Top 20 MLB free agents still available

The MLB market has been slow to develop, but players should be coming off the board in the next few weeks

By Andres Chavez
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

As we enter the 2021 season and get closer to spring training, the ice-cold stove should be starting to warm up as MLB free agents sign. Teams still have lots of holes on their rosters and the time to fill them is now, so January and February should bring lots of signings.

Here are the top 20 available MLB free agents, regardless of their position.

Top 20 MLB free agents still available: The cream of the crop

1. Trevor Bauer, starting pitcher

MLB free agents: Trevor Bauer
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer (27) delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Milwaukee Brewers At Cincinnati Reds Sept 23
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 11 starts, 73.0 IP, 12.33 K/9, 2.10 BB/9, 1.73 ERA, 2.88 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching)     
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR (Fangraphs’ version of Wins Above Replacement): 5.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: six years, $27 million per season

The reigning National League Cy Young award winner is hitting free agency for the first time in his career, and he’s making a big deal about it. Through his official Twitter account, he has been interacting with fans and flirting with teams all winter.

Bauer is the only bona-fide ace available in the market, and he’s going to be paid as such. However, he won’t get the $36M to $40M average annual value he is reportedly seeking. Several teams could use his services, most notably the Los Angeles Angels, the New York Mets, the Toronto Blue Jays, and the San Diego Padres, although the latter may be ready to drop from the Bauer sweepstakes after trading for Blake Snell and Yu Darvish.

Bauer’s deal may contain one or multiple opt-out clauses, as he has stated he would like to test the market again in the future.

2. George Springer, outfielder

MLB free agents: George Springer
Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros center fielder George Springer (4) rounds third base with his tongue out on his way to score against the Tampa Bay Rays on an RBI double hit by second baseman Jose Altuve (not pictured) during the fifth inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 31
  • 2020 stats: 222 PA, 14 HR, 37 R, 32 RBI, 1 SB, 10.8 BB%, 17.1 K%, .265/.359/.540, 146 wRC+             
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 8.4
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: five years, $24 million per season

Springer is the best MLB free agent outfielder in the market, a perfect blend of offense (134 career wRC+), defense (ranking in the 69th percentile in Outs Above Average, or OAA) and playoff pedigree. Two teams are said to be the finalists for his services: the New York Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays.

He also offers above-average speed and phenomenal plate discipline (11.1 career BB%.) His age will likely prevent him from getting a deal beyond the $200 million threshold, but he should easily surpass $100 million.

3. J.T. Realmuto, catcher

MLB free agents: J.T. Realmuto
Aug 5, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) circles the bases after hitting a home run during the fifth inning against the New York Yankees at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 29
  • 2020 stats: 195 PA, 11 HR, 33 R, 32 RBI, 4 SB, 8.2 BB%, 24.6 K%, .266/.349/.491, 125 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 7.4
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: six years, $22 million per season

The premier catcher in the market, Realmuto is also the best in MLB at his position. He is still in his prime, he has a phenomenal bat for a backstop (.278/.328/.455 with 95 homers and a 109 wRC+), he knows how to call a game, is a highly respected figure around the game, and his framing is elite (95th percentile.)

Any contender would be lucky to land Realmuto. The Phillies are working to re-sign him, but others are in on him, too.

4. Marcell Ozuna, outfielder

MLB free agents: Marcell Ozuna
Oct 18, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Atlanta Braves designated hitter Marcell Ozuna (20) hits an RBI single against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first inning during game seven of the 2020 NLCS at Globe Life Field. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 267 PA, 18 HR, 38 R, 56 RBI, 0 SB, 14.2 BB%, 22.5 K%, .338/.431/.636, 179 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 5.0
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: four years, $18 million per season

A premier bat with little defensive talent at this point, Ozuna was a monster in 2020, finishing with a 1.067 OPS and 18 home runs in 60 games. He would be an ideal designated hitter for a contending team.

So far, the Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, New York Mets, and at least seven other teams have expressed interest in Ozuna, according to Rotoworld. He is about to become a very rich man in the next few weeks.

5. DJ LeMahieu, infielder

MLB free agents: D.J. LeMahieu
August 25, 2019; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Yankees first baseman DJ LeMahieu (26) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the first inning in an MLB Players’ Weekend game at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 32
  • 2020 stats: 216 PA, 10 HR, 41 R, 27 RBI, 3 SB, 8.3 BB%, 9.7 K%, .364/.421/.590, 177 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 7.9
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: four years, $20 million per season

The Yankees’ leader in fWAR in each of the last two seasons, LeMahieu is a hot commodity in this free agent market. The Bombers are still the favorites to re-sign him. But if they can’t, several other clubs are interested in snagging him. The Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals, New York Mets, and Los Angeles Dodgers have all expressed some degree of interest over the fall and winter.

