Earlier this month, CBS Sports published our annual top 50 MLB free agents list ahead of the start of the offseason. As is the case every winter, the limited number of spots meant that this year's list excluded some well-known and well-decorated players.
While evaluating and ranking players are subjective exercises (and these kinds of articles should be consumed with that in mind), we wanted to take this opportunity to explain our reasoning for not including five former All-Stars: Brad Hand, Jon Lester, Jed Lowrie, Andrew McCutchen, and Andrelton Simmons.
Let's take a look at each player.
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1. Brad Hand, LHP
Hand had a topsy-turvy season. He was fine for most of the year with the Nationals; then he was awful in a brief, post-deadline stint with the Blue Jays; and then he was fine again with the Mets to close out the campaign. His inconsistency isn't the reason we have concerns about his viability as a late-inning reliever moving forward.
Our qualm with Hand is an apparent decay in stuff. His slider was less effective, and he conceded as much by lowering its usage rate to less than 50 percent for the first time since 2017. There's more to pitching than generating swing-and-misses, but it's worrisome when a reliever known for missing bats posts a worse contact rate than contact-managing starters like Dallas Keuchel and Ryan Yarbrough.
Maybe Hand will bounce back in 2022, but we're not willing to bet on it.
2. Jon Lester, LHP
Lester made last year's version of this piece, too. He also ended up with the Nationals, with whom he posted an 81 ERA+ before being shipped to the Cardinals at the deadline. Lester was better with St. Louis, reeling off a stretch where he surrendered one run or fewer in four of five starts, but he remained below average (89 ERA+).
It's tempting to look at a pitcher like Lester, who has had a brilliant career, and envision him having one more good season before he retires. Unfortunately, there's not a ton of reason to believe that's possible, let alone probable. Lester's strikeout and walk rates both went in the wrong direction last season, and his ability to suppress quality of contact remains better-than-average but not elite.
Lester can provide a team with guidance, guile, and five-plus innings every time out; his results just aren't likely to ascend beyond replacement level.
3. Jed Lowrie, INF
After appearing in nine games during a two-year run with the Mets, Lowrie had himself a resurgent season in his return to Oakland. He appeared in 139 contests and hit .245/.318/.398 (101 OPS+) with 14 home runs and another 28 doubles. Lowrie's underlying measures were promising, too. He remains in command of the strike zone and he posted the highest average exit velocity of the Statcast era portion of his career.
So, why wasn't Lowrie able to make the cut? There were two main reasons. One, he's never been the most reliable player. He's had his fair share of injuries throughout his career, and that condition doesn't often improve as a player nears their 38th birthday. Two, he gives back a lot of value in the field and on the basepaths. Indeed, he gave back so much that Baseball Reference had him at essentially replacement level.
4. Andrew McCutchen, OF
Of the five players presented here, McCutchen was the hardest to leave off. He hit .222/.334/.444 (109 OPS+) with 27 home runs and six steals for the Phillies, and he's one of the most well-liked and respected players in the league.
Alas, we just couldn't talk ourselves into McCutchen being highly sought after. The league simply doesn't treat older, corner-only players with kindness anymore. What is McCutchen? A 35-year-old left fielder with substandard defense. Even his offense can be nitpicked: he has a sub-.700 OPS versus righties the past two seasons.
It may seem harsh, but McCutchen's optimized role heading forward might be as a short-side platoon DH. It's hard to justify putting that profile on the top 50.
5. Andrelton Simmons, SS
Simmons spent the season with the Twins, hitting .223/.283/.274 (57 OPS+) with three home runs and a single stolen base. His glove kept him in the lineup and on the right side of the replacement-level ledger, but he doesn't have the bat speed or the approach to be viewed as more than one of the worst hitters in the majors.
Simmons is also going to be celebrating his 33rd birthday next September, meaning Father Time will likely start depriving him of defensive value sooner than later.
Our snub of Simmons might prove to be a little premature, but we think he'll get lost in the shuffle as part of a loaded shortstop class.