Top MLB free agents 2023-24: Ranking Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and baseball’s best available players

OK, baseball fans, if you don’t pledge your allegiance to the Texas Rangers or the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’s now the moment you’ve been waiting for since September-ish: Shohei Ohtani is a free agent. And so are some other players.

The two-way superstar, who will soon add his second AL MVP nod to his résumé, is perhaps the most anticipated free agent of all time. Despite an elbow injury that will keep him from pitching in 2024, he is expected to sign the richest deal in MLB history, and his gravitational presence will dominate the offseason.

Beyond Ohtani, there is a new Japanese talent to watch, an intriguing class of starting pitchers headlined by Aaron Nola and Blake Snell and a desperately thin group of hitters for which baseball’s contenders will jostle in the months between now and spring training.

Below, we’ve ranked the top MLB free agents of the 2023-24 class in order of their (subjectively projected) immediate impact, along with some key 2023 metrics and information.

  • Their age as of June 30, 2024, the common marker to delineate a player’s seasonal age.

  • For hitters: Their OPS+, which shows how their park-adjusted offensive line compared to a league-average hitter, with 110 meaning 10% better and 90 meaning 10% worse.

  • For pitchers: Their ERA+, which is the same but for park-adjusted ERA.

  • Their 2023 WAR, per FanGraphs’ calculations.

  • Qualifying offer: If the player’s 2023 team extended them the “qualifying offer,” which is a one-year deal worth $20.325 million this year. The team earns a compensatory draft pick if the player declines and departs.

Let’s get the hot stove fired up.

1. Shohei Ohtani, two-way player

Age: 29 | OPS+: 184 | ERA+: 142 | WAR: 9.1 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: Why wouldn’t you want him? At a base level, just as a reminder, Ohtani was most recently seen posting a season as both MLB’s best hitter and a starting pitcher who made 23 starts with a 3.14 ERA and a boatload of strikeouts. From a broader view, the next team to convince Ohtani to don their uniform will have a chance to field the squad that helps him get to the playoffs for the first time, to immediately earn a swell of Ohtani-adoring fans, to chisel their logo onto a future Hall of Fame plaque. In all likelihood, this is the derby for the rest of Ohtani’s singular MLB career.

There are complications to the lust, of course. Ohtani’s elbow gave way in the second half this year, and he won’t be providing the pitching side of his act until 2025. There are legitimate, if depressingly cynical, questions to ask about his future on the mound. The next time he pitches in the majors, he will be beyond his 30th birthday. No one else has managed to perform his rigorous, borderline superhuman schedule at any age; it will only get tougher for him to maintain.

If and when Ohtani starts reapportioning his workload, he’s likely to focus more on hitting. That’s based on his track record in MLB thus far but also on the general baseball truths of durability and value. Since his 2018 debut, he has the sixth-best OPS+ in the majors (minimum 2,000 plate appearances), and he could more easily augment that side of his game with baserunning (which he already does well) and potentially fielding if he someday cuts back on pitching. That will be a real consideration for these negotiations, but not one that changes the overall imperative to pursue the most exciting, most singular baseball free agent who has ever graced the game.

What it will take to get him: The bidding, even with Ohtani’s injury, likely starts around $500 million, in the range to make sure he breaks most or all MLB contract records. Right now, his longtime Angels teammate Mike Trout has the richest total deal in history, at $426.5 million. Aaron Judge has the largest free-agent deal in history at nine years, $360 million. Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are tied for the highest average annual value in MLB history at $43.3 million. A 12-year, $520 million deal for Ohtani, for instance, would match the AAV mark and break the others.

It probably won’t be quite that simple in the aftermath of Ohtani’s elbow injury. The interested teams — which will surely include the Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers — are likely to craft creative proposals that hedge against the risk that his two-way mastery never fully returns or remains intermittently compromised by injury. Whether it’s options, incentives or incentive-triggered options, the eventual Ohtani deal figures to have some important levers beyond simply guaranteed years and guaranteed dollars.

2. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, starting pitcher

Age: 25 | 1.21 ERA in Japan’s NPB

Why you want him: Only 25 and already perhaps the most proven Japanese pitcher to make the leap to MLB, Yamamoto is a potential top-of-the-rotation arm upon his arrival in the States. A shorter right-hander who stands 5-foot-10 but delivers a mid-90s fastball and a devastating splitter, Yamamoto put up mind-boggling numbers in Japan’s NPB, the second-best professional league in the world. Across his seven seasons and 172 games, he posted a 1.82 ERA that compares favorably to a) everyone and b) the New York Mets’ Kodai Senga, who had a 2.85 ERA in NPB before making a very successful transition to the majors in 2023 — his 2.98 ERA was good for a 142 ERA+ and will likely earn him a top-three NL Rookie of the Year finish and some Cy Young votes.

Yamamoto’s youth, along with the improvements around scouting and pitch data that likely give MLB teams more confidence in how his stuff will play in America, will drive a bidding war that could draw in just about every big-market team. New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman memorably scouted him in person during a no-hitter one of two Yamamoto threw this season — and a raft of other teams have also reportedly sent personnel to scout him.

What it will take to get him: Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-year, $155 million deal with the Yankees, also signed ahead of his age-25 season, is the baseline here. That’s the richest deal a Japanese pitcher has earned while making the jump to MLB, and it’s widely expected that Yamamoto will beat it.

3. Aaron Nola, starting pitcher

Age: 31 | ERA+: 96 | WAR: 3.9 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: A durable, top-of-the-rotation arm who has spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies, Nola is a classic test case for the perils of trying to measure pitching success. His year-by-year ERA numbers (4.63 in 2021, 3.25 in 2022, 4.46 in 2023) paint a picture of wild inconsistency, but anyone watching could tell you that isn’t exactly the case, as he was often the victim of a leaden Phillies defense.

Nola’s underlying numbers — the ones that zero in on strikeouts, walks and homers — point to a steady arm you’d be thrilled to have as a top-two starter on a contending team. But his 2023 represented a legitimate dip there, as he allowed more home runs and generally didn’t look as sharp with his pitches.

Ultimately, he reigns as the best non-Ohtani free agent with an MLB track record because compared to the other options at the top of this class, Nola looks like an unshakeable metronome keeping time via a direct line to the rotation of the Earth. His velocity has remained steady, he still wields a phenomenal curveball, and only Gerrit Cole and Sandy Alcantara have soaked up more innings the past three seasons. The main concern, however, dovetails with that. Thanks to the Phillies’ October success, Nola has tallied a combined total of 447 1/3 innings the past two seasons, a load that will have to be considered and managed by whichever team ponies up for his services.

What it will take to get him: A slam dunk to join a win-now contender, Nola’s stature and career arc are similar to when Jon Lester signed a six-year, $155 million pact with the Chicago Cubs ahead of 2015. Adjust that for inflation — or perhaps take the tidier route of saying that Nola will seek to beat the less-proven Carlos Rodón’s $162 million from last offseason — and you get the gist.

4. Blake Snell, starting pitcher

Age: 31 | ERA+: 182 | WAR: 4.1 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: Well, he’s probably about to win the NL Cy Young Award. That will join the 2018 AL Cy Young Award on Snell’s mantle and put him in elite company; he’d be just the seventh pitcher to earn the honor in each league.

The problem: Between those two sparkling, award-worthy campaigns, Snell pitched to just a 3.85 ERA (104 ERA+). The source of most of the mediocrity, poor command, wasn’t actually solved in his terrific 2023 but was simply overwhelmed by positive attributes. Snell led MLB in walks (as in, he allowed the most) but got away with it by dialing up the league’s second-best strikeout percentage and benefitting from the third-lowest batting average on balls in play. To be sure, his dynamite stuff plays into limiting the effectiveness of contact when hitters do put the bat on the ball, but extremes in that department generally swing back toward average. Overall, Snell enters free agency coming off a tremendous season that most teams probably won’t trust.

