Spring training is roughly four weeks away and we are in the dog days of the offseason. Only four of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned and none rank among the top 25. It was a strong free agent class, one particularly deep in high-end position players, and it would have been even stronger had several players not opted for long-term security early in their careers.

These days, many young players sign long-term contract extensions that push back their free agency. They trade their maximum earning potential through arbitration and free agency for financial security early in their careers. I don't blame them one bit. I'd do the same thing. It does, however,  mean these players aren't hitting free agency when expected, taking a bite out of the offseason.

It takes six years of service time to quality for free agency, but given the way teams manipulate service time, it often takes closer to seven years. Sean Manaea, for example, would have been a free agent last offseason had the Athletics put him on their Opening Day roster in 2016. Instead, they kept him down until late April, pushing his free agency back. Manaea was much better in 2021 than 2022 (plus he was a year younger) and would have been better positioned to land a significant free agent payday last winter.

Twenty players reached the six years of service time necessary to qualify for free agency after the 2022 season but had already signed extensions early in their careers. Here they are ranked in a fantasy world where they hit the market this offseason anyway.


Alex Bregman

Contract: 5 years, $100 million (signed March 2019)

The Astros have developed several elite players in the last decade but they've been selective with extensions. Carlos Correa and George Springer did not receive long-term deals and were allowed to leave as free agents while others like Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, and Lance McCullers Jr. were locked up. Bregman signed his extension coming off a fifth place finish in the AL MVP voting in 2018, and right before a 41-homer effort in 2019 made him the AL MVP runner-up.

Houston's sign-stealing scandal did not cost Correa and Springer in free agency (Correa's free agent stock was hurt by his medicals, not the sign-stealing scandal), so there's no reason to think Bregman would have suffered this offseason. His blend of power, on-base ability, and top of the line defense at a prime age (29 in March) would have made him an extremely attractive free agent. Even with Bregman set to make $28.5 million in actual salary in 2023 and again in 2024, the Astros secured themselves a major bargain with this extension.

What would he get this offseason? A superlong contract along the lines of Xander Bogaerts (11 years and $280 million) and Trea Turner (11 years and $300 million) would have been in play for Bregman this winter. He is in that class of player and still on the right side of 30.


Byron Buxton

Contract: 7 years, $100 million (signed November 2021)

What a fascinating free agency this would have been. Buxton is a dynamic talent, truly one of the most electrifying players in the game, but injuries continue to hamper him. In 2022, knee and hip injuries limited Buxton to 92 games, and he's played only 279 of 546 possible regular season games the last four years, or 51 percent. Buxton is an MVP caliber performer when healthy (150 OPS+ and 8.6 WAR in 153 games the last two years). He just isn't healthy often enough. The injury risk is baked into Buxton's extension -- bonuses and incentives can push the total value up close to $200 million -- but yeah, it would have been an adventure to see how teams would have valued him on the open market.