Major League Baseball’s free agency period kicked off last week as 147 different Major Leaguers around the league saw their contracts expire.
Plenty of those players will find new homes over the offseason, looking to make impacts wherever they sign. So, which of these players will be the most hotly-contested assets and the most valuable additions? Here is the ranking of our top five.
1. JT Realmuto, Catcher
JT Realmuto has emerged as the best all-around catcher in the game of baseball over the past five seasons. Traded from the Marlins to the Phillies prior to the 2019 season, he continued to produce and put up huge defensive numbers. Realmuto’s 2020 was his best at the plate, as he put up a career-high .349 OBP and hit for a career-high .225 isolated power figure.
Realmuto can do it all, and his importance at baseball’s most demanding position cannot be overstated. Despite the deflated post-COVID-19 market, he’s in line for a multiple-year deal worth a lot of money.
2. Trevor Bauer, Starting Pitcher
Trevor Bauer is a polarizing figure in the league, using his social media clout to build his own brand and pick fights with everyone from commissioner Rob Manfred to fellow players.
What can’t be denied is that he took a huge step forward in 2020 with the Reds, turning himself into an elite starting pitcher with huge strikeout numbers and a 1.73 ERA. Whether Bauer is more of that type of pitcher or more of the type that saw him post a 4.48 ERA in 2019 is yet to be determined, but the odds-on favorite for NL Cy Young Award is undoubtedly tantalizing.
3. George Springer, Center Fielder
Are you looking for consistently good play in center field and big offensive productions? Plenty of GMs will be this offseason, and no one fits the bill better than long-time Astros outfielder George Springer.
He hasn’t had a bad offensive year since his debut in 2014, ranking sixteenth in home runs and thirty-eighth in OBP among qualified hitters in that stretch. Springer isn’t quite a superstar, but he’s a perennial All-Star caliber player who should continue to produce over the next few seasons. He’ll be in high demand.
4. Marcell Ozuna, Left Fielder/DH
Marcell Ozuna is one of the most difficult-to-read players on the free agent list this offseason. His career has been a roller coaster ride, as he burst onto the scene as one of baseball’s top young talents in 2017 before having two decent but not great seasons in St. Louis.
He reminded everyone why he was so heralded in 2020, absolutely crushing the baseball with the Braves after signing a one-year deal. Playing mostly as a DH (something to watch, as his outfield play has worsened in recent years), he crushed 18 home runs (3rd in MLB) and hit .338 as part of Atlanta’s deadly 1-2 punch with Freddie Freeman. He is much like Bauer, but as a position player: can teams count on something resembling a 2020 Ozuna, or will he simply be just an above-average piece?
5. DJ LeMahieu, Infielder
DJ LeMahieu might be turning 33 next year, but there’s no doubt that the man can hit. In fact, in five of the past six seasons, he has hit over .300 and he took home the MLB batting crown in 2020 on the back of a .364 average.
It remains to be seen recent power surge is more of a product of improvement or playing at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, but the team that signs LeMahieu can count on a player who will get on base plenty while providing solid defense at a variety of positions, including first, second, and third base. He’s an ideal top-of-the-lineup hitter and some team will be lucky to have him.