25. OF Michael Conforto
Former Met Michael Conforto waited an entire calendar year for the right opportunity. For the most part, sitting out ’22 ended up being a wise move for the Seattle native. Conforto was able to rest and recover, and eventually land with a team that could best deploy him for a chance to succeed. He’s tailed off a bit for the Giants in the summer months, but had a strong May which featured a .289/.371/.544 slash-line along with seven homers. Teams would be wise to bet on his power from the left-side of the plate. A team like the Guardians — who have been notoriously bad against right-handed pitching — would be wise to make a move.
Prediction: Conforto signs with the Cleveland Guardians
24. OF/DH Joc Pederson
Pederson hasn’t shown as much pop as he did in Year 1 with the Giants (when he posted a .521 SLG), but there’s no doubting the power in his bat. The two-time All-Star has some of the best raw power out of any left-handed hitter in baseball. And, that kind of power plays in every stadium. He’s never been much of a defender — and is hardly an answer at first despite appearing in 23 games there. But, he’s seriously valuable as a strong-side DH and can hold his own in either corner of the outfield. The Giants likely have to move on from their veterans sooner than later, opening the door for Pederson to join a power-starved team like the Mariners.
Prediction: Pederson signs with the Seattle Mariners
23. RP Aroldis Chapman
After a down couple of years, it looked like Aroldis Chapman was just about finished being positioned in a high-leverage role. Chapman was disastrous in ’22, sporting a career-high 4.46 ERA and 1.431 WHIP. He certainly cleaned some stuff up this offseason, as he’s looked like one of the best relievers in baseball this year. Chapman chipped in for a lousy Royals team through the first-half of the season, but was traded to a contending Rangers squad and starred for his new club. His velocity is still top notch, and he’s striking batters out at a league-high rate. While the Rangers would love to retain him, how about a return to Cincinnati — the team he first pitched for from 2010-15. A combo of Chapman and saves leader Alexis Diaz would be a dynamic duo.
Prediction: Chapman signs with the Cincinnati Reds
22. OF Harrison Bader
With Harrison Bader, you’re getting one of the very best defensive center fielders in baseball. While his bat hasn’t exactly developed into what teams originally hoped, Bader’s speed and range make him a valuable piece to any team. Though the Cardinals likely still got the better of the trade that sent Bader to New York in exchange for LHP Jordan Montgomery, that isn’t to say Bader hasn’t been a useful player for the Yanks. And, the 29-year-old has a bit of pop in his bat (16 HR over 103 games in ’21). The defending champions don’t have many holes, but Bader would provide a huge defensively and on the basepaths.
Prediction: Bader signs with the Houston Astros
21. 2B/OF Whit Merrifield
The Blue Jays bought Whit Merrifield at his absolute lowest, and have reaped the benefits. The former Royal made his third All-Star appearance in ’23 and has been one of Toronto’s steadiest hitters throughout the year. It’s easy to forget that Merrifield was in the midst of a career-worst season when Toronto traded for him prior to last year’s deadline. It seems like he’s assimilated perfectly, and helps fill in all the gaps around Toronto’s big name stars. They’d be foolish to let him go, and the soon-to-be 35-year-old likely doesn’t have many more stops left in him.
Prediction: Merrifield re-signs with the Toronto Blue Jays
20. OF Jung-Hoo Lee
Korean import Jung-Hoo Lee is expected to make the leap over to MLB next season. The reigning KBO MVP is a strong center fielder with an excellent hit tool. While players coming from the KBO sometimes take a while to get acclimated, Lee has an extraordinary pedigree and is still getting better at just 25 years old. Among teams reportedly scouting Lee are the Red Sox, Cardinals and Giants. Lee is an ideal fit in San Francisco. The Giants love their left-handed bats, and Lee is a contact hitter with the ability to draw walks. Also, the Giants could really use Lee’s speed and arm in Oracle Park’s enormous outfield.
Prediction: Lee signs with the Giants
19. OF Teoscar Hernandez
Year 1 with the Mariners didn’t go as expected for Teoscar Hernandez. As a power-speed threat, Hernandez was expected to be a big contributor for a team on the rise. That hasn’t exactly panned out, as the former Blue Jay has posted career-low numbers across the board. Perhaps another change of scenery is in order. After all, Hernandez is a two-time All-Star and former Silver Slugger. The Marlins did well at the deadline adding power, but a player like Hernandez could really take them over the top in that category. Even in a down season, he’s still a near 30-HR hitter with good wheels.
