A significant payday has always been waiting for superstars Aaron Judge and Trea Turner when they hit the open market following the 2022 season, and the same will be true for Jacob deGrom, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa if they opt out of their contracts.
Willson Contreras, Brandon Nimmo, Josh Bell, Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Bassitt also entered the season with solid free-agency stock and have only solidified their earning power this year.
However, a handful of players have considerably boosted their free-agent profile.
Ahead we’ve highlighted the 10 upcoming free agents who have done the most to improve their earning power during the 2022 campaign.
Let’s start with a few honorable mentions.
-The Texas Rangers released Matt Carpenter from a minor league deal on May 19, and a week later he caught on with the New York Yankees. The 36-year-old has found a second life in the Bronx, posting an absurd 219 OPS+ with 15 home runs in 154 plate appearances as a part-time player. At the very least, he should be able to turn that into a guaranteed MLB deal this offseason.
-One of baseball’s elite prospects a decade ago, left-hander Matt Moore struggled to a 6.29 ERA in 73 innings with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2021, but he has reinvented himself as a reliever this season. The 33-year-old has a 1.90 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in 40 appearances, and teams are always looking for quality southpaw relievers.
-Veteran Michael Wacha has been sidelined since June 28 with shoulder inflammation, but he had a 2.69 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 70.1 innings before landing on the injured list. If he was able to secure a one-year, $7 million deal from the Boston Red Sox last offseason coming off a 5.05 ERA in 124.2 innings with the Tampa Bay Rays, he should be able to break $10 million on his next contract.
Left-hander Tyler Anderson was a nice scrap-heap pickup by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2021, as he posted a 4.35 ERA in 103.1 innings while pitching on a one-year, $2.5 million deal before he was flipped to the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline.
The Los Angeles Dodgers gave him a one-year, $8 million deal during the offseason in an effort to add some depth to the back of their starting rotation, and he has rewarded them with the best season of his career.
The 32-year-old has gone 13-1 with a 2.72 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 97 strikeouts in 122.1 innings, earning his first All-Star selection.
With a 3.33 FIP and strong batted-ball metrics, he does not look like a candidate for significant regression, and the three-year, $36 million deals that Anthony DeSclafani and Yusei Kikuchi signed last offseason are a reasonable target for his next contract.
Once the top prospect in baseball, Andrew Benintendi never quite developed into the star many were expecting him to be during his time with the Boston Red Sox, and he was traded to the Kansas City Royals prior to the 2021 season.
After hitting .342/.398/.570 with five home runs and 29 RBI over the final 31 games of 2021, he looked poised for a big contract year, and so far he has delivered.
He hit .320/.387/.398 for a 124 OPS+ in 390 plate appearances with the Royals to begin the year, earning his first All-Star selection, and he was a popular name leading up to the trade deadline before he was dealt to the New York Yankees.
The 28-year-old is off to a slow start in the Bronx, but his age, contact ability and Gold Glove defense in the outfield will make him an attractive target for a multiyear deal.
Already one of baseball’s most overpowering relievers, Edwin Díaz is having the best season of his career and one of the most dominant campaigns we’ve seen from a reliever in quite some time.
For starters, he has struck out 91 of 172 batters, good for a 52.9 percent strikeout rate that is the best in MLB history by a pitcher with at least 30 innings pitched, narrowly eclipsing Aroldis Chapman in 2014 (52.4 percent).
He also has a 1.39 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 26 saves in 29 chances, thanks to a fastball that averages 99.0 mph and a lethal wipeout slider that has limited opposing hitters to a .134 average and generated a ridiculous 53.3 percent whiff rate.
The five-year, $86 million deal that Aroldis Chapman signed with the New York Yankees prior to the 2017 season still stands as the largest contract ever signed by a relief pitcher. Could Díaz become baseball’s first $100 million reliever?
Brandon Drury showed promise as a rookie in 2016, posting a 101 OPS+ with 31 doubles, 16 home runs and 53 RBI in 499 plate appearances while playing all over the field defensively.
However, he failed to build off that strong performance, and he spent the last five years bouncing around and posting a lackluster 77 OPS+ in 1,150 plate appearances.
The Cincinnati Reds brought him to spring training on a minor league deal, and he played his way onto the Opening Day roster, earning a one-year contract for under $1 million.
That has been one of the best bargains of the winter as he logged a 126 OPS+ with 22 doubles, 20 home runs and 59 RBI in 92 games before he was traded to the San Diego Padres at the deadline. Still just 29 years old, he will have no trouble securing an MLB deal and perhaps even a multiyear pact this time around in free agency.
