The World Series ended with a first-ever champion (hello, Rangers!). Now it is time to take a sneak peek at the upcoming free-agent market.
You know the guy at the top of the list — Shohei Ohtani will still probably get a deal worth north of $500 million, and he’ll be worth every penny. But there’s depth on this list, with lots of quality starting pitching and a plethora of hitters who can help teams earn pennant spots. Offseasons aren’t just won with nine-figure contracts, y’know?
So let’s jump in. Players with contract options of some sort (club/player/mutual) are noted with an asterisk. There are some who have options not yet decided who aren’t on the list, but that’s because we’re pretty sure their team will decide to keep them around (like Charlie Morton with Atlanta). There are also some guys not here because of injuries (Liam Hendriks and his Tommy John surgery) and other reasons (Julio Urias).
Let’s jump in. Ages listed are as of Opening Day 2024.
1. Shohei Ohtani, DH/SP
Entering Age 29 season
Why he’s here: I mean, you know. Unicorn. The Tommy John surgery might dampen the ferocity of the bidding war just a bit, but it won’t prevent it. Buckle up, kids.
2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, SP
Entering Age 25 season
Why he’s here: He does have to make the transition from Japan to the majors, so this ranking may be high. But he’s been so very good in Japan that it feels improbable that the transition will be more than anything but a little hiccup. Look at these stellar numbers from his past three years in Japan. Incredible.
Yamamoto (Age 22-24)
2021: 1.39 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 0.847 WHIP
2022: 1.68 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 0.927 WHIP
2023: 1.21 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 0.866 WHIP
And at just 25 years old, he’s got several years on most of the other free-agent pitchers.
3. Aaron Nola, SP
Entering Age 31 season
Why he’s here: Most free-agent lists will likely have Nola a little lower, largely because his 2023 hasn’t been as good as his thoroughly impressive 2022 season. But Nola’s the same age or younger than most of the free-agent starters — he turns 31 next June — and his durability has been impressive. He’s made more starts than anyone since the start of the 2018 season, and he’s only seven innings behind Gerrit Cole for the top spot in that stretch.
In an era when starter innings are at a premium, he stands above some of the other SPs on the free-agent market. And he has postseason experience, which is key, even if his production has been hit-and-miss — he’s been brilliant in five of his nine playoff starts, mediocre-to-bad in the other four. Still, it’s all about the upside.
4. Jordan Montgomery, SP
Entering Age 31 season
Why he’s here: Has any free agent boosted their value more than Montgomery? Not only was he outstanding after the joined the Rangers in a trade-deadline deal, but he’s been their best pitcher in the postseason, lifting the team on his back on an unexpected journey to the World Series.
5. Blake Snell, SP
Entering Age 31 season
Why he’s here: Soon after free agency officially opens, Snell just might be a two-time Cy Young winner, and that’s a pretty big feather on a resume. Of course, if he does win the 2023 NL Cy Young — winners are announced mid-November — he’ll join the small club of Cy winners to also lead the majors in walks. That feels concerning, but maybe it’s not in the moment, considering how good he is at limiting contact. When his raw stuff regresses down the road, it’ll be more of an issue, but for now? Let’s just say coming off a Cy Young season is a good time to enter the free agent market.
6. Josh Hader, RP
Entering Age 30 season
Why he’s here: Hader authored one of the best bounce-back stories of the 2023 season, regaining his status as one of the sport’s elite closers. Hader had a 5.22 ERA for the Brewers and Padres last year, but in 2023, he was exceptional, with a 1.28 ERA and 33 saves (in 38 chances). He’s not necessarily Peak Hader again, in that he’s not a multiple-inning guy, and his strikeouts-per-nine are down just a tick. But his K/9 of 13.6 is still outstanding, and his 2.69 FIP says that ERA isn’t an aberration.
7. Cody Bellinger, OF
Entering Age 28 season
Why he’s here: Speaking of bounce-back seasons, Bellinger’s contract with the Cubs worked out well for both sides. Bellinger got his career back on track with a new franchise — the Dodgers and their fans loved him, but he was in a rut there — and the Cubs got a big bat in their lineup who helped push the franchise toward playoff contention. Technically, there’s a mutual option in his contract for 2024, but no chance Bellinger sticks to that. After a season that included 26 homers, 97 RBIs, 20 stolen bases, a 133 OPS+ and a 4.4 bWAR, there are plenty of teams that would love to make offers. Bellinger could certainly stay in Chicago, but it’ll take a lot more than a one-year-with-an-option deal to make that happen.