Prediction: Hernandez signs with the Marlins
18. OF/DH Jorge Soler
You could have gotten 1000-to-1 odds back in 2016 on Jorge Soler being the most successful player from the World Series champion Chicago Cubs. He’s certainly looked a lot better than most of his former teammates — Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez — in 2023. Outside of Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, there might not be anybody in the league who hits the ball consistently harder than Soler (just ask anybody that pitched for the Houston Astros during the 2021 World Series). He can run hot and cold and his defense is abominable which will ultimately limit his earning value. But, teams will always pay a premium for legit power. The Brewers need as much thump as they can get. Adding Soler would be a boon.
Prediction: Soler signs with the Brewers
17. SP Jack Flaherty
The surging Orioles took a chance on Flaherty, acquiring him from a tanking Cardinals squad. He looked good early on, but tailed off towards the end of the year. Flaherty was eventually moved to the pen, and that’s where he made his lone appearance in the postseason for the O’s — 2.0 IP, 1 ER. Flaherty has good stuff, and has been a star in this league, but it seems like those days are over. Baltimore did trade a sizable haul to acquire him, so we’d be surprised if they didn’t give him another chance in their system.
Prediction: Flaherty re-signs with the Baltimore Orioles
16. OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will finally hit free agency after the team-friendly deal he signed all the way back in 2016 is set to expire following this season. Coming out of Cuba, Gurriel Jr. — whose brother, Yuleski, was already in the league — signed a seven-year deal with the Blue Jays for just $22 million. Gurriel Jr. will get paid this offseason. It’s just not clear if the Diamondbacks will be signing those checks.
With Gurriel Jr. riding a hot postseason, plenty of teams will be interested in acquiring his services. The White Sox desperately need bats in their lineup after yet another disappointing season. Gurriel Jr. is a proven contributor who would instantly slot in at the top of Chicago’s lineup.
Prediction: Gurriel Jr. signs with the Chicago White Sox
15. SP Eduardo Rodriguez
Eduardo Rodriguez seemed to be LA-bound prior to the deadline. The Tigers and Dodgers seemingly came to an agreement, only for Rodriguez and his agent to pull the plug. It came as a bit of a surprise considering he’d be moving to a perennial playoff contender with World Series aspirations. However, Rodriguez cited staying close to family on the East Coast as a reason he nixed the potential trade. With that in mind, Rodriguez is unlikely to move to any team west of Michigan. He’s playing his best ball at 30 years old, and is probably still open to joining a contender if the location is right. The Rays — who will likely be without ace Shane McClanahan for all of next season — would be wise to strike a deal.
Prediction: Rodriguez signs with the Tampa Bay Rays
Update: Rodriguez signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks
14. SP Lucas Giolito
The Angels went all in at the trade deadline, acquiring Giolito, C.J. Cron, Randal Grichuk, and Reynaldo Lopez. Staring at a fourth-place finish, it seems like their decision didn’t exactly pan out as intended. Giolito struggled mightily after joining the team, which is especially shocking after he looked good with the White Sox through the first half of the year. The Angels shockingly waived Giolito after just five appearances, and he was quickly scooped up by the Guardians. He didn’t fare much better in Cleveland (7.04 ERA over 6 starts), but he did have an impressive 12-strikeout game against the AL Champion Texas Rangers. That outing plus his pedigree might be enough for Giolito to stick around in Ohio for 2024.
Prediction: Giolito signs with the Cleveland Guardians
13. SP Jordan Montgomery
It was a busy deadline for the Rangers, who executed a pair of deals for two arms. One of those pitchers, Max Scherzer, is set to be on the team through the 2024 season (with the Mets forking over a majority of the bill). The other is former Cardinal Jordan Montgomery who has developed into a steady arm over the last several years. Montgomery’s contribution during Texas’ historic playoff run cannot be understated. He emerged as a true ace for the club, and an invaluable piece to the rotation. No chance the World Series champions let him walk.
