Free agency is here, and the Dodgers have a lot of key decisions to make. Much like his play on the field, Chris Taylor might not have a set position within LA’s group of 11 free agents. But he might end up being one of the most important.
Those eleven Dodgers free agents can be split into tiers. Corey Seager is the headliner, near the top of most MLB-wide free agent lists. Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen are franchise icons who have been in Los Angeles the longest. Max Scherzer is the future Hall of Famer who is still within reach of his peak at age 37.
Chris Taylor is in a category all his own, the Swiss army knife who plays six positions and is also an above-average hitter. So what kind of contract will he get?
MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince ranked free agent rankings in late October, slotting Taylor at No. 22, just behind Brandon Belt and just ahead of Anthony Rizzo, both older than the 31-year-old Taylor.
Keith Law at The Athletic ranked Taylor the 12th-best free agent this winter.
In September, Darragh McDonald at MLB Trade Rumors argued Taylor should get a contract better than the four-year, $56 million deal Ben Zobrist signed with the Cubs before the 2016 season. Taylor’s biggest advantages over Zobrist are being 3½ years younger and, with more recent shortstop experience, being more versatile as well.
R.J. Anderson at CBS Sports thinks the market is ripe for a Taylor payday:
Perhaps this is an overzealous ranking, but in our estimation there’s a perfect syzygy in place for Taylor to get paid. He has his own track record of being an above-average hitter; he has a ton of positional versatility (at a time when teams are obsessing over such a thing); and he can draft off the success Enrique Hernández had last season in Boston.
Hernández signed a two-year, $14 million contract with the Red Sox last offseason, finding a team that would give him more playing time than he had with the Dodgers. He was coming off a six-position season, like Taylor, but hit just .230/.270/.410 and averaged 2.47 plate appearances per team game.
Taylor is in a much stronger position, coming off an All-Star season that saw him hit .254/.344/.438 with 20 home runs. He averaged 3.59 PA per game in 2021 and 3.36 PA/game over the last five years, starting 74 percent of the Dodgers games from 2017-21. He is, by any definition, already a regular player, even if he hasn’t always been tethered to a single position.
But what will that mean for Taylor’s next contract?
Finding recent comps is a little bit tricky, because the market two winters ago is much different than the one last year, with a pandemic and plummeting revenues in between. Add in the uncertainty this offseason with the collective bargaining agreement expiring on December 1, there’s a wide spectrum of possible outcomes.
The low-end comp for Taylor from last offseason might be Didi Gregorius, who was the same age then as Taylor is now. Gregorius signed with the Phillies for two years, $28 million, coming off a similar offensive season (116 wRC+ in 2020 compared to Taylor’s 113), but Taylor has better career numbers. Gregorius isn’t as versatile as Taylor, but was above average defensively at shortstop.
DJ LeMahieu provides the rough upper limit for Taylor, coming off a batting title and the two best offensive seasons of a career that already included three Gold Glove Awards at second base. A year older than Taylor is now, LeMahieu signed a six-year, $90 million deal to remain with the Yankees.
Both of those contracts were signed last offseason, after MLB owners saw revenues decline. There are some other comps from the last two years that are a stretch either by position or by occurring before the pandemic.
Recent multi-year free agent contracts
What Taylor makes this offseason really depends on how much teams value versatility. The Dodgers have relied heavily on Taylor in recent years, filling in the gaps, which got wider in 2021 with so many injuries. Heading into 2022, the current Dodgers roster includes Max Muncy, who can capably play first base, second base, and third base; Cody Bellinger, who excels in centerfield and at first base; Trea Turner, a shortstop who played second base with LA; and Gavin Lux, a middle infielder whose ventures into the outfield are still in infancy.
“We’ve got some versatility within our position player group,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said on October 27. “We just have to figure out the configuration. Obviously we feel like we will be returning a really good core of offensive players, but we’re going to have to round that out. What that means and what positions, I’m not sure yet, because we have some flexibility.”
I think Taylor’s strong season and postseason will get him a contract larger than Gregorius, and while it’s a stretch to think Taylor will best LeMahieu’s total contract, he could surpass the average annual value. So my guess is Taylor gets a four-year, $62 million contract this winter.
Some of the staff at True Blue LA have chimed in as well.
I struggled with this, because I truly have no idea what to expect with a Chris Taylor contract this offseason. I looked at the Ben Zobrist contract (4/$56M in 2015) and the DJ LeMahieu contract (6/$90M in 2021) and chose my $$$$ to be directly in the middle of that.
— Blake Harris
Chris Taylor feels like a tough case because the market is shallow with players that have ‘CF’ by their name, and there could be an All-Star tax on his deal. I like players like Taylor more when you can carry them year-to-year in arbitration. I actually thought he might produce similar to Hernández until I went back and compared WAR over the last few years, with Taylor coming out about well ahead even with Hernández’s big 2021. There’s enough age and year-to-year volatility risk here for me to go too far, so while I think Taylor might get a fourth year from some outfield-desperate team, I will hedge and say 3 years, $33 million, and that won’t be with the Dodgers.
— David Hood
For the purposes of obtaining a baseline I looked at Ian Desmond’s outlook before joining the Rockies. A lesser player overall, but comparable to Taylor in more than one way. Desmond also entered free agency as a 31-year-old. He spent the bulk of his career as a shortstop, with the latest season in center field for the Rangers. Once you’ve held your own at center and short, you’re rather versatile.
Although at the time it was already a bad contract, Desmond received 5 years, $70 million. Like Taylor, he had a couple of 4-win seasons in the rear view mirror, but Desmond wasn’t the hitter that Taylor is and didn’t have as much flexibility defensively. It’s hard to see Taylor getting that fifth year, however I foresee a significantly higher average annual value. Four years, $86 million.
Just taking a peek at what multi-position players received last offseason and really the last couple years, Taylor is going to get a better contract than the two years, $14 million that Hernandez received from the Red Sox. Taylor was essentially on that deal ($13.4 million total) over the past two seasons already to finish his arbitration years. The Swiss army knife of the Dodgers would definitely be worth at what they gave A.J. Pollock (four years, $55 million) in my mind, but I’m not sure Taylor gets that.
It’s going to depend on who makes a play for him. Most teams will check in on Taylor since he’s such a versatile “glue guy” that every club could use. I can’t fathom a team going longer than four years or shorter than three. My guess will be three years, $39 million.
The Dodgers don’t have any clear replacements for Chris Taylor after losing Hernández and Joc Pederson last offseason. I think Taylor’s due to get a contract worth roughly double what he’s currently earning annually. A four-year, $60 million contract sounds like a lot, but CT3 could look for a lengthier five-to-six-year deal via free agency. What makes Taylor so valuable is his versatility, likely making him popular on the open market. The Dodgers can’t let Taylor leave in free agency. The need to make a strong competitive offer to keep him in Dodger Blue.
— Stacie Wheeler
As a group, the six of us averaged $58.7 million in total contract value for Taylor, and $16 million per year. Four of us guessed four years, with a pair of three-year deals.
Chris Taylor contract crowdsourcing
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