It might not be the deepest free agent class in recent memory, but this offseason is certainly going to be rife with 2023 MLB free agency predictions. Shohei Ohtani, Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger are the headline names hitting the open market, with each set to command mega, long-term deals.
Predictions for 2023-24 MLB free agency
The list of the biggest deals in free agency history will be rejigged once again. The shape of the offseason could be shifted by some big trades, too, with some teams potentially retooling and others looking to get their payroll under control.
So, before the stove heats up, we’ve gone on record with some of our biggest predictions for this winter’s free-agent class, including contract projections and landing spots.
Snell signs $150+ million deal away from San Diego
San Diego had a disappointing 2023 season. Their star-studded roster did not even deliver a postseason berth, there were locker room issues, and manager Bob Melvin has swapped south California for The Bay.
One positive was Blake Snell, who is poised to win his second Cy Young award. The Padres appear committed to cutting their payroll to around the $200 million mark, however, which leaves no room for Snell and fellow Padres free-agent-to-be, Josh Hader. Owner Peter Seidler looks to be bringing an end to the money-is-no-object era at Petco Park.
The Diamondbacks, Tigers and Orioles are all potential fits for Snell.
Phillies commit six-plus years to Bellinger
The Phillies have the highest 26-man payroll for 2024 according to Spotrac. After a World Series appearance and an NLCS Game Seven loss in the last two years, though, the Phils are bound to be willing to spend this winter, particularly with Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins hitting free agency.
Sure, Hoskins didn’t play this year anyway, but do the Phillies really view Bryce Harper as a first baseman long-term? If not, Cody Bellinger is a great fit. If they do see Harper at first, Bellinger is a high-upside option in center field.
The lefty altered his approach this season to prioritize contact over power. It worked in a big way. Whether he can replicate his 2023 results is unknown, but the plus-defense in center with an OPS over .800 is worth a big contract for a contender like Philadelphia.
Yamamoto receives over $200 million guaranteed
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is expected to shatter Masahiro Tanaka’s record $155 million contract. A two-time MVP and three-time Triple Crown winner in Japan, Yamamoto is just 25 years old. He’s got four plus to elite pitches, which are joined by great command.
Pitchers have generally adapted well from the Pacific League to MLB. There is little to suggest Yamamoto will be an exception, particularly after his video-game-esque 1.21 ERA in 2023.
Both New York teams and San Francisco are in the mix for the Bizen native. The Dodgers, Cubs and others will surely be involved, too.
Chapman is made to wait into 2024
We know Scott Boras will wait if teams don’t offer the right deal. Matt Chapman is a Boras client, and enters free agency after posting just a .633 OPS in the second half after a scorching start. His production at the plate fluctuates massively throughout a season, and he’s been little better than league average at the dish over the last three seasons.
The defense is still great, but he dropped off slightly in 2023. Teams will be paying for the glove, and that has to be a concern.
Lots of teams are set at third base in 2024 and beyond. The market for Chapman might not what Boras hopes if he demands a $100+ million contract.
Cardinals commit over $70 million to Gray
Sonny Gray is turning 34 this winter, which will suppress his market to an extent. He’s coming off another strong season, however, and he’s got a better ERA+ since 2019 than Luis Castillo, Zac Gallen, Zack Wheeler.
The veteran has been a steady, above-average arm for half a decade now. The swing-and-miss is still there. There are no signs of his fastball velocity dropping.
A raft of teams can talk themselves into Gray. His age will mean it’s probably no more than three years, but the AAV should be in the mid-to-high twenties. The Cardinals are a perfect landing spot after finishing in the bottom three in wins above average from their starting pitchers in 2023, plus they’re no strangers to veteran starters.
Hoskins takes one-year deal on rebuilding team
First basemen in their thirties aren’t in high demand. Rhys Hoskins is also coming off a season-long injury, and he was only 75th percentile in xwOBA in 2022 with some of the worst defense in the league.
Do the Phillies bother giving Hoskins the qualifying offer with the size of their payroll?
He would surely take it if he was offered it. Instead, we’re backing Hoskins to enter free agency and find that interest in multi-year deals is limited. Cody Bellinger and Aroldis Chapman are just two examples of prove-it deals taken last winter, and Hoskins looks well-suited to do the same.
After ranking in the top 10% of hitters by xwOBA as recently as 2021, don’t be surprised to see a big year from Hoskins in 2023. If he’s on a team that’s out of it, he could be on the move again before the deadline.
Giants land Jung Hoo Lee
The Giants are pursuing a ‘pure center fielder’ this winter. While there is some skepticism about position players from the KBO, Jung Hoo Lee looks to be the premier center fielder on the market, unless Farhan Zaidi plans on swinging a big trade or signing Kevin Kiermaier.
Lee has a .340 batting average in over 800 KBO games. His strikeout totals are remarkably low for the modern game. The negatives are a lack of power and a broken ankle which kept him to 86 games in 2023.
Lee isn’t a fit for every team. Some will steer clear because of the limited power potential. San Francisco is expected to be active this offseason, and Lee makes plenty of sense on a multi-year deal.
Hader surpasses Diaz deal
Last offseason, Edwin Diaz received the largest contract for a relief pitcher in MLB history. Diaz’s deal came to $102 million over five years. In a weak free-agent class, Josh Hader has a great shot at surpassing Diaz’s total dollars.
Plenty of bullpen-needy teams have money to spend. Hader is debatably the best reliever in the sport, and he doesn’t turn 30 until April next year.
After a down year in 2022, Hader was exceptional in 2023, setting him up for a big pay day. It could be a bidding war for the left-hander, who has already amassed 165 career saves.
Nola & Rodriguez receive over $100 million
Aaron Nola and Eduardo Rodriguez will both be eyeing deals similar to what Robbie Ray and Kevin Gausman landed. Ray and Gausman penned $115 million and $110 million contracts respectively (both over five years), and there is a deeper track record of success with Nola and Rodriguez.
Yes, Ray was coming off a Cy Young year, but his career had been very up and down before then. Gausman had looked dominant as a Giant, but his walk year was also his first truly elite campaign.
Nola has a much stronger resume than both. His underlying metrics suggest he has been very unfortunate over the last three seasons, and front offices will be intrigued by what he can produce with a better defense behind him. Rodriguez returned to his best in 2023, upping his fastball velocity, and reminding everyone he’s an above-average starter.
It’s possible Nola and Rodriguez’s contracts combine for $300 million, with Nola getting the longer, more lucrative deal.
Ohtani signs contract with multiple opt outs
Unable to pitch in 2024, Shohei Ohtani is still in line for a record-breaking contract. No one would be surprised if it was over half a billion dollars in total commitment.
The elbow injury which shortened his 2023 campaign certainly complicated his free agency, however. Teams have no idea how many innings they will get out of Ohtani over the lifetime of the contract. There is a chance he is no longer a two-way player, meaning teams would have to settle for a guy who led the league in OPS+ and hit 44 bombs in 135 games.
There is downside to Ohtani the hitter, though. If he’s not pitching, the .875 OPS from 2022 is great, but it’s not worth $50 million per year. Then there’s the question of his defense – how durable is he playing the outfield 150 times each season? Or is he a pure DH?
It makes sense for Ohtani to work multiple opt outs into his contract to give him the chance to re-enter the market if he can have another dominant two-way season. He might still have the headline-making, record-breaking deal, but it could allow him to walk at the end of 2025 or 2026 in pursuit of an even bigger number.