After Major League Baseball (MLB) crowns its 2023 World Series champion in a few weeks, all attention will turn to what is lining up to be another eventful and chaotic offseason period. Every team with competent ownership and plans on contending next year is preparing to improve rosters that fell short of expectations in 2023 through free-agency signings or trades.
Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, left-handed starting pitchers Jordan Montgomery and Blake Snell (the favorite for the 2023 National League (NL) CY Young Award), outfielder Cody Bellinger, closer Josh Hader, and third-baseman Matt Chapman headline the upcoming free-agent class.
Six Free Agents Who Will Have the Biggest Impact
1) Shohei Ohtani
The undisputed main attraction of this year’s free-agent class, two-way player Shohei Ohtani is about to enter MLB free agency for the first time.
From 2013-2017, he won one MVP and was named an All-Star every year while playing in his native country’s league for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. Since 2018, Ohtani has wowed fans of the Los Angeles Angels and across MLB with his prodigious power and vast array of dominant pitches headlined by the 100 mph fastball and nasty sliders and splitters.
Ohtani’s incredible abilities immediately translated to MLB earning him Rookie of the Year in 2018. In 2021, the pitcher and designated hitter won his first American League MVP Award in a historic season featuring 46 home runs, 100 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases as a batter and a 9-2 record with 156 strikeouts in 23 games started as a pitcher.
His star power has risen into the stratosphere as he is on the verge of winning his second MVP after becoming the first player in MLB history with at least ten wins and 40 home runs in the same season. However, the Angels never made the playoffs with him and Mike Trout in the same lineup.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have long been the main team to watch in the Ohtani sweepstakes. Wherever he goes, the superstar may not get as much money as once expected because he will only be able to hit next year while recovering from a second major elbow surgery.
2) Blake Snell
Snell put together one of the best seasons of his career in his third year with the San Diego Padres. The former Tampa Bay Ray is on the verge of being only the seventh pitcher in MLB history to win the Cy Young Award in both leagues as he finished 14-9 with a 2.25 ERA despite leading the Majors with 99 walks issued.
The ace left-hander will be a big addition to any team’s rotation if he does not re-sign with the Padres, who will cut payroll following their disappointing 2023 campaign. Teams that miss out on Snell can pivot to other free-agent veteran starting pitchers Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray, Lucas Giolito, and Eduardo Rodriguez (who can opt out of the rest of his Detroit Tigers contract).
3) Matt Chapman
As the most well-known free-agent third baseman and one of the best hitters on the open market, Chapman should have plenty of suitors, including his current team, the Toronto Blue Jays. The 30-year-old infielder broke out with the Oakland Athletics and has sustained his standard of play with the Blue Jays the past two years. In 2023, he finished with 17 home runs and continued to play stellar defense at his position for a contending club.
4) Jordan Montgomery
Montgomery has drastically increased his value since being traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Texas Rangers at this year’s trade deadline. The burly left-hander emerged as one of the Rangers’ most trusted starting pitchers down the stretch, especially in the aftermath of fellow midseason acquisition Max Scherzer’s injury. He has heavily contributed to the team’s unbeaten playoff run, going 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in 3 starts.
Most recently, he threw six and one-third shutout innings in game one of the American League Championship series, setting the tone for his team’s 2-0 victory over the Houston Astros.
5) Josh Hader
One of the top closers in the league, left-hander Hader has a chance to reach or break the record-setting deal (five years, $102 million) the Mets gave their closer Edwin Diaz last offseason. Hader recorded 33 saves, 85 strikeouts, and a 1.28 ERA out of the Padres’ bullpen this year. Numerous contending teams will want a player with his talent and experience, including his current team, which may desire to keep him as they push for a return to the playoffs in 2024.
6) Cody Bellinger
Left-handed slugger Bellinger burst into the spotlight with the Dodgers, winning the NL Rookie of the Year award in 2017, the NL MVP in 2019, and helping them win the World Series in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. It looked like the Dodgers could count on Bellinger for the foreseeable future; however, injuries led to disappointing seasons in 2021 and 2022.
As a result, the team released him, and he found rebirth with the Chicago Cubs. In 130 games, the center fielder/first baseman hit .307 with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases, playing a leading role on a team that fell short of a wild card spot. Back to looking like pre-injury Bellinger, he is about to receive a boatload of money from the Cubs, New York Yankees, or another team.
Foreign Studs Seeking Moves
In addition, two international baseball players look to make a splash in Major League Baseball next season.
South Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee hopes to sign with an American team this winter. He has dominated the Korean league over the past few years and received an international spotlight playing on Korea’s World Baseball Classic squad this past Spring. So far, the San Francisco Giants are one team that has extensively scouted him.
The other talented player, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, has been arguably the number-one starting pitcher in Japan since he debuted in 2017. Playing for the Orix Buffalos, Yamamoto has earned five All-Star nominations and won one league title, two MVP awards, and two Eiji Sawamura Awards (Japanese Cy Young). He also was part of the loaded Japanese team that won the 2023 World Baseball Classic, sharing a rotation with Ohtani and 21-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki. Yamamoto will have plenty of options to choose from as every contending team needs high-end pitching, and he is the youngest free-agent starting pitching option this offseason.
Overview of class
While the 2023 free-agent class does not have quite the same star power and depth as last year’s, which featured pitchers Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander and hitters Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts, there are enough key names out there for teams to add to their 2024 squads.
While the Rangers’ free-agent spending and luring of manager Bruce Bochy played a role in their 2023 success, it does not always work out, as evidenced by the Mets’ and Padres’ disappointing 2023 seasons after heavily strengthening their rosters last offseason. Stay tuned because the MLB offseason starts right after the World Series ends. Although players are eligible to move to a new team five days after the final game, transactions usually begin at or following the annual winter meetings in early December.