After a season like no other, it's time for an off-season just as strange.
TSN Blue Jays Reporter Scott Mitchell and TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips rank the top 50 free agents, predict their landing spots and examine what sort of payday they might be looking at. Here are the top 50 players on the market from around the MLB:
1—SP Trevor Bauer
2020 stats: 73.0 IP, 5-4, 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 2.7 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Trevor Bauer has the stuff of an ace: a mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and a devastating breaking ball. He is one the best strikeout pitchers in the game. He is aggressive and competitive. He is bold, brash and quirky. He has suggested a desire to pitch every fourth day and to sign only one-year contracts for each season. He is overly active on social media and has taken on other teams, players and the commissioner. He would be a fit for the Reds, Mets, White Sox, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Giants, Angels and Phillies. He signs with the Angels for either one year at $32 million or six years at $150 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: He’s exactly what the Jays need — a dominant, top-of-the-rotation starter — and Bauer, himself, has already taken to Twitter to say "Toronto is a nice city. Could be a destination," which got Jays fans all riled up. Gerrit Cole cost the Yankees $36 million annually, so that’s the ballpark, and it’s not completely out of the realm of possibility general manager Ross Atkins decides blowing his budget on an ace is the right thing to do, as long as he’s satisfied the outspoken right-hander is a clubhouse fit. Bauer is the clear jewel of this free-agent market on the pitching side and he leads off what I believe is an obvious three-player tier atop this list. If there’s a concern, it’s that he has only two real dominant seasons out of seven and five campaigns with an ERA above 4.00, but the pedigree and love for analytics provides hope Bauer is just scratching the surface as he enters his prime.
2—C J.T. Realmuto
2020 stats: .266 BA, 11 HR, 32 RBI, .840 OPS, 1.2 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball. He is a two-way star. He can hit for average and power and is a great receiver and game-caller behind the plate. He can hit anywhere in the lineup and is a great teammate and leader. The Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Marlins, Nationals and Rockies could use Realmuto. He signs with the Yankees for five years and $110 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: The best catcher in baseball hits the market at the same time as Blue Jays’ backstops produced -0.1 fWAR, 25th in baseball, and a putrid .181/.274/.347 slash line in the shortened season. Does that make it a need for Atkins? Not likely, as 25-year-old Danny Jansen posted an .811 OPS over his final 17 starts and rookie Alejandro Kirk looked like the real deal at the plate and acceptable behind it. It’s going to cost nine figures to secure Realmuto for the next five or six years, but he’s an upgrade for every team in baseball.
3—OF George Springer
2020 Stats: .265 BA, 14 HR, 32 RBI, .899 OPS, 1.9 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: George Springer is the best outfielder available this year. He can play centre field or in the corners. He can get on base and he can slug. He has batted in the leadoff spot but could also move down in the lineup and be a run producer. He is a winner and has been clutch in the postseason. The Astros, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Mets, Nationals, Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks and White Sox all have interest. The Connecticut native signs with the New York Mets for a five-year deal at $110 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: Back in March, with the pandemic just starting and no real roadmap for how 2020 was going to play out, my 2022 Jays’ roster projection had Atkins filling his huge need in centre field by inking Springer to a hypothetical five-year, $125-million deal. While spending is expected to tighten across baseball this winter, Springer could still find himself in that range, and despite the Jays’ outfield being the third-most productive in baseball across 60 games with 5.0 fWAR combined, it’s a seamless fit. In the wake of the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Springer’s numbers stayed intact in his age-30 season, with the 2011 11th overall pick slashing .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers in 51 games. When you factor in pretty good centre field defence, speed, power and the ability to get on base, Springer is a clear fit.
