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Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class

Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class

The 2020 offseason yielded a top-notch class of free agents, especially on the mound. Headliners included Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, both coming off career years. Their new deals broke, and then broke again, the record for the largest contract given to a pitcher. Cole’s 9 yrs/$324 million deal was the fourth most expensive at the time.

Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class
Realmuto is the most valuable position player soon to be on the market (Image Courtesy of The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Looking Ahead

This year, free agent bats take center stage. Last year Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson were the biggest names, but now, talented hitters are up for grabs at various price points.

Although the top bopper is already off the board – Mookie Betts will be a Dodger for a dozen more seasons – future franchise cornerstones like J.T. Realmuto and George Springer will command top dollar. Trevor Bauer and Marcus Stroman are also frontline material when they get into a groove.

But due to this pandemic shortened season, teams won’t get a full look at these pending free agents. If some of them fall into even short slumps, their season stats could be drastically affected – possibly along with their pay. So clubs will just have to evaluate players in other ways. Advanced statistics, like those from Baseball Savant, will carry extra weight.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the finest upcoming free agents.

The Class

(Stats are as of 8/13)

Trevor Bauer – SP
Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class
Bauer is lighting up advanced metric leaderboards (Image Courtesy of Getty Images)

Savant Stat: 100th percentile in Fastball Spin

Projected Contract: 7 yrs/$200 million

With an incredible start to 2020, Bauer’s stock is rising. Seeking to prove his top tier status, he’s struck out 46.4% of the batters he’s faced in 19 innings. 2020 seems to be the culmination of his work with DriveLine, a throwing program that helps pitchers gain velocity and spin with weighted balls and bands. His spin rate, up over 2850 on breaking pitches, makes it clear why he’s only given up seven hits in three starts.

J.T. Realmuto – C

Savant Stat: 94th percentile in Hard Hit Rate (batted balls over 95 MPH)

Projected Contract: 6 yrs/$185 million

The best catcher in baseball will have many suitors, and might convince a team to break the $200 million mark if he continues at his current pace this year. The 29-year-old in on an MVP chase with a 1.088 OPS, plus his usual glove work. Consistency will be his main selling point though – he recorded 4.5 rWAR in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

George Springer – CF

Savant Stat: 77th percentile in Barrel Rate (a batted ball event that results in at least a .500 BA)

Projected Contract: 6 yrs/$150 million

The former 2011 first-rounder was one of the first on the scene to help the Astros climb out of their self-dug cellar. And while the team brought a trash can up with them, Springer probably wasn’t among the ‘stros that needed help at the plate. His quick bat and aggressiveness will play anywhere, plus he’s a premier defensive centerfielder.

Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class
Stroman will be healthy and rested for 2021 (Image Courtesy of MLB Trade Rumors)
Marcus Stroman – SP

Savant Stat: N/A, opted out of 2020 season

Projected Contract: 6 yrs/$140 million

Stroman bowed out of the 2020 season on Monday, but he’s still the 2nd best starter on the market. Teams looking at his 2019 stats will see the potential for staff leading performance, with low HR and BB rates. He should command a 9-figure salary, unless he’d rather take a one-year prove it deal.

DJ LeMahieu – 2B

Savant Stat: 98th percentile in K Rate

Projected Contract: 4 yrs/$90 million

Picking up right where he left off in 2019, LeMahieu leads the league in BA (.431), OBP (.479), and hits (28). In an era where low K rates are scarce, DJ figures to be pursued heavily. Although he’s 32, his plate discipline seems to be getting better, making him the perfect 2nd place hitter. It’s possible he’ll earn up to 6 year contract – players like LeMahieu age gracefully.

Marcus Semien – SS

Savant Stat: 78th percentile in Sprint Speed

Projected Contract: 5 yrs/$85 million

Semien has been cold to start 2020, but his 2019 season was a masterpiece. He set career highs in every relevant stat, and rocked a .892 OPS from SS. His 8.9 rWAR was second in the AL, and he finished 3rd in MVP voting. With plenty of star shortstops in the game now, Semien won’t command as much money as his 2019 might indicate. It’s also possible he’ll stay in Oakland on a bargain deal.

Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class
Simmons is simply the best defender in the game (Image Courtesy of USA Today Sports)
Andrelton Simmons – SS

Savant Stat: N/A, not enough PAs

Projected Contract: 4 yrs/$50 million

“Simba” is currently on the IL, but he’s probably still earning dWAR. When healthy, he’s an animal in the field, chasing down anything that moves. He’s so good that in 2017, his defense alone provided as much value to the Angels as Francisco Lindor did for the Indians in 2019. That’s Lindor’s offense and defense. The team that signs Andrelton this offseason will only need to hope for a 90 OPS+, and his glove will take care of the rest.

Michael Brantley – LF/DH

Savant Stat: 90th percentile in Whiff Rate (# of swings and misses/all swings)

Projected Contract: 3 yrs/$45 million

“Dr. Smooth” keeps on hitting, and probably will if he continues to avoid the injury bug. His move to DH in the absence of Yordan Alvarez has been beneficial, and if the NL keeps the DH in 2021, everyone will want Brantley as their 3 hitter.

Justin Turner – 3B

Savant Stat: 81st percentile in Barrel Rate

Projected Contract: 2 yrs/$25 million

Turner continues to make his mark with the Dodgers, and it would be surprising to see him sign elsewhere. He’s still quite valuable as a player, but his role in the clubhouse and the community are endearing. Young players emerging in the Dodger lineup are lucky to take advice from such an intelligent hitter.

Nelson Cruz – DH
Projecting the 2021 MLB Free Agent Class
Father time has nothing on this guy (Image Courtesy of AP)

Savant Stat: 83rd percentile in Barrel Rate

Projected Contract: 1 year/$15 million

At 40 years old, Cruz sits at 23rd on the 2020 OPS+ leaderboard. Not that this is new for him. The present caveman-esque trend of “strong man swing up” was practically pioneered by Nelson. He’s still Statcast’s poster child, at the top of Barrel Rate leaderboards for the past 5 years. That’s all to say that the third-oldest player in the league is still one of its best.

Featured Image Courtesy of AP

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