Previewing The 2023-24 Free Agent Class: Corner Outfield

Throughout the week, we’ve covered the upcoming free agent class at MLBTR. We move today to the outfield. Teams often use left and right fielders interchangeably, so we’ll combine them into a single corner outfield group. It’s not a great class but is arguably among the stronger options in a light market for position players. Everyone in the center field class could handle a corner, but we’ll cover them separately and look specifically at players who have logged substantial corner outfield reps this year.

Note: only players who have been on an MLB roster in 2023 are included. Ages listed are for the 2024 season.

Top of the Class

Hernández entered the season as one of the top hitters in the entire free agent class. He looked likely to get nine figures if he posted another offensive showing near the .283/.333/.519 slash he managed during his final three seasons as a Blue Jay. His first season in Seattle has been a roller-coaster, but he’s doing his best to salvage things as the year draws to a close.

The righty-hitting slugger had a sub-.700 OPS in each of April, May and July. He was excellent in June and has been one of the best hitters on the planet since the start of August, hitting .344/.377/.591 in 167 plate appearances. The season line — .267/.312/.457 with 25 homers over 145 games — is more solid than elite, but he has looked like vintage Hernández over the last six weeks. He has also turned in decent defensive marks in just under 1100 right field innings, a welcome improvement over consistently below-average grades for his glove in Toronto.

By catching fire in the second half, Hernández has put himself back in consideration for a lofty multi-year pact. He has solidified himself as a likely qualifying offer recipient, which he should reject in search of a longer deal. His camp could take aim at the $100MM pact that Nick Castellanos landed from the Phillies two winters back.

Everyday Players

Brantley has assumed the “professional hitter” moniker and continued to live up to it even into his mid-30s. He has been a well above-average offensive player whenever healthy, including a .288/.370/.416 line with more walks than strikeouts a year ago. His season was cut short by August shoulder surgery. The Astros brought him back on a $12MM contract in hopes he’d be ready not long after Opening Day.

Continued soreness intervened. Brantley didn’t make his season debut until the end of August. He has only appeared in 10 games thus far. Injuries are an ever-present concern at this stage of his career, but Brantley remains one of the best pure hitters in the upcoming free agent class. Any team that signs him will bake in plenty of rest days and likely rotate him between designated hitter and left field rather than counting on him for 100+ starts in the outfield.

Duvall has been a corner outfielder for the bulk of his career, but the Red Sox pushed him to primary center field duty in 2023. Defensive metrics suggest he’s better suited for a corner — not especially surprising given his age — but he has hit well enough to earn a raise relative to this year’s $7MM salary.

The righty-swinging slugger has connected on 19 homers in only 310 plate appearances, with that workload limited by an early-season wrist fracture sustained when he dove for a ball. It’s the kind of production we’ve come to expect from the 10-year veteran: plus power to compensate for a propensity for strikeouts and a middling walk rate. Duvall has been an above-average hitter, as measured by wRC+, in four of the last five seasons. He has three 30-homer seasons to his name and could have gotten there this year were it not for the injury. His age will limit the length of offers on the table, but he’s having one of the better platform performances among the outfield class.

Gurriel offers a broadly similar profile to Duvall: right-handed power with subpar on-base marks. He’s five years younger and makes a lot more contact, although he’s strictly a left field option. Acquired from the Jays in the Gabriel Moreno/Daulton Varsho swap, Gurriel is batting .258/.308/.470 with 23 homers in 536 plate appearances — numbers that are in line with the solid career track record he has compiled.

It has been a year of peaks and valleys, though. Gurriel was among the best hitters in the majors in May and owns a .290/.344/.536 line going back to the start of August. In between, he hit .174/.220/.331. It’s a volatile but generally effective offensive profile. The D-Backs probably wouldn’t risk the qualifying offer, but Gurriel could receive three or four years at $10MM+ annually.

Pham is amidst his best season since 2019. The righty-hitting veteran has combined for a .267/.336/.474 line with 16 homers across 423 plate appearances between the Mets and Diamondbacks. His 9.2% walk rate is solid, if below his peak level, while he’s striking out at a league average 22.2% figure. Despite his age, Pham still rates as a capable defender in left field. He continues to post huge exit velocities, although that hard contact is often mitigated by a propensity to hit the ball on the ground. Pham is not an impact player, but he’s a well-rounded regular who can hit pitchers of either handedness well.

