Previewing The 2021-22 Free Agent Class: Corner Outfield

With the League Championship Series having kicked off tonight, we’re moving ever closer to the offseason. With free agency approaching, MLBTR has taken a position-by-position look at the options who’ll be available on the open market.

Today, we turn our attention to the corner outfield. Essentially all of the center field-capable players on the market could presumably cover the corners if necessary. (Starling Marte, for instance, has already shown himself to be more than capable of handling left field). Still, we’ve already covered the center fielders in-depth, so we’ll look only at players who have recently spent a significant amount of time in the corner outfield for purposes of this post.

Everyday Options

Kris Bryant (30 next April): Bryant has shown enough athleticism to handle both corner infield positions and cover anywhere on the outfield, although he’s better suited in a corner than in center field. Advanced defensive metrics suggest he struggled to adapt to the spacious right field at Oracle Park after a midseason trade from the Cubs to the Giants, but he’s generally rated as a fine outfielder over the course of his career.

Wherever he were to play, teams will be in on Bryant this winter for his bat. He broke into the majors with five consecutive elite hitting seasons, including a 2016 campaign in which he won the NL MVP award. Bryant struggled in last year’s shortened season, but he bounced most of the way back in 2021. Over 586 plate appearances, the 29-year-old hit .265/.353/.481 with 25 homers, drawing walks and hitting for power at above-average rates. The midseason trade renders him ineligible for a qualifying offer.

Kyle Schwarber (29): Bryant’s former Cub teammate, Schwarber’s time in Chicago ended a year early when he was non-tendered last winter after a down 2020. The former top five pick rebounded with a career-best showing at the plate in 2021, combining for a .266/.374/.554 line between the Nationals and Red Sox. Schwarber popped 32 homers in just 471 plate appearances (he missed more than a month midseason because of a hamstring strain), backed up by batted ball metrics that are among the most impressive in the sport.

Schwarber’s not a strong defender. He’s played almost exclusively in left field over the past few seasons, picking up a bit of time at first base down the stretch in Boston. Defensive metrics have pegged his range as well below-average in left — although he’s offset some of that with a strong arm. And Schwarber does strike out a fair amount, but his combination of power and patience makes him one of the more impactful bats available this winter. Like Bryant, he’s ineligible for a QO by virtue of a midseason trade.

Michael Conforto (29): Conforto entered the season as one of the top players in this winter’s class. With a typical season, he’d have had a very strong case to land a nine figure deal. Instead, Conforto posted his worst numbers since 2016, hitting .232/.344/.384 over 479 trips to the plate. That’s a far cry from his .261/.365/.478 line between 2018-20.

Conforto’s down year comes in spite of a career-low strikeout rate, a typically strong walk percentage, and batted ball metrics not too dissimilar from prior seasons. That disconnect between his seemingly still-strong process but his far less impressive results makes Conforto one of the tougher free agents to pin down this winter. The Mets are reportedly planning to offer him a QO.

Chris Taylor (31): Taylor has moved all over the diamond for the Dodgers, spending the bulk of this season in center field and at second base but also appearing at both corner outfield spots and third base.

Taylor has been a bit unheralded on a Dodgers’ roster loaded with superstars (at least until his heroics in last 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.

Mark Canha (33): Canha has been an underrated, quality performer for the past few seasons. He’s not a particularly flashy player with eye-popping tools, but Canha’s well-rounded game leads to quietly strong results year after year. He draws plenty of walks, strikes out at a league average clip and hits for solid power despite playing in a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. Canha has been at least fifteen percentage points above league average offensively in each of the past four seasons by measure of wRC+. He had a very strong first half, although his batted ball metrics and power results cratered following a late-June hip injury.

Canha’s age — he turns 33 in February — and late-season power outage figure to have an adverse effect on his earning power. But Canha’s a quality offensive player, a good hitter without obvious drawbacks at the plate. He’s not a great fit in center field, but he can cover the middle in a pinch and typically rates as a fine option in the corners. Teams that don’t want to play at the top of the outfield market could view Canha as a strong fallback, particularly since it seems highly unlikely the low-budget A’s would make him a qualifying offer.

