Top MLB free agents of 2021-2022: Carlos Correa, Max Scherzer lead loaded class of stars
As the 2021 season concludes, baseball fans and teams are excited for the exciting crop of MLB free agents who will be available this winter. From young shortstops like Carlos Correa and Corey Seager to future Hall of Famer pitchers like Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw, a lot of money will be spent.
Below, we examine when MLB free agency will start, how the expiring CBA will impact this offseason and examine the top MLB free agents available.
When does MLB free agency start?
Players become free agents a day after the World Series concludes. However, per leag ue rules, MLB free agents can only sign with a new team five days after the World Series. The five-day period gives teams an exclusive window to negotiate with their impending free-agent talent.
What is the MLB qualifying offer in 2022?
ESPN’s Buster Olney reported that the qualifying offer for the upcoming 2021-’22 MLB free agent class will be $18.4 million. It’s a slight dip from the $18.9 million figure last winter, reflecting the wave of teams reducing payroll. Once extended a qualifying offer, players have until Dec. 1 (when the CBA expires) to accept or reject.
Any team that signs a player who rejected a QO will lose a draft pick. If a free agent accepts the QO, they are never eligible to receive it again. Below is the compensation rules for the qualifying offer.
- Teams above the luxury tax: Lose second- and fifth-highest selections, lose $1 million in INTL bonus pool money for signing a player that rejected QO.
- Teams that receive revenue sharing: Any team who receives a share of revenue generated by other teams will lose their third-highest pick in the upcoming MLB Amateur Draft.
- All other teams: Loss of second-highest pick and $500,000 in international bonus pool money
Who are the top MLB free agents of the 2021-’22 offseason?
2021-’22 MLB free agency is loaded with plenty of exciting, young talent and future Hall of Fame pitchers who are still throwing at an elite level. We’ll update our MLB free agent rankings throughout the offseason.
1. Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
If the Houston Astros hoped Carlos Correa wouldn’t stay healthy or would struggle in 2021, lowering his asking price, it backfired. The two-time All-Star revealed in April that negotiations on a contract extension never went anywhere with Houston and it left him with the impression this would be his last year in Houston. If he hits the open market, he’s the best MLB free agent available.
Already a World Series champion, the 26-year-old shortstop is phenomenal with the glove and bat. In 2021, he ranked third at his position in FanGraphs’ Wins Above Replacement (5.8) , posted a .850 OPS and he led MLB in Defensive Runs Saved (21). A great character in the clubhouse and a proven performer in October, Correa will earn every dollar $200-plus million from his next contract.
2. Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
After leading the Los Angeles Dodgers to a World Series title, winning NLCS MVP and World Series MVP in the process, many viewed Corey Seager as the top MLB free agent in the 2022 class. While an extended stint on the injured list push him slightly down the list and will cost him a few million, he will be highly coveted.
The 27-year-old has dealt with a few injuries in his career, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2018 and dealing with elbow, hand and hamstring issues at times. But a career .870 OPS and 23.7 fWAR through 636 games tells you everything about his talent. He’ll soon become one of the highest-paid players in MLB and he could play short or third base for his next team.
3. Kris Bryant, San Francisco Giants
Kris Bryant is one of the most fascinating MLB free agents this winter. Once an NL MVP and considered one of the best players in baseball, the 29-year-old’s reputation took a hit in recent years. After posting a .903 OPS in 2019, the COVID-shortened season saw him finish with a .644 OPS. The 2021 season is more interesting.
Bryant posted a .324/./406/.611 slash line with 12 home runs and a 1.016 OPS in his first 50 games. Over his next 43 contests in Chicago, he slashed .191/.296/.362 with a .658 OPS. We’ve seen a better version of Bryant with the Giants (132 wRC+, .865 OPS). If he does well in the postseason, that paired with his incredible defensive versatility should help Scott Boras negotiate a huge contract for him.
4. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman is synonymous with the Atlanta Braves. Drafted with the 78th pick in the 2007 MLB Draft, he quickly ascended to become an elite prospect and made his MLB debut in September 2010. More than a decade later, the five-time All-Star selection and 2020 NL MVP, could hit the open market.
The Braves and Freeman have discussed an extension all year, but the two sides remain far apart. He just turned 32 on Sept. 12, so there will be a slightly reduced market for his services. But if the Braves want to bring him back, helping Freeman end his career in Atlanta, it’s likely going to cost $150-plus million.
5. Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
The moment the regular season ends, Trevor Story is never suiting up for the Colorado Rockies again. It remains a surprise that the All-Star shortstop wasn’t traded this season, with interim general manager Bill Schmidt bafflingly deciding to count on a compensatory pick over immediate assets from a deal.
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As for Story, even a relatively disappointing season won’t take too much of the shine on his value to other teams. He played through an elbow issue all season for one of the worst teams in MLB, doing what he could in a non-competitive environment. Even away from Coors Field, teams should feel confident in his bat and glove.
6. Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
Marcus Stroman could have signed a multi-year deal last winter, taking as much total money as offered. Instead, following an underwhelming season, he agreed to a one-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. He’s been one of the best second basemen in baseball this year and is easily one of the top MLB free agents.
Put the COVID-shortened season aside, it was a strange year. Semien hit 33 home runs and slashed .285/.369/.522 with a 7.6 fWAR in 2019. He blew past some of those numbers in 2021, finishing with 45 home runs with a .873 OPS and a 6.6 fWAR. He might only get a three- or four-year deal as a 31-year-old, but he deserves to make a lot more than $18 million. It would be a surprise if he isn’t back with Toronto.
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7. Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers
Max Scherzer might be lower on other MLB free agent lists. It’s an understandable move, given he’ll turn 38 next July and has already thrown more than 2,600 innings during his MLB career. But there’s a reason why he’s so high in our rankings, because pitchers this good are worth every penny paid.
- Max Scherzer stats (career): 190-97 record, 10.7 K/9, 3.13 ERA and 22.7% K-BB rate
Since joining the Dodgers, Scherzer is 7-0 in nine starts with a stellar 35.1% strikeout rate and an outstanding 2.08 ERA. The outright dominance is putting him in the thick of the NL Cy Young race, which would be the fourth in his legendary career. World Series contenders like the San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Atlanta Braves and Dodgers should be willing to offer a blank check over three years.
8. Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays signed Robbie Ray to a one-year, $8 million contract in November 2020. At the time, the organization hoped it could help him rediscover some things and potentially get a mid-rotation arm on a good deal. They got a lot more than that. Ray posted phenomenal numbers in 2021, making an outstanding argument for the AL Cy Young Award.
- Robbie Ray stats (2021): 2.84 ERA, 11.54 K/9, .209 BAA, 32.1% K-rate, 6.9% BB rate
Ray, age 29, will be a fascinating evaluation for teams. He thrived in 2017, posting a 2.89 ERA with a 12.11 K/9, .197 batting average allowed and 32.8% strikeout rate. Over the next three seasons, he posted a 4.52 ERA with a 5.12 BB/9 and walked 13.1% of batters faced. The talent was always there to be an ace and if teams determine this is legit, expect a massive contract.
9. Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
Kevin Gausman bet on himself before the season, taking the $18.9 million qualifying offer rather than testing the open market. It’s a move that will pay off quite nicely this winter thanks to his growth on the mound and that he won’t see a limited market with the qualifying offer and compensatory penalties off the table.
Turning 31 in January, Gausman carries a sharp 2.78 ERA and 1.03 WHIP into his final starts of the regular season. Gausman recently reached the 200-strikeout milestone this season and has been a workhorse in San Francisco’s rotation. He has regressed a bit since being named to the All-Star Game, posting a 4.77 ERA in his last 12 starts, but that 3.49 FIP and 75/19 K/BB ratio will mean a lot more to teams seeking a No. 2 starter.
