TSN's Top 50 MLB Free Agents of 2023
For the sixth year in a row, TSN MLB insider Steve Phillips and TSN Blue Jays reporter Scott Mitchell have combined efforts to evaluate and rank the top 50 names available in free agency.
In addition to the consensus top 50 list, Phillips and Mitchell provide their own individual rankings, contract predictions, potential landing spots, key stats, and a Blue Jays-centric take on the top 20 players in the free agent class.
1. SP/DH Shohei Ohtani, LAA, age-29
Shohei Ohtani Los Angeles Angels
2023 Stats: .304 BA, 44 HR, 95 RBI, 1.066 OPS, 6.6 batter/2.4 pitcher fWAR,
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Ohtani is such an intriguing free agent considering what he is when healthy: a top-10 hitter and pitcher. He had elbow surgery on Sept. 20 and won’t be able to pitch at all in 2024, but he will likely be able to DH on opening day. If not for the injury, he would likely have commanded the largest contract in the history of baseball. There were thoughts that he could be the first $500-million player. He is just 29, but it is unclear how clubs will look at Ohtani the pitcher now. The Angels used a six-man rotation to protect his arm, and even that was not enough to keep him healthy. It seems unlikely he will be able to maintain a high level of performance as a pitcher for the next 10 years. With all of this uncertainty, negotiating a contract will be difficult. I expect any deal he signs to have opt-out clauses so that once he proves he is fully recovered as a pitcher, he can benefit from the full value of his two-way status. Very few teams will be able to afford him. I believe the suitors will be the New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves, Seattle Mariners, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers. I can’t imagine the Blue Jays playing on Ohtani at this price point.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I believe he signs with the Dodgers for a 10-year deal for $400 million with bonuses that could take the deal to $550 million and opt-outs after the 2024 and 2025 seasons.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: What do ya say here? He’s the best baseball player I’ve ever seen in so many ways and he’s in his athletic prime. Yes, it’s unfortunate that Ohtani’s elbow gave out again and it’ll limit him to DH duties in 2024, but we’ve seen what this superhuman can do on a baseball field and now we’re going to find out how much that’s worth to owners around the sport. The multicultural melting pot that is Toronto gives Jays fans hope anytime an international free agent is on the market, even if Ohtani’s preference — and that of many Asian players before him — is likely to stay on the West Coast. Lately rumours have swirled he’s open to some East Coast markets, but that’s likely just in an effort to open up the market leverage-wise. Some team is going to hand out a record-setting contract and it’s hard to argue Ohtani won’t be worth every penny considering what he can contribute – even with a major elbow injury. Until he officially signs, every fan base will dream.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: By wRC+, Ohtani was the best hitter in baseball by a wide margin in 2023 with a 180 mark, well ahead of Ronald Acuna Jr.’s 170 and Corey Seager’s 169. Crushing MLB pitching to the tune of 80 per cent better than league average isn’t bad at all.
2. SP Yoshinobu Yamamoto, NPB, age-25
Yoshinobu Yamamoto Japan
2023 Stats (Japan): 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 171.0 IP, 176 SO
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Yamamoto is one of the best pitchers ever in Japan. He won the pitching triple crown (ERA, strikeouts, wins) three straight years, as well as the Japanese baseball version of the Cy Young Award, the Sawamura Award, in each of the past three seasons. He will be posted by his team in Japan, the Orix Buffaloes, which means that in addition to the contract that a team commits to him, they will also owe Orix a posting fee. The biggest contract ever given to a Japanese pitcher is seven years and $155 million from the New York Yankees to Masahiro Tanaka. Yamamoto will break that standard and then some. He is just 25, so a seven- or eight-year deal is not out of the question.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I believe the New York Mets cleared Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer off the books for a pitcher like this. He will get an eight-year deal for $220 million, which adds a nearly $35 million posting fee. Mets owner Steve Cohen can afford the contract and the lump-sum payment of the posting fee.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: This is where the top 50 list gets fun for those who love starting pitching. It’s been clear for a very long time that the strength of this free agent class was going to be the high-end starting pitching, and Yamamoto’s inclusion is the cherry on top of the Aaron Nolas and Blake Snells that follow. Yamamoto has everything you could want — there’s upside and the potential for longevity as Yamamoto heads into his age-25 campaign, and the results are already there as he’s posted a 1.21 ERA for the Orix Buffaloes this season. The statistical comps are screaming Yu Darvish at this point, but for me there are some serious Masahiro Tanaka vibes. He was immediately an all-star when he arrived in 2014 as a 25-year-old rookie, and Yamamoto could do the same. Every single contender is going to be hot and heavy in pursuit, so there’s a chance he approaches $200 million when all is said and done. It’s hard to envision the Jays winning this bidding war.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Yamamoto comes with a unique arsenal that’s elite in every which way, featuring a mid-to-upper-90s fastball, a whiffy 90-mph splitter, and a sensational 12-to-6 curveball dubbed his “yo-yo” curve.