Jorge Soler (30): Soler’s overall results the past two seasons are underwhelming. He’s a bat-only player with a .224/.319/.435 line since the start of 2020, and both FanGraphs and Baseball Reference pegged him as below replacement level this past season. But that two-year sample ignores a 2019 campaign in which Soler mashed a league-best 48 home runs, and he’s looked reinvigorated since a deadline day trade to the Braves.

In 242 plate appearances with Atlanta down the stretch, Soler hit at .269/.358/.524 clip with fourteen homers. He’s slashed his strikeout rate to just 18.6% with the Braves after a dismal start to the year in Kansas City. Soler’s also relatively young, turning 30 in February, and annually has among the league’s top exit velocities and hard contact rates. Teams could see Soler’s second half resurgence as an indicator he’s rediscovered his peak form, but his 2020 and first half struggles raise some questions as well.

Tommy Pham (34): Pham was one of the game’s more underrated players for a few seasons with the Cardinals and Rays. He combined power, elite patience and enough athleticism to play a strong left field into a quality overall profile. Those underlying skills are still in play, as Pham almost never chases pitches outside the strike zone and continues to make hard contact at an above-average clip. That said, Pham’s results in San Diego haven’t matched those of prior seasons. He’s hitting .226/.335/.370 over the past two years, although it’s fair to wonder whether he’s been fully healthy. Pham missed a month last season after fracturing the hamate bone in his left hand, and his offseason and Spring Training routines were disrupted this year after he was stabbed in the lower back last October.

Platoon/Time-Share/Depth Options

Corey Dickerson (33): Dickerson has a long track record of above-average offense, carrying solid numbers between a few different spots. He’s only been around league average at the dish over the past two years, though, likely setting him up for a one-year deal this winter. Dickerson makes a lot of contact and hits for high batting averages, but it comes without a ton of walks and his power numbers have dropped off recently. He had one outlier season with elite defensive marks that earned him a Gold Glove award, but Dickerson typically rates as an average left fielder.

Joc Pederson (29): Pederson was a middle-of-the-order caliber bat during his best days with the Dodgers — at least against right-handed pitching. But he’s posted below-average offensive numbers in each of the last two seasons, and his career numbers against lefties are very poor. Pederson has been solid for the Braves since they picked him up at the trade deadline, and he’s popped a couple key postseason home runs. He brings power from the left side, but Pederson’s lack of production against southpaws probably limits him to a corner platoon role this winter.

Eddie Rosario (30): Rosario has had a Soler-esque turnaround following a midseason trade to the Braves. He hit just .254/.296/.389 over 306 plate appearances with the Indians, but turned things around to post a .271/.330/.573 mark in 106 plate appearances with Atlanta. Rosario’s general track record falls somewhere in the middle, as he typically posts slightly above-average production at the plate. The left-handed hitter doesn’t walk much and he’s not a great defender, but he has a strong combination of bat-to-ball skills and power.

Yoshi Tsutsugo (30): Tsutsugo didn’t live up to expectations with the Rays, who inked him to a two-year, $12MM deal following a starring career in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. However, the left-handed hitter popped eight homers in just 144 plate appearances after latching on with the Pirates late in the season. That strong couple months could make him an intriguing buy-low power bat this offseason. Tsutsugo’s primarily a first baseman, but he also lined up in both corner outfield spots this year and has a bit of experience at third base.

Dexter Fowler (36): Fowler lost almost the entire season after tearing his left ACL in April. He still reached base at a strong clip (.238/.346/.409) during his last extended run of play in 2019, but he’ll be 36 years old by next Opening Day and is coming off a significant knee injury.

Juan Lagares (33): A former Gold Glove winning center fielder with the Mets, Lagares got quite a bit of action with the Angels this season across all three outfield spots. He’s probably looking at minor league offers this winter after hitting just .236/.266/.372.

Gerardo Parra (34): Parra made a late-season return to the Nationals, hitting just .237/.292/.351 in 107 trips to the plate. He’s a respected veteran clubhouse presence, but he hasn’t had an above-average hitting season since 2015.

