So, this list is coming out a bit early given that we’re still mid-World Series and options, opt-outs, and non-tenders are still all up the air (well, for the most part; Nolan Arenado already said he’s staying in St. Louis) and for that reason, I’m going to be mostly be making the following assumptions:
- If a player has an opt-out they will use it
- If a player has a club option, it will be picked up
- If a player has a player option, it will not be picked up (so, mutual options mean free agent)
So, pretty much maximizing how many players will be available given how these things are usually structured. This is also obviously non-exhaustive. Every team below can and should be signing multiple FAs if they really want to maximize getting better next year. I tried to pick the players for each team by looking at one place where one name could make a huge impact even if somehow that was the only change (well, to an extent — a couple of teams are probably beyond my help). It’s hard to just narrow things down to one name per team though, and I know I’m leaving guys off who are far (far, far, far) more likely to be signed over some of the pairings here. That’s just the nature of the beast, yeah?
OK, so this first one will probably give off the wrong vibes for this whole article because I swear I’m not trying to be specifically controversial (the next entry will confirm that) but it just… kind of makes sense? Does Arizona need pitching help both in the rotation and the bullpen? Oh yeah, absolutely. They had the 4th lowest pitching fWAR in the league, and their bullpen came in dead last with a -0.7 mark. But, they have a shockingly decent group of position players right now… save SS. Xander is a perennial .300 hitter good for a mid-.400s SLG. Arizona does have Jordan Lawlar waiting in the wings; the 2021 6th overall pick flew through four levels of the minors in 2022, finishing the year in AA. However, he’s a high school draftee and his ETA is looking like 2024 at least, at which point Xander can move to 3B if necessary (he’s historically not the greatest defender at SS anyway, although he finished 2022 in the 88th percentile), so it may work out OK for all involved. Like I said in the intro, it’s one move that would make a huge impact, whereas any one arm is definitely not going to make a change of the same magnitude.
So hey, this one’s a boring pick (there are a few more of these below) but when you’re coming off a career year at age 28 at a premium defensive position on a team that’s shown a very driven urge to keep young, homegrown stars locked up, well, it seems like a no-brainer. He’s been an elite defender for his entire MLB career, and while not a game-changing offense presence, Swanson’s bat has been good enough to be overall an asset for the last 4 years (91 and 99 wRC+ in 2019 and 2021, respectively.) Atlanta’s MO has been extensions, so maybe the fact that he’s hitting the market is illustrative, but saving all that money on the other guys means they can afford to throw some more around when some of them do hit the market. Atlanta could do with an upgrade over Ozuna at DH as well, but the FA class isn’t particularly inspiring, and they have the option of simply batting whichever of William Contreras or Travis d’Arnaud isn’t behind the dish that day.
Let’s make another wild call on a big-ticket free-agent SS. The O’s are ready to climb out of the AL East basement, and they’re ready to do it in a big way. They called up top prospects Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson and they are clearly on the roster as starters in ink. Henderson was mostly a shortstop in the minors, but the O’s called him up to play 3B, and there was talk of him moving over there as his frame filled out in scouting reports anyway, so why not keep him where he is and pair him up with one of the premier talents available on the market? Baltimore got Gold Glove-caliber defense from Jorge Mateo at the position this year (even if he got absolutely snubbed for the actual award) but he’s never shown the ability to hit consistently, and bringing in Turner means Mateo can return to being more of a utility guy like he was prior to the move to Baltimore. Turner’s not a wizard with the mitt, but he certainly isn’t a slouch at the position, and he can hit and run with the best of them. Baltimore loves a speed/power type of player, so why not add another?