The Houston Astros acquired Rafael Montero from the Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline last year as part of the Kendall Graveman-for-Abraham Toro swap.
Once a top prospect in the New York Mets organization before flaming out as a starter and then dealing with arm issues, he reinvented himself as a reliever and enjoyed some success with the Texas Rangers in 2019 and 2020. However, he struggled to the tune of a 7.27 ERA in 40 appearances with the Mariners last season before he was traded to Houston.
He made just four appearances with the Astros following the trade before he was sidelined with elbow tendinitis, but he has come back strong this season as one of the best setup relievers in baseball.
The 31-year-old has a 1.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 in 48 appearances, tallying seven saves and 17 holds. He could make a run at the three-year, $24 million deal that Graveman signed with the Chicago White Sox last winter.
Joc Pederson signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the San Francisco Giants after he posted a middling 94 OPS+ in 481 plate appearances with the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves in 2021.
The 30-year-old has some obvious shortcomings, but he is playing his way to a bigger payday thanks to a career-high 127 OPS+ that includes 17 home runs and 45 RBI en route to his first All-Star selection since his rookie season in 2015.
He has been used almost exclusively in a platoon role with a .698 OPS in just 42 plate appearances against left-handed pitching, and he has been a borderline liability defensively (-8 DRS, -22.4 UZR/150) due to his extremely limited range, but he can hit.
A team looking for a left-handed bat to plug into the DH role or willing to give him an extended look at first base should offer a more lucrative contract than the one he signed this past winter.
Will Martín Pérez actually hit the open market?
The Texas Rangers held onto the veteran left-hander at the trade deadline, perhaps signaling their interest in exploring a long-term extension as they continue to build toward contention.
If he does test the free-agency waters, he’s poised to earn significantly more than the one-year, $4 million deal he signed last offseason. The 31-year-old is enjoying the best season of his career with a 2.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 118 strikeouts in 136 innings, which earned him his first All-Star selection in his 11th big league season.
His newfound success can be attributed to a retooled approach that has him throwing his sinker and changeup more and his cutter less, and his 3.24 FIP provides plenty of reason for optimism that he can replicate this year’s success.
A quad injury kept Luis Urias sidelined to begin the 2022 season, and that opened the door for Jace Peterson to see some regular playing time at third base.
The 32-year-old utility player performed well enough to carve out a semi-regular role in the Milwaukee Brewers lineup, and he has a 113 OPS+ with 22 extra-base hits and 10 steals in 241 plate appearances.
His sneaky mix of power, speed and defensive versatility has been worth a career-high 2.4 WAR in 80 games, a total that trails only Corbin Burnes (3.9) and Willy Adames (2.5) among all players on the Brewers roster.
Playing on a $1.83 million salary in his final year of arbitration, he should at least be able to land something in the neighborhood of what Jonathan Villar (one year, $6 million) and Donovan Solano (one year, $4.5 million) signed for last offseason.
Once upon a time, José Quintana was good enough for the Chicago Cubs to give up Eloy Jiménez and Dylan Cease to acquire him from the crosstown Chicago White Sox.
However, after injuries limited him to 10 innings in 2020, he struggled to a 6.43 ERA and 1.73 WHIP in 63 innings with the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Giants last season and had to settle for a one-year, $2 million deal from the Pittsburgh Pirates in free agency.
That bargain shopping paid off for Pittsburgh as he logged a 3.50 ERA in 103 innings over 20 starts before he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals at the deadline in exchange for young right-hander Johan Oviedo and prospect Malcom Nunez.
The 33-year-old has a 2.25 ERA in 12 innings pitched over his first two starts in St. Louis, and a strong finish to the season will make him one of the more attractive second-tier starters on the market. In that case, he’ll likely see a significant raise even if he has to settle for a one-year deal once again.
Dansby Swanson has played his way into the top tier of upcoming free agents with a career year that should result in some down-ballot NL MVP votes.
The 28-year-old set career highs in hits (146), doubles (33), home runs (27) and RBI (88) last year, but he did it with a middling .311 on-base percentage and 98 OPS+ en route to a 1.9-WAR season.
This year, he’s hitting .294/.348/.463 for a 122 OPS+, and his 4.2 WAR trails only Francisco Lindor (4.6) among all shortstops. That includes Xander Bogaerts (3.9), Trea Turner (3.8) and Carlos Correa (2.6), who are expected to be the top shortstops on the market this offseason.
While a career year is unlikely to push Swanson ahead of that trio in terms of earning power, it has undoubtedly boosted his stock, and given his age and well-rounded skill set, a deal north of $100 million is well within reach.
Statistics via Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
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