MLB Free Agents Who Would Be Foolish to Change Teams in 2023
Free agency has been a whirlwind since Justin Verlander agreed to a contract with the New York Mets on Monday.
Trea Turner to the Philadelphia Phillies soon followed, and some of us spent a significant amount of Tuesday wondering if Aaron Judge should change his name to Arson Judge because it really would sound cooler.
But before everyone signs to their respective squads, we should point out some players better off staying put.
Here, we take a look at the players who should re-sign with the incumbent team. These are players who had varying degrees of success at their most recent stop—for some of them, their only stop—and there is still more to be done.
"Foolish" is a strong term, but it's mostly for effect.
Michael Brantley, Houston Astros
The Astros are looking for someone to replace Brantley's previous role as the primary left fielder and part-time designated hitter.
Houston plans to play Yordan Alvarez in left field most days, and it wants a lively bat to pair with him at that position. The Astros are interested in Andrew Benintendi and Michael Conforto to possibly fill this role, per MLB.com's Brian McTaggart, but Brantley is as good an option as any when healthy.
What would essentially happen is Alvarez and Brantley swapping duties as primary left fielder and DH. It's possible Brantley, who turns 36 in May, could get more money and opportunity elsewhere as an everyday left fielder.
But Brantley has dealt with injuries throughout his career, including last year's season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum.
Transitioning to a DH role, especially in the first year post-shift, is a way to extend his career and maximize the days he has left in the league.
Kenley Jansen, Atlanta
Despite health scares and diminished stuff, Jansen is still one of the game's best relief pitchers. He led the National League with 41 saves for Atlanta last season.
After 12 major league seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers and his most recent with a 101-win Atlanta team that was coming off a World Series title, all Jansen really knows is organizational excellence.
There have been reports that Jansen is open to returning to the Dodgers in free agency, but why not just stick with Atlanta, where he admitted to having a great time pitching in 2022?
Atlanta is still in contention, and retaining Jansen only helps. It's a bullpen that also features A.J. Minter, Raisel Iglesias, Collin McHugh and Dylan Lee.
Atlanta's pitching staff had the fourth-lowest ERA in baseball, and only the Dodgers bullpen had a higher fWAR. The one place it makes as much sense to sign is with his other former team, which should be in the market for a closer.
But the arrangement in Atlanta is working.
Editor's note: Jansen signed a two-year, $32 million contract with the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, per ESPN's Jeff Passan.
Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Dodgers declined Turner's $16 million option to make him a free agent for 2023, it's smartest for these two parties to unite.
Turner, even at age 38, remains one of the best overall third basemen in the game. He started slowly in 2022 but finished the season slashing .278/.350/.438 with a 123 wRC+, which still ranked ninth among third basemen.
Turner recently said on AM 570 LA Sports that he wanted to finish his career in a Dodger uniform while acknowledging things don't always go as planned. He is a southern California native who feels at home in L.A.
Re-signing Turner on a short-term deal for less than $16 million annually would also help the Dodgers save big money to target higher-end free agents.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported the Dodgers really have their eyes set on the biggest free agent in next year's class, Shohei Ohtani.
So don't be surprised if the Dodgers make smaller but impactful moves this offseason, like bringing back Turner.
Mike Zunino, Tampa Bay Rays
It was just last year when Zunino hit 33 home runs and was an All-Star catcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. It was enough for the Rays to pick up his $7 million option for 2022, but then he played in just 36 games before needing season-ending thoracic syndrome surgery on his left shoulder.
Without the injury, Zunino would probably have a more robust market. Even with the injury, he's someone who could help teams in need of a power-hitting catcher.
But going into his age 32 season, it's still not too late to sign a one-year deal with Tampa. Call it a "prove it" year like what Cody Bellinger presumably is doing with the Chicago Cubs.
Another season like 2021, when Zunino recorded the fourth-best OPS (.860) and third-best wRC+ (123) for a catcher with a minimum of 300 plate appearances, would make him a lot more cash.
Brandon Drury, San Diego Padres
Coming off his best season in the big leagues, Drury is sure to draw interest from other teams. He provides power and defensive versatility for the infield.
Drury also isn't on the high end of free agent spending, likely available on a shorter, less expensive deal.
Drury posted a career-high 122 OPS+ in 138 games between the Reds and Padres. He lived the difference between playing for a cellar dweller and a contender.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta were all linked to Drury at the trade deadline before the Padres acquired him from the Cincinnati Reds. All of these teams are good fits and reasonably contending.
But what San Diego showed at the end of the season was convincing. The Padres are building something. They made the moves for Drury, Josh Hader, Josh Bell and Juan Soto, then made an impressive run to the NLCS.
And though Bell may have left to join the Cleveland Guardians in free agency, San Diego will have Fernando Tatis Jr. back from suspension after 20 games.
Dansby Swanson, Atlanta
Like Trea Turner, Swanson is a World Series champion for his hometown team. That's not what free agency comes down to, of course. But it's the perfect story when factoring in need, fit and potential for success.
Swanson, a former No. 1 overall pick by the Arizona Diamondbacks and native of Kennesaw, Georgia—near Atlanta—had a breakout season in 2022. He became a first-time All-Star, coming off an impressive World Series showing in 2021.
Swanson's best moments have been in Atlanta, where the higher-ups want to bring him back. If for some reason they couldn't bring him back, it would be tough replacing the shortstop who ranked second in WAR, especially as the star-studded free agent market dries up.
Extension talks between Atlanta and Swanson opened in mid-August, but we're waiting to see if these two sides make the obvious play and stick with each other.
Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts will always mean more to the Red Sox than any other MLB franchise.
They wanted to extend him before opted out and are still prioritizing resigning him.
Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has been adamant that Bogaerts is their first choice among the crop of star free agent shortstops, their homegrown icon and two-time World Series champion.
There is something to be said for being wanted, admired and revered as Bogaerts is in Boston.
But money talks, right? That's why we're here in the first place, because Bogaerts is aware the market dictates he should be making more than $20 million a year.
And it doesn't seem like negotiations are going so great. Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe reports Bogaerts has been meeting in person with interested teams, and the Red Sox have not made a competitive offer.
They still have a chance to match any offer, in which case Bogaerts makes most sense at Fenway. But the ball appears to be in the Red Sox's court.