Since the 2020-21 MLB offseason, I’ve released early free agency predictions a year in advance. We weren’t completely off the mark in the latest series of predictions, all things considered. This year’s free agency class carries intrigue, along with potential game-changing talents.
10. RP Craig Kimbrel, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kimbrel is one of the best closers of our generation, although he is not without fault. He has obtained 372 career saves at the time of this writing while holding a 2.25 career ERA. The 34-year old has lost some of his appeal after a rough 2019 season that saw him appear in 23 games that resulted in a 6.59 ERA.
Kimbrel tried to bounce back in the abbreviated 2020 season and never got the opportunity to prove himself. In the 2021 season, Kimbrel once again established himself as one of the best relievers in the game. Once he was traded to the Chicago White Sox, however, Kimbrel gave up 13 runs across 23 innings pitched.
Ideally, Kimbrel would want to land somewhere that will be able to dish him one last multi-year payday, along with an undisputed closer role. Kimbrel currently sports a 4.13 ERA over 24 innings pitched and has secure 13 saves for the Dodgers.
Prediction: Craig Kimbrel signs a two-year, $30 million deal with the Atlanta Braves
Why: After the Braves signed Kenley Jansen to a one-year, $16 million deal, he will be looking to further establish himself as one of the best closers in the game. I’m predicting that Kimbrel will pitch to a lesser version of his best self for the remainder of the season, but it will be enough to net a multi-year deal. Opposingly, I see Jansen pitching very well in his new home and will seek to test free agency a bit more. This will allow the Braves to reunite with their former closer that left them back in 2014.
9. RP Kenley Jansen, Atlanta Braves
After a strong 2021 season, I’d expect Kenley Jansen to pick up where he left off. He was only able to net a one-year deal this past offseason, which I believe will be a motivating factor. He seems to be a great fit for the defending World Series Champions.
I expect Jansen to be an All-Star in 2022 and to pitch well enough for one particular big market franchise to pick him up. Jansen is holding a 3.58 ERA with 20 saves on the season so far.
Prediction: Kenley Jansen signs a three-year, $53 million deal with the New York Mets
Why: New Mets owner Steve Cohen is clearly prepared to spend any funds necessary to get the best version of every aspect of the team. The salary figure is inspired by Wade Davis’ contract that was signed with the Colorado Rockies a few years back. Edwin Diaz has done well for the team thus far, but having Jansen to pair could help solidify the backend of the bullpen.
8. OF Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
Michael Brantley will perhaps be one of the more overlooked free agents. He has spent his career in small markets while also playing behind the most infamous infields in Houston the past four seasons. Injury history aside, Brantley is a consistent contact hitter who can easily shore up a corner outfield spot and deliver without forcing teams to break the bank on him.
Unfortunately, we can’t put his injury completely aside as it pertains to finding the free agent value. He is unlikely to seek out a lucrative deal and could work out to be a solid bargain for whichever franchise that decides to sign him. Brantley is currently batting a characteristic .288 batting average through 243 at-bats.
Prediction: Michael Brantley signs a two-year, $28 million contract with the Detroit Tigers
Why: The Tigers have made strides in allowing their rebuild to come to a close. Spencer Torkelson has graduated into an everyday starter, while the team also signed Javier Baez, as we predicted last year. There are still a few years of Miguel Cabrera to get through, but signing Brantley for two years gives Detroit a viable left fielder and allows them to move on from Robbie Grossman.
7. RP Aroldis Chapman, New York Yankees
Aroldis Chapman is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, but he is anything but untouchable. He has had various infamous moments in Yankees history, but that hasn’t always been for the best. As he continues to creep up in age and his velocity wains, his production will go with it. He will enter his age 35 season next year, but one could expect a few more solid years from the closer.
He certainly won’t be a cheap investment, but Chapman is almost guaranteed to take a slight pay cut from his $18 million salary this season. Due to the injury bug, Chapman owns a 3.86 ERA with nine saves across 14 innings pitched.
Prediction: Aroldis Chapman signs a three-year, $33 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies
Why: It’s not beyond the possibility that the Yankees bring back Chapman. The closer seems to love being in New York and could be willing to exercise patience and take a small pay cut to remain with the team. However, the Yankees often time freeze out their own free agents as they wait for the market to play out. Aaron Judge will be the major priority for the team and their focus will likely remain there. In the end, they have emerging relievers in Michael King and Clay Holmes who can lead the bullpen beyond this season. The Phillies are desperate to improve their bullpen and may sweep in and pay Chapman.
6. SP Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins
The contract of Sonny Gray will be determined by his performance this season. He won’t have his shortage of seekers in a weak pitching market in the upcoming free agency class. Since his miserable 2018 season with the New York Yankees, Gray has returned to elite form. He was named as an All-Star in 2019 and has held a 3.49 ERA across 366 innings pitching with the Cincinnati Reds through the 2021 season. Gray has since been traded to the Minnesota Twins where he currently holds a 2.53 ERA across 42.2 innings pitched.
Prediction: Sonny Gray signs a three-year, $48 million contract with the Chicago White Sox
Why: The White Sox have been knocking on the door of being a World Series contender, but it hasn’t played out just yet. The rotation is improving behind Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease and Michael Kopech. The team is still seeking support towards the bottom of their rotation as their attempts with Johnny Cueto are unlikely to hold up.
