- ESPN MLB Insider
- Kiley McDaniel covers MLB prospects, the MLB Draft and more, including trades and free agency.
- Has worked for four MLB teams.
Before we get into the full 2021-22 free-agent rankings of this MLB offseason, here is some important context for next year’s projections:
I’m ranking players by the guaranteed money I think they’ll get offered and, in all but a few cases, what I think they’ll sign for. There are a few players who I think will turn down $50 million-ish guaranteed contracts for one-year, prove-it-again type deals.
The biggest point to consider here is the looming expiration of the collective bargaining agreement on Dec. 1. I think at most, one or two of the potential nine-figure deals will be signed before that date. The biggest deals will hopefully be coming in January, but more likely February or March. Thanks to the new economic reality, these are even more shots in the dark than usual.
This list is incomplete, with non-tenders and some options decisions yet to come, and we don’t know for sure about any of the potential posted players from Korea and Japan yet. These later additions normally don’t amount to more than a couple of low-eight-figure deals, but those would appear on a top 50.
Scott Boras will in all likelihood be in the driver’s seat once the new CBA is signed. Of the potential $50 million-plus types, he advises Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Max Scherzer, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Carlos Rodon and Michael Conforto, who are all in my top 15 free agents. Everyone I spoke with expects none of them to sign before Dec. 1, and any surprise one-year deals have a real good shot at coming from this group in an unexpectedly tepid market.
The universal DH is seen as at least 90% likely to be coming in the new CBA, so this will help current and future DHs, along with older and/or mediocre defensive corner outfielders: Nelson Cruz, J.D. Martinez, Kyle Schwarber, Nick Castellanos, Avisail Garcia et al.
The pandemic gave owners an excuse to trim staff headcount and limit expenses both on and off the field. I’ve already heard firsthand accounts from multiple big-market clubs that said they are awash in cash from strong gates, and/or deep playoff runs. Competitive owners can’t help themselves from spending the cash they have. Some nontraditional spenders (Detroit, Seattle) and teams that have lots of money coming off the books (San Francisco) are also ready to spend. Indications are that the top and middle parts of the market may be healthier than many are expecting; my feedback from clubside sources was to adjust up on my initial guesses.
And now here are my top 50 free agents available this winter, with my projected contract for each player.
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