Best fits for top 10 remaining free agents
There are a number of prominent players on the free-agent market this offseason, headlined by two-time AL MVP Shohei Ohtani. While Ohtani figures to dominate the headlines, plenty of names could significantly alter a club's fortunes for the 2024 campaign and beyond.
We take a look at 10 of the top free agents available and try to play matchmaker.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Let's be real: Thirty teams (OK, 29 excluding the A's) could be a fit for Ohtani. He's a once-in-a-century baseball unicorn who's doing things on both sides of the ball that are unheard of in this era. Sure, he won't pitch in 2024, but that's only one year of a multi-year contract - and he'll still be the best hitter on the planet while he rehabs his pitching elbow. From an organizational perspective, the benefits of signing Ohtani beyond the wins include increased international exposure thanks to signing one of the world's most famous and visible athletes.
That said, only a few big-market teams can probably afford Ohtani if he's not willing to take a shorter-term deal. Ultimately, the team that's been most heavily linked to him for years - the Dodgers - makes the most sense. On the field, he's an obvious upgrade at DH over J.D. Martinez, who was very good for the Dodgers last year. In 2025, he'll return to the mound and stabilize an injury-ravaged rotation for the long term. The Dodgers can easily afford to build an expensive and sustainable winner around what's likely to be a historically large contract while providing Ohtani with the biggest stage of all in Hollywood.
San Francisco Giants: Snell's market should be robust, but only one team will land the left-hander. He's the top starter available in free agency after securing his second Cy Young thanks to league-leading numbers in ERA and opponents' batting average while finishing top 10 in K/9, HR/9, FIP, WHIP, wins, and fWAR.
Snell, who turns 31 in December, has been linked to the Padres, Dodgers, Giants, and Phillies, but his best fit is San Francisco. The Giants want to make a splash after whiffing on top free agents last winter and could use another top arm to pair with NL Cy Young runner-up Logan Webb. Snell is the type of strikeout artist the Giants need after their starters finished 23rd in fWAR and 25th in K/9 last year, and pitching in Oracle Park would be beneficial for Snell, who's allowed one homer and limited opposing hitters to a .487 OPS in his four starts there.
New York Mets: Yamamoto is perhaps the most talented and hyped Japanese pitcher to make the move across the Pacific since Masahiro Tanaka, and it's very easy to see why. The reigning three-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan's Cy Young equivalent) is coming off an all-time great season for the Orix Buffaloes, posting a sparkling 1.21 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is that he allowed two homers in 164 innings, and he has never given up more than eight in a season in the world's second-best league.
The bids for Yamamoto will be high and involve many suitors. Not only is he going to command a massive salary, but he also reportedly wants to pitch for a big-market team. Within those qualifiers, the Mets feel like Yamamoto's best choice. Owner Steve Cohen has shown he'll spare no expense to field a winner, so he'll very likely be willing to both meet Yamamoto's demands and pay Orix a sizable posting fee. The Mets desperately need starting pitching, with an emphasis on finding an ace. Yamamoto is exactly that. He's a perfect fit for Flushing.
New York Yankees: Bellinger is the top hitter available after Ohtani following a terrific bounceback campaign with the Cubs, where he resembled the same player who won an MVP in 2019. The 28-year-old should have a bigger market in free agency this winter then last after slashing .307/.356/.525 with 26 homers, 29 doubles, 97 RBIs, and 20 steals while playing an athletic center field and Gold Glove-caliber defense at first base.
The Yankees look like the ideal landing spot for Bellinger, who fits several of their needs, including a left-handed hitter who can play center field. Hitting at Yankee Stadium would be a boon for Bellinger, where his pull-happy swing would line up well with the short porch in right.
Chicago Cubs: Chapman's 2023 production fell off a cliff after he won AL Player of the Month in April. The third baseman hit just 17 home runs with 54 RBIs in 140 games and batted around .200 over the final few months of the season. Chapman added a fourth Gold Glove to his decorated defensive resume, but there are some legitimate questions about how the 30-year-old's game will age. Despite the risk associated with signing Chapman to a multi-year contract, teams are still likely to be interested considering the dearth of impact position players available - particularly at third base.
