Ranking the 106 best players in the 2021-2022 class
An elite and unprecedented class of free agents is about to collide with the most significant labor uncertainty baseball has faced in nearly three decades.
As USA TODAY Sports rolls out its annual list of top Major League Baseball free agents, two parallel tracks are finally about to intersect: A star-studded class of free agent shortstops and the expiration of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the MLB Players’ Assn.
Make no mistake: The elite will get paid. Led by Carlos Correa, a quintet of All-Star shortstops – three of them former World Series champions and firmly in their prime production years – will find multiple suitors and nine-figure contracts, some likely pushing $300 million. But a significant question – when? – hovers over the group as the CBA is slated to expire at 11:59 p.m. ET on Dec. 1.
Perhaps it will be better late than never. And the bottom leg of this class may have to wait quite a while for the ramifications of a new CBA – assuming any lockout is brief – to settle in before finding a new home.
As we embark on an uncertain winter, here’s a look at our top 106 free agents available, from the very elite to those with a reasonable shot at landing a major league contract. Rankings based on projected future performance and perceived market value:
(Age as of April 1, 2022; 2021 team)
1. Carlos Correa (27, SS, Astros): He might have ranked third or fourth among his cohorts a year ago, but after a season in which Correa led AL position players in WAR (7.3), posted an .850 OPS and won his first Gold Glove, give him all the money. While the Astros have been quietly upping their ante to their No. 1 overall pick in 2012, Correa could command close to double the $160 million Houston has offered.
2. Corey Seager (27, SS, Dodgers): Not the ideal platform year for Seager, who suffered a broken hand in May when he was hit by a pitch and missed three months. Yet his slash line – .306 average, .394 on-base and .521 slugging – was the best of his career for a full season and his adjusted OPS the past two seasons (147) outshines Correa (121), to name one. Even if the 6-4 Seager eventually moves off shortstop, his elite left-handed bat at a premium position will make an excellent long-term investment.
3. Marcus Semien (31, 2B/SS, Blue Jays): A two-time top-three MVP finisher, All-Star, Gold Glover, 45-home run man and one of the most respected individuals in the game. Any questions? Oh, sure, Semien’s .324 career OBP may be cause for some concern, but his rousing bounceback from a rough pandemic season puts him shoulder to shoulder with his elite middle infield brethren.
4. Trevor Story (29, SS, Rockies): Going big on Story means placing a small bet that he’ll bounce back after a slight regression in the twilight zone that is the Rockies organization. His OPS slid from .914 and .917 in ’18 and ’19 to .874 and .801 the past two seasons, but he remains a legitimate five-tool player (35 for 39 on stolen base attempts the past two seasons) and should flourish again once paired with another thumper like Nolan Arenado. A franchise anchor in waiting.
5. Robbie Ray (30, LHP, Blue Jays): Despite schlepping from Dunedin, Florida to Buffalo to Toronto for the wayward Jays, Ray led the AL in starts (32), ERA (2.84), innings (193 1/3), strikeouts (245), WHIP (1.05) and adjusted ERA (154). His new club will get a rotation centerpiece and reigning Cy Young Award winner.
6. Max Scherzer (37, RHP, Dodgers): Rare is the pitcher who can complete a $210 million deal and then increase his average annual value with his next contract. But there’s only one Scherzer, who at 37 led the majors in WHIP (0.86) and fewest hits per nine innings (6.0) and struck out 236. Now, we may see an unprecedented short term deal that may take Scherzer to his 40th birthday, with several win-now clubs – the Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Padres among them – willing to ante up a massive average annual value to reel in Mad Max.
7. Freddie Freeman (32, 1B, Braves): Like Scherzer, his longtime NL East sparring partner, Freeman will outkick a huge expiring contract, this one eight years and $135 million. Player and franchise both badly want a reunion and the Braves know everyone knows they’re making a killing at Truist Park and its surrounding environs. Even if Freeman’s market consists of just the defending World Series champions, look for him to exceed the value of his old deal while nearly doubling its $16.9 million average annual value.