LeMahieu, the reigning MLB batting champion with a .364 average, has an elite hit tool and is an above-average performer with the glove. Even at 32, he should land, at the very least, a lucrative four-year deal.

6. Masahiro Tanaka, starting pitcher

MLB free agents: Masahiro Tanaka
Mar 8, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) tips his hat to the crowd as he is taken out during the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 32
  • 2020 stats: 10 games, 48.0 IP, 8.25 K/9, 1.50 BB/9, 3.56 ERA, 4.42 FIP
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 4.1
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $14 million per season

A model of consistency throughout his whole career, Tanaka finds himself in an uncomfortable situation. He would love to return to the Yankees, but their priority, even though it shouldn’t be, is re-signing DJ LeMahieu.

Tanaka’s preference seems to be signing with the Yankees or returning to Japan. However, he will consider other MLB teams in case the Bombers fail to step up with a worthwhile contract. He still has a lot left in the tank as a pitcher, and could make for a good number three or four for a contender.

7. Marcus Semien, shortstop

MLB free agents: Marcus Semien
Aug 26, 2019; Kansas City, MO, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Marcus Semien (10) rounds third base after hitting a three run home run during the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 236 PA, 7 HR, 28 R, 23 RBI, 4 SB, 10.6 BB%, 21.2 K%, .223/.305/.374, 91 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 8.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: three years, $14 million per season

Semien is probably not as good as his 2019 version (137 wRC+, 33 home runs, 7.6 fWAR) but he is probably better than the 91 wRC+ he put up in 2020. Yes, if you look at his career stats, the 2019 season seems like the outlier, but if you consider that the A’s shortstop was able to overcome a rough first couple of weeks of the 2020 campaign to finish with a 133 wRC+ the rest of the way (as Craig Edwards of Fangraphs explains), it is clear that he made some skill gains that are likely to stick. He is an above-average hitter now.

As far as his defense goes, UZR likes Semien (2.1 in 2020) but Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and OAA hate him, with -5 and a 6th percentile ranking, respectively. Either way, he is a good, solid starting shortstop and will likely get a multi-year deal.

8. Liam Hendriks, closer

MLB free agents: Liam Hendriks
Sep 21, 2018; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Liam Hendriks (16) pitches the ball against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 32
  • 2020 stats: 24 games, 25.1 IP, 13.14 K/9, 1.07 BB/9, 1.78 ERA, 1.14 FIP      
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 5.3
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: three years, $13 million per season

Hendriks is the best reliever in the market, and there’s no question about that. He has a 3.9 fWAR season in 2019, which is what a good starter normally puts. Considering that WAR is a cumulative stat, it was quite an impressive feat. Last season, he was well on his way to replicating the accomplishment, but the campaign only had 60 games.

Hendriks has it all: high-octane velocity, an elite strikeout rate, a microscopic walk rate, and a track record of excellence. His age and the uncertain market conditions will be the only things preventing him from getting a truly outrageous contract, but he’ll get paid anyway.

9. Brad Hand, relief pitcher

MLB free agents: Brad Hand
Sep 24, 2020; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand (33) throws a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 23 games, 22.0 IP, 11.86 K/9, 1.64 BB/9, 2.05 ERA, 1.37 FIP
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 2.7
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $7 million per season

There is no better left-handed reliever available in the market than the dependable Hand. Yes, he was battered by the Yankees in the Wild Card series, but he was excellent in the regular season and has been elite his entire career.

The usual suspects (Mets, Blue Jays, Dodgers) plus the Chicago White Sox are reportedly in on Hand, and for good reason. He will move the needle for any contending club that decides to do what the Indians didn’t: pay him.

10. Justin Turner, third base

MLB free agents: Justin Turner
Oct 15, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner (10) runs home on a three run home run against the Chicago Cubs in the ninth inning during game two of the 2017 NLCS playoff baseball series at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 36
  • 2020 stats: 175 PA, 4 HR, 26 R, 23 RBI, 1 SB, 10.3 BB%, 14.9 K%, .307/.400/.460, 140 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 4.7
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: three years, $13 million per season

The 36-year-old Turner, who resurrected his career with the Dodgers after being non-tendered by the Mets a few years ago, is seeking a four-year contract. It’s somewhat difficult to believe that someone will bet on him remaining excellent until his forties, but a two or three-year deal isn’t out of the question.

For teams that need a third baseman, Turner is the best choice, even at his age. No metric likes his defense very much, but there is a lot to love about a .292/.369/.469 career line with a 130 wRC+.

