For the first time in free agent history, Major League Baseball awaits the dual impact of one player’s decision.
Oh, Shohei Ohtani will make just one choice this winter – which team to sign with after six seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. Yet it contains multitudes.
Ohtani the hitter struck 44 home runs last year and, over the past three years, has averaged 45 homers with a .964 OPS. He will immediately fortify the middle of someone’s lineup.
Ohtani the pitcher has averaged 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, fanned 219 in 2022 and has a 3.01 career ERA. He will not return to pitching until at least 2025 after undergoing elbow surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament.
One man, two skills, one path. It will be the most complex and lucrative choice all winter, but far from the only crucial move during MLB’s 2023-2024 free agent period.
A look at the top 89 free agents, from the priciest to those reasonably expected to sign a major league contract. Rankings based on projected future performance and perceived market value:
Ages on April 1, 2024
Ohtani’s second UCL repair in five years might tamp down his contract value, but not the insanity. He’s still expected to sign the largest free agent contract in baseball history, with all the involved factors – talent, two players in one, marketing footprint – possibly driving the bidding toward $500 million. Strap in.
SIGNED: 10 years, $700 million, with Dodgers, Dec. 9.
Rare for an unknown quantity to rank this high, but Yamamoto’s combination of age, ability and a lackluster crop of free agents slots him right here. He posted a 1.21 ERA with 169 strikeouts in 164 innings this year, with a 1.42 mark since 2020. Expect the Yankees and Padres to lead a bi-coastal bidding war once Yamamoto is posted by Orix.
The starting pitcher shortage will be a recurring theme as we move forward, and this guy is truly different: Left-handed, the majors’ ERA champion (2.25) for 2023 and soon with a Cy Young Award in both leagues. Snell is not without his downsides – such as a 4.06 ERA in the three seasons after his 1.89 mark won the 2019 AL Cy Young. His 99 walks in ‘23 also led the majors, explaining the gulf between his ERA and Fielding Independent Pitching (3.44). But Snell picked up steam in his final two years as a Padre and few are better at eliciting weak contact.
Bellinger arrives exactly where many imagined shortly after he debuted as a 21-year-old in 2017 – at free agency’s gates, ready to claim a nine-figure fortune. But oh, what a ride. Debilitating injuries in 2020 (shoulder) and ’21 (hairline fracture in leg) made him a shell of the 2019 NL MVP who slammed 47 homers with a 1.035 OPS. A rebound year in Chicago (.307, .356 OBP, .881 OPS) reestablished who he is: An elite athlete capable of Gold Glove defense in center field or at first base.
The Phillies never hesitate to spend and now are faced with the conundrum of making Nola whole – or writing a bigger check to replace him. While Nola’s performance can fluctuate, durability is never an issue – he’s made between 32 to 34 starts from 2018-23 (COVID year excluded), and career ERA (3.72) and FIP (3.38) numbers are steady. Nola just completed a five-year $56.7 million extension; now, it’s time for a player-friendly deal.
SIGNED: Seven years, $172 million with Phillies, Nov. 19.
And so continues the run of 30-ish SEC right-handers. Gray has been uneven in his 10 full seasons, with three All-Star appearances and three others with an ERA well north of 4 and fewer than 140 innings pitched. But what a platform year: Gray led the majors in FIP (2.83) and fewest homers per nine innings (0.4), striking out 183 in 184 innings.
SIGNED: Three years, $75 million with Cardinals, Nov. 27.
A 2022 trade from Milwaukee put Hader in a bit of a funk, as his strikeouts per nine (15.4/13.3) and strikeout-walk ratio (4.58/2.74) both sagged in San Diego. Hader also didn’t help morale when he intimated late last year he does not prefer getting more than three outs in an outing. Yet he’s by far the most dominant reliever available, with 165 career saves and an 87% conversion rate.
Want gaudy numbers or stellar defense? Countable stats or stackable WAR? Chapman hit a career-low 17 homers this year and rated as just above a league-average hitter but was still worth 4.4 WAR at a premium position. For what it’s worth, five of his past six teams have made the playoffs.