10. Marcus Stroman, New York Mets
Marcus Stroman, like Gausman, took the qualifying offer last winter. It means any team that signs him in the upcoming offseason, unlike many of the top MLB free agents on our list, won’t have to forfeit a draft pick. That’s great news for Stroman and his ability to drive up that contract price.
The 30-year-old isn’t striking a ton of batters out (22% K-rate), but opponents have hit just .233 off him this season and the hits allowed don’t often leave the yard. The end result is a 2.88 ERA across 31 starts, meaning he’s made 30-plus starts across four of his last five seasons. With that durability and consistency, Stroman will have plenty of multi-year offers to choose from as a high-end No. 2 starter.
11. Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds
The Cincinnati Reds are certainly pleased with the four-year, $64 million contract they signed Nick Castellanos to before the 2020 season. While he struggled in the first year of the deal, we’ve seen a different version in a potential walk year. Castellanos posted a batting average over .300 for the first time in his career, finished with a career-best .939 OPS and is part of the 30-homer club. He’ll decline that $16 million 2022 option and easily surpass it on the open market as one of the top MLB free agents in the outfield.
12. Carlos Rodón, Chicago White Sox
Carlos Rodón is easily one of the best sports stories in 2020. The Chicago White Sox non-tendered him on Dec. 2, 2020 and that seemed to be the end for a pitcher with so much promise. But Chicago brought him back on a one-year, $3 million contract. Needless to say, a lot went right for a pitcher who is now one of the top pitching MLB free agents.
The 28-year-old southpaw entered the final week of the regular season with a 2.47 ERA, 35.1% strikeout rate, .190 batting average allowed and a 181/34 K/BB ratio. Simply put, Rodon’s stuff is electric and he should have no trouble landing a life-changing contract from the White Sox or another club.
13. Michael Conforto, New York Mets
The 2021 MLB season certainly didn’t play out how Michael Conforto or the New York Mets imagined. He missed significant time with a hamstring injury, the second time in two seasons a hamstring strain sent him to the IL. An All-Star selection in 2017, New York’s outfielder posted a career-worst OPS (.706) and finished with a sub 1.0 fWAR. But he’s still entering his prime and teams will feel confident that a player who posted a 135 wRC+ with 42 home runs and a .875 OPS from 2019-’20, will return.
14. Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
Availability and versatility are two increasingly valuable traits for MLB teams. Pederson played in 120-plus games from 2017-’19, appeared in 56-of-60 games in 2020 and has over 590 at-bats this season. But defensive flexibility is his true calling card, making 20-plus appearances at second base, shortstop, center field and left field this season. Sprinkle in a patient hitter who you can count on for a .330-plus OBP and .780-plus OPS, Taylor is going to land a bigger contract than some expect.Also Read:
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15. Javier Báez, New York Mets
Javier Báez isn’t this far down our MLB free agents list for this thumbs down moment. When you bring in a player who goes through life with his heart on his sleeve and expresses his passion in good times and bad, you know what you’re getting. Báez is an entertaining player and his work with the glove is outstanding, but there are drawbacks.
For all the physical talent, Baez’s swing-and-miss rates are getting worse. The infielder’s strikeout rate has increased every year since 2018 (25.9%) and is now topping out above 33%. Keep in mind, he’s only walking in 5.2% of his plate appearances. The power is great, but the flaws in his swing will only get worse with age. Baez is one of the riskiest MLB free agents this winter.
16. Starling Marte, Oakland Athletics
The Oakland A’s made a bold move by trading Jesus Luzardo for Starling Marte, rentals almost never net a top prospect in return. But Oakland believed Marte could make a special impact and the All-Star outfielder did everything possible to get the A’s to October.
After the trade, Marte posted a .317/.359/.466 slash with 23 stolen bases and 34 runs scored in 52 games. He handled himself nicely in center field, despite the difficult adjustments of a new ballpark, elevating his stock. There are plenty of teams in need of a center fielder and Marte, even entering his age-33 season, will be a prime target.
17. Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees
A few years ago, Anthony Rizzo would be widely viewed as one of the best talents available. But we’ve seen a rather significant decline from the All-Star first baseman in recent years. After posting 30-plus home runs and averaging an OPS over .900 from 2014-’17, Rizzo’s stats look very different now.
He slashed .222/.342/.414 in the COVID-shortened season and things haven’t gotten much better this year. Since joining the Yankees, Rizzo’s OPS sits at .769 and he’s posting a career-worst walk rate (8.6%). This is still a very good player, he’s just no longer an All-Star.
18. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
There is an enormous risk with Noah Syndergaard, enough that he might have to consider accepting a qualifying offer if it’s extended by the New York Mets. The 29-year-old, who returned to the mound in September, hasn’t pitched substantiality since 2019. Keep in mind, he posted a 4.28 ERA and 1.23 WHIP that season.
It might come down to teams looking for Syndergaard to hold a showcase, proving the physical stuff is still there. Even if it is, with so much uncertainty, a one-year contract feels inevitable.
19. Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox
When examining the third and fourth-tiers of MLB free agents, it comes down to risk vs. reward. Eduardo Rodriguez did not do himself any favors in 2021, posting a career-worst 4.93 ERA with a .277 VAA and 1.39 WHIP. But there are some numbers that will intrigue clubs.
Rodriguez’s 27.4% strikeout rate and 20.6% K-BB rate are good for a mid-rotation starter. A 3.35 FIP and 3.65 xERA also paint the picture of a starter who got unlucky. Considering opponents’ BABIP rose from .317 to .365 this year but his CSW rate (28%) improved, these are all signs that Rodriguez could be a steal in free agency.
20. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Originally hiring in our rankings, Clayton Kershaw falls after the latest injury. There aren’t specifics on the damage to his forearm, but the Dodgers quickly ruled him out for the postseason. The elbow and back injuries aren’t going away, making any multi-year deal a risk. While it’s too early for predictions, the Texas Rangers make logical sense as a free-agent landing spot. The Rangers take chances on pitchers with durability concerns (Lance Lynn, Corey Kluber) and bringing the Texas native home offers some appeal.
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21. Kyle Schwarber, Boston Red Sox
The Kyle Schwarber trade is working out nicely for the Boston Red Sox. Locked into the heart of the batting order, Schwarber is crushing home runs and continues to be an on-base machine. The hot streak is going to make a big difference for him in free agency.
Schwarber will benefit from the universal designated hitter likely being implemented in the next CBA. Serving as a designated hitter, teams can feel pretty confident in the 28-year-old hitting 30-plus home runs, posting an OBP over .330 and a .800-plus OPS.
22. Mark Canha, Oakland Athletics
Mark Canha will be 33 when he reports for spring training in 2022, but his age shouldn’t take away from his value too much. He spent a majority of the season as Oakland’s leadoff hitter, walking in 12.5% of his plate appearances, scoring 93 runs and being part of the 10-10 club. Canha’s right-handed bat and outfielder versatility should land him a two-year contract with a potential contender.
23. Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants
Signed to a one-year, $6 million contract last offseason, Anthony DeSclafani can double that figure in 2022. The 6-foot-2 righty thrived with the Giants, posting a 3.17 ERA with a 13-7 record across 167.2 innings. With great command (6.2% walk rate) and an ability to generate groundballs (44.3%), DeSclafani offers value in free agency for teams seeking a mid-rotation starter.
24. Steven Matz, Toronto Blue Jays
Coming off a rough 2019 season with the New York Mets, the trade to Toronto might have turned Steven Matz’s career around. He made 29 starts for the Blue Jays this past season, posting a solid 3.82 ERA with a 22.3% strikeout rate. The southpaw still packs some velocity (71st percentile) and a great second half (2.91 ERA, 62/22 K/BB ratio) should help him attract plenty of interest as a fourth starter.
