Gather ’round, children, and listen well. The holiday season of free agency is upon us, and we must rejoice—rejoice, indeed, for it was not always this way. In the olden days, you see, there was no such season. It was a dark time, pervaded by bigotry and arrogance, with nary a second thought given to ballplayers’ rights. But lo, along came a light: ’tis the story of a hero named Curt Flood, and his unrelenting quest for justice…
Folks, we made it. Give yourself a pat on the back. The long seven months of the MLB season have passed, and you made it to the other side without tearing each other (or yourself) apart. Some of you may even be Mets fans, which we all know is another kind of torture. Salute to you. Now, we’ve all earned a vacation; it’s time to unwind, find a friend who has NFL Red Zone, and settle in for the offseason on their couch. For the next five months, you don’t even need to think about baseball. Empty mind, no thoughts, just live your life free from the day-to-day agonies of MLB fandom.
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Today, I’m making one free-agent prediction for every MLB team this offseason. The rules of this exercise are as follows:
- This is the No. 1 move I would make if I were each team’s GM. If the real-life GMs don’t share the same vision, y’know, that’s on them.
- My goal for each team is to improve their greatest area of need, one way or another. This may not account for teams that are actively trying to make their rosters, worse, i.e., the Oakland A’s.
- An attempt will be made to consider financial realities, but hey, I’m no Economist. If you want that, find someone with a blue check on Twitter and let them explain to you how money works. I just work here!
Got it? Got it. Let’s dive in.
The equation for Baltimore this offseason is simple. After finishing with the league’s best record buoyed by young stars on offense, they were undone in October by a lack of experience and pitching depth. Kyle Bradish looks like an ace, but after him, it gets shaky—even if Grayson Rodriguez reaches his potential, the likely departures of Kyle Gibson and Jack Flaherty leave a significant hole in the middle of their rotation. Stroman is a relatively steady veteran, coming off an age-32 season where he posted a solid 3.95 ERA, 3.58 FIP, and allowed just 0.6 home runs per nine innings. His career HR9 is 0.8, and in a power-heavy division, keeping the ball in the yard is a valuable skill. For his part, Stroman is an East Coast native who spent the better part of his career pitching in Toronto and New York; a return to the A.L. East makes sense, provided Mike Elias and Peter Angelos are willing to pony up. If they don’t, then O’s fans are bound to ask: if not now, then when?
Let’s make one thing clear: the Rays are never going to be major players on the free-agent market. Thankfully, they’re good enough at every level that they don’t have to be. But outside of spending, the only thing the Tampa front office can’t seem to account for is luck. After signing Zach Eflin to the largest free agent contract in franchise history last offseason, they watched virtually every other starter in his rotation go down to major injuries: Jeffrey Springs, Drew Rasmussen, and Shane McClanahan all underwent season-ending elbow injuries, and Tyler Glasnow made just 21 starts while navigating various ailments. Springs and Rasmussen are expected back around the All-Star break next year, while McClanahan will likely miss the whole season. This string of bad breaks could make Tampa Bay more aggressive on the pitching market this offseason, but given their strengths in the pitching development department, a conservative approach seems just as likely. Maeda should come at a relative discount, at least compared to his Cy Young-finalist teammate Sonny Gray. He’s coming off his age-35 season, just like Charlie Morton was when the Rays signed him for $30 Million in 2018. Maeda’s recent pedigree in Minnesota isn’t what Morton’s was in Houston, but at a third of that cost, I like this match. The Rays can get the most out of Maeda at this stage of his career, and he knows that.
The Jays’ biggest need is a middle-of-the-order bat to replace the departing power of Matt Chapman. Some ideal candidates with utility/DH flexibility include Cody Bellinger, Rhys Hoskins, Jorge Soler, Teoscar Hernández, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., but convincing any of them to come to Toronto (or back to Toronto, in the case of the latter two) could be an uphill battle. For Known Canadian Joey Votto, that shouldn’t be an issue. Votto is 40 years old and battled various injuries his last few years in Cincinnati. Still, he’s remained a power threat when healthy, boasting the fifth-highest ISO among all first basemen since 2021 (min. 1,000 PA). Moreover, he reportedly has no plans to retire. Votto isn’t a bat of Chapman’s caliber, but he could certainly fill the shoes of Brandon Belt, who split first base and DH duties for Toronto in 2023. Toronto’s core is young, but they’re in a much better position than Cincinnati to see what Votto still has in the tank, and there’s no denying the appeal of adding a veteran like him to mentor Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the clubhouse.
