Position by position: Top free agents available
Teams around the Majors will spend the next few months tuning up their rosters for 2021. Some will be major overhauls, while others will be small tweaks. As always, the free-agent market includes a little bit of everything, but which players around the diamond figure to see the most action?
Here’s a look at the top player at every position, plus some other alternatives at each spot.
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto
Realmuto is widely considered the best catcher in the game, leading all backstops in fWAR in each of the past three seasons. Realmuto received a qualifying offer -- it’s $18.9 million this year -- from the Phillies, though that shouldn’t dissuade his potential suitors from making an aggressive push for the two-time All-Star.
Best of the rest: James McCann, Yadier Molina, Kurt Suzuki, Jason Castro, Mike Zunino
First base: Carlos Santana
Santana turns 35 on April 8, but he’s as durable a player as there is in the league. Having played in at least 152 games in each of the previous seven seasons, he started all 60 games at first base for Cleveland in 2020. Santana hit just .199 this season, but he led the American League with 47 walks, producing a .349 on-base percentage.
Best of the rest: Mitch Moreland, Todd Frazier, Eric Thames, Daniel Murphy
Second base: DJ LeMahieu
Two years ago, LeMahieu was forced to settle for a two-year, $24 million deal with the Yankees thanks to a below-average 2018 season. He won’t have that problem this year. LeMahieu is likely headed for a second consecutive Top 5 AL MVP Award finish, and his 7.8 fWAR in '19-20 ranks sixth among all AL players. His versatility should give him plenty of options, as teams can use him at first, second or third base.
Best of the rest: Kiké Hernández, Kolten Wong, Tommy La Stella, César Hernández, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Schoop
Shortstop: Didi Gregorius
Gregorius rolled the dice last offseason by taking a one-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies, and his gamble paid off. The 30-year-old posted an .827 OPS with 10 homers and 40 RBIs, looking like the 2017-18 (pre-Tommy John surgery) version of himself.
Best of the rest: Marcus Semien, Andrelton Simmons
Third base: Justin Turner
Turner just completed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Dodgers, and although he turns 36 on Nov. 23, he can still flat-out hit. Turner’s 1.3 fWAR in the shortened season ranked second among all National League third basemen (minimum 100 plate appearances), while his .860 OPS ranked third. Turner is an important player to the Dodgers both on and off the field, but the team could decide to go big and trade for Francisco Lindor, which might mean Corey Seager moving to third base and the end of Turner’s time in Los Angeles.
Best of the rest: Brad Miller, Brock Holt
Left field: Marcell Ozuna
Ozuna turned down a $17.8 million qualifying offer from the Cardinals last year, ultimately settling for a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves. Ozuna, who turns 30 on Nov. 12, responded with a huge season, leading the NL with 18 home runs, 56 RBIs and 145 total bases while appearing in all 60 games for Atlanta. Ozuna helped himself further with a strong postseason, putting himself in position for a multi-year deal without the drag of another qualifying offer attached to him.
Best of the rest: Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley, Robbie Grossman, Brett Gardner
Center field: George Springer
Springer is in the argument for top overall free agent this offseason, coming off another strong year and yet another solid postseason. The Astros already have more than $120 million committed to six players (Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Ryan Pressly and Yuli Gurriel), so it remains to be seen whether Houston will hand out a sizeable multi-year deal to retain Springer. He received a qualifying offer, but he should have no shortage of suitors.
Best of the rest: Jackie Bradley Jr., Jake Marisnick, Kevin Pillar
Right field: Ryan Braun
The Brewers decided not to exercise their part of Braun’s $15 million mutual option, sending the six-time All-Star into free agency for the first time in his career. Braun hit eight homers with a .769 OPS in 39 games in 2020, and while he’s only been an All-Star once since '13, he averaged 23 homers with an .846 OPS from '15-19. Braun had been a left fielder for most of his career, but he made 19 of his 34 starts in right field last season, serving as the designated hitter in the other 15.
Best of the rest: Adam Eaton, Josh Reddick, Jay Bruce
DH: Nelson Cruz
The ageless wonder just keeps on hitting. Cruz belted 16 home runs in the shortened season, keeping up the 40-homer pace to which he has become accustomed. Cruz averaged 41 home runs per season from 2014-19, and even at 40 years young, there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to thrive as a DH in '21. He is believed to be seeking a two-year deal.
Best of the rest: Edwin Encarnación, Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Kemp
RH starting pitcher: Trevor Bauer
Bauer’s career year came at the perfect time. The right-hander heads into free agency for the first time at age 30 having led the NL with a 1.73 ERA, a 2.76 ERA+, a 0.795 WHIP and only 5.1 hits allowed per nine innings. He has previously expressed a desire to play on a series of one-year deals when he reached free agency, though a Cy Young Award might cause him to reconsider. Then again, Bauer’s mind isn’t typically changed easily, which makes his free agency one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason.
Best of the rest: Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker
LH starting pitcher: J.A. Happ
The crop of available lefties isn’t overwhelming, but there are some solid mid-rotation arms out there. Happ seemed like a forgotten man in the Bronx at times, but he ended up posting a 3.47 ERA over nine starts for the Yankees, bouncing back from a tough 2019 season. Happ just turned 38 on Oct. 19, so he’s likely looking at a one-year deal, but he can certainly help bolster a rotation for a team in need of starters.
Best of the rest: Brett Anderson, Jon Lester, James Paxton, José Quintana
RH relief pitcher: Liam Hendriks
Hendriks isn’t just the best reliever on the market this offseason; he just might be the best reliever in the Majors. The right-hander has a 1.79 ERA over the past two seasons, his 5.2 fWAR dwarfing the next-best reliever (Nick Anderson, 3.0) during that span. Hendriks has played for four teams during his 10-year career, but after hitting his stride at age 30, the Australian should be one of the most sought-after arms this offseason.
Best of the rest: Alex Colomé, Shane Greene, Mark Melancon, Greg Holland, Jeremy Jeffress, Brandon Kintzler, Trevor Rosenthal
LH relief pitcher: Brad Hand
The Indians declined to exercise Hand’s $10 million option, thrusting one of the best closers in the game onto the free-agent market. Hand led the AL with 16 saves, posting a 2.05 ERA with 29 strikeouts and four walks in 22 innings. He’s saved 103 games since 2017, making the All-Star team in each year from '17-19.
Best of the rest: José Alvarez, Andrew Chafin, Sean Doolittle, Aaron Loup, Jake McGee, Tony Watson, Justin Wilson