25. Nelson Cruz, Tampa Bay Rays
We couldn’t rank the top MLB free agents without mentioning Nelson Cruz. It’s remarkable what Cruz is doing in his 40s. He blasted 32 home runs with a .334 OBP and a .832 OPS this past season with the Rays and Minnesota Twins.
Beloved across MLB by managers, trusted as a clubhouse leader and viewed as a mentor for young players, Cruz could fit into any clubhouse. Whatever team signs him to that one-year contract will be rewarded.
How will the expired MLB CBA impact free agency?
The Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement expires on December 2, 2021. While MLB free agents will be allowed to sign before it begins, both players and clubs are largely expected to wait.
A new CBA could impact the qualifying offer system and compensatory picks, the MLB luxury tax, a potential spending floor set at $100-plus million and other additional financial agreements that will impact team payrolls and player contracts.
As of now, the league and players’ union aren’t close in negotiations and there is concern about a potential work stoppage. As a result, MLB free agents could be waiting months to sign contracts in what could be a long offseason.
MLB free agents by position
- Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants ($22 million team option, $3M buyout)
- Yan Gomes, Washington Nationals
- Christian Vazquez, Boston Red Sox
- Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays ($7 million team option, $1 million buyout)
- Tucker Barnhart, Cincinnati Reds
- Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves
- Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees
- Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
- C.J. Cron, Colorado Rockies – Signed contract extension
- Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers
- Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
- Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Marcus Semien, Toronto Blue Jays
- Chris Taylor, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Cesar Hernandez, Chicago White Sox ($6 million club option)
- Donovan Solano, San Francisco Giants
- Asdrubal Cabrera, Cincinnati Reds
- Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Carlos Correa, Houston Astros
- Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies
- Javier Baez, New York Mets
- Miguel Rojas, Miami Marlins ($5.5 million club option, $500,000 buyout)
- Andrelton Simmons, Minnesota Twins
- Kris Bryant, San Francisco Giants
- Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals ($35 million player option)
- Eduardo Escobar, Milwaukee Brewers
- Kyle Seager, Seattle Mariners ($15 million team option)
- Nick Castellanos, Cincinnati Reds ($16 million player option)
- Tommy Pham, San Diego Padres
- Michael Confort, New York Mets
- J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox ($19.35 million player option)
- Starling Marte, Oakland Athletics
- Nelson Cruz, Tampa Bay Rays
- Jorge Soler, Atlanta Braves
- Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies ($21.33 million player option)
- Andrew McCutchen, Philadelphia Phillies ($15 million club option, $3 million buyout)
- Avisail Garcia, Milwaukee Brewers
- Jackie Bradley Jr, Milwaukee Brewers ($9.5 million player option)
- Leury Garcia, Chicago White Sox
- Max Scherzer, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
- Carlos Rodón, Chicago White Sox
- Robbie Ray, Toronto Blue Jays
- Marcus Stroman, New York Mets
- Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox
- James Paxton, Seattle Mariners
- Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
- Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets
- Anthony DeSclafani, San Francisco Giants
- Steven Matz, Toronto Blue Jays
- Zack Greinke, Houston Astros
- Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers (player option)
- Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
- Wade Miley, Cincinnati Reds
- Corey Kluber, New York Yankees
- Alex Wood, San Francisco Giants
- Tyler Anderson, Seattle Mariners
- Kwang Hyun Kim, St. Louis Cardinals
- Jon Lester, St. Louis Cardinals
- Michael Pineda, Minnesota Twins
- Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
- Dylan Bundy, Los Angeles Angels
- Mike Fiers, Oakland Athletics
- Zach Davies, Chicago Cubs
- Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Craig Kimbrel, Chicago White Sox ($16 million club option)
- Raisel Iglesias, Los Angeles Angels
- Trevor Rosenthal, Oakland Athletics
- Mark Melancon, San Diego Padres
- Brad Hand, New York Mets
- Archie Bradley, Philadelphia Phillies
- Adam Ottavino, Boston Red Sox