Speaking of Chapman, the fit in New York seems almost too obvious. If he doesn’t return to Toronto, the list of top-spending teams with a hole at third base pretty much starts and ends with the Yankees. Entering his age-31 season, Chapman may be exiting his prime, but he’s still younger than D.J. LeMahieu—and lord knows he’d be an improvement on Josh Donaldson. Money is never an obstacle in the Bronx, and Chapman is the best option available. Count on Brian Cashman to get this done.
With Chaim Bloom gone, new Red Sox “Chief Baseball Officer” Craig Breslow has work to do this winter. The Sox are known for making big splashes in free agency, but the Bloom era was fairly conservative by the franchise’s standards. Hub fans are particularly antsy after consecutive last-place finishes. Throw in a significant need for top-end rotation help, and all the ingredients are there for Boston to go all-out for Yamamoto, the best Japanese import since Shohei Ohtani (if not, y’know, ever). And if nothing else, it would be a great burn on the Yankees.
For most teams, (potentially) losing three quality starters to free agency like Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, and Tyler Mahle would create a real sense of urgency at the position. But keep in mind, Minnesota still has Pablo Lopez and Joe Ryan anchoring their rotation, plus some high-upside young arms in Bailey Ober and Louie Varland. Pitching was never the problem in Minnesota. They’ll need to add depth, sure, but the number one priority for the Twins right now should be adding a steady bat to take the pressure off Carlos Correa, Royce Lewis, and the oft-injured Byron Buxton. An ideal fit would be Hoskins, a 30-year-old stalwart who started 150+ games in three of the last four full seasons prior to tearing his ACL in Spring Training this year. He should be back at full strength in 2024, and with Bryce Harper presumably taking over at first base in Philadelphia, he needs a new landing spot. The Twins are a good fit in that respect, too, with an opening at first base that can be filled by Edouard Julien if they want to ease Hoskins back in at DH. Also, Hoskins has great vibes, which Minnesota’s offense could certainly use. I probably should have led with that TBH.
It’s no secret that Cleveland’s offensive approach left a lot to be desired in 2023. They finished bottom-five in every offensive run-production metric from RBIs to ISO, and despite it all, they had a real shot at making the playoffs as late as early September. The development of the Naylor brothers, Josh and Bo, alongside Jose Ramirez gives Guards fans hope for better things to come in this most winnable of divisions. If I were new manager Stephen Vogt, my first call would be to his (albeit brief) 2021 Atlanta teammates Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall. Duvall is the cheaper of the two, with a Spotrac salary estimate in the $5-6 million range, and he provides some defensive flexibility in the outfield as well as significant upside with the bat. He’s also from Louisville, so a move to Cleveland is also closer to home, which one would imagine he’d value at this stage in his career.
The Tigers need pitching, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez on the way out. Moreover, they especially need lefty pitching, with Tarik Skubal and Tyler Holton essentially the only valuable southpaws on the roster (unless you want to count Joey Wentz, which, with all due respect, I do not). Coming off a blistering October with the Rangers, Montgomery will fetch a steep price—but the Tigers have shown willingness to pay a price like that in the past, and the opportunity to feast on A.L. Central offenses has to be enticing. If this doesn’t work out, Lance Lynn would be an interesting pivot.
A lot went wrong for the White Sox in 2023, but their middle infield was particularly dreadful. Tim Anderson fell off a production cliff, Elvis Andrus wasn’t good, and the rest of the names they plugged in at those two positions are the kind that give you single-digit rarity scores on Immaculate Grid. I’m serious, if you’re a non-Chicago fan who knows Zach Remillard, you have my respect. Now Anderson and Andrus are both gone and unfortunately for Sox faithful (outside of you Remillard truthers), the options for improvement aren’t much better. Rosario has the most offensive upside, despite a disappointing season between Cleveland and L.A. He has multi-position flexibility, and he’s still just 27. This could work.
