It may seem weird, and even somewhat irresponsible, to talk about the 2025 free agent class when so many of the top 2024 free agents remain unsigned. However, it is never too early to take a look at what the future might bring, as sooner than expected we will be immersed in pitchers and catchers, then Spring Training, and finally actual games, which are all much more interesting than potential transactions closed out in a swanky hotel next winter.
The 2025 class of free agents may not feature a generational talent like Shohei Ohtani, and there is no WBC in the near future to let us obsess over Japanese imports and posting fees. At the same time, the next offseason is bound to feature a deep array of players looking for new homes, including former league MVPs, Cy Youngs, and World Series champions. In fact, you could arguably fill out a contending roster of 26 free agents from next year’s class, which is not something that could be said for the most recent crop of free agents, as it was mostly top-heavy.
While there are a few potential FAs that hinder on opt-outs and club or player options, today we are focusing only on players who are on an expiring deal and will become unrestricted free agents once the last out of the 2024 World Series is recorded. They could still technically sign extensions with their current clubs, and many things can change from here until then, but where’s the fun in that?
Honorable Mentions: Danny Jansen, Rowdy Tellez, Christian Walker, Justin Turner, Joey Wendle, Joey Gallo, Max Kepler, Teoscar Hernández, Charlie Morton, John Means, Luis Severino, Aroldis Chapman, Blake Treinen, Kenley Jansen, Brandon Woodruff, Gleyber Torres
Notable players with vesting/player/team options: Rhys Hoskins, Ha-Seong Kim, Eloy Jiménez, Marcell Ozuna, Gerrit Cole, Justin Verlander, Nathan Eovaldi, Ryan Pressly, Craig Kimbrel
#10 – Walker Buehler
In terms of pure speculation, Walker Buehler may be the most intriguing free-agent-to-be on the market. The glass-half-full proposition says that he will be only 30 years old on Opening Day 2025, with a track record of success and youth that few can match. The glass-half-empty side can also point out that Buehler is coming off nearly 18 months of inactivity due to Tommy John surgery, and he remains a major X factor for a Dodgers team that needs all the pitching it can get.
Using Buehler’s only two full seasons with at least 30 starts, it is easy to see why teams would take a gamble on the righty. He has already shown the capability of being a workhorse and can deliver tons of quality in those innings, but the Dodgers are planning to take it slowly as he returns to action. Even as all reports suggest he is now healthy, Buehler is likely to start the season on the IL and then work with an innings limit, as a team full of superstars may not need to push him that far. With LA now bolstering their rotation with the likes of Tyler Glasnow and presumably having Ohtani ready to pitch in 2025, Buehler may become expendable by that point. If that is the case, he should become a target for many teams willing to shell out a creative contract structure with a ton of incentives and opt-outs.
#9 – Willy Adames
With the Brewers entering a rebuilding/retooling phase, it is almost certain that Adames will enter free agency next offseason, even if he is still a hot candidate for a trade at some point in 2024. Since arriving to the Brewers via trade in 2021, Adames has become the personification of a win-win trade, as the Rays got the surplus value they always crave and Milwaukee received the benefit of an instant impact player who became a fan favorite while also delivering 11 WAR in less than three full seasons. Even as there are still questions surrounding his overall contributions, Adames fits the mold of a sought-after element in the market.
The knock against Adames has been his gradual offensive decline, falling from a career-high 137 OPS+ in 2021 to a career-low 95 in 2023. Opposing pitchers learned to pitch around him amid a weak offense in Milwaukee, and Adames fell into some bad chase habits that led him to a boom-or-bust mentality. He still had a respectable 55 extra-base hits last season, but it is clear that he is more a complementary piece instead of a foundational kind of bat. Nevertheless, his defense remains solid at shortstop, which is bound to be a thin position yet again. With the motivation of a walk year and a solid track record, Adames has the tools to become a major target around the trade deadline and then reach free agency on a high note, commanding a deal that approaches nine figures when it’s all said and done.
#8 – Shane Bieber
On a similar note to Buehler, Shane Bieber is primed to become a young free agent with an injury history to consider. The big difference is that Bieber should receive every opportunity to re-establish his market value in 2024. The Guardians operate as a team that never shells out big bucks to retain its own players, but they also know that they can be competitive in a weak AL Central, making Bieber the de-facto ace of an intriguing rotation in the best-case scenario, or at least trade bait around July.