8. Nick Castellanos (30, RF, Reds): A perfectly-timed opt-out after two years of a four-year, $64 million deal, as Castellanos posted career highs in home runs (34), OPS (.936) and adjusted OPS (136). Composing a reputable pitching staff these days remains near impossible; it’s enticing to imagine big-market clubs like Boston or Philadelphia adding Castellanos and opting to bludgeon opponents, instead.
9. Starling Marte (33, CF, Athletics): Five years removed from his lone All-Star appearance, Marte put up perhaps his finest season yet, with a .310/.383/.458 slash line in 120 games while playing shutdown defense in center field. Marte’s 5.4 fWAR trails only Correa and Semien in this free agent class.
10. Javy Baez (29, 2B/SS, Mets): For a time – say, during his 2018 NL MVP runner-up season – it appeared Baez would be at the head of this free agent shortstop class. But a career .307 OBP and contact issues have dulled the edge just a bit. While 2021 seemed like a downer for Baez – he was traded from the Cubs to the Mets, shifted back to second base and fell out with fans after the infamous “thumbs-down” celebration – he still produced 31 homers and an .817 OPS. Yet those numbers were countered by an NL-high 184 strikeouts. It remains to be seen if Baez is a foundational player, or an often-spectacular complementary piece.
11. Kris Bryant (30, 3B/OF, Giants): At long last, Bryant reaches free agency, though not as a third baseman but rather a super utility maven. Bryant made his fourth All-Star team this year and then helped the Giants’ drive to 107 wins, producing an overall .835 OPS and 124 adjusted OPS. The $300 million deal that once seemed his birthright may not happen, but Bryant went a long way toward reestablishing himself as a star, and there should be significant bidders for a player so versatile and reliable.
12. Kevin Gausman (31, RHP, Giants): Gausman accepted the Giants’ qualifying offer and nearly delivered a Cy Young-caliber season for $18.9 million, striking out 222 in 192 innings and earning his first All-Star nod. Although Gausman’s two-pitch mix lost some pep around the midway point, the Giants still won eight of his final 12 starts and 21 of 33 overall. A reunion seems highly beneficial for both parties – with a total package closer to $90 million than $19 million.
13. Marcus Stroman (30, RHP, Mets): A list of pitchers who made 33 starts with an ERA of 3.02 or better in 2021: Walker Buehler, Gausman and Stroman. That’s it. While Stroman couldn’t crack the 200-inning mark for a third time after opting out of 2020, he did put up 179 innings and career bests in ERA and WHIP (1.15) while maintaining his rep as a groundball-inducing machine. Stroman falls somewhere between horse and ace, and there should be a nice market waiting for him.
14. Chris Taylor (31, SS/OF, Dodgers): Taylor helped usher in the current obsession with multi-positional stars – and no one, still, can do it better. While Taylor’s offense tailed off toward season’s end, his ability to slug 20 home runs and play five positions – including a very capable shortstop – places him among the top 25 most valuable position players in the NL and more than just a poor man’s Bryant.
15. Michael Conforto (29, OF, Mets): An All-Star at 24, a 33-homer man at 27, it seems Conforto should be comfortably in the nine-figure contract range this winter. But injuries and uneven performance have suppressed Conforto’s production just enough that he remains an enigma. Still, with a career OBP of .356 and OPS of .824, two predictions: Conforto’s total contract value will startle many observers, and he will proceed to out-perform it.
16. Avisail Garcia (30, RF, Brewers): One of the game’s most fascinating career transformations continues, as Garcia slugged 29 homers for the Brewers and also lapped the field in defensive metrics for right fielders. Garcia’s 13.1 UZR/150 rating was more than double that of No. 2 Aaron Judge and his eight defensive runs saved trailed only Judge and Kyle Tucker’s 11. Garcia has a .799 OPS since his All-Star season of 2017.
17. Kyle Schwarber (29, OF/1B, Red Sox): Seems like there’s enough Cubs legends to fit under everyone’s tree this December. Schwarber’s first year away from Wrigley was a wild ride, from a slow start to a historic 18-homer binge in June to a hamstring injury and finally, playoff hero status in Boston. The Red Sox may welcome a reunion, but Schwarber’s on-base skills (career-high .374 OBP in ’21) will play in any arena, and he is capable of playing a serviceable first base.
