The MLB hot stove is about to be turned on at the conclusion of the World Series, and this year’s MLB free agent class should see the biggest contract ever handed out to a player with Shohei Ohtani reaching the open market. We could also see the biggest contract ever handed out to a reliever with Josh Hader taking offers.
The free agent class also has two third basemen that are comparable on both sides of the ball in Matt Chapman and Jeimer Candelario, and only one contending team that could really use an upgrade at the position. Blake Snell could be a two-time Cy Young award winner by the time he’s talking with other teams. Aaron Nola and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are still playing in the NLCS.
This offseason is going to see money flying all over the place. But for today, let’s try to predict where the top 10 MLB free agents in baseball will end up.
Related: Top 2023-24 MLB free agents
Top MLB free agents and ideal landing spots
Shohei Ohtani, RHP/DH, 9.0 fWAR
The team that signs Ohtani this winter is going to land a superstar. You’ve heard of generational players. But Ohtani is a modern day Babe Ruth, both pitching and hitting at a high level. Even The Babe stopped pitching regularly after the 1919 season, and went on to hit 694 dingers after he stepped off the mound.
Ohtani is doing both–at least as long as his arm allows him. He had surgery on his shoulder in September and isn’t expected to pitch in 2024. The 29-year-old free agent was the best hitter in baseball by wRC+ with a 180 (100 is league average), launched an AL-leading 44 home runs in 135 games, and also has a career 3.01 ERA in nearly 500 innings.
Projected Shohei Ohtani landing spot: The Los Angeles Dodgers make the most sense. They have the money to go after him, and after their offense went quiet in the NLDS, why not add another bat to the mix? Plus he’s familiar with the Southern California area, which could work in L.A.’s favor. That, and the fact that the Dodgers are consistently in the postseason, a place Ohtani has never been.
Sonny Gray, RHP, 5.3 fWAR
Gray, 33, has really turned his career around in two seasons with the Minnesota Twins, limiting home runs and walks en route to ERAs of 3.08 last season and 2.79 in 2023. His ERA this season ranked third among qualified starters, behind just NL and AL Cy Young frontrunners Blake Snell and Gerrit Cole.
At 33, Gray represents a quality pitcher that may not demand the same in free agency as Snell is likely to receive, or the nine year, $324 million Cole received from the Yankees ahead of the 2020 season.
Projected Sonny Gray landing spot: There are a number of teams that make sense as a landing spot, but it’ll all come down to the length of the deal. If he’s amenable to a shorter contract, teams like the Baltimore Orioles or a return to the Twins could be in the mix.
St. Louis could use a number of arms. But one team is going to have to replace a Cy Young winner, and that’s the San Diego Padres. Signing Gray would be their way of filling the hole left by Snell, and also save them a little money in the process. It would also reunite Gray with his first manager, Bob Melvin.
Jordan Montgomery, LHP, 4.3 fWAR
The St. Louis Cardinals traded Monty to the Texas Rangers at the Trade Deadline, and all he has done for Texas this postseason is become the leader of the rotation, holding both Tampa Bay and Houston scoreless in two dominant starts while Jacob deGrom is out injured and Max Scherzer had been recovering from injury before his Game 3 start on Wednesday. He posted a 2.79 ERA with Texas in 11 regular season starts, too. He’s pitching himself to added millions this postseason.
Projected Jordan landing spot: Montgomery, 30, is likely headed back to the Texas Rangers given this postseason run. If he chooses to go elsewhere, keep an eye on the Dodgers, who need to add starting pitching, or the Chicago Cubs who are building up their next competitive team.
Blake Snell, LHP, 4.1 fWAR
The presumed NL Cy Young winner was brilliant this season, leading baseball with a 2.25 ERA in 32 starts. His walk rate was also the highest it’s been since his rookie season. Not a huge concern now, but if he’s allowing more than 5.8 hits per nine, those walks could become worrisome to some teams given the length of the contract likely being discussed.
Projected Blake Snell landing spot: The Padres re-signing him would be the obvious choice, but they could also go the Sonny Gray route instead. The St. Louis Cardinals need to make a big move this winter, and it should be a starting pitcher. Snell is the best, most expensive move they could make.
Aaron Nola, RHP, 3.9 fWAR
In 18 2/3 innings this postseason, Nola has allowed two earned runs after finishing the regular season with a 4.46 ERA in 193 2/3 innings. The 30-year-old is an absolute workhorse and will likely land on a team looking to add depth to their club.