3. OF Cody Bellinger, CHC, age-28
Cody Bellinger Chicago Cubs
2023 Stats: .307 BA, 26 HR, 97 RBI, .881 OPS, 4.1 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Bellinger and the Chicago Cubs both got what they wanted from their one-year deal last season. I am sure the Cubs wish they had been able to carve in an option or two on the deal considering how well Bellinger performed. He was able to resurrect his career and return to an elite level. He is a Gold Glove-calibre defender in centre field and at first base. He will be highly coveted for his offensive production, defensive prowess and versatility. The Cubs will certainly want to bring him back, but there will be plenty of competition. I expect the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Guardians, Tigers, Brewers, Mets, Reds, Giants, and Mariners.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: The Giants are looking for a star and will pursue Ohtani. But when he signs with the Dodgers, San Francisco will pivot to Bellinger. He will sign an eight-year deal for $200 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: Bellinger bet on himself last winter after the Dodgers gave up and non-tendered the former NL MVP, and the bet cashed. Despite playing only 130 games, Bellinger racked up 4.1 fWAR, stole 20 bases, and pumped 26 home runs – his most in a single season since he hit 47 in that aforementioned MVP year way back in 2019. This is what every free agent dreams of doing in his platform season, a la Marcus Semien, and it helped the Chicago Cubs surprisingly stay in contention in the NL Central all summer. The Jays took a run at the left-handed hitter last winter as a buy-low option and the fit is a fairly obvious one again, especially with Bellinger’s ability to shift back and forth from centre field to first base. With his outfield defensive metrics on the decline and Daulton Varsho ready to take over centre on a full-time basis, Bellinger could fit nicely as a left field/first base option for the Jays, where his lefty bat would tuck in nicely between all the righties atop manager John Schneider’s order. The difference between last winter and this off-season, however, is the type of term Bellinger will be looking for as the clear top bat on the market. The Jays have the money to make it work, but this would be a significant investment with a whole lot of risk attached.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Bellinger’s plus-4 Outs Above Average mark placed him 22nd amongst centre fielders, while his minus-3 Defensive Runs Saved output placed him 63rd. By comparison, both Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho saved 18 runs apiece in centre last season.
4. Blake Snell, SD, age-31
2023 Stats: 2.25 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 180.0 IP, 234 SO, 4.1 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Snell earned his second Cy Young Award this season. He was a shining star in what was a disappointing season in San Diego. He is a swing-and-miss pitcher in a swing-and-miss era of baseball. His biggest wart is a tendency to walk too many hitters. He has the ability to leave runners on base because he does get strikeouts, but he does have too many runners on base. The other weakness that keeps him from being a true ace is his inability to go deep in games. He throws a lot of pitches and is therefore somewhat inefficient. He is an emotional guy and would be better served in a small to mid-sized market. He is just 30 years old and is looking for his first big payday. There will be plenty of team interested in Snell.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I expect the San Francisco Giants to sign him with former Padres manager Bob Melvin as their new manager endorsing Snell. He will get a six-year deal for $174 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: He walks way too many batters but offsets it by limiting damage and not giving up many hits or homers, and it led to a terrific 2.25 ERA this season for the disappointing Padres. After four seasons of frustrating inconsistency, Snell finally put it all together again like he did during his 2018 Cy Young season. His market will be an interesting one to monitor, simply because of that inconsistency and his peripherals not matching up with that sparkling ERA. It’s hard to find guys with the ability to strike out 224 across 180 frames like Snell just did, however, so there’s a nine-figure contract waiting for him this winter.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Snell led MLB starters with 99 walks across 32 starts, but his 5.8 hits allowed per nine innings also led baseball.
5. SIGNED (Phillies) SP Aaron Nola, age-31
Aaron Nola Philadelphia Phillies
Contract: Philadelphia Phillies - seven years, $172 million
2023 Stats: 4.46 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 193.2 IP, 202 SO, 3.9 fWAR
6. 3B Matt Chapman, TOR, age-31
Matt Chapman Toronto Blue Jays
2023 Stats: .240 BA, 17 HR, 54 RBI, .755 OPS, 3.5 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Chapman is a valuable player. He is anywhere from a 3.5-4.5 WAR player. Admittedly, his value is driven by his outstanding defence at third base as much as his offence. He had a huge first half (.807 OPS) for the Blue Jays in 2023, but really cooled off in the second half (.663 OPS) with his bat. He has always been a bit of a streaky hitter. He is more of a blender as a five-hole or six-hole hitter. He is a good teammate and has a great demeanour. He is a leader. At one point during the season, he confronted manager John Schneider over his decision to pitch to Ohtani. He is well-respected and can be a difference-maker. He will be pursued by the Mets, Yankees, Tigers, Cubs and Giants.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I believe the Cubs will sign Chapman to a five-year deal for $110 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: What a year it was for Chapman, who back in April looked like he was getting paid with a capital P after going scorched earth on MLB pitching for about five weeks. On May 1, Chapman was slashing a robust .384/.465/.687 with five home runs. From that point on, it was a much different story as he somehow managed to cool off to the point of posting just a .205/.298/.361 slash with 12 homers the rest of the way. Chapman was still hitting the ball hard at times, but the power dried up and it was a frustrating five months that also saw him hurt his finger in the weight room, which did not help at all in the second half. Through all that, Chapman’s glove was still outstanding at the hot corner, and he posted 3.5 fWAR despite hitting just 17 home runs, by far the lowest full season total of his seven-year career. So what’s Chapman worth? That’s what agent Scott Boras is about to suss out, and it’s very likely the defence and analytical numbers gives Chapman a pretty high floor. When you combine that with the lack of impact bats on this year’s free agent market, there’s a chance Chapman does better than many expect, but he might not get the $150-million George Springer-type contract that he initially seeks. If he does, it means there’s multiple teams willing to bet on a big breakout/turnaround with the bat.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Over his two seasons in Toronto, Chapman was the Jays’ second-most valuable position player at 7.7 fWAR, just behind Bo Bichette’s 8.3. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has been worth 3.8 wins during that time.