There are concerns surrounding this former Cy Young, especially after sandwiching a solid 2022 season with two injury-plagued campaigns. His loss in velocity was evident in 2023, as Bieber relied mostly on veteran guile to work around his issues. It all led to a mediocre 3.80 ERA over 21 starts, which does not scream ace anymore. At the same time, he remains a cerebral pitcher who can limit the long ball and lead a staff when healthy, and it is likely that a team with deep pockets will bank on that potential. If Bieber can regain at least some of his past form in 2024, teams will line up to sign him.
#7 – Max Scherzer
He is about to turn 40, but are we sure we can bet against Max Scherzer having one last hurrah? For starters, he is already on the short list for the best free agent contract in baseball history, as his seven-year deal with Washington solidified his status as a future Hall-of-Famer while also delivering a World Series title to cap it off. While his most recent act as an AAV standout has not been as productive from a value standpoint, there is no denying that Scherzer remains a fierce competitor and could prove to be a nice addition for a team in search of a veteran presence that can still yield star results.
The Mad Max that pitched no hitters and earned Cy Young votes yearly is now all but gone, but even with injuries and ineffectiveness he remains an above-average hurler, as evidenced by his combined 3.05 ERA over 50 starts during the past two seasons. He may not have been a factor for the Rangers during their championship run, but the trade itself and his mere presence suggested the team was going all-in for a title, which could be a factor among the intangible things a brand-name free agent brings to the table. His recent run of four teams in three seasons indicates that Scherzer will continue to search for the best situation to win, which is why he should continue to command attention from several front offices, even if he continues his gentle decline in 2024.
#6 – Paul Goldschmidt
While he may fall short in several traditional counting numbers for the Hall of Fame, few could argue that Paul Goldschmidt is one of the best pure hitters of his generation. He will easily clear the 2,000 hit mark in 2024 and has given only sporadic signs of slowing down at age 35. There is a possibility that the Cardinals will sign him to another extension sometime during the season, depriving Goldy of his first true shot at free agency, but should he get there, he could become a very intriguing option and a measuring stick for how teams balance a hitting savant against his age and lack of positional value. After all, we are witnessing an offseason in which Joey Votto remains unsigned.
The case for Goldschmidt is clear – he is a true model of consistency. He is fresh off his eighth straight full season of at least 150 games played, 24 homers and a .345 OBP. His best season yielded an MVP award in 2022, but even his lows are limited, as he remains an elite defender at first base and a steady presence in the lineup. His power and production may have taken a step back in 2023, but that could be a product of the swoon that plagued all of St. Louis. With the Cardinals looking to regain their perennial contender status, a bounce-back seems natural for Goldschmidt. Whether it is the Cardinals or a team needing a veteran, professional hitter, he should get a nice 3-year contract that allows him to chart an unlikely path towards 3,000 hits and more Cooperstown credentials.
#5 – Alex Bregman
The recent José Altuve extension could bode well for Bregman should he decide to continue his career in Houston, playing for the only team he’s ever known. At the same time, he is a Scott Boras client who already signed a team-friendly extension at a younger age, so it is likely that we will see him test the waters in free agency next offseason. He will enter Opening Day 2025 at 31 years old, which may raise some red flags for a third baseman that has not posted an elite season since 2019. The key for Bregman may be a small renaissance in 2024, when he has the chance to establish his value and become the most coveted infielder of next year’s class.
His 2018-19 peak may no longer be his true ceiling, but he has also shown the ability to be a top-25 position player in terms of WAR over the past two seasons, combining strong defense with a keen batting eye. To wit, he has posted four seasons (including the past two) with more walks than strikeouts, showing enough power and bat control that bodes well for his skillset as he ages. Combining that with a track record of playoff success and individual hardware should give Boras and Bregman enough leverage to negotiate a substantial deal in free agency, even if this season continues to see him more in the star range instead of the superstar he was supposed to become. Regardless, expect to see his name in many rumor mills in the upcoming months.
