You’ve seen our 2021-22 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings, but which contract year players are actually performing the best at this point in the young season? These are the top 2021-22 free agents ranked by FanGraphs WAR. Note: I’m using Baseball-Reference’s excellent Span Finder frequently in this post. For the full list of 2021-22 MLB free agents, click here.
- Kris Bryant – 1.8 WAR, 180 wRC+ in 124 PA. As good as Bryant has been, this level of production has plenty of precedent for him. He’s hit more than eight home runs in a 29-game span many times, including 12 in a stretch in 2019. It’s not going to be hard to make a case for a huge free agent contract for the 29-year-old Bryant, who may be traded by the Cubs in July.
- J.D. Martinez – 1.8 WAR, 215 wRC+ in 126 PA. Like Bryant, the odd 2020 season is the only recent blip in Martinez’s career. As Boston’s DH continues to light up Statcast, the question becomes whether he should opt out of the remaining $19.375MM on his contract for 2022, which will represent his age-34 season. The universal DH would help.
- Buster Posey – 1.4 WAR, 218 wRC+ in 78 PA. The last time Posey hit seven home runs in 20 games? Late in the 2014 season, when he finished sixth in the MVP voting. He hit seven home runs in 114 games in his previous season in 2019. Clearly, a year off did the 34-year-old Posey good. A multiyear deal is materializing for the Giants legend.
- Nick Castellanos – 1.4 WAR, 166 wRC+ in 114 PA. Castellanos’ early mashing this year is reminiscent of his brief stint with the Cubs, in which he posted a 154 wRC+ in 225 PA. If he keeps it up, the 29-year-old right fielder might find it easy to opt out of the remaining two years and $34MM left on his contract with the Reds after this season.
- Starling Marte – 1.0 WAR, 151 wRC+ in 70 PA. Things were looking up for Marte until he fractured a rib a couple weeks ago, potentially knocking him out until June. Assuming a healthy return, trade partners will begin knocking on the Marlins’ door at that point.
- Other impending free agents playing well in the early going: Yadier Molina, Nelson Cruz, Chris Taylor, Josh Harrison, and Corey Dickerson.
- Clayton Kershaw – 1.3 WAR, 2.95 ERA in 39 2/3 innings. Even after a clunker Tuesday against the Cubs, Kershaw leads free agent pitchers in WAR. Is there any way he’d leave the Dodgers heading into his age-34 season? Max Scherzer is another elder statesman future Hall of Fame pitcher who is off to an excellent start in his contract year.
- Matt Barnes – 1.0 WAR, 2.12 ERA in 17 innings. Generally known for high walk rates, Barnes has posted an excellent 5.1 BB% so far this year. He’s actually had bouts of strong control before, with similar stretches in 2016 and ’17. He’s also whiffed a phenomenal 49.2% of batters in 2021. Barnes got off to a great start in 2019 as well, punching out half the batters he faced and walking only 6% over his first 16 games. He’d go on to walk more than 15% of batters over the remainder of that season. The point is that Barnes’ start could hardly be better, but these 17 innings do not prove he’s become a completely different pitcher. At any rate, he’s positioned for one of the better contracts for free agent relievers. Mark Melancon, Craig Kimbrel, Kendall Graveman, and Ian Kennedy are also getting it done in the early going.
- Danny Duffy – 1.0 WAR, 0.60 ERA in 30 innings. Duffy’s velocity is the highest it’s been since 2016. His peripherals are strong, though he does owe some of his success to a .247 batting average on balls in play and a 6.1% home run per flyball rate. As you might expect, this has been the best five-start stretch of Duffy’s entire 197-start career. Duffy, 32, once tweeted, “Bury me a Royal” in response to December 2017 trade rumors. So you’d think the Royals will find a way to work out a new deal with him.
- Lance Lynn – 0.9 WAR, 1.82 ERA in 24 2/3 innings. Lynn missed a couple weeks with a trapezius strain, but before that he whiffed 21 batters against zero walks in a pair of starts. Lynn turns 34 next week, but if he remains healthy for the rest of the season he’s setting up for at least a three-year deal.
- Carlos Rodon – 0.9 WAR, 0.72 ERA in 25 innings. Lynn’s rotation-mate with the White Sox has been one of the offseason’s best signings at just $3MM. He tossed a no-hitter against the Indians and has given up only two runs all year. Among those with at least 20 innings, Rodon ranks eighth in baseball with a 37.9 K%. He’d never previously whiffed batters at this rate over any prior four-start stretch. Rodon’s 94.9 mile per hour average velocity is the best of his career, and he won’t turn 29 until December. With a clean bill of health, Rodon could be one of the winter’s most intriguing free agent starting pitchers.
- Kevin Gausman – 0.8 WAR, 2.04 ERA in 39 2/3 innings. Gausman, 30, is underlining the fact that his excellent 2020 season for the Giants was no fluke. In the era of five-inning starts, Gausman ranks fifth in MLB at 6.53 per outing. Like Lynn, he’ll come free of a qualifying offer.
- Anthony DeSclafani – 0.8 WAR, 2.00 ERA in 36 innings. Of the six pitchers who have made starts for the Giants so far this year, five of them will be free agents after the season. Four of them have an ERA of 2.04 or lower. The Giants appear to have another successful reclamation project on their hands in DeSclafani.
- Several other impending free agent starters currently sport a sub-3.00 ERA: Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, Alex Wood, Marcus Stroman, Michael Pineda, Trevor Bauer, and Wade Miley.