Big, durable lefties are hard to come by and Montgomery showed his ceiling just in time for free agency, making a career-high 32 starts each of the past two years, topping 200 innings (178 regular season, 31 playoffs) for the first time and ultimately finishing as the No. 2 starter for the World Series champs.
Rodriguez’s two-year stint in Detroit wasn’t highly memorable – he spent more than two months on the restricted list in 2022 – but did enough this year to opt out of a five-year, $77 million deal and aim higher. He made 26 starts in 2023 and his 1.15 WHIP would have ranked eighth in the AL had he qualified. Still a largely reliable lefty.
SIGNED: Four years, $80 million with Diamondbacks, Dec. 5.
Opting out of the final season of a three-year, $66 million pact seemed a no-brainer after an All-Star first half, less so after injuries slowed Stroman in the second. He did return down the stretch, but his inning total only reached 136 ⅔ innings (after 138 ⅔ a year before). But Stroman induces ground balls like a machine, and his adjusted ERA and FIP make him a very easy bet for another short-term, high-annual value deal.
A slugger who started just 31 games in right field brings us to the incomplete player portion of the program. But oh, that power: Soler smacked 36 home runs playing in a home park difficult for power hitters, and juiced his OBP to .341, best full-season mark since 2019 for the 2021 World Series MVP.
Gurriel’s best offensive years may still be ahead of him; he hit a career-high 24 home runs last year but saw his OBP fall from .343 to .309. Not a bad bet he’ll put it all together soon, while playing a spry left field.
What a renaissance for Martinez, who doubled his home run output to 33 and bumped his OPS to .893, best since 2019. That includes 24 homers and an .880 OPS against right-handers.
A relatively reliable source of power and run production, Hernández produced 32, 26 and 27-homer seasons the past three seasons, though his adjusted OPS dropped from 133 his last three seasons in Toronto to 108 in his only year in Seattle. Likely profiles as DH in coming years.
He transcended the notion of part-time or utility player, smacking 22 home runs with an .807 OPS in 140 games for the Nationals and Cubs. Dependable corner man with a 112 adjusted OPS since 2020.
SIGNED: Three years, $45 million with Reds, Dec. 7.
After three injury-wracked seasons that included a domestic-violence investigation, Clevinger produced a steady 2023 campaign, making 24 starts, reaching 131 ⅓ innings and posting a 3.77 ERA.
Kiermaier got better with age, winning his first Gold Glove since 2019 in his first year away from Tampa Bay and producing a .741 OPS, best since 2017. He should parlay that into a multiyear opportunity with a contending team.
Perhaps he’s aiming to become the first AARP-eligible player to produce an .800 OPS. Turner reached that plateau for the ninth time in 10 seasons and thus turned down a 2024 player option. While DH – or even part-time DH – might be in his future, Turner did play 51 games in the field and will almost certainly join a playoff-ready club.
Just a remarkably reliable piece of a fine Astros bullpen the past two seasons, Neris posted a career-best 1.71 ERA over 71 games. Had a 1.05 WHIP despite a walk rate soaring to 4.1 per nine. A solid seventh- or eighth-inning guy for somebody.
Pham had a nice October platform, ripping eight hits in 17 World Series at-bats, and his acquisition by Arizona showed what he could mean to a contending club, possessing a nice power-speed combo and clubhouse gravitas.
Another anticipated arrival from the KBO, Lee’s career-high in home runs is 23 in 2022 before suffering an ankle injury this season.
Liberal stolen base rules will keep Merrifield vibrant, as he swiped 26 bases (at a 72% success rate) and is one of the few second basemen available this winter. Just don’t expect the 195 hits per 162 games he averaged between 2018-2021.
After years of injury, Wacha has developed into a predictable veteran presence – making 23 or 24 starts each of the past three years, to improving results. He was good for a 3.22 ERA over 134 ⅓ innings and is a solid mid-rotation option.
Wrist injuries curtailed each of his past two seasons, but Duvall remains an aggressive and dangerous hitter, hitting 21 home runs in 320 at-bats. We don’t recommend a .301 career OBP as a means of producing a .799 career OPS, but dude continues to do it.