Renfroe has been a solid but unexceptional performer for the bulk of his career. He hits for power and typically plays decent right field defense (although this year’s metrics aren’t good). He’s not viable in center field and runs subpar on-base marks. Renfroe has settled in as a second-division regular, bouncing from team to team but earning playing time wherever he lands.

He’s having a bit of a down year, with his 20 home runs in 538 plate appearances trending towards a career low in a full schedule. He owns a .235/.299/.421 line between the Angels and Reds overall. The strikeout and walk profile is in line with his career marks, but he’s lost a couple ticks of exit velocity.

Strong Side Platoon

Gallo is athletic enough to handle any outfield position and the Twins have given him some reps at first base. He had a strong first couple weeks in the Twin Cities but has slumped since May and now carries a .177/.301/.440 line over 332 plate appearances. The sub-Mendoza average is nothing new, but this year’s 42.8% strikeout rate is high even by Gallo’s standards. He has hit 21 homers and walked at a huge 14.5% clip, leading to a roughly average wRC+ figure (103). That’s still not the bounceback the Minnesota front office envisioned when guaranteeing him $11MM last winter.

After years of below-average offense for the Cubs, Heyward has found an offensive resurgence in Los Angeles. The Dodgers have almost completely shielded him from left-handed pitching, and he has responded with a .278/.357/.483 showing over 303 plate appearances versus righties. Heyward is walking at a 10.2% clip, has connected on 14 homers and is only striking out 16.5% of the time. He remains an excellent defender. Teams will have to weigh that against his age and years of underwhelming offense in Chicago, but he clearly earned himself another big league opportunity and might even find a two-year deal.

The Giants surprisingly made Pederson a qualifying offer last winter; less surprisingly, he accepted. Pederson has still been an above-average hitter, but his offense is well down from last year’s career showing. He’s hitting .247/.359/.427 with 13 homers through 376 plate appearances. That includes 49 dismal plate appearances versus lefties, but he has a strong .261/.367/.464 line with a 12.8% walk rate when holding the platoon advantage. Pederson has never been a threat against left-handed pitching and he’s a well below-average defender. It’s a limited profile, but he’s very good at the thing he’s asked to do most often: hitting right-handed pitching.

The Dodgers have shielded Peralta from left-handed pitching, keeping him to 32 plate appearances against southpaws. The 10-year veteran has a modest .259/.298/.391 showing in 320 trips to the dish against righties. Peralta has a better career track record in that role, but his power production has dropped off this year.

Situational/Role Players

The Rockies and Blackmon have expressed mutual interest in a reunion. That seems the likeliest course of action, though the career-long Rockie indicated he wouldn’t be opposed to going elsewhere if Colorado didn’t bring him back. Blackmon is limited to right field or designated hitter at this stage of his career. He’s still an effective hitter, posting a .276/.368/.429 line with seven homers through 351 plate appearances. He won’t come close to the $15MM salary he made this season, but he should get a one-year deal for a 14th big league campaign.

Grossman is a switch-hitter who makes his living from the right side of the plate. He owns an excellent .303/.407/.488 batting line against left-handed pitching over the last three seasons. When facing a righty, he has has hit .199/.307/.334. The platoon splits have been even more drastic this year. Grossman’s ability to hit left-handed pitching makes him a solid role player, although he’s miscast in an everyday job. He signed with the Rangers for $2MM last winter and could earn a modest raise on that figure in 2024.

Over two years of below-average production culminated in Hicks’ release from the Yankees in May. The switch-hitter has found another gear since signing with the Orioles, hitting .287/.381/.461 over 53 games. That’s a glimpse of the hitter Hicks was at his peak, though he’s now a fringe defender and has landed on the injured list twice with Baltimore. While he’s probably a fourth outfielder on a contender, the 11-year veteran earned another guaranteed big league opportunity.

He won’t cost a signing team any more than the league minimum, as the Yankees remain on the hook for the rest of his consecutive $9.5MM salaries from 2024-25. Hicks’ camp will likely receive a number of offers at the $740K minimum rate, meaning he’ll make his decision based on clubs’ competitive outlooks and the playing time available.

Jankowski has been a quality fourth outfielder for the Rangers after an offseason minor league pact. He’s hitting .265/.352/.335 over 282 plate appearances. Jankowski has excellent strike zone awareness and works plenty of walks despite bottom-of-the-scale power. He’s a good baserunner (19-for-20 in stolen base attempts this season) and an above-average defender at any outfield spot. The complete dearth of power means he’ll always be limited to a situational job, but he’s potentially secured himself a big league contract this time around.

