MLB Free Agency Primer: Top 10, rewind to '22 spending, '24 option club

League: MLB

Posted on: 02 Nov, 2023 at 05:37 PM

Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While the Rangers celebrate the franchise's first World Series victory, the rest of baseball is analyzing the big-spending approach that helped Texas wrangle the rings.

Major League Baseball free agency begins Nov. 7 and the crown jewel of the offseason is Shohei Ohtani. He'll be coveted by teams with deep pockets, with a historic payday exceeding $500 million projected.

There's a less familiar ace rising up free agent lists in Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a 25-year-old strikeout starter who throws in the mid-90s with a filthy splitter.

Here are the top 10 players available in free agency:

1. RHP-DH Shohei Ohtani, Angels
If there was ever a time for an owner to consider overpaying a player on the open market ... billionaires, start your engines. Perhaps the most marketable athlete not directly connected to Taylor Swift, Ohtani strolls into free agency with the kind of blank check chutzpah last seen when LeBron James took his talents to South Beach. Elbow surgery means Ohtani won't showcase his two-way skills right away -- he's not planning to pitch until 2025 -- but a seven- or eight-year contract should allow any team willing to drop the half a billion to sign him to a wide enough window to recoup some of the accounts payable losses. Ohtani, 29, wants to win, which might win out if the ever-present wildcard bidder emerges.

2. RHP Aaron Nola, Phillies
Nola, 30, reportedly asked for more than $200 million over eight seasons before the 2023 season and team president Dave Dombrowski shook him off. Nola topped 200 strikeouts for the fifth time but his ERA ballooned to 4.46. If the Phillies blink or compromise to satisfy Nola's desire for more years, he'll stay. If not, a dozen teams are knocking, starting with the Dodgers, Cardinals and Mets.

3. LHP Blake Snell, Padres
Dominant in 2023, Snell makes sense for so many teams that he could wind up with an even bigger contract than expected. He'll likely be a two-time Cy Young winner if he claims, as expected, the 2023 NL Cy Young Award to pair with his 2018 AL model. Opponents hit just .181 against him but he wasn't perfect, leading the National League in walks. He also started the season 1-6 in his first nine starts. Snell bailed himself out more often than not with a whiff rate over 36 percent and had a historic strand rate of 85 percent. He'll be 31 in December, meaning a deal longer than four or five years might be difficult for an owner to digest.

4. RHP Lucas Giolito, Guardians
Three teams in three months appeared to run Giolito ragged. Traded by the White Sox at the deadline, Giolito wound up with an ERA of 4.88 in 33 total starts with Chicago, the Angels and Guardians. A bounceback season isn't out of the question for the 29-year-old, and graduating to a ballpark with better dimensions than the South Side bandbox he called home with the White Sox would only help his case.

5. OF-1B Cody Bellinger, Cubs
The former National League MVP with the Dodgers rebounded with the Cubs in 2023, hitting over .300 for the first time since his 47-homer, 115-RBI season in 2019. In 130 games, his 26 homers nearly topped his combined total from 2021 and 2022 with L.A. Bellinger's position flexibility, lefty stick and run production put him on multiple shopping lists.

6. 3B Matt Chapman, Blue Jays
Despite Gold Glove-level defense and at least 50 extra-base hits in four of his past six seasons, Chapman doesn't touch the must-have level of elite free agents. That doesn't mean he wouldn't be an above-average addition to most teams based on his consistency and durability. At age 30, he's probably past his ceiling, and his best fit is likely staying put with the Jays.

7. RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Orix Buffaloes
He's dominant and not yet to his physical prime as a two-time Pacific League MVP and three-time Japanese Triple Crown winner. Yamamoto's price point likely starts north of the record for a Japanese pitcher, the $155 million given to Masahiro Tanaka by the New York Yankees before he debuted in 2014.

8. LHP Josh Hader, Padres
The Yankees and Dodgers could be in on Hader, who posted 33 saves with a 1.28 ERA and allowed only 32 hits in 2023. He could threaten the record reliever contract established a year ago when Edwin Diaz and the Mets knocked out a five-year, $102 million deal. Hader ranks first among relievers with a 2.50 ERA and 15 strikeouts per nine innings since entering the majors in 2017.

9. SS Tim Anderson, White Sox
The White Sox are almost certain to decline the $14 million team option on Anderson unless they agree he'll play second base for a season. He could embrace a fresh start if the White Sox decide to pay his $1 million buyout instead. Anderson hit .245 last season and there were no strong bites when the White Sox floated him at the trade deadline. At 30, a move to second base would likely make Anderson more intriguing and stands as his best path to a bounceback season.

10. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, Tigers
He's 29 games over .500 as a starter (82-53) and went 13-9 with the Tigers last season, posting an ERA of 3.30 in 26 starts. A one-time 19-game winner with the Red Sox (2019), Rodriguez would interest Boston, the Dodgers -- who attempted to acquire him at the 2023 deadline -- and most contenders because of his consistency. He appeared in at least 25 games five times in the past six seasons.

--Mirror view: Top contracts in 2022 free agency

1. Aaron Judge, OF, Yankees: Signed nine-year, $360 million contract Dec. 22, 2022.
2. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Padres: Signed 11-year, $280 million contract Dec. 9, 2022.
3. Trea Turner, SS, Phillies: Signed 11-year, $300 million contract Dec. 8, 2022.
4. Carlos Correa, SS, Twins: Signed six-year, $200 million contract Jan. 10. 2023 (previous agreements with Giants, Mets were not finalized)
5. Jacob deGrom, SP, Rangers: Signed five-year, $185 million contract Dec. 2, 2022.
6. Dansby Swanson, SS, Cubs: Signed seven-year, $177 million contract Dec. 21, 2022.
7. Carlos Rodon, SP, Yankees: Signed six-year, $162 million contract Dec. 22, 2022.
8. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets: Signed eight-year, $162 million contract Nov. 7, 2022.
9. Edwin Diaz, RP, Mets: Signed five-year, $102 million contract Nov. 9, 2022.
10. Justin Verlander, SP, Mets: Signed two-year, $87.5 million contract Dec. 7, 2022.

--Option Club

The following players have contracts featuring one-way options -- either for the player or the team to accept or decline -- for the 2024 season.

If the team picks up the "club option," they will pay the assigned value for 2024. If the team declines the option, the player becomes a free agent.

If a player executes the "player option," the same rules apply.

1. Joey Votto, 1B, Reds: $20 million club option.
2. Kyle Hendricks, SP, Cubs: $16 million club option.
3. Max Muncy, 1B, Dodgers: $14 million club option.
4. Liam Hendricks, RP, White Sox: $15 million club option.
5. Charlie Morton, SP, Braves: $20 million club option.
6. Marcus Stroman, SP, Cubs: $21 million player option.
7. Lance Lynn, SP, Dodgers: $18 million club option.
8. Michael Conforto, OF, Giants: $18 million player option.
9. Jose Leclerc, RP, Rangers: $6.3 million club option.
10. Jorge Soler, OF, Marlins: $9 million player option.

--Field Level Media