The First Free Agent Rankings List Offers Plenty to Consider and Discuss

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The First Free Agent Rankings List Offers Plenty to Consider and Discuss

Chicago Cubs

There are just two to four games left in the 2022 season, which means free agency draws very near. That, in turn, means Free Agent List SZN has arrived.

The first entrant is Keith Law, who today dropped his free agent rankings at The Athletic. For me, I tend to pay a lot less attention to the actual ordering on these lists (lest I find myself in silly fights about how it’s wild that Jameson Taillon is ranking several spots ahead of Justin Verlander, or Jurickson Profar is ranking 20 spots ahead of Anthony Rizzo). Instead, I just like to see the discussion that informed the rankings, the analysis of the players, and the thinking on what their free agency might look like.

On that front, there’s a whole lot to digest in Law’s article. Well, 50 players’ worth, to be precise.

Some of my thoughts and reactions …

  • On the top shortstops, it reads to me like Law sees it as Carlos Correa clearly at the top, then Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson pretty close together, then Xander Bogaerts behind them. Each would command an AAV in the low-to-mid $30 millions, but Correa’s would be the longest (seven, eight, nine years?), and Bogaerts’ would be the shortest (five or six years?). Not sure it will actually play out like that, but the implication that Swanson could approach $200 million is surprising to me.
  • Aaron Judge – who ranks fourth on the list, behind Correa, Turner, and Swanson – figures to be worth $35-$40 million per year, according to Law, but he’d hesitate at a longer guarantee than four years. That would obviously come up waaaaay shy of a deal, but it does speak to the idea that teams like the Cubs and Dodgers might TRY to turn Judge’s head with some kind of crazy AAV over four or five years. Won’t work, because he’s going to be able to get 8+ seasons at a huge AAV – probably from the Yankees – but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong to try.
  • Willson Contreras ranks 6th in the class, ahead of a wholllle bunch of stars, because the bat is just that much better than most catchers (and certainly way better than anyone else in the class). It would seem Law is projecting Contreras to approach or surpass $100 million on his free agent deal, which would shock me (but, hey, it would make me very happy for Contreras). Consider it a data point in favor of Contreras rejecting the Cubs’ one-year, $19.65 million Qualifying Offer, though.
  • Law can see Jacob deGrom getting $40 million per year on a very short-term deal, and Carlos Rodon getting $30 million per year for however long the highest bidder can stomach. I think 3/$120M for deGrom is a great risk. I think something like 5/$150M for Rodon is arguably an even bigger risk. But the Cubs might just have to suck it up if they want a real chance at an ace in free agency.
  • Justin Verlander, who comes in ranked behind Jameson Taillon and Taijuan Walker, which, hey, I get that he’s gonna be 40. But he was also so very good in 2022 that I wouldn’t blink at the Cubs offering him a two-year deal at a preeeemium AAV. Not sure he would actually choose the Cubs at this stage of his career, but if you can get an impact starting pitcher on a short-term deal, that’s absolutely worth pursuing.
  • Law isn’t all that high on Kodai Senga, even as he could see a team giving him four years and $80 million. It sounds like Law sees questions about whether Senga winds up a reliever after getting some exposure in MLB.
  • Boy, there are a LOT of league-average-ish starting pitchers in this class. Nothing wrong with that, as those guys do have plenty of value. But the goal for a team like the Cubs – who now believe fully in their ability to maximize the pitching performance of mid-tier guys – would be to make sure you get YOUR target so that you can max him out. Maybe that’s Senga (he’s kind of his own bird, since the upside is substantial). Maybe it’s a guy like Zach Eflin. Or Noah Syndergaard. Or Chris Bassitt. Or Ross Stripling. Or Jose Quintana (who I mention mostly because he shows up in this grouping of starting pitchers in the 20-ish to 30ish range on the list).
  • Jose Abreu would be great on a one-year, $20 million deal, according to Law, but beyond that, you’re asking to be on the hook for when the cliff inevitably arrives.
  • Meanwhile, Law thinks Anthony Rizzo (two and a half years younger than Abreu) might wind up worth less in 2023 than the $16 million he’s leaving on the table to opt out, in large part because of projected age-related decline. I mean, I guess, but Rizzo raked in 2022 (.224/.338/.480/132 wRC+), posting his best numbers since 2019 (and it turns out it wasn’t all Yankee stadium’s short porch). Throw in the fact that shift restrictions figure to really benefit a guy like Rizzo, and I’ll take the over on Rizzo’s 2023 value being just $16 million. I’m guessing he gets something like 2/$35M from the Yankees, and winds up easily worth it.
  • Corey Kluber at one year and $7 million sure sounds mighty interesting to me, though the Cubs would obviously need to also add an impact guy for that to make sense.

Much, much more in Law’s piece here.

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Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.