2022 MLB Free Agent Grades: The A-Team

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We still have several weeks before all eligible players are officially listed as free agents, but with the 2021 MLB regular season now over, it’s time to begin looking at the upcoming class.

Jeff Passan at ESPN has already published his annual post regarding the upcoming pool of players, which as always, is extremely detailed. Although I also recommend checking out our own Sam Peebles, who has written extensively about numerous Braves free agent targets for months now.

Today I’m starting my grades for the upcoming free-agent class, beginning with the top players — what I call the A-Team. Below I’ve provided a table featuring my picks for the best hitters and pitchers in the 2022 MLB free-agent class, listed in no particular order. Given all of the club-options and the nuances involved with player contracts, not all of these guys will make it to the open market this winter. But until the season is officially over, all we can do is speculate and treat each free agent as available this offseason.

Below the table, I’ve also written a few sentences about several of the players. I’ll continue my grading over the next week or so, covering the B-Team next.

 

We’ll start with the hitters here, which is overwhelmingly dominated by infielders, making up 10 of the 12 A-team free agent hitters above. The fact that Freddie Freeman is on this list is frustrating for Braves fans, but I wouldn’t get too excited about his inclusion just yet. GM Alex Anthopoulos is smart enough to know that bringing back the team’s franchise player is extremely critical to keeping Atlanta’s talented core intact.

In terms of consistency among this winter’s upcoming class, Ramirez easily leads the pack. The 29-year-old third baseman’s 28.1 fWAR since 2017 ranks third among all MLB hitters, only bested by Mookie Betts (29.1) and Mike Trout (29.6). The 2022 free agent with the closest level of production in that span is third baseman Nolan Arenado, who’s currently at 22.4 WAR (tied for 7th-most). Both would make a helluva addition at the hot corner, though obviously, each will command quite a contract.

Speaking of contracts, neither Ramirez nor Arenado is guaranteed to hit the open market this winter as the former has a $12-million club-option for next season (with a $14M option for ’23 as well). The latter can choose not to opt out of his current deal (which is exactly what he did just days ago, according to a report by Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Dispatch).

Marcus Semien, the lone second baseman on this list, is a player that can pretty much name his price. The 31-year-old is currently in the midst of an incredible stretch of seasons, averaging 4.8 fWAR per year since 2018, and is now up to 6.8 WAR thus far in 2021. It may be hard to believe, but Semien is right on Freeman’s tail in terms of his total production over the last five seasons. The current Blue Jay has drastically improved his stock recently, and there will be plenty of teams interested in his 40-homer power at the keystone position.

The A-team of pitchers listed above is pretty amazing. I mean, how often do five of the top-20 starters in the sport over the last five years all find themselves in the same free-agent class? Of course, the big headliner is Max Scherzer, who is tied with Jacob deGrom for the most WAR in the majors by a starting pitcher since 2017, with 27.6 fWAR.

MLB Networks’ Jon Heyman reported that the 37-year-old righty is looking to land a contract this winter that’ll “take him into his 40s”, and the last time he was a free agent, he got a $210-million deal from the Nationals… so I expect Scherzer to potentially receive Gerrit Cole-type money this offseason in terms of AAV.

I believe it’s pretty doubtful the big-spending Dodgers decide to pass on Clayton Kershaw, who is one of the best starters in the game that has yet to reach his late-30s. Still just 33, the lefty is tied with Trevor Bauer at ninth on the WAR rankings for starting pitchers over the last five seasons. It may be a short-term deal, but to me, there’s no way LA lets Kershaw run home to Texas.

The pitcher I’m most intrigued by here for the Braves’ purposes is, of course, Craig Kimbrel. How cool would a reunion be? And even if there’s really no sentimental value there for you, the fact of the matter is… Kimbrel is still really damn good, currently the fifth-best reliever in baseball in terms of 2021 fWAR. The problem, though, given how well he pitched in 2021, is that it’s very likely the White Sox pick up the 33-year-old’s $16-million club option, meaning Atlanta may have to wait until the 2023 season to bring back Welcome to the Jungle.

Photo: John Cordes/Icon Sportswire

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