18. Steven Matz (30, LHP, Blue Jays): Freed from Flushing, Matz produced his best WHIP (1.33), fielding independent pitching (3.79) and adjusted ERA (115) since his 2016 rookie season with the Mets. He also cut his home runs from 1.7 per nine innings between 2017-2020 to 1.1, nearly matching the 1.0 of his rookie year.
19. Eduardo Rodriguez (28, LHP, Red Sox): An intriguing free agent case: Rodriguez has youth and relatively little tread on his tires, yet also features three years of postseason experience and a 200-inning season on his resume. After missing 2020 following a bout with myocarditis due to COVID-19, Rodriguez’s 2021 numbers were largely in line with his career marks, producing career bests in strikeouts per nine innings (10.6) and strikeout-walk ratio (3.94). SIGNED: Five years, $77 million with Tigers – Nov. 15.
20. Anthony Rizzo (32, 1B, Yankees): A desultory departure from Chicago, a bout with COVID-19 and adjustment to the AL resulted in a .783 OPS, Rizzo’s lowest since his first full season in 2013. Yet a reunion with the Yankees makes a lot of sense, with a positional need and a tempting right field porch serving team and player well.
21. Jon Gray (30, RHP, Rockies): A bit startling Colorado first failed in an attempt to extend Gray’s contract and then opted not to tender him a qualifying offer. That’s a mistake, because Gray may be at the front of the line for pitchers other franchises may believe they can fix. Inconsistent and occasionally erratic in seven seasons in Denver, Gray’s career FIP (3.91) presents better than his career ERA (4.26). He once struck out 150 batters in 150 innings and perhaps most impressive, produced his best ERAs and adjusted ERAs amid record-shattering home run environments in 2017 and 2019.
22. Raisel Iglesias (32, RHP, Angels): Iglesias is coming off a remarkable two-year run during which he struck out 134 batters in 93 innings and racked up 42 saves for the Reds and Angels. A starter as recently as 2016, Iglesias averaged more than an inning per outing and could hold additional appeal as a multi-inning guy if bidding clubs are so inclined.
23. Brandon Belt (33, 1B, Giants): A two-time World Series champion and occasionally polarizing presence among fans, Belt produced an excellent 148-game stretch from 2020-21 – 38 homers, a .988 OPS – to prompt the Giants to tend him a qualifying offer. Just two years ago, Belt was a below league-average hitter, but now may represent stability for a club losing Buster Posey to retirement and likelier to spend its significant payroll flexibility on starting pitching. Either way, Belt would enjoy a significant bump in market with a universal DH in effect. SIGNED: Accepted Giants’ one-year, $18.4 million qualifying offer – Nov. 17.
24. Kenley Jansen (34, RHP, Dodgers): Jansen brushed off a pair of bumpy years and finished out his five-year, $84 million deal with the Dodgers with a flourish, converting 38 of 43 save opportunities for a 106-win team. Just 4% of Jansen’s plate appearances ended in an extra-base hit, his lowest mark since 2013. While a Dodgers reunion remains possible, the club still retains several closer-quality relief arms and Jansen, who debuted in L.A. in July 2010, may find greener pastures as a full-time ninth-inning guy elsewhere.
25. Justin Verlander (39, RHP, Astros): He was out of sight and out of mind during the Astros’ run to the World Series, but now Verlander has recovered from 2020 Tommy John surgery and is throwing for teams. He’s already guaranteed $18.4 million – the Astros tendered him the qualifying offer – and it will be fascinating to see how much more clubs are willing to bet on a guy who’s thrown just six innings since Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. SIGNED: One year, $25 million, plus player option with Astros – Nov. 17.
26. Clayton Kershaw (34, LHP, Dodgers): It felt like a formality when Kershaw agreed to a three-year, $93 million extension in November 2018, the last time he was eligible to leave the Dodgers. This time feels like anything but, for so many reasons. Start with Kershaw’s health, which will remain a question mark as he recovers from a strained flexor tendon in his pitching elbow. Both player and team have remained cagey about their future wants, with the Dodgers not offering Kershaw the $18.4 million qualifying offer, enhancing his desirability on the market. The lefty will undoubtedly enter the Hall of Fame as a Dodger; the next weeks will determine if he’s a Dodger for life.
