Unlike some of the top-heavy groups we’ve seen in recent years, the free-agent class of 2021-22 is loaded. And with the GM Meetings having just wrapped up, this seemed like a good time to get a sense of how the industry views the top of the class.
Which player might be in the best position to land the biggest deal of the offseason?
We polled a dozen club executives to find out who decision-makers believe is the best available free agent, regardless of their own team’s specific needs:
Correa was the runaway winner, receiving two-thirds of the votes. Part of the impressive group of free-agent shortstops, Correa’s age -- he’ll play his age-27 season in 2022 -- all-around game and postseason experience all helped him rise above the likes of Seager, Marcus Semien, Trevor Story and Javier Báez.
“He’s the best player at the most important position,” an American League executive said. “He’s 27, and he’s been the centerpiece of a winning team his whole career.”
Another AL executive cited Correa’s “quadfecta” while choosing him as this winter’s top free agent.
“He is reveling in his prime,” the exec said. “He offers premium offense, dynamic defense at an elite position and exceptional postseason success.”
In his first seven seasons, Correa -- the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft -- has been to the postseason six times and has played in three World Series. His 18 career postseason homers are tied for seventh-most in history, placing him alongside such names as Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson and Mickey Mantle and ahead of October legend David Ortiz.
Seager was the only other position player named by executives.
Seager is only five months older than Correa, so he’ll play his age-28 season in 2022. His injury history might be the biggest separator between the two, as Seager has also thrived in the postseason. He led the Dodgers to the championship in 2020 while winning MVP honors in both the NLCS and World Series.
“I believe highly in his bat, the approach will age well, contact, patience, power,” a National League executive said. “He has a low-maintenance type of approach. The hamstring issues are bothersome, but hard for me not to be all in on this guy.”
Correa is likely to receive a contract that will take him into his mid-thirties, which one executive said shouldn’t scare clubs away. Even if he ages out of shortstop at some point, Correa’s athleticism should allow him to slide to third base and be a plus defender there if that was to happen.
“His age, talent, performance history and trend line are all pretty appealing,” a third AL executive said.
Like Correa, Seager is viewed as a player who should be able to make a smooth transition to third base if and when the time comes for him to move from shortstop.
“He’s wired correctly and will easily slide over to third base when he can no longer handle shortstop,” an NL exec said. “He’s a star without needing to be the center of attention.”
While 11 of the 12 voters chose a shortstop in his late twenties, the lone wolf of the group took an entirely different approach, choosing a 37-year-old starting pitcher.
“This is a tough question to answer this year because there are so many great players that will be available,” the NL executive said. “I think I’d probably lean toward Scherzer simply because of the fact that he represents possibly the best player at possibly the most important position in the sport. He’s older, so the length of contract will be key.”