Previewing The 2021-22 Free Agent Class: Shortstops

The quality of the 2021-22 free agent shortstop class has been discussed for years at this point. We’re just a few weeks away from that group actually hitting the open market, with a handful of young stars at the top of the class offering shortstop-needy clubs plenty of options.

Stars at the Top of the Class

Carlos Correa (27 years old next April): A former first overall pick and top prospect, Correa has long been on a trajectory towards a free agent megadeal. He was in the big leagues by age 20 and immediately a middle-of-the-order caliber hitter, a true franchise shortstop. Correa has never had strikeout problems, has always drawn walks, and hits for power. He was dinged up a bit early in his career — leading to some whispers about his durability — but his only IL stint of the last two seasons has come for feeling COVID-like symptoms in July.

Correa only hit at a league average level during last year’s shortened season, but he’s put that behind him with a huge 2021. Over 640 plate appearances, he posted a .279/.366/.485 line (134 wRC+) with 26 home runs. After some mixed results on defense early in his career, he’s rated as one of the league’s best with the glove for the past few seasons. Correa’s an impact player on both sides of the ball, the #1 position player by Baseball Reference WAR this season (#8 by FanGraphs WAR). Because he got to the majors so quickly, Correa’s hitting free agency in advance of his age-27 season, so he’ll have a few prime years to market.

Corey Seager (27): As with Correa, Seager’s a former top prospect who starred from Day One. He’s been a decidedly above-average hitter throughout his career, posting four seasons with a wRC+ of 125 or above. There aren’t any nits to pick in Seager’s offensive profile, either. He’s a left-handed power bat who rarely strikes out and draws a fair amount of walks. Seager consistently places near the top of the league in average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard contact rate, and few hitters have been better over the past two years.

Seager fractured his right hand on a hit-by-pitch in May, costing him more than a month. That kept his counting stats down a bit this year, but on a rate basis, Seager was as good as ever. He hit .306/.394/.521 (147 wRC+) over 407 plate appearances. Going back to the start of 2020, he ranks eighth leaguewide in wRC+, and that’s without accounting for a massive playoff run last season that culminated in World Series MVP honors. Defensive metrics have generally pegged Seager as average or a bit below in recent seasons, but there aren’t many more impactful offensive players at any position around the league.

Marcus Semien (31): Semien spent the bulk of this season manning second base for the Blue Jays in deference to Bo Bichette. He was a shortstop up until this year, and he rated as one of the game’s premier defenders at the keystone in 2021. Teams might be split on where they prefer Semien, but it seems likely there’ll be at least a few who’d consider moving him back to shortstop depending upon their current roster situation.

Semien led MLB with 724 plate appearances, and he hit a whopping .265/.334/.538. He popped 45 home runs, the fourth-highest total in the league, and stole fifteen bags. Semien completely regained his peak offensive form after an average 2020, and he took to his new position with ease. Semien’s age will keep him from landing the length or total guarantee of the market’s younger stars, but he’s wrapping up his second elite season in the past three years and leads all position players in FanGraphs WAR since the start of 2019. There’s no doubt at this point Semien’s an elite player, and a five or six-year deal that easily eclipses $100MM should be on the table with how well he’s performed.

Trevor Story (29): It wasn’t a banner year for Story, who started off slowly at the plate. He turned things around a bit in the second half, but his overall .251/.329/.471 line was his worst since 2017. Story’s had fairly dramatic home-road splits, at least a moderate concern for a player in Colorado. Most of the damage he did this season came against left-handed pitching, as Story was a well below-average hitter (.234/.318/.417) against righties.

It’s clearly not the ideal time for Story to hit the market for the first time, but he’ll still have plenty of points in his favor. None of his batted ball metrics were much changed from recent seasons. Once one of the game’s highest-strikeout hitters, Story has consistently cut down on the swing-and-miss as he’s gotten more experience and now only punches out at a league average rate. He was plagued by a career-low .293 batting average on balls in play, which interested teams will likely count on bouncing back moving forward. And Story typically rates as one of the game’s best defensive shortstops (although metrics were more divided on his performance this year). Even in a relative “down” season, Story was worth around three-to-four wins above replacement, and he’s shown the ability to be a true impact player in prior years.

Javier Báez (29): Báez is one of the game’s toughest players to evaluate on the heels of an up-and-down couple of seasons. He had a disastrous 2020 with the Cubs and started slowly again in 2021. But he started to heat up in July, and he only got better after a deadline day trade to the Mets, hitting .299/.371/.515 over 186 plate appearances in Queens.