Prediction: Montgomery re-signs with the Texas Rangers
12. DH J.D. Martinez
Anybody who has been following baseball for the last half-decade could have guessed that J.D. Martinez would flourish in the Dodgers system. The pairing was a match-made in Heaven. Martinez has always been a student of the game, and Los Angeles’ infrastructure has a knack for highlighting a player’s strengths and ironing out any weaknesses. There should be some mutual interest in bringing Martinez back for a second year in LA, but we’re guessing the Dodgers get outbid in this one. The Diamondbacks — Martinez’ former team — used ten different DH’s this year, and could use a stabilizing force in that spot.
Prediction: Martinez signs with the Arizona Diamondbacks
11. SP Sonny Gray
Gray doesn’t receive the same notoriety as some of his peers, but perhaps he should be considered on the same level as the top pitchers on market. The three-time All-Star just finished a stellar season with the Twins. And, this isn’t a one-year wonder for Gray. Since 2019, Gray has the 12th-best ERA among starters with at least 500 IP (the names ahead of him include perennial All-Stars like Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole). Gray could greatly help any team at the top of its staff. What team needs pitching more than the Cardinals? St. Louis desperately needs to retool its pitching staff, and grabbing Gray would be a major step forward to doing so.
Prediction: Gray signs with the St. Louis Cardinals
Update: Gray signed with the St. Louis Cardinals
10. RP Yuki Matsui
Japan’s best reliever is closer to making the jump to MLB. Yuki Matsui is a left-hander pitcher who has dominated NPB for the last 10 years. In 59 appearances last year, Matsui logged a 1.57 ERA and struck out near 33-percent of all batters he faced. The diminutive hurler (5-foot-8, 167 pounds) has made his intentions of joining MLB known, and several teams have already scouted him. Those clubs include the Yankees, Cubs and Padres, but only one team has officially made an offer. That would be the St. Louis Cardinals who seem particularly interested in adding additional firepower to a bullpen which already includes Ryan Helsley and Giovanny Gallegos. Matsui’s relationship with Cardinals outfielder and World Baseball Classic teammate Lars Nootbaar is also said to be a crucial factor in negotiations.
Prediction: Matsui signs with the St. Louis Cardinals
9. SP Marcus Stroman
Injuries derailed what could have been a Cy Young campaign for Chicago’s Stroman. The 32-year-old starter was on his way to the best season of his career, but struggled down the stretch with inconsistent play and injuries. It’s a rough break for him considering his impending free agency. The Cubs opted not to trade him at the deadline, allowing him to test free agency this winter. Stroman has been steady since leaving Toronto, ranking 14th in ERA (at least 500 IP) since 2019 — right behind two former Cy Young winners in Sandy Alcantara and Corbin Burnes. Teams that need pitching include the Orioles, Reds, Giants, among others. The Angels are desperate — and could have plenty of funds available if a certain MVP signs elsewhere.
Prediction: Stroman signs with the Los Angeles Angels
8. SP Clayton Kershaw
There have been rumblings for the past few years about Clayton Kershaw possibly moving on to play for a different team. The Rangers have been cited as a potential landing spot for the future Hall of Famer who is a native Texan. Seeing Kershaw don a new uniform would be an unwieldy sight for Dodger fans. That being said, it doesn’t seem likely Kershaw and the Dodgers move on. He remains one of the game’s top pitchers (2.38 ERA over the past two seasons) during the regular season, but the playoff have been an entirely different story. Kershaw is coming off his worst postseason showing yet, and will want to makeup for that disastrous outing against the Diamondbacks in the NLDS. Kershaw stays in LA for at least one more year.
Prediction: Kershaw re-signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers
7. 3B Matt Chapman
Back in April, it seemed like Matt Chapman was ready to break out as an MVP candidate for the Blue Jays. The skills have always been prevalent. He’s one of the game’s best defenders, and certainly has more than enough ability at the plate. His offense took a dip over the course of the season, but Chapman remains a talented all-around player who can contribute in a number of ways. The Yankees need to make a splash after a disastrous year. Replacing one former Oakland A’s third baseman (Josh Donaldson) with another would be a strong statement by Brian Cashman and company.