We don’t discriminate on age around here, so Miley’s gotta be right up there in the class of veteran pitcher who will make most of his starts in a highly effective manner. In 2023, that meant 23 starts, a 3.14 ERA over 120 1/3 innings and, in this economy, 2.5 WAR. No wonder he turned down a 2024 player option.
SIGNED: One year, $8.5 million with Brewers, Dec. 4.
His conversion to full-time starter was largely a success, making his post 26 times and striking out 140 over 146 ⅓ innings. His peripherals have held relatively steady since converting from reliever to starter and Lugo isn’t a bad bet to stretch out even further in 2024.
Still gives you what you want: 19 homers, a .369 OBP, .858 OPS over 339 at-bats. A great fit in the right situation, perhaps with a righty DH partner.
Not many more intriguing options in this class than Hoskins, who missed the ’23 season after tearing an ACL in spring training, yet nearly returned for the playoffs and totes an .846 career OPS. He hit 30 home runs in 2022 and the Phillies must decide if Bryce Harper remains at first or if there’s room to bring back their veteran glue guy. As with many Scott Boras clients it’s easy to envision a short-term deal with a player option so Hoskins can reestablish his value.
Starter, reliever, opener, bulk guy – Manaea didn’t initially take well to the Giants’ pitching stew, posting a 5.49 first-half ERA. But he was a beast over the final two months, with a 2.87 ERA in 47 innings and a 9.50 strikeout-walk ratio in the final month. Manaea declined a $15 million 2024 option, betting on himself and that clubs will do the same on his better version.
An emotional goodbye from Cincinnati gives way to a proud veteran’s intense desire to stay in the fight. Votto returned from a 10-month absence due to shoulder surgery and managed to produce at league-average levels, hitting 14 homers in 208 at-bats. Now, to find a job on a contender that needs a left-handed bat after 21 years with the same organization.
A startling fall for Anderson, an All-Star in 2021 and ’22 who saw the White Sox decline his $14 million option after registering -2.0 WAR. A .245/.286/.296 slash line with one home run will do that. Yet there are worse bounce-back candidates, particularly if Anderson is shifted to second base and lands with a club that can rebuild his approach after a desultory season.
Some fabulous bullet points on his job application: All-Star selection and no-hitter in 2023. Lorenzen hit the wall a bit after that September feat and didn’t figure in Philly’s postseason pitching plans but did produce 153 largely quality innings for the Tigers and Phillies. Has ability to start or relieve.
Bring on the innings eaters. Gibson took down 192 of ‘em last year, ranking sixth in the AL and while he also led the circuit in giving up 198 hits, was a key cog of a young Orioles rotation. Easy to envision a similar set-up.
SIGNED: One year, $12 million with Cardinals, Nov. 21.
He missed all of 2022 with Tommy John surgery and then suffered a litany of minor setbacks this year, but a full-go Maeda can be a big boon in a variety of roles. His return was uneven, but even as he rebuilt fastball velocity posted the best strikeout-walk ratio (4.18) of his career over 104 ⅓ innings.
SIGNED: Two years, $24 million with Tigers, Nov. 26.
Once envisioned as a prize of this class, Flaherty is coming off a 4.99 ERA, 1.58 WHIP campaign, failing to crack the playoff rotation after a midseason trade to Baltimore. He did manage 27 starts after a shoulder injury hampered his ’22 season, and is still young enough for clubs to modestly bet on a bounce-back.
The man was given dozens of thankless tasks over the years, mostly involving clean-up duty for Aroldis Chapman’s messes. His WHIP (1.22) and FIP (5.05) both spiked in 2022 even as his ERA (2.82) mirrored his mark for three years in the Bronx. Still, Peralta held left-handed batters to a .138 average and .483 OPS – and you’ll need to squint hard to find other southpaw relievers on this list.
A tricky guy to slot. Starter? Reliever? Swing guy? Martinez declined an $8 million player option to find out just how he’s valued after two consistent but unspectacular seasons in San Diego.
SIGNED: Two years, $26 million with Reds, Nov. 30.