4—2B DJ LeMahieu (New York Yankees)
2020 Stats: .364, 10 HR, 27 RBI, 1.011 OPS, 2.8 WAR
Signs with: New York Yankees
Contract: 6 Years, $90 million
5—OF Marcell Ozuna
2020 Stats: .338 BA, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 1.067 OPS, 2.3 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Marcell Ozuna is a middle of the lineup slugger who delivers in the clutch. He can protect a big bat in the lineup as he did with Freddie Freeman for the Braves this season. Ozuna can play left field but is becoming more of a designated hitter. His value is his bat. The Braves, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Rangers and Red Sox could all be fits for him. Ozuna bet on himself taking a one-year deal with Atlanta last season and it worked. He signs with the Cardinals for four years and $72 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: No player did more for their stock this summer than Ozuna, who signed a one-year, $18-million pact with the Braves. All the 29-year-old did was go out and lead the league in homers with 18 and set career highs in virtually every offensive category, slashing a gaudy .338/.431/.636. The Blue Jays have kicked tires on Ozuna in previous winters, but they employ two very similar — and cheaper — players in Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez, so there would have to be a trade for him to be seen as a fit this winter.
6—SS Marcus Semien
2020 Stats: .223 BA, 7 HR, 23 RBI, .679 OPS, 0.3 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Marcus Semien has made himself a solid two-way shortstop. He was a finalist for AL MVP in 2019. This season he started slowly but picked up as the year went along. He is a Gold Glove calibre defender and a leader. The Athletics, Angels, Phillies and Reds are all interested. He signs with the Phillies for three years and $39 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: Semien is in a difficult position. Had he hit free agency a year ago, coming off a monster 7.6 fWAR and 137 wRC+ career year, he would have cashed in. Now, after a middling 1.2 fWAR and 91 wRC+ showing in 53 games, Semien could either be a bargain on a long-term deal or try to rebuild his value with a one-year show-me deal. The issue with that strategy is next year’s free-agent class is loaded at shortstop, with Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa and Corey Seager all slated to hit the market. Observers are split on Semien’s defensive work and he doesn’t seem to be a fit for the Jays, but the lack of a qualifying offer and the fact they’ve checked in on so many shortstops over the past year means you can’t completely rule him out.
7—SS Didi Gregorius
2020 Stats: .284 BA, 10 HR, 40 RBI, .827 OPS, 0.9 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Didi Gregorius had a bounce back season in 2020 and is now fully-recovered from Tommy John Surgery. He showed he still has good enough arm strength and range to play shortstop. He can hit for average and slug the baseball. Gregorius can hit from second to sixth and his lefty bat adds valuable balance to a lineup. The Phillies, Angels, Yankees, Reds and Athletics have interest. He signs with his original organization, the Cincinnati Reds, for three years and $36 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: This is one of those shortstops the Jays have been in on over the past 12 months, kicking tires on the left-handed hitter in free agency a year ago. Atkins and Mark Shapiro have both talked openly about improving the defence this winter. Shifting Bo Bichette to second base — where he’d be a plus defender — and signing a steady veteran like Gregorius, even if his defensive metrics are similar to Bichette’s, would be one way to quickly improve that infield glovework.
8—SS Ha-Seong Kim (San Diego Padres)
2020 Stats: .308 BA, 30 HR, 109 RBI, .926 OPS (KBO)
Signs with: San Diego Padres
9—OF Michael Brantley
2020 Stats: .300 BA, 5 HR, 22 RBI, .840 OPS, 1.5 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Michael Brantley is one of the best pure hitters in baseball. He always gives professional at-bats. He is as consistent of a hitter as there is in the game. He has a solid approach whether leading off an inning or with runners in scoring position. He can still play left field but may soon transition to designated hitter. He is a leader and mentor to young hitters. The Astros, Cardinals, Braves, Cleveland, Blue Jays, Nationals and Red Sox are all fits for him. He signs with the Atlanta Braves for two years and $28 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: As with George Springer, any outfield addition would likely mean some sort of subtraction, and since Brantley is limited to left field, that would mean moving Gurriel in return for pitching. Brantley, however, would add a much-needed element of contact and on-base ability to the Jays’ lineup. With any position player addition, the domino effect has to be considered, as well as the alternatives.
