The Red Sox reached an 11-year extension with third baseman Rafael Devers on Wednesday, thereby ensuring that he, unlike Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, will not become the latest star to depart Boston. Devers’ new pact doesn’t alter the Red Sox’s short-term outlook — he was already on the roster, and they weren’t inclined to trade him this offseason anyway — but it does have an immediate effect on next winter’s free-agent class.
Indeed, Devers could have played out the string with the Red Sox before testing the open market next winter as one of the top two or three players available. Instead the free-agent class will have a little less starpower to dream on. That doesn’t mean the 2023-24 market will be without big names, however.
To wit, let’s take a premature stab at ranking the 10 best players who are expected to be available in about nine months. As always, note that this is for entertainment purposes only, and that we’re doing our best in making educated guesses about which players will opt out and which will not.
Now, let us proceed.
Ohtani is an unprecedented talent heading for an unprecedented payday. How much are teams willing to pay a player who is above-average in both pitching and hitting? Barring an ill-timed injury, it seems likely we’ll find out next winter. Ohtani has been adamant that he wants to win a World Series, something the Angels aren’t well-positioned to do. The Dodgers and Mets, among others, are expected to pursue him if and when he becomes available. In other words, Ohtani won’t have to choose between riches and victories.
Machado has the ability to opt out of his contract after the season, leaving five years and $160 million on the table. At that point, he’ll be 31 years old and potentially coming off a run that saw him earn Most Valuable Player Award consideration in four consecutive seasons. Strange things can happen with opt-out calls — Nolan Arenado stayed in St. Louis, for example — but we think Machado would be able to either beat his average annual value, or to increase his overall payout by signing one of those trendy super long-term deals. If he decides he likes living in San Diego too much to bother … well, fair enough.
3. Julio Urías, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urías will enter his walk year having amassed the fourth-best ERA+ among pitchers with at least 300 innings thrown during the Pandemic Era. Factor in how he’ll be only 27 years old; how he throws with his left hand; and how the Dodgers have plenty of financial flexibility heading into the new year, and that would all seem to bode well for his chances of landing a big payday.
Nola is a few years older than Urías and his Pandemic Era statistics aren’t as shiny because of a down 2021 campaign. Nevertheless, he’s an established workhorse with multiple top-five Cy Young Award finishes. Nola should be able to fetch a lucrative long-term deal, be it from the Phillies or elsewhere.
Chapman rebounded from a career-worst effort in 2021 in his first season with Toronto by posting a 115 OPS+ and homering 27 times in 155 games. Of course, he’s not just an above-average hitter, he’s also one of the finest fielding third basemen in the majors. Provided Chapman avoids another disappointing outing like he had the season before last, he should be a hot commodity.
6. Yu Darvish, RHP, San Diego Padres
Darvish will celebrate his 37th birthday in August, making him the oldest player in the top 10. That said, he remains a highly capable big-league starter. Should that appear to be the case in nine or ten months, that will bode well for his chances of securing a deal similar to the short, stacked deals signed by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander over the past two offseasons.
We expect this to be an over- or an underrank of Rosario. He’s coming off a career-best season, but it stands to reason teams will have varying opinions about his defensive ability and the sustainability of his offensive gains. After all, Rosario struck out more than four times as often as he walked last year. A lot could be riding on how he performs this year, in his age-27 campaign.
8. Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
The market tends to be unkind to 30-something-year-old right-right first basemen. That’s unfortunate news for Hoskins, who will celebrate his 30th birthday come March and who hasn’t played another position since 2018. (Remember when he played left in deference to Carlos Santana?) Hoskins is a good hitter, no doubt; his 127 OPS+ during the Pandemic Era is tied for the eighth best among first basemen, behind Matt Olson and José Abreu. He’s just not the kind of transcendent hitter necessary to overcome the market’s bias.
Happ may not make it to free agency, as the rumor mill has had the Cubs yearning to extend him dating back to last summer. An agreement hasn’t been reached yet, and so we feel obligated to include him on this list. Happ had an encouraging season in the sense that he sliced into his strikeout rate, reducing it to a career-best 23.2 percent. He still walked and bopped a fair amount, although a return to his previous levels would send his stock soaring.
Good center fielders are hard to find these days, as free agents or otherwise. Bader is a defensive demon who has been an above-average hitter in two of the past three seasons. The biggest knock against him is his durability. He’s been limited by injury to 239 games over the last three seasons, and he’s never appeared in as many as 140 contests in a big-league campaign. A season where he’s hearty and hale throughout would go a long way in boosting his stock.