7. LHP Jordan Montgomery, TEX, age-31
Jordan Montgomery Texas Rangers
2023 Stats: 3.20 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 188.2 IP, 166 SO, 4.3 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Montgomery raised his free-agent profile significantly this season, especially after he was traded to the Texas Rangers from the St. Louis Cardinals. He was good with the Cards (6-9, 3.42 ERA) and great with the Rangers (4-2, 2.79 ERA). Then he went 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in the postseason, showing guts and courage in the tough moments. He is big and strong and is developing into an innings eater. He is calm and cool and has the ability to slow the game down. Montgomery has improved every year and is still just 30. He has a lot of good baseball in front of him. Plenty of teams will pursue him in free agency.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I suspect the Rangers will keep their man with a five-year, $125 million contract.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: No player made himself more money in October than Montgomery, who was terrific for the World Series champion Rangers, making them look very smart for acquiring him from the St. Louis Cardinals at the trade deadline. The lefty posted a 2.90 ERA across 31 postseason frames, including two beautiful ALCS starts to oust the Houston Astros. Those performances even have some talking about Montgomery as the preferred option to Aaron Nola and Blake Snell, and while that’s a bit rich for me there’s no doubt the career track record is going to get him paid handsomely, with all of those names likely to surpass the five years and $110 million the Jays gave Kevin Gausman two years ago. There’s only two scenarios where the Jays are in on the top rotation arms this winter — they trade a starter, thus creating another hole in addition to the No. 5 spot, or they really lean into the pitching and defence thing and decide to spend even more resources on a starter. Neither scenario seems likely with the desperate need to retool the lineup.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Not blessed with plus stuff, Montgomery seems to be getting better with age as his ERA has now dropped in each of his four full seasons as a starter, going from 3.88 to 3.83 to 3.48 to 3.20 in 2023. His innings totals have climbed at the same time, peaking at 188.2 frames this year. Perfect timing for Montgomery in a contract year.
8. RP Josh Hader, SD, age-30
Josh Hader San Diego Padres
2023 Stats: 1.28 ERA, 33 SV, 56.1 IP, 85 SO, 1.7 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Hader has been one of the best relievers in the game over the past six years. He has electric stuff from the left side and is unflappable. He gets a ton of swing and misses (85 strikeouts in 56.1 IP) and keeps the ball in the ballpark (three homers). He is a championship-calibre closer who can handle the big moments. However, he only logged 56.1 innings in 61 appearances. He is at most a one-inning reliever. His unwillingness to pitch outside of the ninth inning became a point of contention in San Diego. The Padres have other ninth-inning options and an out-of-control payroll. I suspect they let Hader walk. I believe the Rangers, Phillies, Cardinals, Dodgers, and Cubs will all be interested in Hader.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: He will get a four-year, $84 million contract from the Rangers.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: The best reliever on the market by a wide margin, Hader has been the best reliever in baseball for seven seasons now. Want proof? His total fWAR since he burst onto the scene in the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen in 2017 is 11.3, almost a full win ahead of Edwin Diaz, who would’ve at least been in the same range had he not blown out his knee in the WBC and missed the season. There have been a few ERA hiccups here and there, but that’s going to happen with reliever sample sizes. Hader’s been among the most dominant and consistent bullpen arms in the game, and he’ll get paid like it this winter. Diaz’s record five-year, $102-million contract from a year ago is a good threshold to look at for Hader. The price, and maybe some questions about the clubhouse fit, probably takes Hader off the Blue Jays radar, even though he’d without a doubt look mighty fine next to Jordan Romano at the back end of the ‘pen.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Figuring of why Hader has been so dominant doesn’t take much investigation, but it’s still really hard to consistently put up the gaudy strikeout totals that the lefty has over his career. At an even 15.0 strikeouts per nine innings, Hader can get away with too many walks because he erases batters so quickly with all the whiffs. Relievers aren’t a great bet at the best of times, but Hader’s track record is as safe as it can possibly get for the most volatile position in sports.
