Superstars Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Kris Bryant and Trevor Story have long been expected to be the headliners of the 2021-22 MLB free-agent class, and they are all poised to cash in this winter.
Other high-profile players like Freddie Freeman, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Javier Baez, Marcus Stroman and Anthony Rizzo are also headed for the open market, and their stock has been largely unchanged during the 2021 season.
However, there are a handful of players who have considerably boosted their free-agent profile thanks to a strong showing this year.
Ahead we've highlighted the six upcoming free agents who have done the most to improve their earning power during the 2021 campaign.
Included for each player you'll find a pair of statistical reference points of my own creation:
WAR/100 (Pitchers): A pitcher's WAR total divided by his total innings pitched and then multiplied by 100, thus giving us his WAR per 100 innings pitched. The idea is to make it easier to contextualize WAR totals across different sample sizes.
WAR/500 (Hitters): A hitter's WAR total divided by his total plate appearances then multiplied by 500, thus giving us his WAR per 500 plate appearances. The idea is to make it easier to contextualize WAR totals across different sample sizes.
Honorable Mentions and Notes
Here are a few notes on guys who were not included in the list before we get started:
San Francisco Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford is having a fantastic bounce-back season with 4.1 WAR and the best offensive numbers of his career. However, he'll turn 35 years old in January and the offseason shortstop market is deep. Chances are he's still headed for a short-term deal.
Los Angeles Dodgers super-utility man Chris Taylor was an All-Star for the first time this year, and with a 138 OPS+ and a terrific .377 on-base percentage he has developed into an impact player offensively. That said, he was already a well-regarded player coming off a 2.0-WAR season in 56 games last year. His 2021 performance has served more to solidify his free-agent stock than to boost it.
Relievers Yimi Garcia (HOU) and Heath Hembree (CIN) are pitching in a high-leverage role for the first time in their career this season and have no doubt raised their profile as a result, though not enough to earn a spot on the list.
Don't sleep on Tyler Anderson as a candidate for a multi-year deal thanks to a 4.35 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 93 strikeouts in 113.2 innings. The 31-year-old has battled injuries throughout his career, but he's been a workhorse this season for the Pirates and Mariners.
Anthony DeSclafani was one of the more appealing buy-low candidates on the pitching market last offseason when he signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Giants. The 31-year-old has a 3.28 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 118 strikeouts in 126.1 innings this year and should be a lock for a multi-year pact.
Tip of the cap to Josh Harrison who appeared to be coming to the end of the road when he was released by the Detroit Tigers in 2019. The 34-year-old is hitting .293/.362/.432 for a 121 OPS+ with 32 extra-base hits in 385 plate appearances this season. He doesn't have a ton of earning power, but he's a useful bench piece capable of filling a bigger role.
2B/3B Eduardo Escobar, Milwaukee Brewers
2020 WAR/500: -1.13
2021 WAR/500: 2.97
It's a good thing Eduardo Escobar was not a free agent last offseason.
After posting a 110 OPS+ with 29 doubles, 10 triples, 35 home runs, 118 RBI and 3.3 WAR during the best season of his career in 2019, his production fell off a cliff.
He hit just .212/.270/.335 with four home runs in 222 plate appearances during the pandemic-shortened campaign, and his stock bottomed out heading into the final year of a three-year, $21 million contract.
Luckily, he has righted the ship in his contract year, logging a 110 OPS+ with 24 home runs and 71 RBI to earn an All-Star nod as the lone representative for the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 32-year-old was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers at the deadline and he's hitting .273/.368/.576 with two doubles, one triple and two home runs in nine games with his new team.
His on-base skills are a bit lacking, but his defensive versatility and over-the-fence power should be enough to secure him another multi-year deal on the back of a bounce-back season.
RHP Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants
2020 WAR/100: 2.18
2021 WAR/100: 3.55
Kevin Gausman bet on himself when he accepted the San Francisco Giants qualifying offer last season.
There was little doubt he could have inked a multi-year deal on the heels of a 3.62 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 79 strikeouts in 59.2 innings in 2020, but it likely would have been for an annual salary well short of the one-year, $18.9 million contract he signed.
Now he's raised his asking price even higher and could be the most sought after arm in a free-agent market full of aging aces.
Still just 30 years old, Gausman has a 2.31 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 157 strikeouts in 132.1 innings, fronting the rotation for an upstart San Francisco Giants team.
He hit a rough patch in July where he failed to make it out of the fifth inning in three straight starts, but he rebounded last time out with six innings of five-hit, one-run ball for his 15th quality start in 22 appearances.
With the Giants headed for the postseason, he'll have a chance to further vault his stock in October.