27. Mark Canha (33, OF, Athletics): He’s been the secret sauce behind the A’s surprising success the past four years, producing a .366 OBP and .807 OPS in that span while playing all three outfield positions and first base. Canha’s also hit righties (.786 OPS) better than lefties (.755) in his career, giving managers the option of keeping his bat in the lineup every day while moving him around based on need.
28. Carlos Rodon (29, LHP, White Sox): After a rash of injuries limited him to just 43 games from 2017-2020, Rodon decided to go as hard as he could, as long as he could in 2021. The results were at times spectacular: An emotional no-hitter in his second start, 185 strikeouts in 132 1/3 innings. But Rodon pitched just 36 innings from July 24 to the end of the regular season and lasted 2 2/3 innings in an ALDS elimination start against Houston. What now? Unfettered by draft pick compensation, Rodon should still elicit strong interest, though his second-half slowdown may compel clubs to offer deals more heavily laced with incentives.
29. Nelson Cruz (41, DH, Rays): The old man’s still got it, hitting 32 homers in 140 games, but the first midseason trade of his career certainly had an impact, as Cruz produced a .907 OPS for Minnesota, .725 for Tampa Bay. But Cruz cut down on strikeout and groundball rates and still scorches the ball an average of 93 mph. A nice market in the AL, a huge market if the NL adopts the DH.
30. Anthony DeSclafani (31, RHP, Giants): The Giants helped DeSclafani maximize his production and then decided not to double down on it, failing to tender him a qualifying offer. “Disco” does find a lot of bats, striking out just 152 in his 167 2/3 innings, but allowed just one homer per nine innings and tossed a major league-best two shutouts. Can he sustain it? SIGNED: Three years, $36 million with Giants – Nov. 22.
31. Andrew Chafin (31, LHP, Athletics): Chafin had the best year of his career, combining for a 1.83 ERA between the Cubs and A’s. He proved he could retire batters from either side of the plate but was particularly deadly on lefties, allowing a .170/.250/.223 slash line and just one homer in 104 plate appearances.
32. Noah Syndergaard (29, RHP, Mets): Like Verlander, Syndergaard had 2020 Tommy John surgery and received the qualifying offer from his current club. But Syndergaard’s path back from elbow reconstruction has hit a few potholes; despite having a six-month jump on Verlander, he pitched in just two games in 2021. It seems much likelier Syndergaard accepts the QO and tries all this again next winter. SIGNED: One year, $21 million with Los Angeles Angels – Nov. 16
33. Eduardo Escobar (33, INF, Brewers): Pretty cool that Escobar made his first All-Star team at 32, and his .800 OPS will boost his 2022 payday. Can he land a multiyear deal that will take him close to age 35? His 28 homers and multi-position versatility should help that cause.
34. Seiya Suzuki (27, OF, Hiroshima Carp): Hiroshima recently signaled its intention to post Suzuki, who produced a .985 OPS over nine seasons in the NPB and slugged 38 home runs in 2021. Suzuki could play center field, and could be instant offense for several teams at little opportunity cost. But the mixed record of recent NPB transfers – such as outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who produced an .829 OPS in the NPB, .594 in two seasons with Cincinnati – may quell some enthusiasm for Suzuki.
35. Mark Melancon (37, RHP, Padres): A closer who doesn’t strike out many batters always gives GMs reason to fret, but Melancon has put together consecutive standout seasons, converting 50 of 58 save chances for the Braves and Padres. Yet in an era when clubs desire versatility out of their high-leverage relievers, Melancon’s inability to generate frequent swings and misses, and a 1.22 WHIP in 2021, largely relegates him to a ninth-inning guy – albeit a very good one.
36. Alex Wood (31, LHP, Giants): Wood rebounded nicely from two injury-plagued seasons, winning 10 games and posting his best adjusted ERA (107) since his All-Star season in 2017. And Wood, in a sense, is almost ideal for the modern pitching staff – always willing to take the ball, occasionally adept at eating innings and comfortable either opening or following as a “bulk” pitcher. A return to San Francisco would make sense for many of these reasons.