SN MLB AWARDS: Bellinger voted Comeback Player of the Year
8. Eduardo Rodriguez, SP
Entering Age 31 season
Why he’s here: The Tigers didn’t take the step forward as a franchise this season, but that wasn’t Rodriguez’s fault. In the second year of the 5-year, $77-million deal he signed after the 2021 season, the lefty had a 3.30 ERA in 26 starts. He has an opt-out clause, and he’s sure to exercise it, even if he wants to stay with the Tigers on a new deal. And that’s not impossible; remember, he vetoed a potential trade to the Dodgers this summer, saying he and his family were comfortable in Detroit.
9. Matt Chapman, 3B
Entering Age 31 season
Why he’s here: Chapman’s still an elite defensive third baseman. At the plate, though, he’s not what he used to be in his first few years with the A’s, when he finished top-7 in the AL MVP back-to-back years (2018-19). In those two seasons, in addition to his elite glove, Chapman had a .348 on-base percentage and 131 OPS+ while averaging 30 home runs. In his past three years (one with the A’s, two with the Jays), Chapman’s had a .323 on-base percentage and 108 OPS+; he hit 27 homers in 2021 and 2022, but had just 17 in 581 plate appearances for Toronto this year. And if you take out his hot start to the season (.384 average, 1.152 OPS through the end of April), his struggles at the plate become more pronounced. Over the last five months of the season (467 PAs, Chapman hit just .205 with a .298 on-base percentage and .659 OPS.
10. Sonny Gray, SP
Entering Age 34 season
Why he’s here: Gray won’t land the same length of deals as the pitchers higher on the list — heading into his Age 34 season, he’s older than pretty much everyone — but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him be every bit as good over the next two seasons. Gray is coming off what just might be his best season, with a brilliant 2.80 ERA/2.85 FIP effort, in which he allowed only eight home runs in 180 innings. And talk about consistency; Gray threw at least six full innings 19 times in his 31 starts, while allowing more than three earned runs just three times.
11. Teoscar Hernandez, OF, 31
12. Mitch Garver, C, 33
13. *Marcus Stroman, SP, 32
14. Rhys Hoskins, 1B, 31. Hard to imagine Hoskins anywhere other than Philadelphia, isn’t it? Might have to sign a short-term deal, coming off an entire season spent on the IL.
15. J.D. Martinez, DH, 37
16. Clayton Kershaw, SP, 36. He’d probably be higher on the list if any teams other than the Dodgers or Rangers were realistic options.
17. Shota Imanaga, SP, 30
18. Jose Alvarado, RP, 28
19. *Mark Canha, OF/1B, 35
20. *Michael Conforto, OF, 31
21. *Trevor Bauer, SP, 32. How will teams view Bauer this offseason, after the developments in his case? Genuinely curious.
22. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., OF, 30
23. *Hector Neris, RP, 34
24. Lucas Giolito, SP, 29. He was, not mincing words, terrible for the Angels and Guardians in the second half, so bad that he might have to sign a shorter prove-it contract and enter the market again next offseason.
25. Kevin Kiermaier, CF, 33
26. *Josh Bell, 1B, 31
27. Craig Kimbrel, RP, 35
28. Yuki Matsui, RP, 31
29. *Seth Lugo, SP, 34. One of many Padres to have a very solid season (3.57 ERA in 26 starts) for an overall disappointing team.
30. *Jorge Soler, DH/OF, 32
31. Jordan Hicks, RP, 27. Sneaky candidate to land a nice longer-term deal. It’s good to hit the FA market as a 27-year-old who throws 104 mph and was solid down the stretch (2.63 ERA in 25 games for Toronto).
32. *Joey Votto, 1B, 40
33. Jeimer Candelario, 3B/1B, 30
34. Michael Brantley, LF, 36
35. David Robertson, RP, 38. Wherever he signs to start the season, you can bet he’ll be part of some team’s playoff push in the second half.