11. Archie Bradley, relief pitcher

MLB free agents: Archie Bradley
Sep 5, 2020; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Archie Bradley (23) reacts after defeating the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. Cincinnati won 6-2. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 28
  • 2020 stats: 16 games, 18.1 IP, 8.84 K/9, 1.47 BB/9, 2.95 ERA, 2.59 FIP
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 1.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: three years, $6 million per season

It was surprising to see the Reds become sellers and cost-cutters, but here we are. They decided that Bradley wasn’t worth the approximately $5 million he was due on arbitration and non-tendered him. Other teams should be very happy about the decision.

Ever since the Arizona Diamondbacks shifted Bradley to a relief role on a permanent basis in 2017, he has never had a season with an ERA or FIP above 4.00. He strikes people out (career 9.28 K/9), is consistent, and set a career-low in bases on balls per nine frames, with 1.47, in 2020.

12. Kirby Yates, closer

MLB free agents: Kirby Yates
Aug 3, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego Padres relief pitcher Kirby Yates (39) pitches during the ninth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 33
  • 2020 stats: 6 games, 4.1 IP, 16.62 BB/9, 8.31 K/9, 12.46 ERA, 5.27 FIP
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 3.4
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: one year, $4 million

In upside alone, Yates has the potential to be the best reliever in the free agent class, even better than Hendriks or Hand. Much was expected from him in 2020 after his otherworldly 2019 campaign (1.19 ERA, 14.98 K/9) but he suffered from elbow issues and was limited to 4.1 frames.

He is now reportedly looking for an incentive-laden one-year deal around $5 million. After having season-ending surgery in August to remove bone chips from his right elbow, he is expected to be fully healthy come spring training. Some team could hit the jackpot if he returns to form.

13. Michael Brantley, outfielder

MLB free agents: Michael Brantley
Oct 16, 2020; San Diego, California, USA; Houston Astros designated hitter Michael Brantley (23) reacts after scoring against the Tampa Bay Rays on an sacrifice fly hit by right fielder Kyle Tucker (not pictured) during the seventh inning during game six of the 2020 ALCS at Petco Park. The Houston Astros won 7-4. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 33
  • 2020 stats: 187 PA, 5 HR, 24 R, 22 RBI, 2 SB, 9.1 BB%, 15.0 K%, .300/.364/.476, 134 wRC+  
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 5.5
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $12 million per season

Known for his disciplined approach and his excellent contact skills, Brantley is probably one of the best pure hitters in this free agent class, comparable with DJ LeMahieu in offensive talent.

A career .297/.354/.440 hitter with 114 homers and a 117 wRC+, he has had the two best offensive seasons of his 12-year tenure in the bigs with the Houston Astros, with a 133 wRC+ in 2019 and a 134 mark this past season. The White Sox and Blue Jays want him, and we can’t dismiss a return to the Astros.

14. Jackie Bradley Jr., outfielder

MLB free agents: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Jul 7, 2020; Boston, Massachusetts, United States; Boston Red Sox center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (19) during workouts at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 217 PA, 7 HR, 32 R, 22 RBI,  5 SB, 10.6 BB%, 22.1 K%, .283/.364/.450,    119 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 2.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $9 million per season

Bradley isn’t a particularly talented hitter. After all, his career wRC+ is a mediocre 93 (meaning he has bee, to this point, seven percent worse than the average.) However, the team that signs him won’t do it because of his bat.

Bradley jr. has a game-changing glove in a premium position, center field. He is known for his circus catches out there, and the numbers back it all up: he finished as the fourth-ranked player in OAA, with seven, and is a Gold Glove award winner. He will be a nice consolation price for a club that misses out on Springer, as long as it doesn’t expect offensive excellence.

15. Andrelton Simmons, shortstop

MLB free agents: Andrelton Simmons
Sep 20, 2020; Anaheim, California, USA; Los Angeles Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons (2) throws the baseball against the Texas Rangers during the game at Angel Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Angels Baseball/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Network
  • Age: 31
  • 2020 stats: 127 PA, 0 HR, 19 R, 10 RBI, 2 SB, 6.3 BB%, 12.6 K%, .297/.346/.356, 99 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 2.3
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $9 million per season

Another defensive wizard, Simmons has four Gold Gloves in perhaps the most difficult fielding position. His elite defense and his league-average offense (to this point, it has actually been a hair below-average, with 91 wRC+) make him a very valuable player.

He would make sense for the Yankees if they fail to re-sign LeMahieu, shifting Gleyber Torres to second. However, there are no clues about his future plans. The Blue Jays (yes, again) have shown interest, the Reds are looking for a starting shortstop, and the Angels could theoretically bring him back, so Simmons’ options are still wide open.