37. Zack Greinke (38, RHP, Astros): Greinke is a free agent for the first time since 2015, coming off a year he managed to make 29 starts yet saw significant depreciation in most statistical categories. Perhaps most alarming for a pitcher who now relies on precision is a spike in walks per nine innings, from 1.2 to 1.9, and a precipitous drop in strikeout-walk ratio, from 6.51 in 2019-20 to 3.33 this year. Still, there was Greinke starting Game 4 of the ALCS and Game 4 of the World Series for the Astros, spinning four shutout innings in the latter. Yes, there’s still room in this game for a guy pairing an 89-mph fastball with a 69-mph curve.
38. Collin McHugh (34, RHP, Rays): After opting out of the 2020 season, McHugh put together his finest season since 2015 as a multi-inning maestro for the Rays. He covered 64 innings in 37 appearances, posting career bests in ERA (1.55), FIP (2.12) and adjusted ERA (256) while serving as an opener, finisher and occasional high-leverage option. Ideally suited to the modern game, really.
39. Kendall Graveman (31, RHP, Astros): Graveman helped carry Seattle into playoff contention, posting a 0.82 ERA in 30 games before he was stunningly traded to the division rival Astros. He struggled at times those final two months before coming up big in the postseason, posting a 1.64 ERA in nine games, including a crucial two-inning stint in the pivotal Game 4 of the ALCS.
40. Danny Duffy (33, LHP, Dodgers): He never pitched for the Dodgers, unable to come back from a forearm strain after a July trade from Kansas City. But his work over 61 innings with Kansas City – a 2.51 ERA, just six homers allowed – will make him a chic reclamation project.
41. Cesar Hernandez (31, 2B, White Sox): Like an economy car that just keeps running, Hernandez remains one of the more dependable if unspectacular second base options. This year, though his defensive metrics slipped, he socked a career-best 21 home runs.
42. Andrew McCutchen (35, LF, Phillies): He’s just above a league-average offensive performer, his corner outfield metrics aren’t great and any ballpark likely won’t be as friendly as his most recent. But he’s still Andrew McCutchen, good enough to slug 27 home runs in 2021 and potentially a force for a playoff contender, if placed in a position to succeed.
43. Andrew Heaney (30, LHP, Yankees): He never found his footing as a starter – his best season, 2018, featured 180 strikeouts in 180 innings and a league-average 4.15 ERA – but Heaney still struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings despite struggling with both the Angels and Yankees. SIGNED: One year, $8 million, with Dodgers, Nov. 8.
44. Eddie Rosario (30, LF, Braves): The one-time Bomba Squad member in Minnesota found his true identity after a July trade to Atlanta, where he became “Super Rosario,” won the NLCS MVP and a World Series title. His power numbers – 27 combined homers in 2020-21 vs. 32 in 2019 – are a far cry from what they were, but there may yet be more in Rosario, whose 8.5% walk rate with the Braves was the best of his career.
45. Ryan Tepera (34, RHP, White Sox): Equally adept on both sides of Chicago after a July trade from the Cubs to the White Sox, Tepera’s 11 strikeouts per nine and 0.88 WHIP may be enough to elicit a multi-year commitment.
46. Kyle Seager (34, 3B, Mariners): Seager’s long and occasionally ugly goodbye to Seattle finally arrived when the club declined his 2022 option. Now, he has to hope someone bets on the good (35 home runs in ’21) rather than be scared off by the bad (.212 batting average, 161 strikeouts, league average .723 OPS).
47. Tommy Pham (34, OF, Padres): A dynamic player for so many years, Pham has looked just ordinary for the past two, batting .226 with 18 home runs in his last 584 at-bats. But Pham can still run (20 steals in his last 26 tries) and throw, and will find a market for his tools, with a return to offensive prominence a bonus.
48. Jonathan Villar (30, INF, Mets): Who couldn’t use Villar? Speedy and able to play second, third or short while providing league-average offense.
49. Rich Hill (42, LHP, Mets): The ancient innings-eater is not yet the stuff of a museum exhibit, and so Hill will join Adam Wainwright in the over-40 crowd still taking down outs. After injuries limited him to 21 starts from 2019-20, he tossed 158 2/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA in ’21 and will make a contender happy in ’22.
