Nationals

2020-21 MLB Offseason: Top Free Agents

Nationals

The 2020-21 MLB free agency list lost a bit of luster with the extensions of its biggest names, including the best player in baseball (Mike Trout), the second-best player in baseball (Mookie Betts) and arguably the best pitcher in baseball (Jacob deGrom).

Recognizing that, the class is still relatively strong. There aren't any young stars gearing up for a decade-plus deal a la Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, but there are still a number of quality veterans who can contribute to contending teams.

It's a deep, veteran class whose top players are mostly all in their 30s, but who are young enough to still have a few great years left in them. It's so deep that players like 2020 breakout Kevin Gausman, super-utility star Tommy La Stella, 2019 top-10 Cy Young-finisher Mike Minor and underrated infielder Cesar Hernandez all failed to make our top-15 rankings. And these rankings don't include players who may opt-out of their contracts, such as Giancarlo Stanton.

Those were the hardest players to leave off, but it means the top of the class can be really, really useful to the teams willing to open up their wallets. These are the 15 best free agents in the 2020-21 MLB class.

1. Trevor Bauer, SP (29 years old)

2020 Team: Cincinnati Reds

Bauer looks like the obvious prize in this year's free agent class. He's always been talented - he was drafted third overall in 2011 - but he's really come into his own on the mound in the last few seasons.

Bauer has a unique personality off the field, but he embraces analytics and has a durable arm. He led the National League with a 1.73 ERA in 2020 and struck out 100 batters in just 73 innings, setting himself up for a big payday.

 

He's had his bouts with the Astros as an organization in the past, but his performance plus his adherence to advanced pitching principles would make him an excellent fit in their rotation. If he rules them out, any other team would be happy to add him. The Padres could view him as the missing ace they need as well. This is the player with the best chance of breaking $200 million in this year's class.

2. JT Realmuto, C (29)

2020 Team: Philadelphia Phillies

Realmuto has a case for number one on this list, as he is probably the best all-around catcher in the game today. In 2019 he won both the Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger while making his second-straight All-Star Game. He'd be a great addition for anybody looking for a catcher, and while catchers tend to fall off more quickly than other positions, he still has a good chance to command the second-largest contract behind Bauer.

For now, it seems likely the Phillies will push to keep him around, especially after they gave up so much to acquire him in the first place.

3. George Springer, OF (31)

2020 Team: Houston Astros

It was unclear entering 2020 which Astros would struggle in the wake of the sign-stealing scandal, but Springer enjoyed another strong season. Prorated out to a full season, he was on pace for a career-high in home runs while still hitting .265 with an OPS+ of 140.

Springer has a reputation as a power-hitting leadoff hitter, a unique profile who could be an asset to any lineup looking to add some pop. He's been speculated locally as an interesting fit for the Nationals, and it's true he'd look pretty good hitting in front of or behind Juan Soto. Would Nats fans embrace a former Astro, though?

4. DJ LeMahieu, INF (32)

2020 Team: New York Yankees

Everywhere LeMahieu goes, he hits. Of course, it helps to play in two of the best stadiums for hitters in baseball like Colorado and New York. Still, the veteran infielder was terrific in 2020, leading all pending free agents in WAR according to Fangraphs. He was a top-5 MVP finisher in 2019, and he followed it up by leading baseball in batting average and the AL in OBP, OPS and OPS+.

He's starting to get up there in age and may be better suited defensively to first base than second, but he's proven he still has a bat that can play anywhere. There's not an obvious fit among MLB contenders but he could fit in well in the middle of the Twins lineup. Ultimately, he's probably best served staying in pinstripes. 

5. Marcell Ozuna, OF (29)

2020 Team: Atlanta Braves

It went a little under the radar, but Ozuna had a terrific 2020 season with the Braves. He led the National League in home runs and RBI, and his slash line was a remarkable .338/.431/.636. He was an elite hitter who challenged for a triple crown, setting easy career highs in most rate hitting stats.

 

Ozuna has had breakout contract years before, most notably in 2017, but he remains very talented and young enough to believe he has a handful of strong years left in his future. As long as he stays healthy, he can be an impact bat in the middle of any order. He'd be a great choice to stay in Atlanta, but if he gets too pricey, it's easy to imagine a team like the White Sox viewing him as the piece to put their exciting young lineup over the top.

6. Marcus Semien, SS (30)

2020 Team: Oakland Athletics

Which Semien will his new team be getting: the sensational 2019 version who finished top-3 in AL MVP voting, or the disappointing 2020 version who batted .223 and saw his OPS drop more than 200 points?

The answer to that question will determine whether Semien ends up a huge steal or a bust as a free agent. As of now, his 2019 seasons looks like the clear outlier in his career, but it's also hard to judge any player who had a down 2020 considering the weird nature of the truncated season.

Giving Semien the benefit of the doubt, he could be a nice piece for a team in need of a quality shortstop, with the Reds coming to mind as a team with a home stadium, tailor-made for Semien's swing.