Projected Aaron Nola landing spot: Two teams make sense if Nola and the Phillies can’t come to an agreement, and both wear orange and black. The San Francisco Giants had two starting pitchers for parts of 2023, with the rest of the rotation filled with bullpen games and openers.
If San Francisco misses out on Ohtani like they have with other big free agents in recent years, they could switch their attention to a dependable starter like Nola. The other team is the Baltimore Orioles, who are on the upswing and could use more high-end pitching to pair with their young guns. The question for them would be whether they’d be willing to meet his asking price.
Matt Chapman, 3B, 3.5 fWAR
Chapman, 30, has been at least a three-win player in every full season he’s played in. This year with the Toronto Blue Jays he hit .240 with a .330 OBP and a 110 wRC+. Defensively, he was a top-ten third baseman with +5 Outs Above Average. Chapman is an all-around player, and arguably the best position player on the board this winter outside of Ohtani.
Projected Matt Chapman landing spot: The Dodgers make the most sense. Chapman is from Southern California, and while Max Muncy had a slightly better bat in 2023 with a 114 wRC+, his defense at third was nearly at the bottom of the league with -8 Outs Above Average. Signing Chapman would allow Muncy to slide over to second and return Mookie Betts to right field where he has multiple Gold Gloves.
Jeimer Candelario, 3B/1B, 3.3 fWAR
Candelario, 29, had an outstanding bounce back season after a rough 2022, mashing 22 homers, batting .251 with a .336 OBP and a 117 wRC+ with the Tigers and Cubs. His defense isn’t quite Chapman-esque with +2 Outs Above Average, but it’s still better than half the league.
Projected Jeimer Candelario landing spot: If Chapman signs elsewhere, the Los Angeles Dodgers could be in the mix. If the Toronto Blue Jays don’t decide to give the third base job to number two prospect Orelvis Martinez, then Candelario makes perfect sense for Toronto. That said, they’re going to need to hand out some big contracts to their own players before long, so the money may not be there for Candelario. The right answer is probably the boring answer: He re-signs with the Chicago Cubs.
Kyle Gibson, RHP, 2.6 fWAR
Gibson, 35, finished with a 4.73 ERA but a 4.13 FIP, indicating he was pitching better than the results he got. He’s another workhorse for a potential rotation, tossing 182, 167, and 192 innings the past three seasons.
Projected Kyle Gibson landing spot: For a pitcher like Gibson, it’s not about which team needs a starter, because every team could use more rotation depth. Instead, which team has a good enough offense that could keep them in Gibson’s starts with his slightly higher than league average ERA? The Orioles are one could use a low-cost veteran and they’re familiar with Gibson already.
The Cardinals need arms to return to contention. For fun, let’s say Cleveland nabs him. They have a knack for getting a little more out of pitchers, and he’s not going to have too hefty a price tag. Plus, he affords them some insurance if their rotation falls apart due to injury again. They’re also in a winnable AL Central where little moves can make a big impact.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF, 2.1 fWAR
Gurriel Jr., when he gets going, is extremely exciting and a potential difference-maker. The 30-year-old hit .261 with a .309 on-base percentage this year and had a 106 wRC+. In May, he hit .352 with eight home runs and a 200 wRC+. He also ranked in the 66th percentile in Outs Above Average, but his arm provides even more upside in left.
Projected Lourdes Gurriel Jr. landing spots: The Yankees got the least production from their left fielders in 2023 with -1.2 fWAR from the group they sent out there. Miami could also be in the mix, but who knows how active they’ll be this offseason after losing Kim Ng. The Diamondbacks seem like the best fit. He’s been there, the team made the NLCS, and he’s not going to be break the bank either.
Josh Hader, LHRP, 1.7 fWAR
Hader, 29, finished the season with a 1.28 ERA out of the Padres bullpen and racked up 33 saves. He’s gong to be the best reliever on the market, and he has a chance to set the record for largest contract ever by a relief pitcher. Edwin Díaz got five years and $102 million from the New York Mets, which is the current high water mark. Whether or not he sets the record, we know Hader will get paid.
Projected Josh Hader landing spot: The Texas Rangers, regardless of how they finish this season, seem like the perfect fit for the left-hander. The Rangers finished 27th in saves (30) and 24th in bullpen ERA (4.77) this year. An upgrade is coming, and Hader is the best one on the board.