Early look at the top 20 potential MLB free agents in 2023
It's been a hectic winter for Major League Baseball, with a number of the game's best players signing life- and franchise-altering contracts. It could be more of the same next year, with several superstars eligible for free agency. Let's take an early look at the top 20 potential free agents ahead of the 2023 offseason.
(Statistics from 2022, age at start of 2023 season).
1. Shohei Ohtani, SP/DH
Ohtani is the cream of next winter's crop. The Angels two-way star is one of the most dynamic and entertaining players baseball has ever seen. He's still only 28 years old and adored by fans all over the world thanks to his spectacular ability to put up MVP-type numbers as a hitter while pitching at a Cy Young level. A player of Ohtani's abilities might never come around again, so there should be an all-out bidding war for his services. He could end up signing baseball's first $500-million contract.
2. Manny Machado, 3B
Machado has the opportunity to opt out of the final five years of his deal following this season. It'd be a bold move for the 30-year-old to leave $150 million on the table, but Aaron Judge bet on himself at the same age and that worked out pretty well. Machado finished second to the Yankees slugger in fWAR during the 2022 campaign and has been one of baseball's best players over the past three seasons, twice finishing in the top three in NL MVP voting.
3. Julio Urias, SP
Urias is in a prime position to do well in free agency. He'll complete this season as a 27-year-old with very little mileage on his arm and an impressive resume, including two top-10 Cy Young finishes. The left-hander also won 37 games over the past two campaigns, took home the NL's ERA title, and has a World Series championship under his belt.
4. Aaron Nola, SP
Nola was arguably the NL's best pitcher during the 2022 campaign. The Phillies right-hander led all MLB starters with 6.3 fWAR, ahead of Justin Verlander and Sandy Alcantara, while tossing 200-plus innings for a third time. He also posted a 10.2 K/9 or higher for the fourth consecutive season.
5. Matt Chapman, 3B
Teams uninterested in signing Machado - if he decides to become a free agent - could turn to a more affordable third base option in Chapman. The three-time Gold Glove and one-time Platinum Glove winner is an elite defender who brings a healthy amount of power to the plate. He finished with 27 homers for the second consecutive campaign and has hit 24 or more four different times.
6. Yu Darvish, SP
Darvish enters next offseason as a 37-year-old, but don't let his age fool you. The right-hander is fresh off throwing 194 2/3 innings - sixth most in the NL - and still maintained top-class numbers in ERA, FIP, and WHIP, as well as a solid 9.1 K/9. He also posted a career-low HR/9 and the highest fWAR on a Padres staff that included Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove.
7. Ian Happ, OF
Happ should generate plenty of interest as a switch-hitting outfielder who does well against righties and lefties, but there's more to his game than that. The 2022 All-Star collected the sixth-most doubles in the majors while recording a career-high 72 RBIs and 155 hits. He's also a solid on-base threat - .339 career OBP - who's slugged over .500 three times.
8. Blake Snell, SP
Snell's got a solid track record of success, even if he hasn't recently performed at the same level as his 2018 Cy Young campaign. That aside, the southpaw remains one of the best strikeout artists among starters having posted an 11 K/9 or better in five consecutive seasons. The main knock on Snell is his durability. The 30-year-old hasn't pitched more than 128 2/3 innings since 2018.
9. Teoscar Hernandez, OF
Clubs looking for a run producer should look no further than Hernandez. The powerful outfielder ranks 13th in the majors in slugging percentage, 15th in RBIs, and 16th in isolated power since 2020, and he's won a Silver Slugger in two of the last three campaigns. Hernandez is a questionable defender, and there's a lot of swing-and-miss at the plate, but the offense makes up for his faults.
10. Clayton Kershaw, SP
Kershaw is likely only taking one-year deals at this point of his career, but he's still worthy of being on this list. The southpaw, who's said he's only considering playing for the Dodgers and his hometown Rangers during his final years, was very good in limited innings last season. The future Hall of Famer finished third in ERA and FIP, as well as fourth in WHIP, among NL starters with at least 120 innings pitched.