7. Nelson Cruz, DH (40)

2020 Team: Minnesota Twins

Cruz's case as a top free agent is pretty simple. Need an elite hitter, but only for a year or two, who won't have to play the field at all? Cruz is probably your best possible option. Looking for a defender, or more of a long term option? Look elsewhere.

If you project Cruz's 2020 stats out to a full season, the veteran outfielder was on pace for 50 home runs to go along with his .300 average and .990 OPS. You can count on one hand the number of better hitters in the American League. He'll fall off a cliff eventually - Father Time is undefeated, after all - but for now, he's an elite bat who will likely come at a less-than-elite price. 

Just keep him in the American League, unless the NL adopts the DH permanently.

8. Andrelton Simmons, SS (31)

2020 Team: Los Angeles Angels

Simmons is probably the best defensive player of his generation, a true wizard in the field who combines elite instincts, a rifle for an arm, and ridiculous range to play the highest possible level of shortstop. His bat is a little more hit-or-miss, but when you have a glove like Simmons' at such an important position, it almost doesn't matter.

Age hasn't hurt his glove at all, and he'd be a strong fit for any team with a need at the position. The A's or Phillies would be perfect matches if their own shortstops head elsewhere.

 

9 . Marcus Stroman, SP (29)

2020 Team: New York Mets

Stroman has never taken the leap into the league's truly elite starting pitchers, but he remains underrated because of it. Stroman is a fiery competitor who forces groundballs at a very high rate. Ignore the losing records in 2018 and 2019, his last two seasons - this is a quality starting pitcher who would help any team. He's also a terrific defender of his position.

Like any good starting pitcher, Stroman would make sense for just about any team. A team with a strong defense like the Athletics would make a lot of sense.

10. Didi Gregorius, SS (30)

2020 Team: Philadelphia Phillies

Gregorius fit in really well in the City of Brotherly Love, adding depth to the Phillies lineup in his lone year with the club. Gregorius played all 60 games, hit 10 home runs, and was one of the better hitting shortstops in the National League. He's a capable, though not great, defensive shortstop, but he makes his money with his bat, which remains strong.

His best fit is probably to remain with the Phillies, but a team like Cincinnati could make sense as well.

11. Justin Turner, 3B (35)

2020 Team: Los Angeles Dodgers

Turner is still starring in the World Series for the Dodgers, long ago establishing himself as one of baseball's best late-career breakouts. The third baseman has only made one All-Star Game, but he has been one of baseball's best hitters since 2016, even with his power taking a dip in 2020.

He also has a reputation for big hits in the postseason. This is another player whose age makes him a short-term add, but who could be a great fit on a contending team that needs a third baseman - Washington Nationals, anybody?

12. Kirby Yates/Liam Hendriks/Blake Treinen/Alex Colome, RP (31-33)

It's hard to separate between these four relievers, so let's group the early-30's proven closer group together. Each of the four has enjoyed at least one superb season shutting down games, though all four have had rocky seasons mixed in as well.

Yates looked like an elite-level closer entering 2020, but struggled mightily before being shut down with injury. Treinen is still pitching, covering big innings for the Dodgers in the World Series. Colome was lights out for the White Sox in a small sample size during the 2020 season. And after a couple of rough years, Hendriks has had an ERA under 2.00 in each of the past two seasons.

Any of the four could be expected to be among baseball's best bullpen arms in 2021, but with the roller-coaster nature of most relievers, it's hard to tell which is the best bet.

13. Michael Brantley, OF (33)

2020 Team: Houston Astros

Brantley is one of the more underappreciated hitters in baseball, and has been for the past several seasons. If you remove his injury-shortened 2016, he made four of five All-Star Games from 2014-2019, and he earned a few MVP votes in the year he didn't. His 2020 season looked remarkably similar to the past few, with a .300 average and .840 OPS. 

 

He won't provide much, if any, value with his glove at this point, but he makes a consistent impact with his bat. In an era in which .300 hitters aren't exactly growing on trees, he would be a nice short-term piece for a team ready to compete right away. Staying in the AL West, he could be a great addition to the middle of Oakland's lineup.

14. Masahiro Tanaka, SP (31)

2020 Team: New York Yankees

Tanaka has spent his entire career in New York, enjoying a nice bounceback in 2020 with his best ERA+ in four seasons. The veteran hurler owns a devastating splitter that baffles hitters when he's on.

He's a reliable, durable starting pitcher, which means literally every team in Major League Baseball could find a spot for him. The Yankees are the team that could most use him, so a return to New York would be far from a surprise.

15. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF (30)

2020 Team: Boston Red Sox Bradley enjoyed perhaps his best offensive season in 2020, batting a career-high .283 with an OPS+ of 118. He also remains an elite, elite level defensive center fielder. So is Kevin Pillar, also a pending free agent, but Bradley is younger and had a better bat last season.

Any team that has a need in the outfield and values defense would be a fit for the underrated center fielder. At the right price, a team like the Indians could be a nice fit.