10—SP James Paxton
2020 Stats: 20.1 IP, 1-1, 6.64 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, -0.4 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: James Paxton has front of the rotation stuff, but injuries have hampered his availability and effectiveness in recent years. He is worth a risk, but because of his unpredictability, clubs will need depth to protect him. He is 32 years old which could limit the length of any deal. The Yankees, Blue Jays, Phillies, Astros, Mets, Red Sox, Giants, Rangers and Twins will be in on Paxton. The Blue Jays will sign Paxton to a two-year $18 million deal plus incentives.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: If the upside with Masahiro Tanaka is limited, knowing what he is, it’s the complete opposite with Paxton, who the Jays drafted with the 37th overall pick in 2009. Even though he’ll be heading into his age-32 season in 2021, the Ladner, B.C., native has shown flashes of brilliance over his four seasons with 20-plus starts, but all too often health issues have followed. This year, it was off-season back surgery and then an elbow strain in August. The lefty has maxed out at 160.1 innings, but there are already four seasons of 3.5-plus fWAR, including a career year of 4.4 in 2017 that came along with a 2.98 ERA in just 24 starts. The risk here is extreme, but the upside is as high as anyone on this list if Paxton can finally stay healthy and put it all together.
11—3B Justin Turner
2020 Stats: .307 BA, 4 HR, 23 RBI, .860 OPS, 1.3 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Justin Turner is a professional clutch hitter who can hit for average and power. He is still a good defender at third base but his range is limited by knee issues. His patient approach can also rub off on young players. The Dodgers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Braves, Mets, and Cardinals could use Turner. The Nationals sign him for two years at $26 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: There’s an infield shuffle coming for the Jays at some point, but the versatility of Cavan Biggio gives them some options. With top prospects Jordan Groshans and 2020 fifth-overall pick Austin Martin on the way, a short-term improvement on Travis Shaw would be ideal and Turner would fit that bill, but it’s very unlikely a two-year deal for a 36-year-old would be plan A, B or C.
12—DH Nelson Cruz
2020 Stats: .303 BA, 16 HR, 33 RBI, .992 OPS, 1.6 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Nelson Cruz is the best designated hitter in baseball despite being 40 years old. He works hard to stay in shape and is a beloved teammate no matter where he plays. He has to be looking for a place to win a World series at this stage of his career. The Twins, White Sox, Cleveland, Red Sox, Rays, and Rangers will all have interest. If the NL adds the DH role again in 2021 then the Braves, Nationals, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers, Diamondbacks and Rockies would all have interest. He signs with the White Sox for two years and $28 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: An amazing career continues and Cruz, who slashed .303/.397/.595 with 16 homers in 53 games as a 39-year-old this past season, would improve every team’s offence. The Jays, however, already have too many players that need DH time so he’s not a fit.
13—SP Masahiro Tanaka
2020 Stats: 48.0 IP, 3-3, 3.56 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Masahiro Tanaka (31) is still a quality veteran pitcher that can compete a high level. He has pitched with a ligament tear in his elbow for several years which could scare some suitors away. He has shown the ability to rise to the occasion in the big games. His assortment of pitches and sequencing is still effective despite some loss in velocity and has he has competed well in the tough AL East. The Yankees, Angels, Mets, Red Sox and Blue Jays should all be interested. The Yankees sign him with a three-year, $45 million deal.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: Diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his pitching elbow six years ago, Tanaka has yet to succumb to Tommy John surgery like so many others and has authored seven very consistent and fairly durable seasons since. The crafty Japanese righty relies on mixing pitches and changing speeds rather than pure power, which is the trend these days, but he throws strikes and always ends up with valuable mid-rotation numbers. His profile isn’t all that different from last year’s big free-agent catch, Hyun-Jin Ryu, only from the opposite side. The 32-year-old would satisfy the front office’s desire for more strike-throwers in the rotation, but the upside is obviously fairly limited.
14—SP Charlie Morton (Atlanta Braves)
2020 Stats: 38.0 IP, 2-2, 4.74 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 0.2 WAR
Signs with: Atlanta Braves
Contract: 1 Year, $15 million
15—SS Andrelton Simmons
2020 Stats: .297 BA, 0 HR, 10 RBI, .702 OPS, 0.3 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Andrelton Simmons is arguably the best defensive shortstop in baseball, although an injured ankle in each of the past two seasons has impacted his range and value a bit. He is not an impactful offensive player, but he has streaks of good production. The Athletics, Angels, Phillies and Reds are all interested. He signs with the Athletics for two years at $14 million and forms the most dynamic left side of the infield defensively with third baseman Matt Chapman.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: After watching the defence cost them multiple games, there were rumblings the Jays took a serious look at Simmons at the August trade deadline. That came on the heels of Atkins investigating both Didi Gregorius as a free agent and Francisco Lindor as a trade target last winter. No one is saying Bo Bichette can’t play shortstop in the big leagues, but where there’s smoke there’s usually fire and it’s clear the Jays are taking a look at what their best middle infield configuration is now that they’re approaching contender status. Even though the bat is a bit light and he’d hit near the bottom of the lineup, there’s no arguing Simmons and Bichette would form a dazzling double-play combination.
