Top 10 MLB free-agent position players: Will Semien get his big payday?

Toronto Blue Jays' Marcus Semien rounds the bases on his solo home run off Minnesota Twins pitcher Bailey Ober in the sixth inning of a baseball game, Friday, Sept. 24, 2021, in Minneapolis. (Jim Mone/AP)

This off-season’s free-agent position player market is one of MLB’s most talent-rich in years. There are multiple up-the-middle superstars in their primes; quality corner defenders with power bats; dynamic, multi-positional athletes with on-base tools; and a bevy of depth pieces to round out rosters. For teams with holes around the diamond and money to spend, there are plenty of options to choose from. Here are 10 of the best position players available.

Carlos Correa

Only 27-years-old and coming off a 5.8-fWAR season, Correa’s positioned to garner this winter’s largest free-agent deal with the bidding potentially surpassing $300 million. That’s the guarantee Manny Machado earned when he was a 26-year-old free-agent shortstop three off-seasons ago. And you can bet it’ll be the first comparable Correa’s representation points to in negotiations.

Once questioned for his durability, Correa has put those concerns to rest with full seasons in 2020 and ‘21, hitting .275/.355/.458 over that span while posting 17 outs above average in the field, which ranks fifth among MLB shortstops. Considering his age, clubs can expect similar impact on both sides of the ball for several seasons to come.

And if he has to move to third base at some point as Machado did, Correa ought to still provide plenty of upside with his right-handed bat considering the strong strikeout and walk rates (20.5 K%; 10.8 BB%) he’s posted over the course of his career.

Corey Seager

Like Correa, Seager’s entering the market at 27 with a remarkable offensive track record. He’s hit .306/.381/.545 over his last two seasons, numbers supported by rock solid peripherals (16.1 K%; 10.1 BB%) plus undeniable hard-hit and barrel rates. The biggest separator between him and Correa is that Seager’s graded as merely a league-average shortstop.

That might spur some clubs to look at the 2020 World Series MVP as more of a third baseman. But no matter what position he plays, Seager will be providing offensive thump atop some team’s lineup for years to come.

Kris Bryant

The 2015 NL rookie-of-the-year and 2016 MVP hasn’t quite sustained the prodigious production he flashed early in his career, settling instead into merely a well above average offensive profile, batting .275/.376/.494 with a 130 wRC+ since 2017. That includes a miserable 2020 in which Bryant struggled to a 75 wRC+; and a resurgent 2021 in which he boosted that metric all the way up to 123, with vastly improved peripherals aligning to his career averages.

Bryant’s 2021 was telling, not only in demonstrating that his sub-par 2020 was an aberration, but that he remains serviceable at a variety of defensive positions. The 29-year-old played at least 92 innings at first base, third base, and all three outfield spots, demonstrating the defensive versatility he’ll bring to whichever club ponies up for his services this off-season.

Freddie Freeman

It feels unlikely that Freeman begins the 2022 season in any uniform but Atlanta’s, yet he’ll be free to talk to any of MLB’s 29 other clubs this winter as a free agent for the first time in his outstanding career.

The 2020 NL MVP is on a hall-of-fame track, posting wRC+’s of 132 or higher each of the last nine seasons. At 32, Freeman’s shown few signs of slowing down, posting 85th percentile or higher rates in average exit velocity, xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, strikeout rate, and walk rate this season. And he’s shaved several points off his swinging strike rate since 2019 just for fun.

All signs point to Freeman rejoining Atlanta. But any club with a first base opening needs to be making a call regardless.

Marcus Semien

Semien has been one of MLB’s most productive players over the last three seasons — full stop. He leads all MLB position players in fWAR since 2019 (his 15.4 is more than a full win ahead of Juan Soto’s second-place 14) and trails only four players in home runs over that span. That he’s also been a strong defender at both second base and shortstop while stealing 29 bases only makes him even more valuable. As does the fact he’s one of the game’s most durable players, logging 155 games played or more in five of the last six full seasons.

The only thing stopping Semien from being offered an uber contract this winter is the fact he’ll turn 32 next year. Such is the curse of a self-made late-bloomer who worked his way from an unheralded sixth-round pick into one of the game’s best up-the-middle players. But Semien still ought to receive a guarantee well north of $100 million, a just reward for how hard he’s worked to get himself to this point in an underdog career.