#4 – Pete Alonso
Alonso’s case merits serious discussion, as he seems like the kind of player who warrants a mega extension from his team. He is arguably the face of the team with the league’s richest owner, has a cool nickname, hits a ton of homers, and is young enough to squash most fears from a team debating the cost of a long-term contract. And yet, the Mets have been very vocal about the possibility of trading him before he becomes a free agent, and it remains a strong possibility should New York post another disappointing season. If it all comes down to that, Alonso would be ready to be lured by several teams.
His OBP dipped to a career-low .318 last season, coinciding with a steep spike in strikeouts, suggesting that he was probably pressing amid a lost season in Queens. The upside for the Polar Bear is that he still swatted 46 homers, and he can be profiled as a comp to Paul Goldschmidt in terms of durability, playing at least 152 games in every full season of his career. With his late debut at age 24 and questions over his defense, his next contract may hinge on how well he rebounds in 2024. As the Mets continue to avoid the question, another season of 45+ homers and a more palatable OBP could turn Alonso into a very wealthy man over the next decade.
#3 – Zack Wheeler
Judging by surface-level numbers, Zack Wheeler’s 2023 season may not seem like his best work. The 3.61 ERA he posted was almost a full run higher than his 2022 mark, and yet he finished sixth in Cy Young voting. What gives? By several standards, Wheeler was one of the best pitchers in baseball last season, as well as one of the most consistent performers in the sport over the past half-decade. With no notable injury history and the ability to strike hitters out at a solid pace, he should be lining up for the second important payday of his career.
The Phillies have indicated several times that re-signing him is a top priority, but there has been no real traction to secure that, suggesting that Wheeler could command a bidding war if the opportunity arises. With the current emphasis on short starts and dominant bullpens, it is still refreshing to see a guy that can approach 200 innings and take the ball every five days, and teams are willing to pay top dollar for that skill set. As long as the righty continues to suppress homers (no small task pitching in Philadelphia) and give the Phillies a chance to win almost every game, he is almost assured of another 5-year contract at a minimum.
#2 – Corbin Burnes
The relationship between Corbin Burnes and the Brewers soured in a hurry, with a bitter arbitration dispute before the 2023 season and a subsequent trade that will see him don the Orioles uniform in 2024. While the arbitration saga made it seem that a divorce was inevitable, it will be shocking to see Burnes pitching in the AL, but it is also fascinating as he enters his walk year. His true talent may not be the 1.63 FIP posted in his 2021 Cy Young season, but a fresh start may also help alleviate some of the concerns that arose during an inconsistent 2023. After all, he seemed capable of flirting with no-hitters or having disastrous outings with the same frequency, leading to a subpar campaign for his recent standards.
Despite the decline, this is still a pitcher who led the league in WHIP and has three straight 200-strikeout campaigns before turning 30, and that kind of hurler just does not grow on trees. While the Orioles will probably receive a one-and-done contribution from Burnes, the rest of baseball will be watching closely to determine the kind of contract offers to present in the winter. Even with only three true years of MLB stability, the lack of innings on his arm may make him even more attractive for a franchise that wishes to land him long-term. If Burnes finds a way to recoup some of his Cy Young magic, it would not be surprising to see him approach Gerrit Cole money.
#1 – Juan Soto
Juan Soto has been an object of fascination in baseball for a long time. He debuted at age 19 and was a key component of a World Series champion by the next season. He has drawn comparisons to Ted Williams and has become one of the most recognizable players in the sport. He also has been labeled somewhat of a bust after his lack of team success in San Diego, despite coming off a .930 OPS and leading the league in walks for three straight seasons. To make matters more interesting, he has just been traded to the Yankees, where he will have the chance to showcase his talents on the biggest stage, right before becoming a 26-year-old free agent.
The chance to add a generational player like Soto is small, as it is likely that even the most penny-pinching franchises would love to add him and make him their poster boy. The difference between Soto and the other free agents is that he will offer teams the chance to sign him for most of his prime years, and by this point it is safe to say that a 10-year deal would be the base negotiating point. While a subpar season may make the Yankees hesitate, the most likely scenario is that they have no choice but to throw all their money at him and hope that he provides a career worthy of Monument Park. If he manages to hit the open market, expect an Ohtani-like frenzy that dominates the fall and winter.