At 43 years old, Rich Hill is gunning for an important milestone: Edwin Jackson’s career record 14 teams played for. Hill is sitting on 13, after being traded from the Pirates to the Padres midseason. Meanwhile, if Zack Greinke retires, the Royals will be looking for a new Old Guy Innings-Eater (OGIE, if you will) for what projects to be another real bad team. The upside for Hill is that Kansas City has pretty good barbecue, and if he’s decent next year, there’s a chance that he could get traded at the deadline and actually break Jackson’s record. What’s not to like?
It’s hard to find any glaring holes in this Astros roster, which just captured the A.L. West for the sixth time in seven years. They were one win away from appearing in their third straight World Series this year, and it’s hard to say it was anything more than postseason luck that kept them from that goal. It is worth noting, though, that three of their top relievers are free agents: Hector Neris, Phil Maton, and Ryne Stanek. The ‘Stros could choose to bring one or more of them back, but if they do look elsewhere for bullpen depth, Chapman is always an intriguing name. Houston is a pitching factory, and if anyone can turn the two-time World Champion back into a reliable high-leverage weapon, it’s them.
The defending champs already have a wealth of experience in their starting rotation, with Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Nathan Eovaldi all under contract for next season already. But as they learned all too well this year, you can never have enough pitching. Jordan Montgomery is a free agent, and if he leaves, they’ll need to add depth with deGrom still out until mid-summer at least. Kershaw is a Texas native, and it’s been rumored for a while that the Rangers sit atop the short list of clubs he’d consider joining rather than retire a Dodger. Of course, he is also injured, having recently undergone shoulder surgery that will presumably keep him sidelined for the early part of 2024. A rational observer might look at this and say, “Isn’t another injured pitcher exactly what the Rangers don’t need?” Thankfully, I don’t worry about silly things like rationality when I have the chance to assemble the most decorated pitching staff of all time. Anyway, if Clayton Kershaw wants to play for your team, are you really gonna say no?
The Mariners are pretty well-off in their rotation, even with Robbie Ray still out until midseason. They need another bat, though, with Teoscar Hernández presumably gone. Seattle may choose to wait out the Ohtani sweepstakes before making a decision, which is understandable. If they’re unable to land the two-way superstar, Martinez is a high-caliber alternative. A versatile hitter even at age 36, his only real limitation is positional. But if I managed to keep this guy in my fantasy team’s UTIL slot all season, I don’t see why the Mariners can’t commit to him as their full-time DH. That’s how baseball works, right?
Nobody in baseball, least of all the Angels, seems to know what Shohei Ohtani will do this winter. Since they basically leveraged their whole future on the gamble of making the postseason with Ohtani, it’s fair to say L.A. is motivated to bring him back. But that’s Shohei’s decision, and I think anyone with a brain and/or a heart would tell him to get the hell out of Anaheim. Should that happen, Arte Moreno is going to be angry with money in his pocket, which is probably a bad combination. But it’s a good combination if you’re an Angels fan who just wants to feel something, and there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Bellinger is viewed by many as the No. 2 player on the market, and unlike Ohtani, he’s probably not that concerned with finding a contending team so long as he’s getting paid. I see Belli returning to southern California next season, with many years of pleasantly-mellow mediocrity ahead of him.
Oakland A’s: OF Travis Jankowski
For the sake of this exercise, I tried to put myself in the mind of an MLB-free agent and picture what possible incentive there could be to go play for the A’s next year. I won’t lie, it was difficult. The answer I landed on was between “they will pay me money to play baseball” and “I’m an alien disguised as a ballplayer, and it’s my first day on Earth.” The guy who strikes me as most likely to be an alien on the list of free agents is Travis Jankowski. His intentions are unclear, but it seems like he comes in peace; anyhow, he just won a World Series, so I’d say his legacy is secure. Side note: did you know that some people call Jankowski “Fred,” according to his Baseball-Reference page? I ask you, is that the sort of nickname that a human named Travis would choose? Just saying.