9. SIGNED (Cardinals) RHP Sonny Gray, age-34
Sonny Gray Minnesota Twins
Contract: St. Louis Cardinals - Three years, $75 million
2023 Stats: 2.79 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 184.0 IP, 183 SO, 5.3 fWAR
10. SIGNED (Diamondbacks) LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, age-31
Eduardo Rodriguez Detroit Tigers
Contract: Arizona Diamondbacks - Four-Years, $80 million
11. RHP Marcus Stroman, CHC, age-33
2023 Stats: 3.95 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 136.2 IP, 119 SO, 2.7 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Stroman opted out of the last year of his contract with the Cubs, walking away from $21 million. It’s a bit of a gutsy move by the diminutive righty. Stroman had a great first half of the season in Chicago. He was an All-Star with a 2.96 ERA at the break, but he then pitched to an 8.63 ERA in the second half. He injured his hip and then he fractured rib cage cartilage at the end of the season. He threw just eight innings in September after not throwing a single pitch in August. He is going to have to prove to teams that he is fully healed and worthy of a multi-year contract. I’m not sure he made the right decision walking away from the $21 million guaranteed. He will pitch most of next season at 33 years old. At best, I can see him getting a three-year deal for $36 million. The Cubs, D-Backs, Cardinals, Giants, Rockies, Twins, Rangers and Tigers might consider him.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I see him signing with the Twins.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: Coming off a 3.95 ERA across 136.2 innings, the Stro Show decided to opt out of the final year of his deal with the Cubs, leaving $21 million on the table. He’ll do much better in both term and guaranteed money in free agency as a very capable mid-rotation starter. And even heading into his age-33 season, the outspoken one probably has a little bit of upside in the tank if he can get back to the 180-200 inning mark, after back-to-back 25-start seasons. When Stroman was healthy in the first half of 2023, he was fantastic, posting a 2.96 ERA, but walks and injuries ruined his second half and raise some questions about his long-term durability moving forward. As always, Stroman will shop his services around this winter on social media, but the Blue Jays won’t be interested in a reunion.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Stroman’s 57.1 per cent groundball rate was third amongst pitchers with at least 100 innings in 2023, behind Logan Webb (62.1 per cent) and Alex Cobb (57.6 per cent) of the San Francisco Giants.
12. OF Jung Hoo Lee, KBO, age-25
2023 Stats (Korea): .318 BA, 6 HR, 45 RBI, .860 OPS
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Jung Hoo Lee is a KBO League star. He was the MVP of the KBO in 2022. He will be posted by the Kiwoom Heroes despite having an ankle injury that ended his season with surgery. He is a pure-hitting centre fielder. He is young and athletic and has continued to show improvement as a hitter. Early on he was a slap-hitting singles hitter, but his power has developed. He has great plate discipline as he has 383 career walks and only 304 strikeouts in 3476 at-bats. That is amazing. Of course the KBO is not the Major Leagues, but the success of Padres infielder Ha-Seong Kim, who came from the KBO and had great success (5.8 WAR in 2023), has opened the minds to the impact Korean league position players can have in MLB.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: Kim signed for four years and $28 million a few years ago. I think Lee gets six years and $48 million from the Minnesota Twins.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: Billed as a plus runner and defender with sky-high contact rates, the Korean star fractured his ankle in July, ending his MLB platform season early. The transition from the KBO to MLB hasn’t gone well for most over the years, but Ha-Seong Kim’s success with San Diego after some initial struggles may start to change that narrative if Lee can continue the trend. After hitting a career-high 23 homers in 2022, Lee batted .429 in four WBC games, but most of his contributions are expected to be with the glove and on the bases, even though he hasn’t been a big base stealer with just 69 thefts across seven KBO seasons. The weak free agent class on the position player side will definitely help Lee’s market and the left-handed hitter is a seamless fit with the Blue Jays, who could use his centre field skills in left alongside Daulton Varsho in centre. Lineup-wise, he’d be an intriguing table setter if they wanted to permanently shift a 34-year-old George Springer into more of an RBI role behind Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: The Jays need to find some pop, but Lee’s .407 career on-base percentage from the left side would improve any lineup.
