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2020-21 MLB free-agent power rankings

MLB Trade Rumors logo MLB Trade Rumors 2/20/2020 Tim Dierkes, MLB Trade Rumors
Mookie Betts wearing a hat throwing a baseball: Feb 18, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) looks on during a workout at Camelback Ranch. © Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports Feb 18, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts (50) looks on during a workout at Camelback Ranch.

Opening Day for the 2020 season is about a month away, and while the regular season hasn't even started yet, it’s never too early to look ahead to the 2020-21 free agent class. 

These players are on track to become free agents after the 2020 season, but a lot can change before we reach that point. As always, these players are ranked by estimates of their 2020-21 open market earning power. You can see the full list of 2020-21 MLB free agents here.

1.  Mookie Betts

a baseball player pitching a ball on a field © Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

A superstar right fielder who doesn’t turn 28 until October, Betts has a shot at the largest contract in MLB history. That record is held by Mike Trout, who agreed to a 10-year, $360M extension with the Angels one year ago. Trout is better than Betts and everyone else, but he didn’t subject himself to an open-market bidding war. Bryce Harper ($330M) and Manny Machado ($300M) did, albeit in a colder free-agent environment than the one that just closed, which awarded Gerrit Cole a surprising $324M. Betts, a projected 6-WAR player for the 2020 Dodgers, could reasonably seek a 10-year term with an average annual value in the $36M-$40M range.

Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported that Betts turned down an eight-year, $200M extension offer from the Red Sox after the 2017 season, while WEEI’s Lou Merloni says Boston offered a contract in the “10 year, $300M range” fresh off Betts’ 2018 MVP campaign. According to Merloni, Betts’ camp countered at 12 years, $420M. There’s an undercurrent that Betts’ reported counteroffer is ridiculous, but in reality, it reflects his market value. He would be justified in seeking an average annual value north of Anthony Rendon’s $35M and a term no shorter than the 10+ years achieved by Trout, Harper, Machado, Giancarlo Stanton, Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Joey Votto.

2.  J.T. Realmuto

a baseball player wearing a red hat © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The largest free-agent contract ever for a catcher is well within Realmuto’s sights. The Phillies backstop, 29 in March, is one of the best-hitting catchers in baseball. He also rates strongly in pitch framing and stolen base prevention. With Russell Martin being paid through age 36 and Yadier Molina through age 37, Realmuto could aim to be locked up through age 35, which would require an unprecedented six-year deal and top the $100M mark. Joe Mauer and Buster Posey have reached that plateau in extensions, but it’s never been done by a catcher in free agency.

3.  George Springer

a baseball player throwing a ball © Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Springer, 30, is a tough player to value given the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal. According to Sign Stealing Scandal's Tony Adams’ calculations, 14.4 percent of Springer’s home plate appearances in 2017 included trash can banging. The outfielder put up a strong ’17 season, but his finest year to date has been 2019. MLB did not uncover evidence of the Astros stealing signs in 2019.

Given that information, the team’s sign stealing may have had minimal effect on Springer’s production at the plate. He was an excellent hitter while cheating and will likely continue to be while playing by the rules. The stigma surrounding Springer and his teammates will surely carry into the 2020-21 offseason. For today’s many cold, calculating front offices, Springer’s complicity in the Astros’ scheme may simply translate as a small bargain in free agency. It's not hard to envision that many teams would exchange a little bad PR for a 5-WAR player at a discount, especially since Springer didn’t actually hurt anyone.

4.  Marcus Semien

Marcus Semien standing on a baseball field © Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Though he finished third in the AL MVP voting this year, Semien, 30 in September, remains an underrated star shortstop for the Athletics. He jumped from a league-average bat to a 137 wRC+ in 2019. Paired with above-average defense, Semien’s 7.6 WAR ranked fifth among MLB position players. What will he do for a follow-up? How much of Semien’s career-best power and walk rate will stick? If he settles in as a 120 wRC+, 5-WAR player with his typical excellent durability, he’d be justified in seeking a six-year contract well in excess of $100M. Back in November, Jon Heyman suggested interest was mutual for an extension.

5.  Trevor Bauer

a close up of a pitcher throwing a pitch on the baseball field © Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Bauer, 29, has one elite season on his resume. His 2018 season for the Indians included a 2.21 ERA, but otherwise he’s never been below 4.18. After being traded to the Reds at the July deadline last year, Bauer limped to a 6.39 ERA over his final 10 starts, allowing 12 home runs in 56 1/3 innings. 

He is known for his passion for his craft and his extensive work with Driveline Baseball. He’s also one of the game’s most outspoken players. Bauer’s comments and tweets could certainly give some suitors pause, but true to form, he’s got different ideas about free agency too. Bauer has found a way to pay less than the typical 5 percent agency fee, which seems wise, and he’s also pledged to sign only one-year deals. That could mean, in a given offseason, forgoing was much as $100M in guaranteed money to maximize his annual take. 

It’s a risky, fascinating proposition, especially for a pitcher. If Bauer is true to his word, expect him to land in the $20M-$30M range on a one-year deal, depending on his season. His overall earning power is much higher.

6.  Robbie Ray

Robbie Ray wearing a baseball uniform throwing a ball © Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Born five months apart, Ray and Marcus Stroman make for an interesting comparison. Their results over the last three years have been similar in terms of games started and ERA, but Ray employs a high-strikeout, high-walk, homer-prone approach for the Diamondbacks while Stroman succeeds via the groundball. They’re both roughly 3-WAR pitchers for 2020, but Ray might be of slightly greater interest due to his ability to miss bats.

7.  Marcus Stroman

a baseball player is getting ready to pitch the ball © Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Stroman’s 53.7 percent groundball rate ranked fifth among qualified starters in 2019, and he’s second in baseball from 2017-19. In these homer-happy times, Stroman has allowed just 0.89 HR/9 over the last three years. Both he and Ray will likely look to top the four-year, $68M deals signed by Nathan Eovaldi and Miles Mikolas, and five years aren’t out of the question.

8.  Justin Turner

a man wearing a blue uniform on a baseball field © Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past three seasons, Turner’s 145 wRC+ ranks eighth in baseball among qualified hitters — better than Anthony Rendon, Freddie Freeman, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. That mark dipped to a still-strong 132 in 2019, so the Dodgers third baseman remains an excellent hitter at age 35. As you might expect, his defense is slipping. Still, Turner could land a three-year deal at a strong salary, and he’s ineligible for a qualifying offer since he received one previously.

9.  DJ LeMahieu

a man wearing a helmet holding a baseball bat © Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ two-year, $24M deal with LeMahieu turned out to be one of the best deals of last offseason, as he posted a career-best 5.4 WAR. The infielder at least flirted with those heights once before, in 2016, but much like Semien, LeMahieu’s free-agent price tag could fluctuate quite a bit depending on how 2020 plays out. A 4-WAR campaign could lead to a four-year contract.

10.  Nick Castellanos

a group of baseball players standing on top of a grass covered field © The Enquirer-USA TODAY NETWORK via Imagn Content Services, LLC

I debated between Castellanos and Marcell Ozuna for this last spot, but the free agent market clearly preferred Castellanos, who is 15+ months younger, lacked a qualifying offer and finished strong after being traded to the Cubs. Perhaps that script could be flipped after 2020, especially since Castellanos can get a qualifying offer and Ozuna can’t. However, Castellanos seems primed to put up big offensive numbers in the Reds lineup, which could compel him to opt out of his remaining three years and $48M and try to get a four-year deal again.

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