What it will take to get him: The Seattle Mariners’ recent deal with Robbie Ray is probably instructive. Coming off a Cy Young-winning season that most didn’t buy as prelude to more similar production, Ray signed for five years and $115 million. That feels like the floor for Snell, who has a more robust history of dominance than Ray, even if it’s occasionally torturous to watch him pepper the outer reaches of acceptable airspace near the strike zone.

5. Cody Bellinger, center fielder

Age: 28 | OPS+: 133 | WAR: 4.1 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: The former NL MVP used a one-year showcase with the Chicago Cubs to tremendous effect. After two consecutive brutal seasons in Los Angeles, he rebounded at Wrigley Field, with a .307 batting average, 26 homers and his usual splendid defense.

The trouble is he did it in a perplexing way. The return of his power did not come with resurgent exit velocities. He struggled overall against fastballs and built much of his impressive batting line against offspeed pitches and sliders. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but it means he has evolved into a different type of hitter than the one we originally knew. And this version likely doesn’t have as much wiggle room to remain a good hitter as pitchers adjust.

Still, Bellinger is only 28, and he is one of the only premium position players on the market. Even with a serious step back on offense, his center-field defense could make a difference for a contender.

What it will take to get him: Bellinger could certainly make the case that he should beat George Springer’s six-year, $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the top bidder for his services ultimately approaches $200 million in a brutal offseason for clubs seeking hitters.

6. Jordan Montgomery, starting pitcher

Age: 31 | ERA+: 138 | WAR: 4.3

Why you want him: Nobody did more for their stock after the 2023 trade deadline than Montgomery. He followed a heartening first half with the St. Louis Cardinals with a star turn in Texas. Leading the Rangers through an injury-pocked wilderness of a second half and then starring in the playoffs, the 6-foot-6 lefty definitively proclaimed that yes, he had more to offer than his previous employers had given him credit for.

A revamped curveball and career-best velocity are largely to credit for Montgomery’s leveling up, which are solid enough reasons for teams to believe there’s an enduring No. 2 starter in this long-overlooked arm.

What it will take to get him: It might take a serious battle to pry Montgomery away from a Rangers team that loves him, but on a purely objective level, he seems like a great candidate for the Kevin Gausman contract — five years, $110 million — or something in that vicinity.

7. Sonny Gray, starting pitcher

Age: 34 | ERA+: 154 | WAR: 5.3 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: Maybe it was sneaky because of Gray’s relatively advanced age and his locale up in Minnesota, but the veteran’s 2023 might be the most impressive of this group. Never reliant on overpowering velocity, Gray used a menagerie of pitches to limit home runs and breeze through innings en route to a 2.79 ERA. Since 2019, only eight pitchers who have thrown at least 500 innings have better park-adjusted ERA marks than Gray.

He would be a perfect veteran stabilizing addition for a thin rotation that nevertheless supports a potential winner. In addition to the Twins, clubs with winning windows and smaller spending appetites — looking at you, Orioles and Diamondbacks — should be getting in line.

What it will take to get him: He deserves to beat the Chris Bassitt deal, which was three years and $63 million. There’s a strong case that Gray’s unyielding recent run-prevention record could warrant a fourth year and something around $80 million.

8. Matt Chapman, third baseman

Age: 31 | OPS+: 108 | WAR: 3.5 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: April Chapman might have been No. 2 on this list. Second-half Chapman might barely be on it.

This is the rub for the superlative defensive third baseman whose bat has not really found equilibrium at any point since he had hip surgery in 2020. It no longer seems realistic to harbor hopes that he will hit his MVP-contender stride for full seasons instead of a month or two at a time, but Chapman will, for at least another few years, come with a floor of elite defense at an important position. Especially in this thin winter for hitters, some team will gladly accept a sub-.240 batting average and 20-ish homer pop, with some pie-in-the-sky hope for more as a bonus.