16—RP Liam Hendriks (Chicago White Sox)
2020 Stats: 25.1 IP, 3-1, 1.78 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 1.4 WAR
Signs with: Chicago White Sox
Contract: Three years, $54 million (plus a club option for year four)
17—OF Jackie Bradley Jr.
2020 Stats: .283 BA, 7 HR, 22 RBI, .814 OPS, 1.8 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Jackie Bradley Jr. is arguably the best defensive centre fielder in the game. He can cover ground like no other in the outfield with his great jumps and routes. His offence comes and goes. A change of scenery would do him good and might improve his offence. The Astros, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Giants, and Rockies all have interest. The Astros sign him to replace George Springer for two years at $15 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: JBJ, on the other hand, is a fit as hands down one of the best defensive centre fielders in baseball. No matter the defensive metric, Bradley is at or near the top, and it has helped the 30-year-old return 15.0 fWAR in his career with the Red Sox. This summer, JBJ picked a great time for his bat to come alive, slashing .283/.364/.450, but no one is going to be fooled by that surge thanks to too many groundballs. He’d hit at the bottom of the Jays’ lineup, but the defensive upgrade from Randal Grichuk to JBJ would be a significant one.
18—OF Joc Pederson
2020 Stats: .190 BA, 7 HR, 16 RBI, .681 OPS, -0.4 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Joc Pederson has always been in the shadows in his career. But he can hit for power and get on base. He is a more than adequate defender and a good teammate. He has been platooned most of his career and has been waiting for an opportunity to just play every day rather than semi-regularly. He can be a run producer if given a chance. Cleveland, the Cardinals, Giants, Nationals and White Sox are all fits for him. Cleveland signs him for two years at $18 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: Pederson can’t hit lefties — .191 career average — so he’s limited to the strong side of a platoon, but the power is significant, evidenced by his 36 bombs in 2019, and you can dream on more upside as he heads into his age-29 season. Even though the Jays currently employ three right-handed hitting outfielders and could be in the market for an upgrade in the grass, Pederson’s glove and on-base ability don’t seem to fit the club’s needs.
19—RP Brad Hand
2020 Stats: 22.0 IP, 2-1, 2.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 0.7 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Brad Hand is still a highly effective left-handed closer despite a slight loss of velocity. He can get big outs in big games. He has shown the ability to bounce back after blown saves too. He is durable and consistent. He can help a playoff contender. The Red Sox, Nationals, Marlins, Phillies, White Sox, Blue Jays, Astros, Angels, Twins, Dodgers, Giants, Rockies and Diamondbacks will all be interested. He signs with the Astros for three years at $24 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: In what could be an ominous sign for how things will go this winter, Hand and his $10 million owing for 2021 passed through waivers as the cheap Cleveland Baseball Team tried to save the $1 million buyout. Even after a career-best 2.05 ERA across 22 innings, every single team in baseball agreed that he wasn’t worth eight figures for next year. Now, Hand will wade through the free agent waters in search of a multi-year deal, one he might get. It just won’t be the Blue Jays giving it to him.
20—2B/3B Tommy La Stella
2020 Stats: .281 BA, 5 HR, 25 RBI, .819 OPS, 0.5 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Tommy La Stella has developed into a solid offensive and defensive second baseman. He has power, shows patience at the plate and is a solid defender. He has positional versatility too. He played well with the Angels before his trade to Oakland at the deadline. He impressed the A’s and will be a consideration for them as well as the Twins, Rangers, Phillies, Marlins, Cubs and Giants. The Athletics will sign him to a one year, $7 million deal.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: A consolation prize of sorts for teams interested in the 2B/3B positional versatility and contact ability of DJ LeMahieu, La Stella’s best role is moving around the infield defensively and chipping in on offence with his bat-on-ball approach. This is the type of players the Jays love to collect, but they’ll be searching for more impact or a better glove.