Toting a .305 career OBP to free agency isn’t optimal, but Rosario, who hit 21 homers in 2023, benefits from the dearth of available position players. Atlanta declined his $9 million club option after Rosario bounced back from a grim ’22 (62 adjusted OPS) to fight back to league average.
Betting on the Robertson who posted a 2.05 ERA in 26 games with the Mets, or the 5.06 ERA after a summer trade to the Marlins? Robertson won’t be signed as a closer anymore, but if inclined can cover a late inning for a contender.
He’d pitched just 22 ⅔ innings since 2019, so Paxton’s 19 starts were a significant personal victory. And he was nearly the walking definition of a quality start, averaging five innings and a 4.50 ERA. But knee inflammation shut him down at year’s end; a short-term deal with protections for both player and club seems likely.
You heard the man (or, at least, his IG post): He does plan on pitching in 2024. Hard to imagine it won’t be on a short-term deal with the Dodgers, as striking out elsewhere after shoulder surgery would be a big ask for the future Hall of Famer. Fun fact: The man still produced 3.7 WAR – 10th among NL pitchers – while pitching with a shoulder that required surgery.
If Garver filled out a resume, “part-time damage-doer” might be the best job description. He was a right-handed beast for the World Series champions, hitting 19 homers with an .870 OPS in 344 plate appearances. He homered in each of the ALDS, ALCS and World Series and drove in 14 runs. Garver caught just 28 games last season, but the skill is nice to have around in this era of shorter benches.
Yet another short-term L.A. success story, posting a 0.70 ERA after his May release from Boston, where he had a 7.29 mark. The swing-and-miss is still there, as is the playoff experience in both leagues.
The beauty of debuting as a 20-year-old is it seems like you can play forever. Heyward was expectedly rejuvenated in L.A., producing a 117 adjusted OPS, the first time he finished above league average in a full season since 2015. Heyward remains a strong defensive outfielder and produced 1.9 WAR.
SIGNED: One year, $9 million with Dodgers, Nov. 27.
Lands somewhere between middle reliever and set-up guy these days. Ottavino made 66 appearances in consecutive years with the Mets, his strikeout-walk ratio sliding from 4.94 to 2.14. Reliable veteran who’s made playoff appearances with four franchises.
After an encouraging two years at the plate, Bader regressed to his mean in 2023, with a .232/.274/.348 line and seven home runs. Still provides value as a center fielder, but whether he’s a regular or part-timer going forward is an open question.
Middleton showed well in a 12-game Yankee run after a trade from the White Sox, with a 1.50 ERA; he struck out 64 in 50 innings overall.
It was a three-team struggle for Giolito, who produced a second consecutive subpar year with the White Sox, Angels and Guardians before hitting free agency. He gave up an AL-high 41 homers with a 4.88 ERA and 5.27 FIP. Durability remains his calling card, so a club that needs innings and thinks it can point him toward his 2019-21 form (he received Cy Young votes each year) will take a shot.
Yet another reliable Astros reliever who may slot higher in the pecking order elsewhere. Maton cut his homers allowed from 10 to six while pitching in one more game in 2023, and his 1.12 WHIP was the best of his career.
Still has that 103-mph fastball and recorded 12 saves for St. Louis and Toronto, most since 2019. His command was much improved with Toronto, but can 25 appearances outweigh a 212-game career sample that’s produced a 1.30 WHIP and five walks per nine innings?
Amazing this dude only turns 30 early next year. Gallo’s batting average numbers are .199/.160/.162 the past three years, but he did coax 21 balls out of the yard in 332 plate appearances. A league-average producer with pop always finds a home.
A neck injury limited him to just 36 appearances, and even that was his most since 2015, when he was firmly a starter. But Miller shined in his limited look, with a 1.71 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. His reclamation project is almost complete.
Versatility is Frazier’s calling card – he can play a decent second base or corner outfield and produced 1.7 WAR even as his adjusted OPS was just 94 and his role diminished as Baltimore’s top-shelf prospects continued arriving.
He was all the way back from Tommy John surgery and pitched well in Atlanta, striking out 80 in 60 ⅓ innings and making their playoff roster. A 14.6% walk rate is cause for concern.
SIGNED: One year, $4.5 million with Rangers, Dec. 5.