50. Jose Iglesias (32, SS, Red Sox): Have glove, will travel: Iglesias’s 2021 club(s) will be his sixth in four years, though he seems to leave fond memories wherever he goes. The Red Sox, in fact, added him in September due to a brutal COVID-19 outbreak and then kept him around for the playoffs, even though he was ineligible to play. Player-coach in ’22?
51. Odubel Herrera (30, CF, Phillies): He jeopardized his career after a domestic violence suspension cost him much of 2019 and kept him sidelined in 2020. But the Phillies brought him back in 2021 and Herrera showcased an elite glove in center with a passable bat.
52. Yusei Kikuchi (30, RHP, Mariners): Kikuchi made the All-Star team but his demise had already begun – he was blasted for an 11-start stretch from July into September during which he posted a 6.32 ERA.
53. Aaron Loup (34, LHP, Mets): He only gets better with age – posted a 0.95 ERA and gave up one home run all season – yet will likely pitch for a sixth team in five years. Someone get this man a multiyear contract. SIGNED: Two years, $17 million with Angels – Nov. 22.
54. Yan Gomes (34, C, Athletics): More than just a respected grinder, Gomes posted a 2.5 WAR in 2021 and suddenly finds himself the top receiver on the market this winter.
55. Joe Kelly (33, RHP, Dodgers): A fun three-year ride in L.A. that began ignominiously and ended with Kelly largely indispensable. He suffered a biceps injury in the NLCS but will be ready for the start of spring training in 2022.
56. Kevin Pillar (33, OF, Mets): Hit a career-low .231, but popped 15 home runs and anyway, we all know he’s here for his defensive derring-do. Still has value, but likely slinks further into a reserve outfield role.
57. Michael Pineda (33, RHP, Twins): Somewhat surprisingly was not dealt at the trade deadline and finished with a 3.62 ERA in 21 starts. Nowadays, he’s much more a pitch-to-contact guy who will absorb innings in the back of someone’s rotation.
58. Hector Neris (32, RHP, Phillies): For a guy who never hesitated to take the ball – he pitched in at least 68 games in four of the past five full seasons, including 74 in 2021 – Neris deserved better in Philly. But bad luck – three times, his BABIP exceeded .300 – and too many hiccups resulted in a 76% save percentage from 2016-21. Still, his career 11.5 strikeouts per nine augurs well for a fresh start somewhere.
59. Tyler Anderson (32, LHP, Mariners): Herewith begins the parade of league-average, innings-eating lefties.
60. Jorge Soler (30, OF, Braves): In a less analytical time, a star-hungry owner might have tuned in for Soler’s World Series MVP performance and impetuously scratched a big check. Alas, while Soler was nearly perfect in three months as a Brave (14 homers, .882 OPS), he was a .192/.288/.370 performer in 94 games with Kansas City.
61. Josh Harrison (34, INF/OF, Athletics): Truly getting better with age, Harrison posted a career-best .366 OBP in 90 games for Washington before a trade to Oakland cooled him a bit. He still finished with a 106 adjusted OPS and played six positions.
62. Brett Gardner (38, OF, Yankees): Will either receive a plaque in Monument Park or expire there as an active player.
63. Corey Kluber (35, RHP, Yankees): One of these days, a team will place a small bet on Kluber and watch it pay off in a big way. He pitched well enough for the Yankees – a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts – but once again missed significant time with a shoulder injury.
64. Corey Dickerson (32, OF, Blue Jays): Enjoyed a nice uptick after trade from Miami (92 OPS plus in 63 games) to Toronto (110 in 46).
65. Johnny Cueto (36, RHP, Giants): Contributed 114 2/3 innings to the Giants’ wild 2021 ride but could not find his way onto the postseason roster and had his 2022 option declined.
66. Joc Pederson (29, OF, Braves): Seemed like 10 years ago this guy was a Cub. Hit 18 homers in a part-time role and then even Joctober lost its shine as November dawned – he hit three homers in the NLDS but finished with a 1 for 15 World Series.
67. Kwang Hyun Kim (33, RHP, Cardinals): Carried a 2.88 ERA into late July but abruptly hit a wall, finishing at 4.34 and out of the rotation. Yielded an .848 OPS facing hitters the second time in a game.