What it will take to get him: The best contract guidance for Chapman might come from other positional realms, ones in which defense is more of the formula. Catcher Yasmani Grandal signed a four-year, $73 million contract at the height of his framing powers; that’s a bit over $18 million per year. Chapman would likely be disappointed to get fewer than five guaranteed years, but the annual value feels about right. Extended to five or six years, that would put him in the range between $91 million and $110 million.

9. Josh Hader, relief pitcher

Age: 30 | ERA+: 321 (not a typo) | WAR: 1.7 | Received qualifying offer

Why you want him: If you’re going to pay for an impact relief pitcher, you won’t find many better options. Hader, the fireballing lefty, sandwiched a blip of a 2022 between two dominant seasons in which his ERA started with a one. A lockdown closer on a cursed San Diego Padres team in 2023, Hader looked like the best version of himself entering free agency. His 96 mph sinker and 86 mph slider would firm up the back of just about any bullpen in baseball history.

What it will take to get him: Edwin Díaz, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen are the only relievers to eclipse $80 million, and Hader seems likely to join that club. Given the recent scare that marred his 2022, it would count as a surprise if he beat Díaz’s $102 million reliever record, but it can’t be ruled out.

10. Jung Hoo Lee, center fielder

Age: 25 | .898 career OPS in KBO

Why you want him: A fleet-footed center fielder with an amazing nickname, Lee is expected to follow in the footsteps of former Kiwoom Heroes teammate Ha-Seong Kim once the KBO season concludes.

Lee, whose father was a KBO legend dubbed “Son of the Wind,” is logically and delightfully known as “Grandson of the Wind.” Although he missed the latter part of the 2023 season due to a fractured ankle, Lee has bolstered his case as a useful MLB player by adding more power to his game in recent years. While the KBO is generally offense-friendly, Lee’s contact-heavy lines are impressive by any standard. In 2022, he batted .349 with only 32 strikeouts in 627 plate appearances.

If Kim’s experience with the Padres proves instructive, Lee might require a bit of on-the-job seasoning to get up to speed at the plate, but his defense should translate immediately, and he could have star potential as he adjusts to major-league pitching.

What it will take to get him: More than it took to get Kim. The Padres shortstop, who signed for $28 million guaranteed, seemingly paved the way by eliminating some latent concerns about the level of competition in the KBO. Lee will benefit from the lack of difference-making outfielders and might be the backup plan for teams that miss out on Bellinger. Expect Lee to push the $15 million per year threshold.

11. Eduardo Rodriguez, starting pitcher

Age: 31 | ERA+: 134 | WAR: 3.0

Why you want him: The lefty had a resurgent 2023 that followed seasons marred by complications from COVID-19 and an absence to deal with personal matters. Rodriguez pairs a 92 mph four-seamer with a cutter and a changeup, most prominently. His first half was so good (2.64 ERA, 20.6% K-BB%) that it prompted the Dodgers to swing a deal for him — which he scuttled via his no-trade protection — and his second half (3.89 ERA, 11.2% K-BB%) raised some red flags about exactly which version of Rodriguez will show up on the next deal.

What it will take to get him: In a pitching market with bigger headlining options, Rodriguez probably fits in the range between recent signings such as Taijuan Walker and Hyun-Jin Ryu, which would get him four years with a guarantee between $72 million and $80 million.

12. Marcus Stroman, starting pitcher

Age: 33 | ERA+: 113 | WAR: 2.7

Why you want him: Ground balls and grounded expectations. There’s little question about what you will get from Stroman, the 5-foot-7 sinkerballer who produces ERAs in the mid-3.00s like clockwork.

The only thing keeping him from outranking Rodriguez here is more advanced age, but there are almost certainly teams that would prefer Stroman’s steady formula for getting outs. He opted out of a deal with the Chicago Cubs to reset his value.

What it will take to get him: That Bassitt deal that Gray is likely to top? It should be a target for Stroman. At this age, without an incredible ceiling to dream on, three years and something like $60 million seems about right.