Abraham Almonte (32): Almonte has gotten brief looks at the big league level in each of the past nine seasons, never serving as a true regular. He drew plenty of walks this year with the Braves but only hit .216 and rated poorly in his limited showing defensively. He was outrighted off the roster last month.

Josh Reddick (35): Reddick earned a big league shot with the D-Backs in May after signing a minor league deal over the winter. He hit a career-worst .258/.285/.371 over 158 plate appearances with Arizona before being released. Reddick signed a minor league deal with the Mets thereafter but didn’t get back to the majors. He’s likely limited to minors offers again this winter.

Matt Joyce (37): Joyce was a productive lefty bench bat as recently as 2020, but he didn’t hit at all in a limited showing with the Phillies this year before being released. At his best, he offers a little bit of pop and draws plenty of walks.

Gregory Polanco (30): Polanco looked to be emerging as a star in 2018, but he’s struggled mightily over the past three seasons. The Pirates released him in late August. He went on an absolute tear (.374/.436/.747 over 101 plate appearances) with the Blue Jays’ Triple-A affiliate after signing a minor league deal but couldn’t crack a loaded Toronto lineup. Polanco will be an interesting offseason flier, presumably on another minors pact.

Mike Tauchman (31): Tauchman still drew plenty of walks this season, but he struck out at a huge 30.4% clip between the Yankees and Giants. His big power numbers from 2019 now look like an outlier.

José Marmolejos (29): Marmolejos had a great season with the Mariners’ Triple-A affiliate, but that didn’t carry over to the big leagues. The first baseman/corner outfielder hit just .160/.262/.311 over 122 MLB plate appearances before being outrighted.

Adam Eaton (33): Eaton split this season between the White Sox and Angels but hit only .201/.282/.327 in 288 cumulative plate appearances. He was eventually outrighted off both teams’ rosters.

Nomar Mazara (26): The Tigers’ dart throw that Mazara could yet unlock his offensive potential didn’t pan out. He hit .212/.276/.321 before being released. Mazara’s a household name and one-time top prospect, but he’s simply never hit at the level many anticipated.

Jason Martin (26): Martin was once fairly well-regarded as a prospect but his bat stalled out in the high minors. A strong Triple-A showing this year earned him his most extended MLB look with the Rangers, but he hit just .208/.248/.354 at the highest level and was outrighted off the roster.

Utility Infielders/Outfielders

Josh Harrison (34): Harrison initially looked to be tailing off as he entered his 30’s, but he’s played quite well two years running. Over 558 plate appearances between the Nationals and A’s, he hit .279/.341/.400 with a tiny 13.4% strikeout rate. He earned Oakland’s regular second base job down the stretch and might have earned himself an everyday role somewhere on the diamond this offseason. Harrison doesn’t walk or hit for much power, but he puts the ball in play, can cover multiple positions and would bring a respected veteran presence to a clubhouse.

Brad Miller (32): Miller bounces all around the diamond, spending most of this year on the corners. He’s a bat-first player who hit a solid .227/.321/.453 with 20 homers in 377 plate appearances for the Phillies. He’s a nice left-handed power bat to have off the bench.

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.

Ehire Adrianza (32): Adrianza’s a capable glove-first utilityman. He’s worked in a reserve capacity for essentially his entire career, posting decent strikeout and walk numbers with little power.

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.

Jake Lamb (31): Lamb was a productive regular with the D-Backs from 2016-17, but his production has dipped since he underwent shoulder surgery in 2018. He split this past season between the White Sox and Blue Jays, playing all four corner positions while hitting .194/.306/.368.

Players With Options

Nick Castellanos (30): Castellanos seems all but certain to opt out of the remaining two years and $34MM on his current deal with the Reds. He’ll have a real case for a nine figure contract on the open market after a huge season in which he hit .309/.362/.576 with 34 home runs in 585 plate appearances.

Castellanos perennially rates among the league’s better hitters in terms of average exit velocity and hard contact rate, and he struck out in a career-low 20.7% of his trips to the dish this year. He’s a subpar defender whose market would be aided by the adoption of a designated hitter in the National League, but there’ll be plenty of demand for a hitter of Castellanos’ caliber.

