Way-Too-Early Look at Top 25 MLB Free Agents of the 2023-24 Offseason
Now that the 2022-23 MLB free-agent market has been picked clean, it's time to start daydreaming about the players who are set to hit the open market next offseason.
The headliner will be Shohei Ohtani, who has no peers regarding the way he impacts the game and his subsequent value on the open market. Given his skills in the batter's box and on the mound, a record-breaking contract would not be surprising in the least.
Behind him, Julio Urías and Aaron Nola headline a deep class of starting pitchers, while the focus among position players shifts from this year's deep shortstop class to third base, where Rafael Devers, Matt Chapman and potentially Manny Machado, if he opts out, will all be available.
Ahead we've provided our way-too-early look at the top 25 free agents of the 2023-24 offseason. Players are ranked based on their expected earning power and projected production.
This list will change throughout the year based on performance, players signing extensions and other factors.
C: Mitch Garver, Yasmani Grandal, Tom Murphy
1B: Ji-Man Choi, C.J. Cron, Garrett Cooper, Carlos Santana, Joey Votto (club option)
2B: Tony Kemp, Adalberto Mondesi, Kolten Wong, Whit Merrifield (mutual option)
3B: Gio Urshela, Joey Wendle, Josh Donaldson (mutual option)
SS: Brandon Crawford, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Miguel Rojas, Paul DeJong (club option)
OF: Michael Brantley, Joey Gallo, Randal Grichuk, Enrique Hernández, Joc Pederson, Hunter Renfroe, Michael A. Taylor, Jesse Winker, Cody Bellinger (mutual option)
SP: Carlos Carrasco, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Noah Syndergaard, Adam Wainwright, Alex Wood, Mike Clevinger (mutual option), Andrew Heaney (player option), Charlie Morton (club option)
RP: Anthony Bass, John Brebbia, Amir Garrett, Jordan Hicks, Joe Jiménez, Phil Maton, Héctor Neris (club option), Emilio Pagán, Wandy Peralta, Drew Pomeranz, David Robertson, Ryan Tepera
25. RHP Ryne Stanek (Age: 31)
If Stanek can come close to replicating his 2022 numbers, he'll be one of the top relievers on the market next winter. The hard-throwing right-hander posted a 1.15 ERA and 10.2 K/9 with 17 holds in 59 appearances, and while his walk rate (5.1 BB/9) was a bit high, he has proved himself a reliable setup man the last two years in Houston.
24. RHP Frankie Montas (Age: 29)
Montas had a 3.18 ERA through 19 starts with the Oakland Athletics last season before he was traded to the New York Yankees at the deadline. He struggled to a 6.35 ERA in eight starts following the trade and was eventually shut down with a nagging shoulder issue. The burly right-hander has a strong track record, but he also has a lot to prove heading into the 2023 season.
23. LHP Jordan Montgomery (Age: 29)
A solid back-of-the-rotation starter during his time with the Yankees, Montgomery joined the Cardinals at the deadline and went 6-3 with a 3.11 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 61 strikeouts in 63.2 innings over 11 starts down the stretch. His 3.85 career ERA is probably a better indication of what to expect, but he's still a candidate for a multiyear deal and $12 million to $15 million per year with those numbers.
22. OF Harrison Bader (Age: 28)
Bader was a 3.9-WAR player in 2021 when he posted a 114 OPS+ with 21 doubles and 16 home runs while also taking home Gold Glove honors in center field, but he wasn't as productive at the plate in 2022. There is no question he is one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, but his career 97 OPS+ leaves a lot to be desired, and his performance at the plate in 2023 will dictate his earning power.
21. RHP Tyler Mahle (Age: 28)
Mahle has 396 strikeouts in 348.1 innings since the start of the 2020 season, and his 10.2 K/9 during that span ranks 15th among all starters with at least 300 innings. That ability to miss bats coupled with the fact that he won't turn 29 until September makes him one of the more intriguing arms in this class, even if he doesn't have the same name recognition as others on this list.