13. Tim Anderson, shortstop

Age: 31 | OPS+: 60 | WAR: -0.5

Why you want him: Well, not because of 2023. The two-time All-Star and 2019 AL batting champion labored through a miserable campaign while dealing with injuries and whatever general malaise has befallen the Chicago White Sox.

It’s difficult to fathom the hitting talent that logged four consecutive seasons with a .300 average or better vanished, but it is reasonable to think Anderson might be approaching a defensive shift to second base.

Still, some team is going to take a shot on a hitter at an up-the-middle spot who ranked among the 30 most valuable position players between 2019 and 2022.

What it will take to get him: Anderson is a candidate for a one-year pillow contract. Those tend to guarantee something between $10 million and the qualifying offer number.

14. Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher

Age: 36 | ERA+: 177 | WAR: 2.3

Why you want him: In 2023, Kershaw had the second-best ERA (min. 100 innings) in baseball. Since the start of 2022, Kershaw has the best ERA (min. 200 innings). Since the start of 2021, Kershaw has the fourth-best ERA (min. 300 innings). Since the start of 2020, Kershaw has the second-best ERA (min. 350 innings). Since the start of 2019, Kershaw has the second-best ERA (min. 500 innings).

You want Kershaw because the future Hall of Famer is still an ultra-elite pitcher when he’s on the mound. You also have to understand that he won’t necessarily be on the mound for more than 120 innings. That will be particularly true in 2024, as the Los Angeles Dodgers mainstay is having shoulder surgery that will keep him out until at least the middle of the season.

What it will take to get him: Existing familiarity with the Kershaw family, a stadium within a metropolitan area he has presently or previously called home, the patience to wait for him to return from shoulder surgery and the understanding that you’ll probably need to do this whole thing again next winter. Read: the Dodgers or the Rangers. Also about $10-15 million.

15. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., corner outfielder

Age: 30 | OPS+: 108 | WAR: 2.1

Why you want him: With strong bat-to-ball skills, an aggressive approach and solid power, the younger Gurriel has proven himself to be a worthy No. 6 hitter who can keep the line moving and crack the occasional big hit. In his lone campaign with the Diamondbacks, he showed marked improvement as a defender. It’s not usually a great idea to bank on sustainable defensive value from players eclipsing 30, but 2023 provided a positive sign that perhaps Gurriel has more staying power than it appeared prior to this season.

What it will take to get him: There might not be any single player who benefits from the weak hitter crop this winter more than Gurriel. Unspectacular but consistently starter-caliber numbers mean he could be in line for four or even five years and upward of $50 million. His ceiling is probably the five-year, $75 million Andrew Benintendi deal (which looked bizarre the moment it was announced but, nonetheless, exists).

16. Teoscar Hernández, corner outfielder

Age: 31 | OPS+: 106 | WAR: 1.8

Why you want him: Hernández … does not have a rosy story to tell about his defensive progression. Yet he’s basically the flip side of Gurriel, a Wario to his Mario or vice versa, depending on whether you prioritize contact and well-roundedness or power, power, power.

The former Blue Jay, who plied his trade with the Seattle Mariners in 2023, is a threat to hit the ball very hard and over the fence but not such an omnipresent one that he should anchor a contending lineup. His batting averages aren’t bad at all — frequently landing at or above .260 — but his strikeout rate has remained steady around 30%, which dings his productivity in the middle of the order.

What it will take to get him: His salary range is probably similar to Gurriel’s but with wider error bars. Some teams might see the type of pop they desperately need and can’t find elsewhere this winter. Others might see a good hitter who becomes less attractive because he needs a near-immediate move to designated hitter. Anything between the Mitch Haniger deal (three years, $43.5 million) and the Kyle Schwarber deal (four years, $79 million) feels feasible for Hernández, even if something approaching the latter would look ill-advised from the word go.