There are some obvious areas of concern in Báez’s profile. Of the 210 hitters with 500+ plate appearances since the start of 2020, nobody has swung and missed more. Only Salvador Pérez and José Iglesias have chased more pitches outside the strike zone. And what Báez did this season is somewhat unprecedented; he’s the only player (min. 500 PA) to have an above-average hitting season while striking out as often and walking as infrequently as he did this year.

Yet Báez has always had something of an alarming approach, and he’s continued to thrive in spite of it. He hits for power, runs the bases well and is regarded as an excellent defensive infielder. Aside from the abbreviated 2020 campaign, Báez has been a well above-average performer since 2018, and he’s one of the sport’s most entertaining and popular players. Unlike with the other top of the market shortstops, signing Báez wouldn’t cost a team draft pick compensation. The midseason trade makes him ineligible to be tagged with a qualifying offer.

Chris Taylor (31): Taylor hasn’t played a whole lot of shortstop over the past couple seasons, but he’s still capable of manning the position as needed. He’s moved all over the diamond for the Dodgers, spending the bulk of this season in center field and at second base.

Taylor has been a bit unheralded on a Dodgers’ roster loaded with superstars (at least until his heroics in this week’s Wild Card game), but he’s been a consistently above-average hitter with passable defensive marks virtually everywhere he plays. He strikes out a fair amount, but he also hits for power, walks and consistently runs high batting averages on balls in play. His bat cooled off in the second half after a scorching start to the season, but Taylor’s track record and versatility make him a likely qualifying offer recipient and candidate to land a strong three or four-year contract. MLBTR’s Darragh McDonald recently broke down Taylor’s impending free agency at greater length.

Potential Regulars

Freddy Galvis (32): Galvis has carved out a solid career as a glove-first player who offers consistently below-average but passable offense. He’s a switch-hitter with some power who generally puts the ball in play. Galvis doesn’t walk much, leading to low on-base percentages, and his defensive marks have dipped a bit in recent seasons. Teams aren’t going to view Galvis as an impact addition, but he consistently does enough on both sides of the ball to be a regular who chips in one-to-two wins above replacement per season.

Andrelton Simmons (32): Simmons has a strong case as the best defensive infielder of his generation. He posts eye-popping Defensive Runs Saved totals year in and year out, with highlight reel plays a frequent occurrence. At his best, Simmons combined that incredible glovework with league average offense, driven by an ability to seemingly never strike out. That offense has fallen off dramatically over the past three seasons, though, and Simmons hit only .223/.283/.274 over 451 plate appearances with the Twins this year. He might have a hard time landing an everyday job coming off such a poor showing at the plate, but even as he’s entered his 30’s, Simmons remains one of the sport’s most electrifying and valuable defenders.

José Iglesias (32): Iglesias never quite matched up to Simmons, but he’s offered a broadly similar profile. A high-contact hitter with an elite glove, Iglesias has had his share of productive seasons. He posted a huge, albeit BABIP-inflated, shortened 2020 season, but his offense dipped back to its typical levels (.271/.309/.391) this year. Were Iglesias still an elite defender, that’d be more than enough to make him a productive regular. But his defensive numbers bizarrely plummeted, with Iglesias rating as a league-worst 21 runs below average at shortstop according to DRS. That’ll put a damper on his market, but a team that believes in his ability to bounce back from those uncharacteristic struggles might still give him an opportunity at an everyday job.

Jonathan Villar (30): Villar had a nice season with the Mets, bouncing back from a disappointing 2020 to hit .249/.322/.416. That’s slightly above-average hitting, and the former stolen base champ continues to provide additional value on the basepaths. Villar’s not a great defender anywhere but he’s capable of playing throughout the infield and has a bit of outfield experience. It’s possible he’s done enough this year to earn an everyday job somewhere, although it seems likelier first-division clubs would see him as a high-end insurance option off the bench.

Utility Types

Leury García (31): García has had a nice few seasons on the South Side of Chicago. He’s a switch-hitting utilityman who can cover any non-catcher position on the diamond. García doesn’t hit for power or draw many walks, but he makes a fair amount of contact and has been right around league average offensively over the past couple seasons.

Marwin González (33): González hit just .201/.281/.285 before the Red Sox cut him loose. He popped three homers in 36 plate appearances since re-signing with Houston, but he only posted a .222 OBP in his second stint as an Astro. That’s two consecutive miserable seasons for González, who followed up an outstanding 2017 campaign with back-to-back league average seasons before dropping off substantially since the start of 2020.

Andrew Romine (36): Romine saw a decent amount of action with the Tigers between 2014-17, bouncing all around the diamond in a reserve capacity. He’s never offered much at the plate, though, and he only tallied four combined plate appearances between 2019-20 before returning for a 26-game stint with the Cubs this year.

Prior installments in this series: catcher, first base, second base, third base

Published at Sat, 09 Oct 2021 03:59:37 +0000

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