13. RHP Lucas Giolito, CLE, age-29
2023 Stats: 4.88 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 184.1 IP, 204 SO, 1.0 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Giolito had a roller coaster of a season. He started 21 games with the Chicago White Sox and threw the ball pretty well, going 6-6 with a 3.79 ERA. The White Sox had a horrible year, so they were sellers at the deadline. Giolito was traded from Chicago to the Los Angeles Angels when the Angels decided to keep Shohei Ohtani and go for it. Unfortunately, Giolito struggled (1-5, 6.89 ERA) as did the Angels. So, just a few weeks after acquiring Giolito, the Angels traded him to the Cleveland Guardians where his struggles continued (1-4, 7,04 ERA). He gave up 41 home runs for the season combined in his three stops, which was an AL high. He was fourth in base-on-balls allowed too. That is a bad combination. There will be analytically-driven teams that will want Giolito because he did strike out more than 200 batters. He does get swings and misses but he needs better execution of his pitches. He is a good No. 3 starter. Because he finished poorly his price will be held down. He fits the Giants, Orioles and Diamondbacks.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: He signs with Baltimore for three years and $39 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: What a weird and wild ride the 2023 was for Giolito, and the whole trip didn’t exactly help his stock heading into free agency. On the other hand, he’s still in the top 20 on his list, so a 4.88 ERA while pitching for three different teams didn’t exactly kill it, either. I’m honestly not sure what it says about this market. He’s an interesting case. On one hand, the big righty has posted a 4.89 ERA over the last two seasons, staying healthy for 63 starts of below-average pitching. On the other hand, across the 2019-21 seasons, Giolito was worth 11.3 fWAR and posted a 3.47 ERA over 72 starts. Which guy are you getting? With the dearth of starting pitching, a number of teams will want to buy low with multi-year deals and hope they get the latter, while Giolito himself may prefer a one-year deal in hopes of hitting a big payday next winter. More likely, because they’ve become so popular lately, it’s a contract with an opt-out or two. If Giolito wants to bet on himself, he’d be a nice fit in the No. 5 spot in the Jays rotation for a year.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: When Giolito has been at his best, it’s because of his changeup. In 2021, the pitch was one of the better offerings in baseball with a plus-11 run value. Last year, it was an average pitch at plus-1 and in 2022 it was a terrible pitch at minus-7 run value. It’s the key to a bounce back season.
14. LHP Shota Imanaga, NPB, age-30
2023 Stats (Japan): 2.77 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 159.0 IP, 188 SO
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Imanaga has been one of the top starting pitchers in Japan over the past several years. The left-hander has excellent stuff and great pitchability. He pitched well in the WBC and in other international events as well. He started for Team Japan in the WBC Championship against Team USA. He is being posted by the Yokohama Bay Stars and will be one of the better starting pitchers available. He will be a solid No. 2 starter. Obviously, he will need to be managed in a six-man rotation like most Japanese pitchers who have pitched on such a schedule in Japan. The Yankees, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Mariners, Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Angels, Braves and Phillies will all be interested.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: The Yankees will land the lefty with a four-year, $60 million deal.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: If Yoshi Yamamoto is the Yu Darvish coming over from Japan this winter, Imanaga would be in the Yusei Kikuchi/Kodai Senga class, which means he should be highly sought after given the recent success of those two starters. After landing at No. 17 on this list for us last winter and signing with the Mets for $75 million across five years, Senga proved to be a bargain, posting a 2.98 ERA across 29 impressive starts. About $15 million per season is a good starting point for Imanaga, who is armed with a low-to-mid-90s fastball and has good command, but he’s had some issues with the long ball in Japan, which is never a good sign with the expected increase against big-league hitters. It’s Kikuchi-type stuff, with a slider and splitter as his go-to secondary pitches.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Imanaga holds a career 2.96 ERA in Japan, compared to 1.72 for Yoshi Yamamoto.
15. OF Jorge Soler, MIA, age-32
2023 Stats: .250 BA, 36 HR, 75 RBI, .853 OPS, 1.9 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Soler is a candidate for comeback player of the year in the National League. In his first season with the Marlins in 2022 the former World Series MVP had back spasms, which limited his playing time and production. But he rebounded in a powerful way in 2023, slugging 36 home runs and 24 doubles. He opted out of a $13 million option hoping for more dollars and years. He will get it. He provides right-handed power and a solid on-base percentage (.341). The Marlins could try and bring him back, but their general manager Kim Ng walked away after the season, and they have not hired anyone yet. The Guardians need power desperately, as do the Diamondbacks. I could see Milwaukee, Detroit and San Francisco in on him as well.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I believe he signs with Cleveland for three years and $45 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: The way my rankings are built every year starts with tiers of players that sometimes end up in the same range on the list. After Bellinger, who’s a tier of his own when it comes to outfielders, Lee represents another tier of his own, and then Soler, Teoscar Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are the third tier, a group I’d describe as everyday bats and not platoon types like Kevin Kiermaier, Michael Conforto and Joc Pederson, who all probably shouldn’t play against left-handed pitching. They’re also all young enough that you could imagine a breakout. Soler is the worst defender of the group and is really a DH, but he also has the most prodigious power, launching 35 homers last year alongside premium exit velos. He crushes lefties, and his strikeout rate dropped under 25 per cent last season. As they look to improve the offence this winter, any of this one-dimensional big bats would fit the Jays’ needs, but Soler has massive upside if things click for a couple of years.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Soler was one of 48 players to hit a ball harder than 114 mph last season and had an average exit velocity of 91.3 mph, just behind Vladdy Jr.’s 92.1.
16. OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., AZ, age-30
2023 Stats: .261 BA, 24 HR, 82 RBI, .772 OPS, 2.1 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Gurriel Jr. showed well in the playoffs and increased his value. He is not known as a great defender but made some excellent running catches in the postseason. He is a good offensive player, who is a blender. He is not a major power hitter or stolen-base threat. He is a contact hitter who is mostly a doubles machine. He is a similar player to Nick Castellanos who received a five-year $100 million deal. Gurriel won’t get nearly the same level contract though. The Diamondbacks will certainly consider retaining him, while the Rockies, Giants, Mariners, Washington, and Cleveland will be interested.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: The Diamondbacks will re-sign their guy with a four-year, $52 million deal.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: Unlike the two power-driven profiles of Soler and Hernandez, Gurriel’s is built on contact, even if he did bash a career-high 24 homers in the desert this year. A lot of the power increase probably had to do with the fact he played the 2022 season with a broken hamate bone that was never found. It was finally fixed prior to the much talked about trade to Arizona. Of this trio, Gurriel is the best defender, with his arm being an absolute weapon in left field, but that’s not exactly saying much as all three will be paid for what they do with the bat. Still fairly young and always in great shape heading into his age-30 campaign, the interesting Cuban comparison when it comes to LGJ is his own brother, Yuli, who was very productive into his mid-30s with the Houston Astros, posting a .296/.333/.486 slash line and 7.7 fWAR over a three season span from age-33 to 35. There’s a chance Lourdes is just hitting his prime and the best is yet to come if he can continue to adjust to MLB pitching.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: A free swinger, Gurriel has been amazingly consistent with his low walk rate, posting a mark between 5.6 per cent and 6.3 per cent for five straight seasons. He’s good for about 30 free passes a season.
17. OF Teoscar Hernandez, SEA, age-31
2023 Stats: .258 BA, 26 HR, 93 RBI, .741 OPS, 1.8 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Hernandez had a down season in 2023. He didn’t hit for the same average, get on base as much, or slug as he had in the past. His strikeout totals were off the charts (211) as he punched out the third most times last season. Hernandez did play 160 games, so he went to the post every day. His power is his greatest asset, but his defence is not great. His more of a six-hole hitter in the lineup since his strikeouts can shut down rallies. The same teams that will be interested in Jorge Soler will consider Teoscar. The Mariners, Marlins, Guardians, Diamondbacks, Milwaukee, Detroit and San Francisco will all pursue him.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: I see him re-signing with the Mariners for three years and $42 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: For all of the discourse surrounding the Teoscar trade as the Jays offence struggled during the summer, their former right fielder actually posted his lowest wRC+ (105) since 2019 and continued to regress in every offensive category. He ended up being worth 1.8 fWAR, while Erik Swanson was worth 0.9 in a key bullpen role and the Jays also got pitching prospect Adam Macko in the trade. The issue wasn’t trading Hernandez, it was failing to adequately replace him, because this trade is going to end up as a win with Swanson around for two more seasons. While the narrative of a return is easy for fans to believe, the reality is that the Jays front office and the Hernandez camp were far apart on value in the past, leading to the trade, and that’s unlikely to have changed enough for the Jays to be the team offering the most money.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: On the plus side for Teoscar, he’s actually improved in right field to the point where Statcast’s Outs Above Average gave him a neutral zero mark and Defensive Runs Saved had him plus-1 across 135 outfield games.
18. 1B Rhys Hoskins, PHI, age-31
2022 Stats: .246 BA, 30 HR, 79 RBI, .794 OPS, 2.3 fWAR
*Missed 2023 due to torn ACL
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Hoskins missed the entire 2023 season due to a torn ACL in spring training. He is a right-handed power-hitting first baseman who is only adequate defensively. He is a run producer with a career 125 OPS+. He is a leader, a great competitor and a good teammate. He can bat anywhere from fourth to sixth in a good lineup. He can play in any market as he was beloved in Philadelphia. The Rockies, Giants, Pirates, Cubs, Mariners, Guardians, and Angels will all be interested. Most playoff-calibre teams are covered at first base, but Hoskins can be a nice addition for teams looking to add power at first and designated hitter.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: The injury and lost season will keep the contract on the lower end of the spectrum, and the Guardians will get some below-market power at three years and $33 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: Hoskins tore his ACL on a freak spring training play back in March, so teams will have to double check the medicals and it’s a tricky market. The interesting wrinkle for Hoskins is next year’s free agent class is set to include Paul Goldschmidt and Pete Alonso, and he may not want to compete for first base dollars with them by signing a one-year deal to rebuild his value. His market could be extremely limited, but there’s power from the right side and he’s been very productive with a 126 career wRC+. The Jays don’t need a first baseman, but considering their need for pop, Hoskins could conceivably fit on a bargain one-year deal and get full-time DH at-bats. You could dream on 35 homers and lots of walks from the No. 5 spot in the lineup.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: Since 2017, Hoskins’ 126 wRC+ ranks eighth amongst MLB first baseman, just behind Vladdy Jr., who’s in sixth spot with a 130 mark.