5. OF JD Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Aside from a weak two-month stretch this season, JD Martinez has performed well for the Boston Red Sox. He hasn’t been a reliable defensive option, but is sitting comfortably as a designated hitter moving forward. His future is difficult to predict with the designated hitter position being implemented across the league, meaning he is likely to have his fair share of suitors in free agency. Martinez currently has an argument for the All-Star team, as he has smacked eight homers to go with his .924 OPS.
Prediction: JD Martinez signs a three-year, $75 million deal with the San Diego Padres
Why: Josh Donaldson is a recent example of a player in their mid-30’s receiving a payday. He signed a four-year, $92 million with the Minnesota Twins after a bounce-back year in 2019. Martinez will be a year older as a designated hitter, but with the position being expanded across the MLB, he’ll have his suitors. The Padres have been aggressive in growing their team. Both Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers will clear $40 million in annual salary. Signing Martinez could further boost their lineup, as Fernando Tatis is still a bargain on their annual books.
4. OF Andrew Benintendi, Kansas City Royals
Benintendi might be the most underrated player to hit the free agent market this offseason. His numbers don’t exactly light up the record books, but he’s currently batting .295 and has remained a constant variable for the Kansas City Royals. That being said, Benintendi is almost guaranteed to relocate following this season.
Prediction: Andrew Benintendi signs a two-year, $36 million deal with the Boston Red Sox
Why: Ever since the Red Sox traded away Mookie Betts, times have changed for the team. Questions loom as it pertains to whether or not Boston will move on from Xander Boegarts, while rumors are sure to arise due to Rafael Devers being set to hit the 2023 free agent market. In the same offseason that the Sox traded away Betts, they traded away Benintendi. Both Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs were part of the return package for Betts and they have yet to justify their return value. With JD Martinez likely to move on in free agency, the Red Sox might be tempted to take a bit of a low-risk, high-reward investment on Benintendi.
3. SP Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Last year, I predicted that Clayton Kershaw would sign with the Texas Rangers. It was believed that the Los Angeles Dodgers would be occupied in their efforts to retain Corey Seager, but instead, the opposite occurred. Seager was the one to sign with Texas, while Kershaw remained with the only team he’s ever played for. Over 45 innings pitched this season, Kershaw holds a 2.00 ERA and 47 strikeouts.
Prediction: Clayton Kershaw signs a three-year, $75 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers
Why: Looking at the contract that Marcus Stroman signed with the Chicago Cubs last year, Kershaw should be able to net at least $25 million annually in a relatively light pitching market. The Dodgers will be looking to lock up Walker Buehler in the near future, but re-signing Kershaw along with Julio Urias is the predictable route for Los Angeles.
2. SS Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
To this point, Trea Turner currently has an upcoming contract value of an eight-year, $243 million deal, according to Spotrac. However, his player prototype doesn’t always age the best. That being said, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a suitor that will be willing to pay the 28-year old.
I don’t expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to take that risk, despite letting Corey Seager walk last season. The Dodgers don’t have an issue on spending for a shortstop, but the risk on Turner is likely a tad too rich. Turner has netted 90 hits across 284 at bats, good for a .317 batting average to go with 15 stolen bases.
Prediction: Trea Turner signs a seven-year, $192 million deal with the San Francisco Giants
Why: Don’t look now, but Brandon Crawford is 35 years old already. He has never been a great offensive option, but has delivered as one of the top defensive shortstops in the game. His two-year, $32 million contract is set to expire and could potentially be an option for the Dodgers if they decide to invest in a stop-gap shortstop.
The San Francisco Giants are rumored to be active in free agency. Crawford will be off the books and it’s likely the team won’t pick up Evan Longoria’s $13 million option. As currently constructed, the Giants have the 13th-highest payroll along with a history of being willing to spend. They are in the rumors as it pertains to the Aaron Judge pursuit, but I do expect them to be outbid. As a consolation prize, Turner may be their big free agent pickup.
1. OF Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
The status of Aaron Judge has been a question as it pertains to the Yankees future. After declining a seven-year, $213 million extension offer to remain with the team, his intention to make the most of his first free agency period is clear. Judge is rumored to be seeking an $36 million annual salary over the course of eight years. Judge is in the midst of a historic season thus far, as he has compiled 28 home runs with a .294 batting average.
Prediction: Aaron Judge signs an eight-year, $280 million deal with the Los Angeles Angels
Why: It is difficult to imagine the New York Yankees tying up $1 billion on three players over 30 years old. It is especially dangerous when you consider the injury history of Giancarlo Stanton and Judge, both of whom would account for two-thirds of the hypothetical $1 billion trio.
As for the Angels, the free agency of Shohei Ohtani is looming for 2023. Los Angeles is the one team that needs to be all-in for free agency. They have been entrusted with the career of a generational talent in Mike Trout and need to do everything in their power to convince Ohtani that they are committed to a World Series run. Bringing home their Californian-native to pair next to Trout in the outfield is their best hand at getting Trout to the playoffs and potentially a World Series.