Infield/Outfield Hybrids

Anderson bounces between third base and the corner outfield. He was a solid regular for the Marlins from 2018-20 but is hitting .230/.317/.361 in more than 1000 trips to the plate over the last three years. Anderson has played the ’23 campaign in Milwaukee after being non-tendered by the Marlins. He hasn’t produced much beyond a solid first month, posting a .224/.309/.364 slash with a career-worst 30.1% strikeout rate in 94 games.

Hernández struggled at shortstop to begin the season. He has moved back into a utility capacity as a result, playing mostly second base and center field but logging some corner outfield action and occasional shortstop work. He’s amidst a second straight well below-average offensive season, hitting .236/.294/.353 over 469 plate appearances. Things have turned around since a midseason trade. After posting a .222/.279/.320 line in Boston, he owns a .267/.329/.427 slash through 146 plate appearances in L.A. He’ll likely land another guaranteed deal but seems hard-pressed to match the $10MM salary he received from the Red Sox last September.

Kemp is a contact-hitting second base/left field option. He’s not a great defender at either spot, but he was a solid regular for the A’s from 2021-22 before a down ’23 campaign. The left-handed hitter owns a .211/.304/.311 line through 398 trips to the plate. That’s in large part a reflection of an unsustainably poor .222 average on balls in play. Kemp has strong plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills; he’s one of just two players (Luis Arraez being the other) with 300+ plate appearances and more walks than strikeouts. He could find a major league deal as a result.

After playing catcher, shortstop and third base in recent years, Kiner-Falefa has branched into the outfield for the Yankees in 2023. He has logged 267 1/3 innings in center field and slightly more between the two corner spots (mostly left field). Public defensive metrics have given him mixed reviews, though that’s probably to be expected given his lack of experience on the grass. No one will target Kiner-Falefa as a regular in the corner outfield. He’s not effective enough a hitter for that. He has broadened his versatility for a bench role, though. Kiner-Falefa puts the ball in play without much impact and runs below-average walk totals. He’s a contact-hitting utility option who owns a .253/.311/.332 mark since landing in New York.

Merrifield’s contract contains an $18MM mutual option with a $500K buyout. The Jays are very likely to decline their end, sending the veteran back to free agency. He’s one of the better players available in the second base class but also has plenty of corner outfield experience, where he’s roughly a league average defender. Merrifield is hitting .279/.321/.391 on the season, solid offense but a line that fits better at the keystone than at a bat-first outfield position.

Veteran Depth

Calhoun got into 44 games for the Yankees, hitting .239/.309/.403 across 149 trips to the plate. He elected free agency after clearing outright waivers last month.

Dickerson appeared in 50 games for the Nationals after signing a $2.25MM free agent deal. He put up a career-worst .250/.283/.354 line and was released in early August. Dickerson had been an average or better hitter for the bulk of his career but he’s in minor league deal territory at this stage.

Grichuk started the season well in Colorado. It fell apart after a deadline trade to the Angels, with whom he’s hitting .203/.253/.392 in 41 games. The Halos have put him on waivers at least twice; he went unclaimed both times. He should still find a major league deal based on his ability to cover all three outfield spots and hit left-handed pitching. The righty-swinging Grichuk owns a .291/.332/.538 slash against southpaws over the last three seasons. He’s a .240/.285/.389 hitter versus righties in that same period.

The Reds rolled the dice on a bounceback year from Myers last winter, guaranteeing him $7.5MM. It didn’t materialize, as the former All-Star hit .189/.257/.283 in 37 contests. Cincinnati released him in June as their wave of young talent hit the major league level. He didn’t sign elsewhere after that.

Pillar broke camp with the Braves after an offseason minor league deal. He has held his roster spot all year, hitting .236/.260/.422 with seven homers in 169 plate appearances. A formerly elite defender in center field, he’s more of a corner option at this stage of his career. Pillar still plays decent defense in a sheltered role and has some pop, but it’ll come with a well below-average OBP.

Pollock’s offensive productivity has collapsed over the past two seasons. He still hit left-handed pitching well a season ago but didn’t produce against pitchers of either handedness in 2023. Pollock compiled a .165/.215/.318 line in 54 contests between the Mariners and Giants and was released by San Francisco two weeks ago.

Profar settled for a $10MM deal with the Rockies late in Spring Training after opting out of his contract with the Padres. His time in Colorado was a disaster, as the switch-hitter managed only a .236/.316/.364 line despite the confines of Coors Field. The Rockies released him at the end of August. Profar circled back to San Diego on a minor league deal and was quickly called to the MLB club. He could find another major league deal this offseason, but he’s coming off his worst season in five years.