19. SIGNED (Reds) Jeimer Candelario 3B, age-30
Contract: Cincinnati Reds - Three years, $45 million
20. SS Tim Anderson, CHW, age-31
2023 Stats: .245 BA, 1 HR, 25 RBI, .582 OPS, -0.5 fWAR
PHILLIPS’ FITS: Anderson did not have a very good platform year for his free agency. He has struggled defensively over the past couple of years and his offence declined significantly in 2023. Injuries have plagued him over the past couple of seasons. All of that being said, he still has some good baseball in front of him. I see him more as a second baseman than a shortstop moving forward, and I think it will make him a better defender and allow for his offence to blossom again. Detroit, Seattle and San Francisco will all have interest in Anderson.
PHILLIPS’ CONTRACT PREDICTION: The Seattle Mariners sign him for two years and $18 million.
MITCHELL’S TAKE: The only reason I’m listing Anderson as a shortstop is because he’s the only player on the list even capable of playing the position. That’s how weak this class is. But there’s a really good chance that Anderson pulls a Marcus Semien and decides a mid-career reinvention is the best thing for him, so he at least gives teams an upside middle infield option after the White Sox declined his $14 million option. As recently as a year ago that would’ve seemed silly, but Anderson simply cratered in 2023, slashing .245/.286/.296 over 524 plate appearances with a 60 wRC+, the lowest of any qualified hitter in baseball. To say it was a bad season would be an understatement. With holes at second base and third base, Anderson is a nice buy-low fit for the Blue Jays on a one-year deal. He has historically crushed left-handed pitching, and even if he doesn’t fully rebound with the bat like Semien did, he will at least provide plus defence and an athletic double play partner for Bo Bichette.
MITCHELL’S KEY STAT: From 2019 through 2022, Anderson batted .318, never finishing below .301 in any of those four seasons.
21. RP Jordan Hicks, TOR, age-27
2023 Stats: 3.29 ERA, 12 SV, 65.2 IP, 81 SO, 1.1 fWAR
22. SP Clayton Kershaw, LAD, age-36
2023 Stats: 2.46 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 131.2 IP, 137 SO, 2.3 fWAR
23. SIGNED (Mets) SP Luis Severino, age-30
Contract: New York Mets - One-year, $13 million
2023 Stats: 6.65 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 89.1 IP, 79 SO, -0.6 fWAR
24. SP Jack Flaherty, BAL, age-28
2023 Stats: 4.99 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 144.1 IP, 148 SO, 1.8 fWAR
25. 3B Justin Turner, BOS, age-39
2023 Stats: .276 BA, 23 HR, 96 RBI, .800 OPS, 1.2 fWAR
26. RHP Tyler Mahle, MIN, age-29
2023 Stats: 3.16 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 25.2 IP, 28 SO 0.4 fWAR
27. RHP Frankie Montas, NYY, age-31
2022 Stats: 4.05 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 144.1 IP, 142 SO, 2.0 fWAR
*Made only one appearance in 2023 due to injury
28. OF J.D. Martinez, LAD, age-36
2023 Stats: .271 BA, 33 HR, 103 RBI, .893 OPS, 2.2 fWAR
29. SIGNED (Tigers): RHP Kenta Maeda, age-36
Contract: Detroit Tigers - Two-years, $24 million
2023 Stats: 4.23 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 104.1 WHIP, 117 SO, 1.5 fWAR
30. C Mitch Garver, TEX, age-33
2023 Stats: .270 BA, 19 HR, 50 RBI, .870 OPS, 2.1 fWAR
31. LHP Yuki Matsui, NPB, age-28
2023 Stats (Japan): 1.57 ERA, 39 SV, 57.1 IP, 72 SO
32. LHP Aroldis Chapman, TEX, age-36
2023 Stats: 3.09 ERA, 6 SV, 58.1 IP, 103 SO, 1.8 fWAR
33. SIGNED (Cardinals): RHP Lance Lynn, age-37
Contract: St. Louis Cardinals - One year, $10 million
2023 Stats: 5.73 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 183.2 IP, 1.39 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
34. 2B Whit Merrifield, TOR, age-35
2023 Stats: .272 BA, 11 HR, 67 RBI, .700 OPS, 1.5 fWAR
35. SIGNED (Orioles): RHP Craig Kimbrel, age-36