36. *Jorge Polanco, SS/2B, 30
37. *Michael Wacha, SP, 32
38. *Tim Anderson, SS, 30
39. Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP, 37
40. Frankie Montas, SP, 31
41. Adam Duvall, OF, 35
42. Justin Turner, DH, 39. Proved last year he can still hit, but his days as a regular infielder are gone.
43. Kenta Maeda, SP, 35
44. Michael A. Taylor, CF, 33
45. Jack Flaherty, SP, 28. With a strong showing in Baltimore after the trade, he could have been a top-20 free agent. Top 15, maybe. Instead, had a 6.75 ERA and lost his spot in the rotation. Still, only 28.
46. Gio Urshela, INF, 32
47. Wandy Peralta, RP, 32
48. Joc Pederson, OF, 31
49. Tommy Pham, OF, 36. Wherever he signs to start the season, you can bet he’ll be part of some team’s playoff push in the second half.
50. *Wade Miley, SP, 36
51. Luis Severino, SP, 30. Classic high-risk, high-reward free agent. Was really good in 19 games with the Yankees in 2022 (3.18 ERA) and really bad with the Yankees in 19 games in 2023 (6.65 ERA).
52. *Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF, 35.
53. Mike Clevinger, SP, 33
54. Michael Lorenzen, SP, 32
55. Kyle Gibson, SP, 36
56. *Eddie Rosario, LF, 32
57. Hunter Renfroe, OF, 31. Still has power, but being released twice in one season isn’t a great way to enter free agency.
58. Andrew McCutchen, OF, 37
59. Gary Sanchez, C, 31. Found a home in San Diego and popped 19 homers in 72 games.
60. Jurickson Profar, UTIL, 31
61. *Andrew Heaney, SP, 32
62. Phil Maton, RP, 31
63. *Lance Lynn, SP, 36
64. Matt Moore, RP, 35
65. Brandon Belt, 1B, 35. Found life outside of San Francisco, to the tune of 19 homers, a .369 on-base percentage and 136 OPS+ in 2023.
66. Jake Diekman, RP, 37
67. Tyler Mahle, SP, 29. Had Tommy John surgery in early May, so he’s out a long while but would be worth it for a team looking for second-half help.
68. Ryne Stanek, RP, 32
69. Evan Longoria, 3B, 38
70. Alex Wood, SP, 33
71. Ryan Brasier, RP, 36. Awful with the Red Sox (7.29 ERA in 20 games), lights-out with the Dodgers (0.70 ERA in 39 games). Appealing short-term option.
72. *Andrew Chafin, RP, 33
73. Aroldis Chapman, RP, 36
74. *Kirby Yates, RP, 37
75. Enrique Hernandez, UTIL, 32
76. *Eduardo Escobar, INF, 35
77. Donovan Solano, UTIL, 36
78. Randal Grichuk, OF, 32. Everything the Angels touched last year fell apart, basically. Grichuk had an 80 OPS+ in 54 games with the club and wasn’t even claimed when he was put on waivers.
79. Adam Frazier, 2B, 32
80. John Brebbia, RP, 33
81. Jason Heyward, OF, 34
82. Aaron Hicks, OF, 34
83. *Amed Rosario, MI, 28
84. Tony Kemp, 2B/LF, 32. Won’t find a better clubhouse leader than Kemp. That matters.
85. Brad Hand, RP, 34
86. Will Smith, RP, 34
87. Martin Maldonado, C, 37
88. Robbie Grossman, OF, 34
89. Joey Wendle, INF, 33
90. Sean Manaea, P, 32
91. James Paxton, SP, 35
92. Michael Fulmer, RP, 31
93. *Joe Kelly, RP, 35
94. Jesse Winker, OF, 30. An All-Star with the Reds in 2021, Winker has hit .214 with a 91 OPS+ the past two seasons, with the Mariners and Brewers.
95. Isiah Kiner-Falefa, INF, 29
96. Josh Donaldson, 3B, 38
97. Drew VerHagen, RP, 33
98. Zach Davies, SP, 31
99. Joey Gallo, OF/1B, 30. The past two years, Gallo has 305 strikeouts and 40 homers, with a .290 on-base percentage and an 89 OPS+. Yikes.
Source : ESPN.com