20. RHP Sonny Gray (Age: 33)
Acquired from the Cincinnati Reds last offseason, Gray posted a 3.08 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 117 strikeouts in 119.2 innings in his first season with the Minnesota Twins. With 1,387 frames under his belt and his 33rd birthday in the rearview mirror, he will likely have to settle for a short-term deal, but he can still be an impact arm on a contender's staff.
19. RHP Miles Mikolas (Age: 34)
A two-time All-Star since returning from a three-year stint in Japan in 2018, Mikolas does not have the same earning potential as some of the other top arms in this class because of his age, but there's no ignoring his productivity. He finished with a 3.29 ERA and 1.03 WHIP while setting career highs in strikeouts (153) and innings pitched (202.1) last season, and he could be a candidate for a high-AAV, short-term deal.
18. LHP José Alvarado (Age: 27)
Alvarado was a key cog in the Philadelphia Phillies bullpen in 2022, posting a 3.18 ERA and a career-high 14.3 K/9 with two saves and 22 holds in 59 appearances. Proven lefty relievers who average 99.6 mph with their fastball don't exactly grow on trees, and the five-year, $46 million deal that Robert Suarez signed with the San Diego Padres seems like a logical starting point in negotiations.
17. LHP Martín Pérez (Age: 31)
After posting a 2.89 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 169 strikeouts in 196.1 innings to earn his first All-Star selection, Pérez accepted a $19.7 million qualifying offer from the Rangers. That represented a healthy raise over the one-year, $4 million deal he signed last offseason, but he bet on himself by not chasing a multiyear deal. With a 4.71 ERA in 1,102.2 innings prior to the 2022 season, he'll need to prove his breakout was the real deal before climbing any higher.
16. RHP Luis Severino (Age: 28)
Shoulder inflammation that eventually led to Tommy John surgery limited Severino to 18 innings in the three years prior to the 2022 season. He returned strong with a 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 112 strikeouts in 102 innings, but a lat injury again cost him significant time, and he will need to prove he can stay healthy for a full season if he hopes to maximize his earning power.
15. 1B Rhys Hoskins (Age: 29)
Hoskins posted a 122 OPS+ with 33 doubles, 30 home runs, 79 RBI and a career-high 2.9 WAR in 156 games in 2022, and he will be the top first baseman and one of the best power hitters on the market next offseason. The contracts signed by José Abreu (3/$58.5M), Anthony Rizzo (2/$40M) and Josh Bell (2/$33M) this offseason should set his market somewhere in the $16 million to $18 million AAV range.
14. OF Teoscar Hernández (Age: 30)
Since becoming an everyday player in 2018, Hernández has posted a 121 OPS+ in 2,324 plate appearances while averaging 34 home runs per 162 games. He won Silver Slugger honors in 2020 and 2021, and he had a 127 OPS+ with 35 doubles and 25 home runs in 131 games this past season. The Seattle Mariners acquired him in a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays in November, so his contract year will come with a change of scenery.
13. LHP Blake Snell (Age: 30)
The 2018 AL Cy Young winner, Snell has dealt with some ups and downs in the years since, but he was rock-solid in 2022 with a 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and an eye-popping 171 strikeouts in 128 innings. His inability to pitch deep into games has become less of a concern, as the way starting pitchers are handled has evolved over the years, and his pure stuff stacks up to any pitcher in this class.
12. SS Amed Rosario (Age: 27)
Unless the Chicago White Sox unexpectedly decline a $14 million club option on Tim Anderson, Rosario will be the top shortstop on the market next offseason. He posted a 106 OPS+ with 46 extra-base hits, 71 RBI, 86 runs scored and 18 steals while recording a career-high 4.2 WAR in 2022. Age is working in his favor for a long-term deal, and he could move into the top 10 in these rankings by the end of the 2023 season.
11. RHP Lucas Giolito (Age: 28)
Giolito struggled through a down year in 2022 with a 4.90 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 161.2 innings. However, his 4.06 FIP paints a more positive picture of his performance, and he has a strong enough track record to bet on a big contract year. During the three previous seasons, he logged a 3.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 526 strikeouts in 427.2 innings while finishing 11th or higher in AL Cy Young voting each year.
