plummet to 6.3 K/9, the fourth-lowest mark in the league among 39 qualified starters, while his home run rate nearly doubled to its highest point since his rookie year back in 2004. The six-time All-Star also recorded a 5.34 ERA in the second half and suffered a neck injury that prevented him from building up his arm strength enough to work as a full-fledged starter during Houston’s postseason run. But Greinke flat-out knows how to pitch, having navigated lineups with an upper-80s fastball for a few years now, and he’ll get another shot with a contender.
21. Tyler Anderson, SP
Age: 32 | Former Team: Mariners | Initial Rank: 44
Initial Prediction: Cubs | Revised Prediction: Royals
A soft-tossing lefthander with excellent control, Anderson won’t wow you with his stuff. He’s usually pitching to contact, and oftentimes that results in harmless fly balls. But it also results in home runs quite often—his 1.46 home runs allowed per nine innings were the seventh-most among 39 qualified starters in 2021. He had a couple of stinkers in the season’s final few weeks against the Angels that proved debilitating for Seattle’s playoff chances, but overall, he’s a fine candidate for the back end of the rotation. We foresee him getting a short-term deal with a team hoping to flip him at the deadline, as Pittsburgh did in July.
22. Joc Pederson, OF
Age: 30 | Former Team: Braves | Initial Rank: 46
Initial Prediction: Nationals | Revised Prediction: Phillies
With Pederson delivering clutch heroics in yet another "Joctober," this time for the Braves, the effortlessly cool outfielder’s stock rose during his second straight World Series run. Still, the $10 million on his mutual option for 2022 (with a $2.5 million buyout) predictably proved too rich for Atlanta’s blood. Renowned for his laid-back clubhouse demeanor as well as his discerning batter’s eye and powerful swing, Pederson could fit on a number of contending teams that want a capable left-handed bat who’s not averse to coming off the bench. He could also seek a locked-in starting job to prove himself once again as a potential impact deadline acquisition.
23. Tommy Pham, LF
Age: 34 | Former Team: Padres | Initial Rank: N/A
After Pham was stabbed in the lower back outside of a strip club last offseason, an injury that required 200 stitches, it was good to see the outfielder stay healthy enough to top 150 games for the first time in his career in 2021. His .724 OPS was his worst mark over a full season, which combined with his age led us to leave him out of our initial top-50 free-agent ranking in favor of the two guys below him here. But after giving Pham another look and realizing his Statcast metrics indicate he’s experienced some bad luck during his two-year tenure in San Diego, we’re revising the bottom of our updated list. An all-around gamer with one of baseball’s best batting eyes, he could turn out to be a heck of a bargain for a playoff contender searching for outfield help.
24. José Iglesias, SS
Age: 32 | Former Team: Red Sox | Initial Rank: 48
Initial Prediction: Twins | Revised Prediction: Orioles
For a time, the advanced metrics and the eye test agreed that Iglesias was one of the elite defensive shortstops in the game. While he made plenty of highlight-worthy plays in 2021, the numbers belie that reputation. Iglesias ranks 18th among shortstops in outs above average over the past two seasons, according to Statcast, and dead-last in defensive runs saved, per The Fielding Bible. Defensive stats are a little fuzzier than hitting metrics, but it doesn’t paint as rosy a view of where Iglesias stood not too long ago. His offensive profile—high contact with little power—has remained constant for essentially his entire career. A team looking for a low-budget starter at shortstop will probably end up with the Cuba native.
25. Jonathan Villar, IF
Age: 31 | Former Team: Mets | Initial Rank: 49
Initial Prediction: Guardians | Revised Prediction: Guardians
At this point in his career, Villar is the epitome of an average major league player. He doesn’t have any standout skills but also isn’t terrible at anything. He’s a threat to hit somewhere between 15 and 20 home runs, steal 10 bases and hold his own in the infield. Villar capably filled in for the injury-riddled Mets in 2021, but he’s not an everyday starter for a World Series contender. He’s either a solid bench piece for a winning squad or a lineup regular for a mediocre team.
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