The 2023 MLB season has come to an end with the Rangers claiming their first World Series title. And just as quickly as the page will turn on the campaign, the 2024 season will quickly come into focus.
The pursuit of the next winner of the Commissioner’s Trophy starts in the offseason. Teams either hoping to make it to the Fall Classic in 2024 or are just looking to fill out a more competitive roster will soon be starting to explore the free-agency and trade markets as they eye improved rosters for next year.
Of course, this year, all eyes will be on Shohei Ohtani. The dynamic two-way star has been out of the headlines for the past month as his Angels missed the postseason, but between the start of free agency and when he puts pen to paper, he will be the focus of everyone who looks to sign perhaps the most talented player in MLB history.
MLB free agency does not move as quickly as the NFL and NBA, which often sees players signed as soon as the window opens. Instead, it can take a while to fully develop, with some of the biggest names often waiting until nearly the start of spring training before signing a deal.
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But the start of free agency will undoubtedly be highly anticipated for many. When exactly will it begin? Here’s what you need to know.
When does MLB free agency start in 2023?
- Start of MLB free agency 2023: Day after World Series
MLB free agency does not have an official start date like other sports. Instead, players hit the open market the day after the World Series. This year, that means Thursday, Nov. 2.
However, while players hit free agency the day after the World Series, they will not be able to sign with teams until five days after the World Series. The five days gives players’ 2023 teams the opportunity to have exclusive negotiating rights to try and get a deal done before the players hit the open market.
That five-day window also serves as the time period teams or players have to exercise options in contracts, and the window for teams to offer qualifying offers to players. If players receive a qualifying offer, they have up to 10 days to either accept it or decline it, and hit the open market.
Lastly, there is the arbitration window. Players with more than three but fewer than six years of MLB service time can reach arbitration if they do not already have a signed contract for the given season. These players can be held under control by the team for a while if the team offers (tenders) them a contract. Players can either agree to that new salary or go to arbitration, where a panel will hear each side and decide on the player’s salary.
Teams can opt to non-tender players, which makes them free agents without arbitration. That deadline is Nov. 17. If a player has been tendered a contract, the team and player have until Jan. 12, 2024, to agree on the salary before heading to arbitration. Those hearings are held between Jan. 29 and Feb. 16.
When can teams make trades?
While players can’t be signed to contracts until five days after the World Series, players under contract can be traded as early as the day after the World Series.
Top MLB free agents available
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 in which 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 title.
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 there is 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.
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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.
Source : ESPN.com