The Cubs are currently projected to enter 2024 with Nick Madrigal at the hot corner. Signing Chapman would give new manager Craig Counsell one of baseball's best defensive infield alignments with Chapman, Dansby Swanson, and Nico Hoerner anchoring things. The Cubs have been searching for a consistent presence at third base since Kris Bryant, and Chapman could instantly provide stability and consistency at the position for a team looking to take another step toward contention next season.
Baltimore Orioles: Hader re-established himself as one of the game's premier closers last season after a puzzlingly inconsistent performance in 2022. The 29-year-old has allowed home runs at points during his career, but he can still rack up strikeouts in dominant fashion. Hader could be looking at the five-year, $102-million contract Edwin Díaz received from the New York Mets as a benchmark in free agency. With four 30-plus-save seasons under his belt, that feels like a fair target for Hader and his representation.
The Orioles look poised to make a big splash this offseason. Coming off a 101-win campaign and the first division title since 2014, Baltimore is positioned to add payroll. Orioles general manager Mike Elias said the club will prioritize adding a high-leverage bullpen arm to compensate for All-Star closer Félix Bautista's absence as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. Hader would be as good a replacement as the Orioles could find for a reliever like Bautista, who dominated to the tune of a 16.23 K/9 in 2023. The addition of Hader would also allow All-Star reliever Yennier Cano to pitch in a setup role, where he excelled last season.
Cincinnati Reds: Gray is one of the more intriguing arms available. He's coming off a career-best season with the Twins, and he was the runner-up to Gerrit Cole for the AL Cy Young after posting a league-best 2.83 FIP and allowing only eight homers. Gray also boosted his K/9 rate for the first time in three years and surpassed the 180-inning mark for the first time since 2015. The three-time All-Star may not be an ace, but he's proven himself time and time again as a reliable option for most contenders.
Gray's past struggles in New York and his consistent success in smaller markets may point him toward another quieter destination in free agency. Since a return to the Twins may be out given Minnesota's plans to cut payroll, Gray should look into rejoining the Reds. He enjoyed some of his best seasons during his three-year run in Cincinnati, and he seemed to do fine pitching in homer-friendly Great American Ball Park. The Reds are on the rise in the wide-open NL Central, and they need a veteran starter to help stabilize a young rotation that took its lumps in 2023. A Reds-Gray reunion checks off a lot of boxes for both parties.
St. Louis Cardinals: Montgomery positioned himself well for a lucrative free-agent deal with an impressive showing down the stretch and into the playoffs for the Texas Rangers. The southpaw posted a career-low 2.79 ERA in 67 2/3 regular-season frames before logging a 2.90 ERA in 31 postseason innings during the Rangers' World Series title run.
A reunion with the Cardinals would be a good fit. The Cardinals entered the offseason on the hunt for multiple starting pitchers and could use one more after signing Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson. They are familiar with Montgomery, who made 32 starts for them over two seasons before they traded him to the Rangers. Montgomery pitched well during his brief stay in the Midwest, logging a 3.31 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 1.19 WHIP in 184 2/3 innings for St. Louis.
Toronto Blue Jays: Soler rebounded from a dismal 2022 campaign by hitting the second-most home runs (36) of his career. The 31-year-old also cut his strikeout rate by nearly 5 percentage points from the previous season. Soler's been inconsistent in his career but remains one of the game's best pure power hitters. He would instantly provide a tremendous boost to the lineup of any team looking for more home runs.
The Blue Jays make a lot of sense for Soler. Toronto struggled to hit homers in 2023, finishing the season 16th after ranking seventh and first in MLB over the previous two campaigns. Soler could help provide George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with more protection in the lineup and make Toronto more difficult to attack for opposing pitchers.
Detroit Tigers: Rodriguez opted out of his deal with the Tigers after a solid season. He's coming off a career-best year as the veteran rock of a young Detroit staff, and while he will secure a nice payday, the 30-year-old will be a slightly cheaper option than some other left-handers on the market. E-Rod may not be an ace on a contender, but he's an experienced and dependable left-hander who can help get a rotation to the next level.
But why mess with a good thing? Although Rodriguez will certainly garner interest, returning to the Tigers is the best fit for him long term. He can continue to guide their up-and-coming staff while also being the dependable veteran atop the rotation that they sorely need. The AL Central remains fairly wide-open, and Rodriguez is the type of pitcher who could help the Tigers make a surprise push in 2024. In two years, he's become part of the foundation in Detroit. The two sides may just need each other.