16. Nelson Cruz, designated hitter

MLB free agents: Nelson Cruz
Aug 5, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) hits a single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 40
  • 2020 stats: 214 PA, 16 HR, 33 R, 33 RBI, 0 SB, 11.7 BB%, 27.1 K%, .303/.397/.595, 164 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 6.3
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: one year, $14 million

Each year, we prepare for a hypothetical Nelson Cruz decline, and each year, he puts those ideas to rest. A .303/.397/.595 season with 16 dingers (in 53 games) at age 40 is insane, and Cruz is said to want a two-year deal. He certainly has earned it, but under this financial climate, it’s unclear whether he will get it or not.

Dialogue between Cruz and the Twins hasn’t been all that fluid recently, but both sides should be able to work out an agreement for him to return to the place he has been so successful in the last two seasons. If they don’t there will be plenty of suitors for his game-changing offensive talent.

17. James Paxton, starting pitcher

MLB free agents: James Paxton
Aug 5, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz (23) hits a single in the fourth inning against the Atlanta Braves at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 32
  • 2020 stats: 5 games, 20.1 IP, 11.51 K/9, 3.10 BB/9, 6.64 ERA, 4.37 FIP        
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 3.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: one year, $12 million per season

Free agency didn’t come at the best of times for Paxton. A dip in velocity and a left flexor strain derailed his last season with the Yankees. Teams are scared by his age, the location of the injury, and the velo decline, but in a recent workout, the southpaw was able to touch 94 miles per hour. It’s not quite the 95-plus he has averaged, but it’s progress.

Even though the Yankees clearly need pitching and is considered a priority this offseason, there haven’t been many signs that indicate they will make a run at trying to bring back Paxton.

Despite the things working against him in this market, a team should be offering Paxton the chance to rebuild his value with a lucrative, perhaps incentive-laden one-year deal. If healthy, the Big Maple can be an effective number two starter in a contending rotation.

18. Jake Odorizzi, starting pitcher

MLB free agents: Jake Odorizzi
Aug 21, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi (12) pitches against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 4 games, 13.2 IP, 7.90 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, 6.59 ERA, 6.12 FIP
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 4.3
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: three years, $12 million per season

Odorizzi expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range. It seems a tad lofty after he showed nothing in an injury-marred 2020, but he will surely get paid as one of the best righties in the free agent class.

The team that signs Odorizzi (the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets have shown interest) doesn’t need to surrender a draft pick, since the 30-year-old already took a qualifying offer last offseason.

In any case, Odorizzi is quite good when healthy, as he showed in 2019: he pitched 159.0 innings of a 3.51 ERA and a 3.36 FIP, with a 10.08 K/9 mark.

19. Didi Gregorius, shortstop

MLB free agents: Didi Gregorius hits home run against the Marlins
Jul 25, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius (18) crosses home plate after hitting a home run during the second inning against the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 30
  • 2020 stats: 237 PA, 10 HR, 34 R, 40 RBI, 3 SB, 6.3 BB%, 11.8 K%, .284/.339/.488, 116 wRC+
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 2.3
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: two years, $12 million per season

At this point of his career, Gregorius is seen as an above-average performer both offensively (116 wRC+ last season) and defensively (0.4 UZR, 2.8 Fielding Runs, per Fangraphs.) However, Statcast disagrees.

He was in the bottom 8% of the league in hard-hit rate with 27.9, while also finishing in the bottom third in average exit velocity, expected Weighted On Base Average (xwOBA), barrel percentage, and expected slugging percentage. Additionally, Statcast doesn’t like Didi’s glove, having him in the 20th percentile in OAA.

Gregorius will hit his home runs, but is a very divisive player and MLB general managers know it.

20. Roberto Osuna, relief pitcher

MLB free agents: Roberto Osuna
Jul 27, 2020; Houston Astros relief pitcher Roberto Osuna (54) pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the ninth inning at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
  • Age: 25
  • 2020 stats: 4 games, 4.1 IP, 6.23 K/9, 0.00 BB/9, 2.08 ERA, 1.81 FIP             
  • 2019-2020 combined fWAR: 1.8
  • Sportsnaut contract projection: one year, $6 million

Osuna became an MLB free agent after the Astros put him on outright waivers in late October. He struggled with a right elbow injury that could eventually require Tommy John surgery, but for now, the flame-throwing reliever is opting for the rest and rehab route.

It could all blow up in his face, or he could regain his form and retake his place as one of the best relievers in the league. Either way, if he opts to keep pitching and avoiding the surgery, and if he shows something in spring training, some team could be open to take a one-year chance on his upside.

The next five best free agents available

  • Joc Pederson, OF
  • Kolten Wong, 2B
  • Tommy La Stella, UTIL
  • Taijuan Walker, SP
  • Corey Kluber, SP