As evidenced by the 2023 baseball season, there is not a more complete team in MLB than Atlanta. Virtually every member of the team’s core is already locked up long-term, with the one key exception being ace Max Fried, who is a free agent after the 2024 season. Behind Fried and Spencer Strider, however, Atlanta’s rotation has a number of question marks. Even with Charlie Morton back in the fold, signing a quality third starter is priority No. 1 for GM Alex Anthopolous, who should have the funds at his disposal to make it happen after a record-breaking season. Still, for all their success, the club has rarely targeted top-dollar free agents; with that in mind, it seems foolish to predict a big splash like Shohei Ohtani or Aaron Nola will suddenly materialize. Gray would be a nice compromise. Provided the money is there (his projected annual value is around $20M, per Spotrac), the Tennessee native should seize the opportunity to join a championship-contending club in Atlanta.
After making a surprise World Series run in 2022, the Phillies went out and spent big to get back, signing Trea Turner to a $300 million deal. They felt just short of that goal in 2023, but I wouldn’t expect anything less from Dave Dombrowski this offseason. Nola received a qualifying offer from the Phils, but the latest buzz has him trending elsewhere, with Blake Snell emerging as their preferred SP target. I don’t buy it. A lot can happen between now and spring training, but considering the options available—and how much we’ve heard about the close-knit vibes in that Philly clubhouse—when it’s all said and done, I think they’ll end up sticking with their guy.
Miami is losing Jorge Soler, and more importantly, GM Kim Ng. Her replacement is ex-Rays GM Peter Bendix, who has a reputation as an analytically-driven executive. The calculus for Bendix in Miami is deceptively simple: they need thump. The Marlins were the sixth-worst offense in the N.L. in 2023 by wRC+, OPS, and SLG, and that was with Soler and his 36 bombs. Garver is a power-hitting DH with the ability to fill in at catcher, two positions where Miami is sorely in need of help. He played in just 87 games for the Rangers in 2023, but in that time, he posted an .870 OPS—that’s more than anyone on the Marlins could muster last season, including Soler. Make it happen, Pete.
The Mets world turned topsy-turvy at the 2023 trade deadline after the Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander trades when ex-GM Billy Eppler basically announced that they didn’t intend to contend in 2024. Since then, Eppler and Buck Showalter stepped down, Steve Cohen brought in David Stearns, and Carlos Mendoza took the reigns as manager. It’s a weird time in Flushing, but when is it not? One thing we know for sure is that Cohen won’t be shy when he sees something he wants. With that much money, everything is on the table, including Ohtani and Yamamoto. My money (or, more accurately, Cohen’s) is on Snell, the soon-to-be-reigning Cy Young, who would provide an elite left-handed complement to Kodai Senga as the Mets proceed with their
rebuild “repurposing of assets.”
The Nationals need help everywhere, and though they showed some signs of improvement this year, contending in 2024 seems improbable. Last year, The Nats spent on Trevor Williams, Jeimer Candelario, Corey Dickerson, and Dominic Smith, for a combined $22.3 Million. They were able to flip Candelario to the Cubs at the deadline for prospects. I’d expect a similar approach this time around, with Mike Rizzo seeking out a buy-low option or two in the hopes of turning a profit. Flaherty is probably the priciest of those options—which should make it less likely—but what the hey, it’s not my money. Prove me wrong, Rizzo! Prods with stick
It’s hard to say exactly what’s going on with the Brewers right now, with both David Stearns and Craig Counsell abruptly out the door. But once they figure that out, they still have a pretty good team. First base is an area of need with Carlos Santana gone, and Belt would provide some nice lefty power with a solid walk rate to boot. If the Brewers do opt to tear things down, he could be a decent trade chip as well.
All signs point to Chicago operating as buyers this winter. With Craig Counsell in the fold and Tom Ricketts running the show, the Cubs should be involved in the bidding for everyone from Chapman to Yamamoto. The Central is up for grabs, especially with the Cardinals struggling, so the time is ripe to go all-in. And you know what? Great teams need a great closer. The Cubs have the resources to pay Hader’s price tag, and a reunion with Counsell seems only fitting. Hader would give a huge shot in the arm to Chicago’s bullpen, which relied on Adbert Alzolay and Mark Leiter Jr. for the better part of the season this year.