17. Seth Lugo, starting pitcher

Age: 34 | ERA+: 115 | WAR: 2.8

Why you want him: Long a reliever for the Mets, Lugo bet on himself as a starter, and it largely paid off. Across 26 starts and 146 1/3 innings with the San Diego Padres, he maintained his velocity and wielded his wide arsenal to strong effect. Only four qualified starters turned in quality starts in a higher percentage of their outings than Lugo. That’s not bad for a supposed setup man, and it should be more than enough to get him another turn in a rotation, perhaps on a more appealing, multiyear deal.

What it will take to get him: Two years, upwards of $20 million and a surefire rotation job.

18. Michael Wacha, starting pitcher

Age: 32 | ERA+: 127 | WAR: 2.6

Why you want him: The right-hander who originally burst onto the scene as a postseason hero with the St. Louis Cardinals has reinvented himself as a kitchen-sink type who throws his changeup more than any other pitch in his arsenal (he throws both a four-seam and a sinker).

His past two seasons, with two different teams, were almost carbon copies. And that’s a good thing. Owing to his age, there’s good reason to think Wacha might both pitch better and earn more than Lugo, his 2023 Padres teammate. The kitchen sink just gets clogged sometimes, you know?

What it will take to get him: Wacha should push for Tyler Anderson’s three-year, $39 million deal but be ready to settle for something more like Ross Stripling’s two-year, $25 million agreement.

19. Lucas Giolito, starting pitcher

Age: 29 | ERA+: 91 | WAR: 1.0

Why you want him: You think you can fix him. The 29-year-old who thrice received Cy Young consideration between 2019 and 2021 isn’t too old or too far removed from his peak to rediscover that form, but allowing more homers per nine innings than any other qualified starter the past two seasons isn’t a stumble to take lightly. Bouncing to three teams in a downbound 2023, Giolito used fewer and fewer fastballs at each successive stop and wound up getting hit harder and harder.

It betrays the quandary that lies ahead of him. The short-armed, rising four-seam that helped him break out doesn’t seem to be fooling anyone now, but his slider and changeup don’t look up to the task of pulling hitters’ eyes off of it. The slider, in particular, has regressed since Giolito’s best days a few years ago. A team with savvy pitching development could help him get back on track given enough time, but it’s hard to bet on that right now, given the sheer number of home runs he has allowed.

What it will take to get him: There’s enough buzz that Giolito might garner an optimistic, Jameson Taillon-type deal in the four-year, $65 million range, but any offer more robust than one year with options would seem to spring from wishful thinking.

20. Jeimer Candelario, corner infielder

Age: 30 | OPS+: 119 | WAR: 3.3

Why you want him: Something like the Gurriel of the corner infield, Candelario is coming off a highly successful, one-year deal in which he played well enough to be moved as one of the marquee trade-deadline pieces. The Chicago Cubs recognized Candelario’s value as a professional hitter who will take his walks and use all fields but also understood that his best position is first base these days.

He’s absolutely a useful starter for quite a few teams; however, his rightful place on the defensive spectrum and his persistent risk of dangerously low batting averages cap his utility.

What it will take to get him: In this particular winter, capped utility might not mean capped earnings. Matt Chapman insurance is going to be expensive, possibly in the four-year range and in excess of $50 million.

21. Jorge Soler, designated hitter

Age: 32 | OPS+: 128 | WAR: 1.9

Why you want him: The power. He hit 48 homers in 2019. He whacked three crucial homers in the 2021 World Series. He walloped 36 homers for the surprise Miami Marlins this past season. There were a lot of less thrilling spells in between, but home runs matter, so Soler will have plenty of suitors.

What it will take to get him: Something like the deal he just opted out of with Miami: two or three years with an average annual value near $15 million.

22. Rhys Hoskins, first baseman

Age: 31 | Did not play in 2023 (injury)

Why you want him: Coming off a torn ACL suffered in spring training, Hoskins is a bankable, right-handed slugger who can play first base or serve as your designated hitter. If he returns to his previous form, that means a .245 average and 25 to 30 homers.

What it will take to get him: He seems likely to take a one-year deal to prove that his knee is healthy and his power is intact.



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