Contract: Baltimore Orioles - One year, $13 million
2023 Stats: 3.26 ERA, 23 SV, 69.0 IP, 94 SO, 1.1 fWAR
36. LHP James Paxton, BOS, age-35
2023 Stats: 4.50 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 96.0 IP, 101 SO, 1.0 fWAR
37. OF Kevin Kiermaier, TOR, age-34
2023 Stats: .265 BA, 8 HR, 36 RBI, .741 OPS, 2.2 fWAR
38. RHP Seth Lugo, SD, age-34
2023 Stats: 3.57 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 146.1 IP, 140 SO, 2.8 fWAR
39. OF Harrison Bader, CIN, age-30
2023 Stats: .232 BA, 7 HR, 40 RBI, .622 OPS, 1.0 fWAR
40. OF Joc Pederson, SF, age-32
2023 Stats: .235 BA, 15 HR, 51 RBI, .764 OPS, 0.6 fWAR
41. 1B Brandon Belt, TOR, age-36
2023 Stats: .254 BA, 19 HR, 43 RBI, .858 OPS, 2.3 fWAR
42. RHP Michael Wacha, SD, age-32
2023 Stats: 3.22 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 134.1 IP, 124 SO, 2.6 fWAR
43. OF Tommy Pham, ARI, age-35
2023 Stats: .256, 16 HR, 68 RBI, .774 OPS, 1.8 fWAR
44. RHP Mike Clevinger, CWS, age-33
2023 Stats: 3.77 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 131.1 IP, 110 SO, 2.2 fWAR
45. 1B Carlos Santana, MIL, age-38
2023 Stats: .240 BA, 23 HR, 86 RBI, .747 OPS, 1.7 fWAR
46. OF Michael Brantley, HOU, age-37
2023 Stats: .278 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, .724 OPS, 0.2 fWAR
47. LHP Hyun Jin Ryu, TOR, age-37
2023 Stats: 3.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 52.0 IP, 38 SO, 0.4 fWAR
48. LHP Sean Manaea, SF, age-32
2023 Stats: 4.44 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 117.2 IP, 128 SO, 1.1 fWAR
49—RHP Robert Stephenson, TB, age-31
2023 Stats: 3.10 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 52.1 IP, 77 SO, 0.9 fWAR
50. 1B Joey Votto, CIN, age-40
2023 Stats: .202 BA, 14 HR, 38 RBI, .747 OPS, 0.0 fWAR
TSN's Top 50 MLB Free Agents of 2023
|Player||Position||2023 Team||Signs With|
|1. Shohei Ohtani||DH/P||Angels||-|
|2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto||P||Orix Buffaloes||-|
|3. Cody Bellinger||OF||Cubs||-|
|4. Blake Snell||P||Padres||-|
|5. Aaron Nola||P||Phillies||Phillies|
|6. Matt Chapman||3B||Blue Jays||-|
|7. Jordan Montgomery||P||Cardinals/Rangers||-|
|8. Josh Hader||P||Padres||-|
|9. Sonny Gray||P||Twins||Cardinals|
|10. Eduardo Rodriguez||P||Tigers||Diamondbacks|
|11. Marcus Stroman||P||Cubs||-|
|12. Jung Hoo Lee||OF||Kiwoom Heroes||-|
|13. Lucas Giolito||P||White Sox/Angels/Guardians||-|
|14. Shota Imanaga||P||Yokohama Bay Stars||-|
|15. Jorge Soler||OF||Marlins||-|
|16. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||OF||Diamondbacks||-|
|17. Teoscar Hernandez||OF||Mariners||-|
|18. Rhys Hoskins||1B||Phillies||-|
|19. Jeimer Candelario||3B||Nationals/Cubs||Reds|
|20. Tim Anderson||SS||White Sox||-|
|21. Jordan Hicks||P||Cardinals/Blue Jays||-|
|22. Clayton Kershaw||P||Dodgers||-|
|23. Luis Severino||P||Yankees||Mets|
|24. Jack Flaherty||P||Cardinals/Orioles||-|
|25. Justin Turner||3B||Red Sox||-|
|26. Tyler Mahle||P||Twins||-|
|27. Frankie Montas||P||Yankees||-|
|28. J.D. Martinez||DH||Dodgers||-|
|29. Kenta Maeda||P||Twins||Tigers|
|30. Mitch Garver||C||Rangers||-|
|31. Yuki Matsui||P||Rakuten Golden Eagles||-|
|32. Aroldis Chapman||P||Royals/Rangers||-|
|33. Lance Lynn||P||White Sox/Dodgers||Cardinals|
|34. Whit Merrifield||2B||Blue Jays||-|
|35. Craig Kimbrel||P||Phillies||Orioles|
|36. James Paxton||P||Red Sox||-|
|37. Kevin Kiermaier||OF||Blue Jays||-|
|38. Seth Lugo||P||Padres||-|
|39. Harrison Bader||OF||Yankees/Reds||-|
|40. Joc Pederson||OF||Giants||-|
|41. Brandon Belt||1B||Blue Jays||-|
|42. Michael Wacha||P||Padres||-|
|43. Tommy Pham||OF||Mets/Diamondbacks||-|
|44. Mike Clevinger||P||White Sox||-|
|45. Carlos Santana||1B||Pirates/Brewers||-|
|46. Michael Brantley||OF||Astros||-|
|47. Hyun Jin Ryu||P||Blue Jays||-|
|48. Sean Manaea||P||Giants||-|
|49. Robert Stephenson||P||Rays||-|
|50. Joey Votto||1B||Reds||-|