Jason Heyward Ahead of Bryce Harper on List of Greatest Under-28 Free Agents of All Time
I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: It is a hella slow news day. We’ve officially sailed into the horse latitudes of the MLB offseason. With that in mind, I’m going to keep the commentary on this topic as brief as possible. Cliff Corcoran of The Athletic decided to rank the greatest free agents of all time (subscription required) to hit the market under age 28 and I thought it was a cool exercise.
Keep in mind that this list can’t include some of the greatest overall players of all time because free agency as we know it didn’t even exist in baseball prior to 1975. So we’re looking at a sample of just over 40 years, which is still pretty significant. From there, you’ve got to account for variations in age and timing, which Corcoran explained thusly:
To rank the players on this list, I started with their career bWAR prior to reaching free agency for the first time. For players coming off their age-27 season, I stopped there. However, to credit the younger players for their relative youth, I used a 5/4/3 weighting of their last three seasons (weighing their most recent season five times, the one before that four times, and the one before that three times) to come up with a projection of their first season after free agency. (Remember, we’re evaluating these players at the time of their free agency, not evaluating what they did after. This projection method is thus a better reflection of their market value than their actual post-free-agency performance, which was unknown at the time.) I then credited those younger players with seasons of that value up through their age-27 season. So, for example, if a player coming off his age-25 season projected to be worth 5.0 bWAR the next year, he would be credited with 5.0 each for both his age-26 and -27 seasons, adding 10.0 bWAR to his career total.
I’m not going to divulge all 13 names on the list, though I’m guessing you can come up with three of them pretty quickly if you go back and read the title again. There are, however, a pair of former Cubs pitchers named (one has a red ass, the other enjoyed a hot foot), along with one all-around great who played on both the South Side and north of the border. All told, seven of the players hit free agency in or after 2000, if that helps.
As for the rankings, well, those might surprise you a little bit. Bryce Harper is the lowest of the titular names, coming in at No. 11 with 32.4 projected age-27 bWAR. Manny Machado sits eight spots higher at No. 3 with his 44.3 bWAR tally. So where do you think Jason Heyward ranks?
Remember, he was the most coveted position player of his own free-agent class, largely because he was still so young when his rookie contract concluded. With 40.9 bWAR, Heyward actually settled in just behind Machado at No. 4 on the list. Now, I’m sure some folks will have a little to say on what has happened since he signed, but that’s neither here nor there.
Got any guesses as to who else made it? If you ask me nicely enough and promise to be my best friend, I might confirm or deny your guesses below.