10. RHP Jack Flaherty
Jack Flaherty will have to prove he can stay healthy for the entire 2023 season if he wants to be rewarded like a top-10 player in this free-agency class, especially with so many quality starting pitching options available.
The 27-year-old has pitched just 114.1 innings over the past two seasons while battling shoulder issues, but he did throw the ball well over the final month of the 2022 campaign after two months on the injured list.
His age is a great bargaining chip in his favor, as he's younger than almost every other pitcher on this list by multiple years, and teams haven't forgotten the pitcher he was in 2019 when he logged a 2.75 ERA and an NL-best 0.97 WHIP in 196.1 innings to finish fourth in NL Cy Young voting.
His stock will rise or fall as much as anyone's based on his 2023 performance.
9. OF Ian Happ
Ian Happ assembled the best season of his career in 2022, posting a 119 OPS+ with 42 doubles, 17 home runs, 72 RBI and 72 runs scored while also winning Gold glove honors during a 4.4-WAR season.
The 28-year-old made the biggest strides in his approach at the plate, trimming his strikeout rate from 29.2 to 23.2 percent while also slashing his soft-contact rate from 15.7 to 14.3 percent, so he essentially made more contact and better contact.
If the Chicago Cubs fall out of the postseason hunt early, he'll be a popular name in the rumor mill once again as the deadline approaches, but he's also a potential extension candidate if the Cubs take a step forward.
He should be able to exceed the five-year, $75 million deal that Andrew Benintendi signed with the Chicago White Sox if he puts together another season like the one he had in 2022.
8. LHP Josh Hader
Which Josh Hader will show up in 2023?
The left-hander was arguably the most dominant reliever in baseball for several years running during his time with the Milwaukee Brewers, but he hit a rough patch midway through the 2022 season in which he struggled to a 15.00 ERA with four losses and two blown saves in 19 appearances in July and August.
The 28-year-old came out the other side of those struggles a member of the San Diego Padres, and after he posted a 0.87 ERA in 11 appearances over the final month of the season and then logged 5.1 scoreless innings with four saves during the playoffs, there is every reason to believe he'll be back to normal in 2023.
If he does return to elite form, surpassing the record-setting five-year, $102 million contract that Edwin Díaz signed with the New York Mets this offseason will undoubtedly be his goal.
7. RHP Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish has been one of the most consistent front-line pitchers in baseball since he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2012, but it's fair to wonder how much he has left since he'll turn 37 years old in August.
He finished 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 194.2 innings in 2022, and he closed out the regular season on a run of eight straight quality starts, during which time he had a 2.32 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 54.1 innings.
Between his time in Japan and his MLB career, he has logged a whopping 2,756.1 innings, a total surpassed only by Zack Greinke (3,247) and Justin Verlander (3,163) among active pitchers.
That workload and the fact that he's still pitching at such a high level will make him a prime candidate for a deal similar to the ones that Max Scherzer and Verlander have signed the last two offseasons, though an AAV in the $25 million range is more likely than their $43.3 million figure.
6. 3B Matt Chapman
The list of third basemen with Gold Glove-caliber defensive skills and 30-homer power is a short one, so Matt Chapman will be a hot commodity next offseason, even if he is potentially just the third-best free agent at his position.
After a slow start to his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays he eventually rounded into form with a red-hot July, when he hit .325/.396/.699 with nine home runs and 22 RBI in 25 games.
The 29-year-old finished the year with a 115 OPS+ while slugging 27 doubles and 27 home runs in a 3.5-WAR season, and he trimmed his strikeout rate from an ugly 32.5 percent in 2021 to a more manageable 27.4 percent.
Beneath those surface-level numbers, he ranked among the MLB leaders in average exit velocity (93rd percentile), hard-hit rate (97th percentile) and barrel rate (88th percentile), and his pull-heavy approach could benefit from the shift being banned.
5. RHP Aaron Nola
How good is Aaron Nola?