Tapia is a contact and speed player who is best suited for left field. It’s an atypical profile that has led to diminishing playing time over the past couple seasons. He got into 59 games between the Red Sox and Brewers this year, hitting .230/.308/.338 between the clubs. Released by Milwaukee last month, he’s now in Triple-A with the Rays.

Winker once looked like an elite platoon option, mashing right-handed pitching for the Reds over his first four-plus seasons. He has never been a good defender, though, and his power has evaporated over the last two years. Winker hit .219/.344/.344 for the Mariners in 2022 and has mustered only a .199/.320/.247 slash in 61 games for the Brewers this summer. He has been out since late July because of back spasms. Winker might still find a major league deal from a club hoping for a rebound, but he’ll hit free agency coming off the worst season of his career.

Player Options

Conforto has a borderline option case. By tallying 350 plate appearances, he vested the ability to decline an $18MM salary for next year in favor of free agency. He has returned from the shoulder injury that cost him all of last season but hasn’t found his peak offensive form. Conforto owns a .251/.343/.405 slash with 15 homers through 426 trips to the plate. That’s more in line with his slightly above-average work from his 2021 season (.232/.344/.384) than his All-Star form of 2017-20.

The left-handed hitter had started to find his stride coming out of the All-Star Break before suffering a left hamstring strain that sent him to the injured list on August 25. He’s expected back from that imminently, just in time for what the Giants hope will be a playoff run. This could go in either direction depending on how Conforto finishes the year.

Soler’s opt-out decision is clear. He has a $12MM salary for next year, which would escalate to $13MM if he returns from an oblique strain in time to tally 18 more plate appearances during the regular season. In either case, it’s not likely to dissuade him from exploring the market.

After a down first season in Miami, the streaky slugger has performed at the middle-of-the-order level the front office had envisioned. Soler has popped 35 homers with a .240/.329/.513 line through 532 trips to the plate. He’s walking at a solid 10.9% clip and has cut his strikeout rate by five percentage points to a manageable 24.9%.

Soler is a well below-average defender. The Marlins have used him mostly at designated hitter, though he has picked up 233 2/3 right field innings. Any team that signs him is doing so for the bat, but he could find another three-year pact in a market without many clear offensive upgrades.

Club Options

The Brewers have an $11.5MM option on Canha that comes with a $2MM buyout. It’s a $9.5MM decision that figures to be borderline for a small-market Milwaukee club that has a penchant for taking the cautious route with regard to option decisions. It’s a reasonable sum in a vacuum, as Canha has performed well. He’s hitting .264/.360/.406 in 445 plate appearances, including a stellar .303/.394/.459 over 36 games since a deadline trade that sent from the Mets to the Brew Crew.

Even in his mid-30s, Canha is a good offensive player. He draws plenty of walks and has cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 16% this year. He doesn’t have prototypical power for a corner outfielder/first baseman, but he’s adept at getting on base. If Milwaukee decided not to commit the $9.5MM themselves, Canha could probably find something similar on the open market.

Minnesota holds a $10MM option that comes with a $1MM buyout. This appeared to be trending toward a buyout a few months ago, as Kepler was hitting .195/.273/.398 through the end of May. Since the calendar flipped to June, he’s mashing at a .274/.341/.516 clip to flip the script. The left-handed hitter owns a .251/.321/.482 line with 22 homers altogether. Suddenly, the $9MM difference between his option and the buyout looks like excellent value, especially since he continues to play strong right field defense.

The Twins have a number of left-handed hitting outfielders. Even if they were interested in subtracting Kepler from that surplus, they could do so by exercising the option and trading him. That or simply keeping him around for another season now seem likelier than the buyout.

Another borderline case, Atlanta holds a $9MM option without a buyout figure. One of the sport’s streakiest hitters, Rosario slumped to a career-worst .212/.259/.328 showing and underwent corrective vision surgery a season ago. He has rebounded in 2023, putting together a .267/.320/.479 clip with 21 longballs in 470 trips to the plate.

Rosario is striking out more than he did during his time with the Twins, though he’s also drawing a few more walks. He’s a power-over-hit left fielder who typically plays average defense. If the Braves are confident he’d replicate this year’s production, the $9MM price point is decent value.

Previous installments: catcher, first base, second base, third base, shortstop

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