There’s a lot to be excited about in Cincinnati. The young core of Spencer Steer, Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Elly De La Cruz, and Noelvi Marte should sustain this offense for years to come. There’s a lot of enticing potential in the rotation, too, but injuries have slowed the development of Graham Ashcraft and Nick Lodolo, and Hunter Greene is still green, as they say. A quality veteran in the rotation could do wonders for this club, even if the top free-agent hurlers are out of budget. The 32-year-old Wacha is a nice alternative, coming off his best year since 2018.
The Pirates are another team looking to take a step forward in 2024, potentially eyeing the postseason after showing some early-season promise this year. Their biggest need is also pitching, with an unproven and uninspiring rotation behind Mitch Keller. Severino is a high-upside play they can get on a short-term come-and-prove-it deal after his struggles in New York this season. If it works, great—if not, don’t worry, Paul Skenes is on his way.
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Cardinals in 2023. Still, there’s too much talent in this lineup for another last-place finish. Reports indicate that the Cardinals want to go all-out on a top-end starter to regain their graces in 2024. If they end up whiffing on Nola and Snell, Rodriguez could be the next best available option. The 30-year-old lefty is coming off an excellent year in Detroit, where he posted a career-low 3.30 ERA and .227 BAA. If all goes right this time around in St. Louis, he could be an ace on a contender for the first time in his career.
Nearly every move that the Dodgers have made (or not made) in the past year has been done with the intention of signing Shohei Ohtani when he reaches free agency. I recognize that they are by far the most equipped to sign him from a personnel, location, and budget standpoint, outside of the Mets, who may or may not have an unlimited budget. It’s long been speculated that Ohtani would like to stay on the West Coast. For all these reasons, and because I love being a contrarian, I’m not buying it. I choose to imagine a world where Ohtani breaks the Dodgers’ hearts and signs elsewhere at the last moment. In that world, the Dodgers are forced to pivot, and the other top free agents are already off the market. They turn instead to Imanaga, the second-best Japanese prospect headed to MLB this year, a fine pitcher in his own right. None of it matters in the end, as the 2024 Dodgers win 103 games before losing in the NLCS once again.
Coming off a surprise World Series run, the D-Backs will have to replace the production of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who indicated on Instagram this week that he does not intend to re-sign with Arizona. There are a number of free-agent outfielders who fit the bill, including Soler and Duvall. But the best available option outside of Bellinger is Hernández, who just wrapped up a somewhat lackluster but still productive one-season stint in Seattle. Mike Hazen has momentum on his side, and bringing in Hernández along with a decent third starter like Seth Lugo would make this offseason a success.
Say what you will about the Giants, but they’re not a club to back down from a challenge. It may not always work out—see: Judge, Aaron, and Correa, Carlosbu—t they’ll darn well give it their best. At the conclusion of the 2023 season, in which they were leapfrogged by the Diamondbacks in the division and Wild Card standings, the Giants chose to cut bait with Gabe Kapler. They wanted Bob Melvin to replace him, and they went out and got him. That’s the kind of can-do attitude I respect.
Does any of this matter to Shohei Ohtani, international phenom and generational world-defining talent? Probably not. But what we do know is that Ohtani looked long and hard at the Giants his first time around as a free agent, and they have the ecosystem to support him as the focal point of the franchise. San Francisco is a West Coast club with a reputable pitcher development team that helped elevate Kevin Gausman from underachiever to Cy Young candidate just two years ago. The only question that really matters, of course, is whether the Giants ownership can pony up half a billion dollars to bring Ohtani to the Bay. But hey, they’ve had plenty of time to fundraise.
After tremendously underperforming in 2023, all reports indicate that the Padres will be cutting payroll in 2024. That means that Snell, Hader, Lugo, and others are likely gone for good. It also means that the free-wheeling, high-rolling Padres we’ve become accustomed to will not be stepping to the free agency table this winter. It’s a shame, but when you finish in fourth place, that’s what happens. If I’m A.J. Preller, I’m getting ahead of this by signing a low-end rotation piece early in the offseason so fans know what to expect. Martinez is an internal option who has shown promise and could shine with expanded opportunity next year, assuming they can bring him back on a reasonable two-year deal.
I want to see this man hit 60 homers. You want to see this man hit 60 homers. The Rockies want to see this man hit 60 homers for them, instead of against them, for a change. What else is there to say?