Here's a quick list of the WAR leaders among all pitchers since the start of the 2017 season:
1. Max Scherzer: 33.6
2. Jacob deGrom: 29.4 WAR
3. Aaron Nola: 28.3 WAR
4. Justin Verlander: 26.7 WAR
5. Gerrit Cole: 24.7 WAR
The 29-year-old was excellent once again in 2022, posting a 3.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 235 strikeouts in 205 innings while anchoring the Philadelphia staff alongside Zack Wheeler.
The five-year, $56.75 million extension he signed prior to the 2019 season has made him one of the best bargains in baseball for several years, but he's going to cash in next winter as one of the best available starters.
4. 3B Manny Machado
According to Jon Heyman of the New York Post, the San Diego Padres expect Manny Machado to opt out of his contract after the 2023 season and leave the final five years and $160 million of his pact on the table.
That $32 million AAV could be a tough number to top on a long-term deal, considering Trea Turner ($27.3M), Carlos Correa ($26.3M) and Xander Bogaerts ($25.4M) all fell short of breaking the $30 million mark this winter, but perhaps Machado will fall more in the Aaron Judge ($40M) tier of superstars.
The 30-year-old was as good as ever in 2022, hitting .298/.366/.531 for a 159 OPS+ with 37 doubles, 32 home runs and 102 RBI in a 6.8-WAR season to finish runner-up in NL MVP voting, and he'll have far more protection in the lineup in 2023.
Consistency matters when it comes to signing a player to a big-money, long-term deal, and Machado has been as durable and reliable as any player in the game for the better part of the past decade.
3. 3B Rafael Devers
Debate all you'd like whether Manny Machado is a better player than Rafael Devers right now, but the fact that Devers is more than four years younger means he will have superior earning power when he hits the open market next winter.
Still only 26 years old, Devers hit .295/.358/.521 for a 141 OPS+ with 42 doubles, 27 home runs, 88 RBI and 84 runs scored en route to a 4.4-WAR season and a second straight All-Star Game appearance.
His elite average exit velocity (98th percentile) and hard-hit rate (96th percentile) coupled with a strikeout rate comfortably under 20 percent makes him a rare high-average slugger in an age that features more and more three-true-outcome players.
He remains a below-average defender at third base, and a move across the diamond to first base is inevitable at some point, but he is as safe a bet as any player in baseball to be a consistent middle-of-the-order run producer for the foreseeable future.
2. LHP Julio Urías
With Walker Buehler on the mend following Tommy John surgery and Clayton Kershaw coming down the home stretch of his Hall of Fame career, it's hard to imagine the Los Angeles Dodgers won't do everything it takes to lock up Julio Urías with a long-term extension before he hits the open market.
For now, he's the best available pitcher in the 2023-24 free-agent class.
Since he debuted as a 19-year-old in 2016, he'll reach free agency after his age-26 season, making him a far better target for a long-term deal than any other starting pitcher on this list.
The left-hander finished 17-7 with an NL-best 2.16 ERA and 0.96 WHIP in 175 innings in 2022, finishing third in NL Cy Young voting while holding opposing hitters to a stingy .199 batting average.
Given his age, performance and the rising cost of quality pitching, a $200 million contract should be well within reach.
1. RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani
There is an easy case to be made that Shohei Ohtani the hitter and Shohei Ohtani the pitcher are both deserving of contracts well in excess of $100 million, so it will be interesting to see what the complete package is worth on a long-term deal.
With Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander setting the AAV bar at $43.3 million, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ohtani command $50 million per year, and it's also hard to say he's not worth that kind of money given how profoundly he impacts the game relative to every other player in baseball.
In 2022, he had a 145 OPS+ with 30 doubles, 34 home runs and 95 RBI for a 3.4-WAR season as a designated hitter. The 28-year-old also went 15-9 with a 2.33 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 219 strikeouts in 166 innings for a 6.2-WAR season on the mound that earned him a fourth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting.
The Angels signed him to a one-year, $30 million deal to buy out his final year of arbitration, and that could look like a steal relative to what he's poised to earn on the open market next offseason.