Correa is not just the best hitter left on the market, but the best player regardless of classification.
In what is very likely his last year with the Astros, the shortstop hit .279/.366/.485 while helping the Astros reach the World Series along with 26 homers and 92 RBI. If possible, the metrics suggest that the former first-overall pick was even better, as he ranked in the red (above the 60th percentile) in every category measured by baseball savant outside of sprint speed.
Correa is still just 27 until September, so there’s every reason to believe he can continue to build on this strong season. If there’s a concern, it’s that he hasn’t shown much consistency with the bat from year-to-year, as he’s alternated strong showings with disappointing ones. Still, he’s going to get a massive contract once the lockout comes to an end, and he should be among the better fantasy shortstops again in 2022 even without providing steals.
The assumption since Freeman entered his last year under contract with the Braves was that it was a foregone conclusion he’d be back in Atlanta. There’s still that belief, but it’s not the lock it once appeared to be.
Freeman wasn’t as good as his MVP season the previous year, but he finished with a ‘disappointing’ .896 OPS, 31 homers and helped the Braves win their first championship since 1995. Once again, he ranked among the best in baseball in several categories including expected batting average, maximum exit velocity and expected weighted on base average. Simply put, even if the numbers weren’t as good in 2021 as they were in 2020, there’s no sign that his bat is truly slowing down.
All that being said, Freeman is a first baseman, and one that will turn 33 before the 2022 campaign comes to an end. He’s likely looking at a shorter-term deal -- at least compared to other marquee bats on the market -- but one that will have a significant AAV attached to it. If it’s not the Braves, the question is who it will be that procures his services.
Story looked like he would be the top name on this list prior to the 2021 season, but a so-so season -- at best -- has seen his stock slide. Not enough to not rank him among the best bats remaining, however.
And while it was a disappointing season by his standards, Story was still able to hit 24 homers and steal 20 bases and finish with a Wins Above Replacement figure of 4.2 according to Baseball-Reference. He was well above-average in exit velocity, and while there’s no denying Coors Field will help anyone in terms of power, Story can still barrel the baseball at rates that suggest he should hit for power wherever he lands. The park will matter, but don’t give up on him based on what very well could be an outlier season.
Bryant bounced back nicely from his disappointing -- and very short, even by truncated season standards -- to hit 25 homers with an .861 OPS in his time with the Cubs and Giants (the latter after a deadline deal), and he now gets to hit free agency a year later than he would have liked after the Cubs manipulated his service time.
Bryant is no longer an MVP candidate like he was earlier in his career, but there’s still plenty of pop in his right-handed bat, and the ball jumps off his bat. The issue remains that he will always be among the league leaders in strikeouts, and despite solid speed he’s never stolen many bases. There’s obvious risk in his profile, but the risk comes with substantial reward.
Castellanos was outstanding at the plate in 2021, finishing with a .309 average, 34 homers, 100 RBI and a .976 OPS in his second and what appears to be final year as a member of the Reds.
While the offensive success was unquestioned, there are some reasons for concerns about Castellanos going forward, as he’s ranked as one of the worst defenders in the outfield. He also doesn’t draw a ton of walks, and he’ll need to rely on a high BABIP (batting average on balls in play) since he is far from immune from strikeouts.
Those negatives aside, Castellanos’s power -- and the fact that the contact is so hard when he does put the ball in play -- make him a good bet for a solid payday at some point this winter or spring.
After signing with the Nationals in the offseason, Schwarber got off to a slow start, but after moving to the leadoff spot, the power-hitting veteran excelled, and he was just as good after a deal to the Red Sox near the deadline.
Simply put, Schwarber’s power is obvious, and wherever he lands, he’s going to help that club and fantasy managers in that category. Like Castellanos, he’s not a great help with the glove, and at this point it seems unlikely that the 28-year-old will be anything but a first baseman or a DH. His patient approach will help him put up a solid on-base clip -- or should -- but it’s worth noting that this kind of skill set doesn’t always age very well.
The Braves traded for an entire outfield near the deadline, and Soler was a big reason why Atlanta took home a championship in 2021 after hitting 14 homers in 55 games and three in the World Series.
There’s never been a question about Soler’s power -- this is a player who hit 48 homers in 2019 -- and no park is going to hold back a player with top-of-the-scales pop. There are major concerns about how much he can help in anything else, as he’s not a good defender, strikes out a ton and doesn’t provide much value on the bases. All that being said, Soler can launch the ball with the best of them, and it’s not hard to see him ranking among the league leaders in homers in 2022.
Best of the Rest:
Anthony Rizzo – Once among the best first baseman in baseball, Rizzo has had back-to-back seasons without posting an OPS over .800, and will turn 33 before the end of he campaign.
Michael Conforto – Conforto looked like a star in 2020 even in a shortened season, but disappointed in 2021 with a .232 average and 14 homers in 125 games. His talent and age (28) still make him likely to get a multi-year deal.
Eddie Rosario – Another one of the outfielders that Atlanta acquired, Rosario shined in the postseason, and while the breakout season hasn’t come, he’s a good bet for a .270 average and 20 homers according to this writer’s eye test.
Jonathan Villar – Villar can still steal bases and has some underrated power in his switch-hitting bat, but his value for 2022 will largely be dependent on what type of role he has with his new club.
Nelson Cruz – Cruz finally showed signs of aging after he was traded from the Rays, and while he’s still likely to provide plenty of homers, he’s no longer a lock to help in the average category going forward.
Tommy Pham – Pham appeared to be on the cusp of being a star, but after two mediocre seasons including one that saw him post a .229 average, he’s likely looking at a prove-it deal in 2022.
Joc Pederson – The final member of the new Atlanta outfield after being traded from the Cubs to the Braves, Pederson will not hit for any type of average, but should continue to mash right-handed pitching while providing above-average power totals.