It has been less than two weeks since the Rangers captured the first World Series title in franchise history, but MLB teams have already shifted their focus to the 2024 season. Here’s a look at the top free agents available this offseason — including Shohei Ohtani, one of the most anticipated free agents in baseball history — which teams could make the most noise in MLB free agency, and how those potential moves could shift 2024 World Series odds.
Shohei Ohtani (DH/RHP)
Likely destination: Dodgers (Tipico Sportsbook: +720 odds to win 2024 World Series)
Top Alternatives: Giants (+3500 World Series odds), Angels (+7000)
As he was putting together one of the best seasons in the league as both a pitcher and a hitter simultaneously in 2023, Ohtani seemed destined to land the largest MLB contract of all time this offseason. His deal may still wind up setting records, though his value took a hit when his AL MVP-worthy 2023 campaign with the Angels was cut short by an elbow injury that required a second Tommy John Surgery. Prior to that, there were thoughts he could move at the trade deadline, but the Angels held onto their superstar.
Ohtani isn’t slated to pitch again until 2025, and it’s an open question how effective he will be when he returns to the mound — but he should be available as a hitter at or near the beginning of the 2024 season.
As for his destination, it likely isn’t much of a mystery. Ohtani reportedly had interest in the Dodgers when he first came to MLB prior to the 2018 season, but the National League didn’t have a DH slot to offer him on his non-pitching days at the time. Given his reported preference for the West Coast, and the Dodgers’ combination of need and means, Ohtani will almost certainly wind up signing with the Dodgers.
Your 2023 @officialBBWAA AL Most Valuable Player Award finalists:
Marcus Semien pic.twitter.com/eue5p6qL1V
— MLB (@MLB) November 7, 2023
Other California teams like the Giants and Angels can dream, but their role is likely to be simply driving up his price. From 2021-23, Ohtani slashed .277/.379/.585 with 124 home runs and 290 RBI in 450 games, while Aaron Judge has a .291/.402/.615 line with 138 HRs and 304 RBI in 411 games over that same span.
Ohtani isn’t quite the hitter Judge is, but he’s a year younger and could offer additional value as a pitcher again down the line, so a contract that exceeds Judge’s nine-year, $360 million pact with the Yankees is certainly possible for the Japanese 29-year-old.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (RHP)
Likely destination: Mets (+2500)
Top Alternatives: Dodgers, Yankees (+1500)
The Mets have said they’re building for the future rather than 2024, but signing the 25-year-old Japanese pitcher Yamamoto would put the Mets in position to succeed both now and later. There are some concerns about Yamamoto’s slight 5-10 frame, but that hasn’t held him back in the slightest in the Japanese league, where he posted a 1.39 ERA over 193.2 innings in 2021, a 1.68 ERA in 193.0 innings in 2022, and a 1.16 ERA in 171.0 innings in 2023.
Yamamoto will be highly sought after once he’s posted. The Dodgers have numerous holes to fill on their pitching staff, while the Yankees will likely be looking to make a splash after missing the postseason, but the Mets’ greatest asset is team owner Steve Cohen’s willingness to spend. With Yamamoto fitting the team’s timeline and costing nothing but money, look for Cohen to be aggressive here and blow the other offers out of the water to ensure the Mets land the Japanese star.
Blake Snell (LHP)
Likely destination: Cardinals (+4000)
Top Alternatives: Mets, Giants
Snell has now led both leagues in ERA among qualified starters. He did so in 2018 for the Rays in the American League, winning the AL Cy Young Award while posting a 1.89 ERA in 31 starts. In 2023, Snell led the NL with a 2.25 ERA across 32 starts for the Padres.
The left-handed ace will have no shortage of suitors, with San Diego also looking to bring him back. Any other team with enough funds to afford his services likely will at least inquire about doing so. The Padres have +1700 World Series odds on Tipico, though those could get substantially longer if the team doesn’t retain key free agents such as Snell and Josh Hader. The future of Juan Soto also looms large.
Your 2023 @officialBBWAA NL Cy Young Award finalists:
Logan Webb pic.twitter.com/xR6KFrmvoE
— MLB (@MLB) November 7, 2023
Snell will turn 31 in December, so he should still have plenty of quality seasons ahead of him. The Cardinals have a glaring need for starting pitching, and after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2018, St. Louis will likely be aggressive in free agency.
Cody Bellinger (CF/1B)
Likely destination: Giants
Top Alternatives: Yankees, Cubs (+3000)
Bellinger’s production fell off a cliff in his last few seasons with the Dodgers, but the 2019 NL MVP rebuilt his value by slashing .307/.356/.525 with the Cubs last season. In a weak free agent class for hitters, the 28-year-old slugger should have plenty of suitors.
Bellinger would fit the Yankees’ need for a left-handed bat and outfield help, but New York will likely pursue an even splashier move after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Trading for Juan Soto would fill both of those needs, and such a move would likely take the Bronx Bombers out of the running for Bellinger.
The Cubs should have interest in bringing Bellinger back, but after the Giants narrowly struck out on numerous big names last offseason, San Francisco should finally land a difference-maker in free agency one year later. Bellinger’s a tier or two below the likes of Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa, whom San Francisco targeted last offseason, but he could still move the needle for a Giants team that has won just 81 and 79 games the past two seasons following a 107-win season in 2021.
Josh Hader (LHP)
Likely destination: Rangers (+1000)
Top Alternatives: Phillies (+1100), Red Sox (+3000)
Hader’s the top reliever on the market, and the World Series champion Rangers have a glaring need in their bullpen. The lefty had a minuscule 1.28 ERA for the Padres last season while topping the 30-save threshold for the fourth time in the past five seasons. The only time Hader fell short of 30 saves in that stretch was during the truncated 2020 campaign, and his 13 saves led the NL that year.
The Rangers haven’t been shy about throwing around big money in recent offseasons, and the mix of Texas’ tax benefits and the ability to instantly contend for a championship will make Arlington an enticing destination for Hader.
J.D. Martinez (DH)
Likely destination: Mets
Top Alternatives: Diamondbacks (+3000), Angels (+7000)
Martinez is 36 years old and doesn’t offer anything defensively, but he can still be a significant contributor on offense. The veteran slugger slashed .271/.321/.572 for the Dodgers last season, and he has averaged 33 home runs over the past six seasons. His advanced age doesn’t seem to be catching up to him just yet. If the Dodgers land Ohtani as expected, that would fill their DH spot and take them out of the running for Martinez.
Los Angeles’ other team could sign Martinez to fill the hole in the lineup created by Ohtani’s departure, though the Angels don’t have a favorable history when it comes to adding aging sluggers. Arizona normally isn’t a top free agent destination, but the Diamondbacks could strike while the iron is hot after reaching the World Series.
Ohtani’s status as a free agent at least factored into the Dodgers’ decision not to extend to JD Martinez the $20.325M qualifying offer. LA is interested in bringing back the NL All-Star DH but must first try to see what their Ohtani chances are.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) November 7, 2023
Ultimately, Cohen’s wallet may win out, and inking Martinez to a short-term deal with a high salary could help the Mets either improve their lineup for a quick turnaround or give them another trade piece should they fall out of contention in 2024.
While their stays in New York ultimately didn’t work out, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer may have created a blueprint for future Mets moves, as New York was able to stock up its farm system by trading both pricey pitchers at the 2023 deadline, and Scherzer got a World Series ring with the Rangers along with his $43.3 million 2023 salary.
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