Prediction: Chapman signs with the New York Yankees
6. SP Blake Snell
What a season it was for Blake Snell. The 2019 AL Cy Young could be adding some more hardware to his trophy case soon. The unorthodox lefty was San Diego’s best starter — and that’s saying a lot for a team that employs two gifted arms in Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove. Snell’s weaknesses are well-documented — he still walks far too many batters — but he’s been able to navigate through several jams while posting a league best 2.25 ERA. The Mets have been adamant that they won’t be spending this offseason, but we’re unsure of that claim. New York’s pitching staff has been ravaged following the trades of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. We’re talking about a marquee club without a legit No. 1 option (depending on how you view Kodai Senga moving forward). Snell could lead that rotation as the Mets try to recover from a disastrous 2023.
Prediction: Snell signs with the New York Mets
5. RP Josh Hader
No offense in the league is happy to see Josh Hader trotting out of the bullpen. The lefty’s wild delivery gives every hitter he faces fits, and he’s been just as dominant making the move from Milwaukee to San Diego. Padres GM A.J. Preller reportedly coveted Hader for years prior to acquiring him at the 2022 deadline. Hader is as shutdown of a closer as there is in today’s league, and the Padres can ill-afford to let him walk. San Diego locks up the league’s best left-handed reliever.
Prediction: Hader re-signs with the San Diego Padres
4. SP Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Yoshinobu Yamamoto is projected to be the next great pitcher hailing from Japan. The NPB superstar’s bidding war will be immense. He’s still just 24 years old, and has already collected two league MVP’s. His 1.79 career ERA (over a hefty 918 innings) is almost unfathomable. He possesses a fastball that sits in the mid 90s (tops at 99 MPH), but it’s his deceptive splitter that has consistently given batters issues. The Cardinals and Mets are two teams that are reportedly in on him, but we have another team ultimately getting a deal done. The Red Sox direly need to make a big move to appease their fan base. The product has been especially middling since trading away Mookie Betts back in 2020. Signing a high-profile player like Yamamoto would instill some hope in the Boston faithful.
Prediction: Yamamoto signs with the Boston Red Sox
3. OF Cody Bellinger
Coming off a tremendous year, Cody Bellinger could end up singing the second-richest deal among all free agents in 2023. Bellinger caught fire in his first year with the Cubs, putting up numbers akin to his 2019 MVP season while providing his usual excellent defense in center field. The Cubs took a chance on the 27-year-old last offseason, and it has paid dividends. Opting not to trade him at the deadline — even though it may have been shrewd to do so — leads us to believe there may be an extension already in the works. If they want to lock him up long-term, the Cubbies may have to shell out upwards of $200 million for the lefty slugger. The Cubs have the funds (and the motivation) to get such a deal done.
Prediction: Bellinger re-signs with the Chicago Cubs
2. SP Aaron Nola
Philadelphia’s Aaron Nola ranks as the top arm on the board. The Phillies’ ace has three top-7 Cy Young finishes, and has some of the best stuff in either league. Nola has seemingly fixed any control issues that plagued him earlier in his career, having led the league in strikeout-to-walk ratio in ’22 (8.10 SO/W). Just about every team in the league could vie for his services, including the Phillies. However, it might become difficult for Philadelphia to retain its ace after shelling out a massive deal to Trea Turner last offseason. In their place, the Giants could be a team that emerges as a suitor. San Francisco has tried shelling out massive deals to free agents in the past to no avail. Inking Nola to a deal would signal big changes in the Bay Area.
Prediction: Nola signs with the San Francisco Giants
Update: Nola re-signs with the Philadelphia Phillies
1. SP/DH Shohei Ohtani
Shohei Ohtani is perhaps the greatest free agent in MLB history. The two-way superstar has dominated baseball over the last three seasons, and is arguably the game’s most talented player since Barry Bonds. Of course, every team in the league would be in on Ohtani if all things were equal. But, we are talking about potentially the largest contract in league history. Though, a few dollars could be taken off the top knowing that Ohtani will not pitch in 2024 following elbow surgery. He will only be used as a hitter next season.
Still, only a few franchises are capable of paying that tab. The Angels will try to convince him to return, but if Ohtani is serious about playing playoff baseball he’ll take the trip up the 405 freeway to Chavez Ravine. It’s essentially the worst kept secret in the league — Ohtani will be a Dodger.
Prediction: Ohtani signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers
Update: Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers for 10-years/$700 million