Pederson’s 15 homers were his fewest since 2017, and he served as DH twice as much as he played outfield in San Francisco. Was wise to accept the $19.65 million qualifying offer last year; will likely see a market suited for platoon DH types this winter.
Hey, maybe it was Giolito holding him back all this time. We’ll assume the two right-handers will finally separate after a journey through four organizations, and perhaps Lopez will be the more desirable piece. He’s posted a 3.02 ERA his past two years and always takes the ball.
SIGNED: Three years, $30 million with Braves, Nov. 20.
His powers numbers have slid since a 31-homer campaign in 2019 and Grichuk doesn’t have the pop nor on-base acumen to hold down a full-time outfield job. But he can play all three spots in a pinch and should be a valuable platoon or bench piece.
Oh, just where to slot an experienced closer coming off an unsettling postseason? Kimbrel was used in a variety of spots with Philadelphia and saved 23 games while striking out 12.3 per nine. In seven playoff appearances, though, he produced just one clean inning, figuring largely in NLCS Game 3 and 4 losses.
SIGNED: One year, $13 million with Orioles, Dec. 6.
After escaping the dead-end Bronx, Hicks flourished in Baltimore, producing a .381 OBP and .806 OPS in 236 plate appearances while splitting time at all three outfield spots. He made two playoff starts and was well-regarded in Baltimore, and should snag close to a full-time job somewhere in 2024.
Pagan produced his most reliable season since 2019, with a 0.95 WHIP in 69 ⅓ innings. Best served as a seventh- or eighth-inning guy, he should be on the radar of teams needing an extra bridge to their highest-leverage relievers.
SIGNED: Two years, $16 million with Reds, Nov. 29.
Been a minute since you’ve seen a lefty reliever on this list, eh? Suter has a relatively rubber arm and gave up just three homers to 292 batters faced in his first year in Colorado.
Have elite historic on-base skills, will travel. Santana isn’t quite the OBP machine in 2023 (.318) compared to his career (.356), but his path was sound: Sign with a young team that can use some veteran counsel (Pittsburgh) before a midseason trade to a playoff club (Milwaukee). Let’s run it back.
Yet another Astros reliever, though one who largely drifted outside the playoff circle of trust. Stanek’s ERA leaped to 4.09, highest since his rookie season, as was his 7.5 hits per nine innings. Still, Stanek gasses it up to 98 mph and could be a late-inning piece in the right hands.
His third year in Boston was a bridge too far, as the Red Sox asked him to play shortstop until Trevor Story’s return, an unrealistic request at this stage of Hernández’s career. A trade back to L.A. galvanized him a bit (a 95 adjusted OPS compared to 62 in Boston) but it’s an open question what Hernández can offer at this stage of his career. Still, versatility sells.
Junis spent two seasons in San Francisco’s pitching Veg-O-Matic, getting churned through myriad roles and coming out OK. He cut his FIP to 3.69 after a 4.74 mark in five seasons with Kansas City and last year struck out 96 batters in 86 innings.
Kiner-Falefa did yeoman’s work in the Bronx, holding down the shortstop job as long as he could until Anthony Volpe was ready, a task a bit too large by the end of 2022. But he found more of a groove as a utility guy, and can be a nice complementary piece on a club that deploys him properly.
Kelly echoes many experiences on this list: Ineffective for a miserable White Sox team, rejuvenated after a trade to the Dodgers. He ultimately landed on a 1.20 WHIP – 1.31 in 31 games in Chicago, 0.87 in 11 games in L.A. Kelly might have seen his last multiyear contract, but should slot in someone’s bullpen.
SIGNED: One year, $8.5 million with Dodgers, Dec. 3
At this point in his career, it is probably Braves or the rocking chair for Chavez. But we will leave a light on for him until he says to turn it off, especially after a 2023 where he posted a 1.56 ERA sandwiched around a three-month absence after taking a line drive off the shin. Take your time, Jesse.
Just a brutal sequence for Hendriks, returning from non-Hodgkins lymphoma, getting into five games and then blowing out his elbow. But relievers don’t need multiple years to recover from Tommy John surgery, and a multiyear deal allowing Hendriks to rehab for roughly minimum wage makes a lot of sense.