68. Daniel Hudson (35, RHP, Padres): Struggled after a trade from Washington (0.92 WHIP, 6.86 strikeouts/walks) to San Diego (1.37/3.00). Still, he punched out 75 batters in 51 2/3 innings.
69. Brad Boxberger (33, RHP, Brewers): Regained his punchability in 2021, striking out 83 in 64 2/3 innings.
70. Freddy Galvis (32, SS, Phillies): Fun fact: In 10 major league seasons, he’s never been a league-average hitter. Yet he remains a plus defender and respected veteran developing teams like to place among younger players.
71. Corey Knebel (30, RHP, Dodgers): His 27 appearances were his most since 2018, but Knebel was sharp, even earning the “opener” nod for the clinching Game 5 of the NLDS against San Francisco. Best profiles as a fireman who’ll punch you out of a jam against right-handers.
72. Brett Anderson (34, LHP, Brewers): Ever the pragmatist, he tweeted his farewell to the Brewers before season’s end, knowing he’d fulfilled his destiny as an innings-eating lefty bridging a gap until younger pitchers were ready to take the torch. So, who’s next?
73. Brad Hand (32, LHP, Mets): 2021 went sideways in a hurry for the three-time All-Star, who wobbled on his way out of Washington, was ghastly (7.27 ERA) in 11 games with Toronto before getting right in a 16-game finish with the Mets. Is he still a closer? A reliable lefty specialist? Hopefully for Hand, a wise team will clear up this identity crisis.
74. Adam Ottavino (36, RHP, Red Sox): Saved 11 games and struck out 10.4 per nine innings, though his past two years have been uneven. Still, he will get you an inning or a strikeout when you need it.
75. Brad Miller (32, INF, Phillies): At times, Miller was the Phillies’ second-best offensive player this season. Can do worse than a utility guy who will run into 20 home runs over six months.
76. Drew Smyly (32, LHP, Braves): Couldn’t quite parlay a mini-renaissance with San Francisco into a full-season revival with Atlanta, for which he posted a 4.48 ERA. Yet a lefty with more than occasional swing-and-miss stuff can always find a role.
77. Garrett Richards (33, RHP, Red Sox): Can a 10-year vet who admittedly struggled with the sticky-stuff ban right himself over the winter?
78. Matt Duffy (31, INF, Cubs): After playing just 46 games in 2019-20, a nice, 2-WAR revival for the Duffman, who at times was the Cubs’ best player this season.
79. Manny Pina (34, C, Brewers): He slugged a career-best 13 homers and was once again excellent defensively. A stretch as your No. 1 backstop, but not a bad option in a timeshare. SIGNED: Two years, $8 million with Braves, Nov. 15.
80. Jake Diekman (35, LHP, Athletics): Gave up a career-high 10 homers this year, nine of them to right-handed hitters.
81. Michael Lorenzen (30, RHP, Reds): Starter? Reliever? Two-way player? Lorenzen is not far removed from a 2019 season where he made 73 appearances and posted a 2.92 ERA; someone will figure him out.
82. Ryan Zimmerman (37, 1B, Nationals): There’s no way to term-limit this guy out of D.C., particularly when he’s a snug fit alongside Josh Bell in a first base platoon.
83. Steve Cishek (35, RHP, Angels): Tired of three true outcomes? Cishek’s your guy – he gave up just two home runs in 68 innings and struck out 64.
84. Ian Kennedy (37, RHP, Phillies): His peripherals all nosedived after a July trade from Texas to Philadelphia, where it seemed he needed to douse a fire every night. Struck out 62 in 56 1/3 innings overall.
85. J.A. Happ (39, LHP, Cardinals): North America’s Fifth Starter is about to saddle up for his ninth team in 16 years; he’d just as soon forget Minnesota, where he posted a 6.77 ERA in 19 starts before a trade to St. Louis.
86. Donovan Solano (34, INF, Giants): Donnie Barrels hit at a better than league average rate all three seasons in San Francisco and remains a viable and pliable platoon partner across an infield.