21—2B Kolten Wong
2020 Stats: .265 BA, 1 HR, 16 RBI, .675 OPS, 1.1 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Kolten Wong is a solid two-way player at second base. He is a gold glove defender and earns a good on base percentage while slugging double digit homers and stealing double digit bases. He is a serious and intense competitor. His game may go to another level getting a fresh start away from St Louis. The Yankees, Athletics, Angels, Marlins and Red Sox may all have interest. The Red Sox sign him for two years and $12 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: Speaking of better infield gloves, here’s one. Over the course of his seven full seasons in St. Louis, Wong consistently graded out as one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball, but it wasn’t enough for the Cards to pick up his $12.5 million option for 2021. The bat is light, but Wong has posted an on-base percentage above .350 for two years running, and you can make the argument the former first-round pick’s career year at the plate is coming. If the Jays are committed to improving the defence, Wong at the keystone and Cavan Biggio in a super-utility role or at third base would be one way to do it.
22—SP Mike Minor (Kansas City Royals)
2020 Stats: 56.2 IP, 1-6, 5.56 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
Signs with: Kansas City Royals
Contract: 2 Years, $18 million
23—SP Tomoyuki Sugano (Returns to NPB)
2020 Stats: 127.1 IP, 13-2, 2.05 ERA, 0.89 WHIP (NPB League)
Signs with: Yomiuri Giants
24—SP Jose Quintana
2020 Stats: 10.0 IP, 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Jose Quintana missed a good part of the season with the Cubs with a thumb injury that needed surgery. He is still a serviceable left-handed starter. He isn’t a shutdown pitcher but he is predictable in that he will give his team a chance to win. The Twins, White Sox, Angels, Phillies, Rangers and Brewers will have interest. He will sign with the Brewers for one year, $8 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: As you can see by the individual rankings above, I’m quite high on Quintana and fully believe there’s a bit more in the tank as he heads into his age-32 campaign. The southpaw doesn’t strike many out, so the fantasy community isn’t all that interested, but what Quintana does is provide consistent innings, making at least 31 starts in every season since 2013. He’s never going to be an ace, but a lefty who can provide 180-200 innings with a 4.00 ERA is an extremely valuable commodity. The potential upside makes him a nice buy-low — he pitched just 10 innings this summer — coming off a career-worst 4.68 ERA in his last full season in 2019.
25—SP Taijuan Walker
2020 Stats: 53.1 IP, 4-3, 2.70 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 1.3 WAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Taijuan Walker had a bounce back season in 2020. After his trade to the Blue Jays, he was excellent. He works hard and is competitive. He has an arsenal better suited to face right-handers but he is a solid No. three or four starter. The Angels, Phillies, Red Sox, Mets, Blue Jays and White Sox will all have interest. The Phillies sign him for two years at $15 million.
MITCHELL’S JAYS’ VIEW: After the Jays gave Robbie Ray $8 million to return for 2021, Walker’s chances of re-signing dropped significantly as GM Ross Atkins will be aiming much higher with his next rotation acquisition. That’s not to say the Jays couldn’t circle back, but it said a lot when they decided against sending Walker to the mound in the postseason because of his trouble against left-handed hitters. Walker enjoyed a nice rebound in 2020, but you have to wonder if a full 162-game season might expose his weaknesses. He’s still a solid back-end rotation option with a touch of upside as he’s still just 28 years old.
Free Agents 26-50
|Rank||Player||Position||Phillips Rank||Mitchell Rank||Signs With|
|27||James McCann||C||24||30||Mets (4 year, $40M)|
|31||Blake Treinen||RP||39||34||Dodgers (2 years, $17M)|
|35||Carlos Santana||1B||28||40||Royals (2 Years, $17M)|
|38||Trevor May||RP||41||31||Mets (2 Years, $15.5M)|
|39||Corey Kluber||SP||44||36||Yankees (1 Year, $11M)|
|42||Drew Smyly||SP||49||39||Braves (1 Year, $11M)|
|45||Anthony DeSclafani||SP||45||42||Giants (1 Year, $6M)|
|46||Adam Eaton||OF||36||47||White Sox (1 Year, $8M)|
|50||Greg Holland||RP||52||52||Royals (1 Year, $2.75M)|