Trevor Story

Story’s timing isn’t great, as he’s hitting the market off a down season in which he hit .251/.329/.471. His 100 wRC+ stands in stark contrast to the 118+ numbers he posted each of the three seasons prior. As does a -7 OAA, all the way down from 18 in 2019. Meanwhile, his home/road splits this year — Story had an .880 OPS at hitter-happy Coors Field and .717 everywhere else — paint a damning picture. Same with his success against left-handed pitching (.974 OPS) vs. righties (.735).

Still, Story ought to have plenty of bidders, pointing to a suspiciously low .293 BABIP as evidence that his 2021 numbers were largely impacted by luck. Entering his age-29 season, Story’s still a premier power threat (he leads all shortstops with 107 homers since 2018) and one of the game’s fastest players as measured by sprint speed. Tools like those are always in demand.

Javier Baez

It’s difficult to determine what to make of Baez, who was borderline unplayable with a 55 wRC+ in 2020, struggled to a .224/.276/.460 line through early July this season, and then suddenly became one of the game’s most dangerous hitters, finishing 2021 with a .313/.369/.535 tear over his final 62 games. He finished with 2021’s third-highest strikeout rate, ninth-lowest walk rate, and fifth-most home runs among second basemen and shortstops. The only thing louder than his flare on the diamond might be the extremes in his offensive profile.

It’s probably more useful to consider Baez’s greater track record, one of an undeniably productive player (he has a 113 wRC+ since the beginning of 2018) who contributes at an above-average level despite some obvious warts — namely, MLB’s highest swinging-strike and strikeout rates since 2019. And that’s not to mention his strong defence at both middle infield positions and 86th percentile sprint speed. There will be a market for that, certainly. And whoever stomachs the risk may reap the reward.

Nick Castellanos

Considering he’s coming off a .309/.362/.576 season in which he posted a 140 wRC+ and 4.2 fWAR, it was no surprise to see Castellanos opt out of the remaining two years and $34 million on his previous contract and re-enter the market. The 29-year-old may never have another season as strong as his 2021. But he’s a proven offensive threat, making up for the swing-and-miss in his profile with exceptional quality of contact when he does connect.

Castellanos is no one’s idea of a plus defender in right field. But with the universal designated hitter likely arriving in MLB as soon as next season, there ought to be plenty of teams in both leagues that can work his big bat into their lineup.

Starling Marte

All Marte did in his age-32 season was hit .308/.381/.456 with a 133 wRC+, 5.4 fWAR, and 47 stolen bases. That’ll play. It was far and away the best campaign of his career, but that shouldn’t shroud how consistently well he’s performed since reaching the majors in 2012. Marte’s amassed nearly 31 fWAR over his career, backed up by a lifetime 118 wRC+. He’s four bags shy of 300 stolen bases and has a shot to become the game’s active leader in the category next season.

Of course, outfielders who rely on their legs don’t typically age well and Marte’s sprint speed has declined slightly over the last two years. But he ranked in MLB’s 83rd percentile or better in both sprint speed and OAA in 2020 and 2021, suggesting he’s still got some miles on the odometer. Having just turned 33, Marte likely isn’t looking at a massive, lengthy commitment. But he is the best true centre fielder available to teams looking for a near-term solution at the position.

Chris Taylor

You could make a strong case to round out this list with any of Mark Canha, Michael Conforto, Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez (if he opts out), Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler, or Seiya Suzuki, the 27-year-old Japanese outfielder who might be posted from NPB this winter. But we’ll go with Taylor, the 31-year-old jack-of-all-trades who gets overlooked on a stacked Dodgers roster.

Having spent considerable time at every position except for first base and catcher, Taylor’s a valuable defensive swiss army knife who also carries a 116 wRC+ since his first full season in 2017. His sprint speed ranks among the game’s fastest players; and while he strikes out at an above-average clip, the right-handed hitter balances it out with a low chase rate which has allowed him to walk in more than 10 per cent of his plate appearances since 2019.

It was six years ago that Ben Zobrist hit the open market with a remarkably similar profile — except at age 34 — and came away with a four-year, $56-million deal. That’s likely where Taylor’s bidding starts. And considering how many teams Taylor could be a useful fit for, you might be surprised with where it ends up.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.