87. Archie Bradley (29, RHP, Phillies): Always eager to take the ball, Bradley hit a wall of sorts in August and September, posting a 4.50 ERA over the final two months. Has averaged 65 appearances over the past four full seasons.
88. Jed Lowrie (37, INF, Athletics): After losing nearly two entire seasons to injury with the Mets, Lowrie found the waters of the East Bay restorative, slugging 14 homers in a startling career revival.
89. Andrelton Simmons (32, SS, Twins): Three years removed from his most recent Gold Glove, Simmons now will catch the ball and that’s about it – he posted a .558 OPS in 131 games, or a 57 adjusted OPS. Eesh.
90. Matt Harvey (32, RHP, Orioles): Harvey was very good in July – a 2.45 ERA in four starts – and atrocious the rest of the year. But the innings crisis isn’t going away anytime soon, and Harvey ate 127 ⅔ of them for Baltimore. We say the dude gets a major league deal this time.
91. Andrew Miller (36, LHP, Cardinals): Save for 13 crisp innings in the pandemic year of 2020, Miller has scuffled since his final All-Star season of 2017. Still, he’s punching out batters at a clip of greater than 10 per nine innings and remains brutal on lefties (.182/.257/.288), so perhaps a recalibration of role and expectations will serve him well.
92. Roberto Perez (33, C, Indians): He’s bottomed out offensively – a .155 average and 46 adjusted OPS since 2020 – and isn’t the receiver he used to be. But a two-time Gold Glove catcher will almost always find a home, even if not in his accustomed role.
94. Yimi Garcia (31, RHP, Astros): Saved 15 games for Miami and then after a trade to Houston was Everyday Yimi come October, pitching in 10 of the Astros’ 16 playoff games.
95. Michael Wacha (30, RHP, Rays): The rare Tampa Bay flyer that didn’t pan out spectacularly, Wacha nonetheless gave them 124 innings in a variety of roles and should do the same elsewhere in ’22.
96. Jesse Chavez (38, RHP, Braves): In 37 games, including playoffs, Chavez did not yield a home run, posted a 43% groundball rate and a 1.01 regular season WHIP.
97. Leury Garcia (31, INF/OF, White Sox): A South Side reunion makes some sense – the club dealt Nick Madrigal at the deadline and Cesar Hernandez is a free agent. Garcia slugged a playoff home run and manned a half-dozen positions in the regular season.
98. Chris Martin (35, RHP, Braves): His WHIP spiked a bit and his leverage slipped, but Martin still racked up 13 holds and figured in Atlanta’s World Series plans. In this era of the five-inning starter, teams need a reliable sixth-inning guy, too.
99. Yusmeiro Petit (37, RHP, Athletics): Much respect to the veteran righty now on a seven-year run of his ERA defying his FIP.
100. Hansel Robles (31, RHP, Red Sox): Pitched a little better after trade from Minnesota to Boston and logged a crucial inning in wild-card win over Yankees. Might not match career-high 23 saves in 2019, but has the chutzpah to pitch the ninth if called upon.
101. Hunter Strickland (33, RHP, Brewers): May finally be in line for a guaranteed deal after finding the greatest success of his career in Milwaukee, as many do. Posted a 1.73 ERA in 35 games there and added three scoreless appearances in the NLDS.
102. Brian Goodwin (31, OF, White Sox): Always finds a way into someone’s plans as a reserve outfielder.
103. Tony Watson (36, LHP, Giants): Three-batter minimum hasn’t put him out to pasture – he was similarly effective against righties (.537 OPS) as lefties (.551) in ‘21.
104. Mitch Moreland (36, DH, Athletics): Finally dipped below league average as a hitter. He’ll be keeping a watchful eye on those CBA talks.
105. Sean Doolittle (35, LHP, Mariners): Didn’t quite complete the revival he hoped for in ’21, but still punched out better than a batter an inning and should have at least one more reinvention within him.
106. Mike Foltyniewicz (30, RHP, Rangers): An All-Star in 2018 and an opening-day starter in 2021, Foltyniewicz gave up 35 home runs with a 6.02 FIP in 139 innings. But he did give them innings – and there figures to be one pitching-poor club thinking they can fix “Folty.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Top MLB free agents: Ranking the 2021-2022 available players