11. Frankie Montas, SP
Montas' 2022 campaign was a tale of two halves. His 19 starts with the Athletics - 3.18 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 9.1 K/9 - were more indicative of the pitcher he is rather than his eight outings with the Yankees, which came after a shoulder injury. When Montas is right, the hard-throwing hurler, who finished sixth in 2021 Cy Young voting, can dominate any lineup with his shut-down stuff.
12. Javier Baez, SS
Baez would have to leave close to $100 million on the table to opt out of his deal, which doesn't seem likely if he has a season similar to his first with the Tigers. But if the two-time All-Star can rediscover his power stroke, steal more bases, and drive in runs like he used to, he might be able to score a more lucrative deal for a better team in what's expected to be a weak free-agent shortstop class.
13. Lucas Giolito, SP
Giolito would've been near the top of this list in seasons past, but he dropped significantly after his worst campaign since he posted a bloated 6.13 ERA and 90 walks in 2018. A turnaround in 2023 should set him up for a sizeable contract as he has a history of logging innings and lots of strikeouts.
14. Josh Hader, RP
Hader should be the top reliever available next winter, and there are plenty of reasons why. Sure, the terrible start to his Padres tenure raised some eyebrows, but the side-slinging left-hander looked like his old self at the end of the regular season and was nearly untouchable in the playoffs. While relievers are volatile, there should be plenty of interest in a closer under 30 years old with a career 2.71 ERA and 15.2 K/9.
15. Jung Hoo Lee, OF
Lee should have plenty of suitors once he's posted after the 2023 KBO season. The 2022 Korean League MVP is an artist at the dish, slashing a ridiculous .342/.407/.495 throughout his six seasons. He's also young (turning 25 in August) and capable of playing all three outfield positions, although he's better suited to his natural position in center. Next winter's crop of free-agent center fielders includes Harrison Bader, Cody Bellinger, Enrique Hernandez, and Michael A. Taylor.
16. Hunter Renfroe, OF
Renfroe had another solid campaign in 2022, hitting at least 29 homers for the third time while continuing to be a defensive force in the outfield - 11 assists - thanks to his strong arm. An offseason trade to the Angels moves Renfroe away from the hitter-friendly confines of American Family Field, but luckily for him, ESPN's park factors consider Angel Stadium a better place for crushing home runs.
17. Jordan Montgomery, SP
Montgomery isn't a household name like some of the other starters on this list, but he's been quite good over the past two seasons. The left-hander ranks 13th in GB%, 16th in HR/FB, 17th in BB/9, 20th in FIP, and 22nd in both HR/9 and ERA among MLB starters. A deadline move from baseball's toughest division to the NL Central saw every one of his major statistics improve, too. More of the same in 2023 wouldn't be surprising.
18. Joc Pederson, OF/DH
Pederson had one of his finest seasons in several years, posting a .874 OPS with 23 homers and a .521 slugging percentage. What's most impressive about his resurgence is that it happened while playing half his games at pitcher-friendly Oracle Park, where he had a .909 OPS. If Pederson can replicate last season's numbers, he'll land more than a one-year deal next offseason.
19. Sonny Gray, SP
Gray has been a consistent force in both the Reds' and Twins' rotations over the past four seasons, accumulating an fWAR similar to Joe Musgrove's and more than Montas'. The 33-year-old has also been about as good as the similarly aged Chris Bassitt, who inked a three-year, $63-million contract with the Blue Jays in December.
20. Travis d'Arnaud, C
D'Arnaud probably won't record 3.9 fWAR again after the Braves acquired Sean Murphy to split time with him behind the plate, but the veteran backstop should be the best free-agent catcher available next offseason. He's a gifted defender who also ranked third in slugging percentage and fifth in isolated power among catchers with 400 plate appearances last season.