A slow-moving free-agent market has begun to get into gear over the past week, with the top available relief pitcher (Liam Hendriks, White Sox), one of the top position players (DJ LeMahieu, Yankees) and one of the most accomplished starting pitchers (Corey Kluber, Yankees) coming off the board.
Still, many of the best options remain unsigned. Let’s put it this way: If we formed a team made up entirely of current free agents, it would have a strong argument as the best squad in MLB.
• 2020-21 free agents, position by position
We can glean this from looking at FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections, which includes a page for free agents. Using that to construct a team, we can then compare its total WAR to that of the Yankees, who after bringing back LeMahieu and adding Kluber currently lead all teams with 50.1, jumping over the defending World Series champion Dodgers and upstart Padres.
A few notes before we begin:
• The Yankees’ projections include all players on their 40-man roster, but we’re only listing 26 players for each squad, with each player only listed at one spot. Each Yankees WAR total is collective, for that position.
• On the free-agent team (referred to as “Team FA” from here on), each starting position player and pitcher received his full projection. (We listed six starters and seven relievers). Backup position players were given prorated portions of their projections.
• All projections are as of Monday.
So which team looks stronger?
Yankees: 2.2 WAR (Gary Sánchez, Kyle Higashioka)
Team FA: 4.2 WAR (J.T. Realmuto, Yadier Molina)
Realmuto has established himself as the game’s top catcher, excelling as a hitter, a receiver, a thrower and even a runner. Molina believes he has more left in the tank at age 38 but also said recently that he will retire if he doesn’t receive an offer to his liking.
Yankees: 2.7 WAR (Luke Voit, Mike Ford)
Team FA: 1.5 WAR (Tommy La Stella)
La Stella has played much more second and third base in his career, but he did start 10 games at first for the Angels last year. He gets the nod, given the paucity of good first-base options on the market, and his .358 OBP over the past five seasons. If we were to go with somebody who has more experience at first, C.J. Cron and Mitch Moreland would be among the candidates.
Yankees: 3.6 WAR (DJ LeMahieu, Tyler Wade)
Team FA: 3.9 WAR (Marcus Semien, Jurickson Profar)
Semien, a solid shortstop, hasn’t played second since 2014 with the White Sox, but there’s been chatter that at least some teams are considering him there (or at third). Profar provides a switch-hitting complement and can fill in pretty much anywhere on the field.
Yankees: 4.4 WAR (Gleyber Torres)
Team FA: 2.7 WAR (Andrelton Simmons)
Simmons, Semien and Didi Gregorius all carry similar projections at the position, but as a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, Simmons gets the nod.
Yankees: 2.8 WAR (Gio Urshela)
Team FA: 3.0 WAR (Justin Turner)
Turner has been widely expected to re-sign with the Dodgers, given the team’s need at third base and his deep bond with the franchise and community. But he and the club reportedly remain two years apart on a contract, opening the possibility that L.A. could go in a different direction — though LeMahieu’s return to the Yankees perhaps makes that less likely.
Yankees: 1.5 WAR (Clint Frazier, Mike Tauchman)
Team FA: 2.1 WAR (Michael Brantley)
Brantley is the ultimate “professional hitter,” posting wRC+ figures of 124, 133 and 134 over the past three seasons while spraying line drives around the park. While he might fit best as at least a part-time DH, that spot is taken here.
Yankees: 3.3 WAR (Aaron Hicks)
Team FA: 4.3 WAR (George Springer, Jackie Bradley Jr.)
It’s not difficult to imagine Springer exceeding his projection, given that he has produced 8.4 WAR in 173 games since the start of 2019. Bradley would be an overqualified, defensively gifted fourth outfielder on this squad.
Yankees: 4.5 WAR (Aaron Judge)
Team FA: 2.9 WAR (Joc Pederson, Enrique Hernández)
A left-handed batter with plenty of power, Pederson was used as a strict platoon player in L.A., giving him some truly extreme splits. He gets the same treatment here. Adam Duvall, Kevin Pillar and Yasiel Puig were platoon partner candidates, but the lefty-mashing Hernández — Pederson’s longtime Dodgers teammate — gets the nod because he can play all over the field.
Yankees: 3.0 WAR (Giancarlo Stanton)
Team FA: 3.3 WAR (Marcell Ozuna)
While Ozuna could wind up in left field, his best fit at this point is at DH, given his shaky defense and thunderous bat. However, this team just as easily could have featured Ozuna in left and Nelson Cruz at DH.
Yankees: 17.4 WAR (Gerrit Cole, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, Deivi García, Domingo Germán)
Team FA: 16.1 WAR (Trevor Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, Jake Odorizzi, Garrett Richards, Rick Porcello)
Again, we’re going with six starters apiece here, since every team needs rotation depth. After stealing Kluber from the free-agent squad, the Yankees’ starters actually rank first in MLB in projected WAR, just in front of the Mets. But the free agents aren’t far behind them. Bauer is the clear ace of this group, which includes two 2020 Yankees, in Tanaka and Paxton.
Yankees: 4.6 WAR (Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Adam Ottavino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, Nick Nelson)
Team FA: 2.9 WAR (Brad Hand, Trevor Rosenthal, Kirby Yates, Mark Melancon, Alex Colomé, Joakim Soria, Justin Wilson)
The relief market seems to be heating up with the recent signings of Hendriks, Archie Bradley and former Dodger Pedro Báez, so the free-agent ranks could dwindle quickly. But there are still lots of intriguing options for now, highlighted by Hand, who led MLB with 16 saves last year.
Best projected team WAR (as of Monday)
1) Yankees: 50.1
2) Dodgers: 47.2
[Team FA: 46.9]
3) Padres: 44.3
4) Mets: 42.5
5) White Sox: 41.2
A pretty close race. Of course, projections aren’t gospel, and Team FA benefits from its 26-man roster taking all of the playing time. But what’s clear is that the best remaining free agents are about as good, collectively, as any team in the Majors. (And if you look at the names, the numbers aren’t too hard to believe).
Of course, this also understates the depth still present on the market. If we were to expand these teams’ rosters, the free agents’ advantage would grow, given that the above projections don’t include, among many others: Gregorius, Cruz, Cesar Hernandez, Kolten Wong, Eddie Rosario, José Quintana, J.A. Happ, Taijuan Walker, Adam Wainwright or Cole Hamels.
In other words, there’s a lot of shopping left to do before Opening Day.
Andrew Simon is a research analyst for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.