Forget the 7.18 ERA for a second and just be beholden to the radar gun. Fujinami hit 102.6 mph with his fastball late in the year and averages 98.4 mph with his heater. He didn’t put it together in time to make the Orioles roster, but odds are a team will dream on that velo and guarantee him a job.
Like an ineffective starting pitcher, Grandal’s 2023 numbers elicit wonder that he was allowed to be so bad for so long. Grandal produced a .234/.309/.339 line, but was worse than replacement level behind the plate. Like many, perhaps escaping the South Side will do him well.
Age, versatility and pedigree are in Rosario’s favor; he garnered 133 plate appearances in 48 games after a trade to the Dodgers, and there may be some upside within a player toting a career 95 adjusted OPS.
Old catchers never die, they just become go-tos for quote-hungry reporters and wide-eyed rookies. Maldonado will finally cede the primary catching role to Yainer Diaz in Houston, and a manager’s job may soon be in the offing. But old catchers never die.
The man showed his value on the biggest and most sudden stage, getting a pair of hits in World Series Game 4 after slugger Adolis Garcia went out with injury. It’s his .357 OBP and solid defense that will serve him well this winter.
He finally found rejuvenation in San Diego, hitting 19 homers for his fourth team in three years and producing a .780 OPS, his best since 2019. His OBP was still a grim .288 and his defensive skills may never be a calling card, but Sanchez’s power will keep him in the game.
He remains a back-end adventure, albeit one with a 101-mph fastball. Chapman was acquired to steady a flagging Texas bullpen, but bounced behind Jose Leclerc and Josh Sborz into a lower-leverage role. The 1.25 WHIP and 15.5 strikeouts per nine remain his balancing factors.
After eight big league seasons and four organizations, Stephenson settled in with the Rays, striking out 60 in 38 ⅓ innings after a June trade from Pittsburgh.
Versatile but a bit of a stretch (no pun intended) as a full-time first baseman due to a lack of power. Still, Solano’s .369 OBP and respectable 26 doubles in 450 plate appearances are plusses.
Like many before him, Diekman got right after the Rays scooped him up following his May release by the White Sox. The lefty gobbled up high-leverage spots into the playoffs, and while his 1.13 WHIP wasn’t sterling, he can still punch out of jams with his 10.5 strikeouts per nine.
McCutchen says he’s “not going out like this” after suffering a partial Achilles’ tear. Who’s to doubt him? He’s one homer shy of 300 and Pittsburgh could use some early-season sunshine.
He made it back from shoulder surgery to pitch 1 ⅓ innings in relief before the year ended, perhaps enticing the Yankees to give him a look after he rehabbed under their eye all year, or for another suitor to gamble he can regain form and health to rejoin a big league rotation.
For the first time in his career, Pillar was slightly less than replacement value, as his fielding ability could not outkick a 74 adjusted OPS. Yet he started a pair of NLDS games for a loaded Braves team, sticking because of his defense and professionalism, and another part-time job should be in the offing.
His oft-goofy and productive Giants stint took a turn when he suffered a lat strain that sidelined him three months. He still appeared in 40 games, serving as an opener for 10, and his versatility likely lands him a seat in a bullpen.
Still spectacular enough defensively and with the ability to pop the ball out of the yard (21 home runs) that his overall offensive deficiencies can be overlooked. Was a nice set-up in Minnesota, getting Byron Buxton off his feet, and a similar scenario would serve Taylor and his new club well.
While not a high-leverage guy, Stratton can provide multi-inning bursts multiple times a week, his 1.14 WHIP an upgrade over a typical swing man.
A little too erratic for high-leverage spots, but a fellow who takes the ball 71 times and comes back with a 1.16 WHIP will have a home.
Like his team, a brilliant 2021 gave way to a pair of grim years for Wood, who was not pleased with how the club used him toward the end. Wood had a 3.83 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in ’21, but 4.77/1.32 his last two years.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB free agent rankings: After Shohei Ohtani's $700 million deal, how does market stack up?2023-11-07T19:18:35Z dg43tfdfdgfd