Avisaíl García (30): García tallied enough plate appearances to vest the right to test free agency this offseason. He’s likely to do so, forgoing his end of a $12MM mutual option with the Brewers. García has long intrigued teams with huge physical tools and flashes of productivity. His performance has been up-and-down over the course of his career, but he’s coming off one of his best years.

García hit .262/.330/.490 with 29 homers over 515 plate appearances with Milwaukee. He typically posts above-average batted ball metrics, and his production this season (unlike that of his personal-best 2017 campaign) wasn’t driven by an unsustainably high batting average on balls in play. García presents a challenging evaluation for teams, since he’s an obviously talented player coming off a very good showing but with an inconsistent career resume.

J.D. Martinez (34): Martinez is primarily a designated hitter, but he still moonlights in the corner outfield on occasion. Regardless of his defensive limitations, it’s tough to downplay his impact on an offense. Martinez was one of the sport’s best hitters over a six-year stretch from 2014-19. He’s no longer quite at that level, but Martinez bounced back from a down 2020 to hit .286/.349/.518 with 28 homers in 634 plate appearances. That sets up an interesting decision, as he’ll have to determine whether to return to Boston on a $19.35MM salary in 2022 or trigger an opt-out clause and test free agency.

Andrew McCutchen (35): The Phillies have a $15MM club option on McCutchen’s services for 2022. There’s a $3MM buyout figure, making that a net $12MM decision. It wouldn’t be shocking if the Phils picked it up, but that seems unlikely. McCutchen’s a respected veteran who’s had an illustrious career, and he still has points in his favor. He popped 27 home runs and walked at a massive 14.1% clip en route to slightly above-average offensive numbers. His batting averages have dipped as he’s gotten more pull-heavy, though, and McCutchen rates as a well below-average defensive left fielder at this stage of his career.

Kole Calhoun (34): The D-Backs hold a $9MM club option on Calhoun’s services for 2022. That comes with a $2MM buyout, meaning it’s a $7MM call. That’ll probably prove too pricy for an Arizona team that’ll want to get looks at some younger players after a disastrous 2021 season. Calhoun popped 16 homers and slugged .526 in last year’s shortened schedule, but he struggled offensively (.235/.297/.373) this year while dealing with a seemingly recurring left hamstring issue.

Brett Gardner (38): Gardner has a player option valued at $2.3MM. If he declines, the Yankees have a team option valued at $7.15MM with a buyout of $1.15MM. It seems unlikely the Yankees would exercise their option after Gardner hit at a slightly below-average level (.222/.327/.362) this season. But Gardner still draws plenty of walks, and he’s one of the better defensive left fielders of his generation and a capable if imperfect fit in center field at this stage of his career.

It’s difficult to imagine the career-long Yankee playing elsewhere, although it remains to be seen if he considers the player option salary enough of an upgrade over the buyout figure he’d collect if the Yankees don’t exercise their end.

Kevin Pillar (33): Pillar’s contract with the Mets contains a $2.9MM player option for 2022. If he declines, the Mets would have to either exercise a $6.4MM club option or buy him out for $1.4MM. The question for Pillar, then, is whether he wants to lock in $2.9MM or take his chances with the buyout and hope to make up the $1.5MM on the open market.

Pillar’s no longer the elite defender he was at his peak, but he’s still capable of playing all three outfield spots. He hit for a decent amount of power this season, popping 15 homers in 347 plate appearances, but he only walked 3.2% of the time and reached base at a paltry .277 clip.

Charlie Blackmon (35): Blackmon has already gone on record to say he’ll exercise his $21MM player option for next season. He returns to Colorado on the heels of a .270/.351/.411 showing.

Jurickson Profar (29): Profar surprisingly landed a three-year, $21MM guarantee from the Padres last winter on the heels of a strong 2020 showing. He didn’t managed to follow-up on that success, though, hitting just .227/.329/.320 through 412 plate appearances. It’s hard to envision Profar opting out after this season, particularly since his contract allows him to opt out at the end of next year too.

Previous installments in this series: catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop, center field

Published at Sat, 16 Oct 2021 03:59:09 +0000

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