2022 definitely didn’t go Boston’s way, especially after they made a big splash last winter by signing Trevor Story to pair up the middle with Bogaerts. That said, their projected depth chart for 2023 has one glaring name at the top of the list: Nick Pivetta. Pivetta is projected to be their top SP for the year, and that’s no way to go through life. Rodón doesn’t have the greatest track record for health, but the man can deal, and he made 31 starts in 2022 while pitching 178 innings, which would put him second in Boston’s rotation… right behind Pivetta. Unlike Pivetta, though, Rodón threw to a 2.88 ERA/2.64 xERA/2.25 FIP with a 33.4% K rate. Chris Sale hasn’t been able to get back on the mound looking like the Sale of old, and Boston could use another big lefty to anchor their rotation. Rodón has shown that he can shove, and Boston needs somebody to shove every 5th game.
Again, I’m picking a team to simply bring back their face-of-the-franchise SS. Sorry to be so boring, but come on. It’s been four years of “He can’t keep hitting like this given his free-swinging ways!” and he’s shown no signs of slowing down. The White Sox have a lot of choices they need to make this winter, and while José Abreu also seems like one of those perma-Sox guys, they do have Andrew Vaughn right there. When it comes to short, there’s no such replacement ready to go. Chicago has a couple of their top prospects who could play the position, but they both appear to be a year-plus away, and scouting reports on both show reservations about their ability to stick at the position. Bringing Anderson back seems like a pretty straightforward proposition.
This is a pretty un-sexy prediction for the Cubs, but right now they’re a pretty un-sexy team. Drury can play all over the diamond and he’s been swinging a pretty hot bat the last few years. The Cubs do love a scrappy, play-anywhere guy and look creakiest at the infield corners, which is where Drury can definitely step in. Most of the team’s prospects are in the OF (and pretty far from the show) so a non-flashy signing to help cover whoever needs help while they sort things out seems right up their alley. Low-risk, decent upside, and he might turn into a trade chip (again) for the team that signs him. It is what it is.
The Reds are in an interesting spot. They underperformed in 2022 given their rather weak division and the expected quality of their pitching, but they’ll be playing in that same weak division next year, with (mostly) the same rotation that definitely has promise. Their bullpen is again filled with high-upside arms that can’t stay on the mound, but it’s their OF that jumps out at me as unimpressive. At the very least, the Reds need more time for TJ Friedl and Nick Senzel to prove themselves one way or another, and Aristides Aquino has not been able to recapture the magic from his breakout 2019 performance. Nimmo, on the other hand, is a plus hitter and an average-to-plus defender who can fill in at all three OF spots, and he’s only 29 years old. Cincinnati could also use help on the left side of the infield, but with top prospect Elly De La Cruz absolutely lighting up the rankings this year, I doubt they want to look outwards to fill in either of those slots at this point.
The Guardians carried three catchers on their ALDS roster because all of them hit so poorly that Terry Francona knew he would need to pinch hit for them potentially multiple times per game. Cleveland’s always had a reputation as a Pitcher’s Club, so I don’t doubt they put a premium on defense and battery chemistry, but they can’t keep accepting such abysmal offensive production from the position across several roster spots. The Cubs don’t seem to be particularly committed to keeping Willson around, as sad as that is, and he’s an impact bat with a good ability to control the running game. He’s also shown plus framing ability in the past, although his 2022 numbers definitely didn’t match his previous performance. Cleveland has dynamic impact players at nearly every other spot on the diamond, and they have the opportunity to make a clear-cut upgrade at a glaring weakness.
Nobody ever knows what the Rockies are actually doing so I’m answering this one by simply asking who I want to see hitting in Denver for 81 games. I have taken to saying that Gallo is not a bad hitter, but a bad batter, but he might not even really be the former anymore. When he hits the ball well, though, he still hits it well. He’s still in the 94th percentile for HardHit%, and while his OAA in 2022 was pretty abysmal, his first step, arm strength, and speed are still good, so he’ll do fine patrolling the spacious grass at Coors. The rest of the Colorado depth chart is also still full of promising rookies who haven’t gotten their chances, and I refuse to be the one to suggest another aging FA to block them. 700-foot home runs or bust.
Oh, Detroit. The Tigers went hard last winter. They took a look at their division and the market and made some big pickups and internal promotions that had them buzzing as a dark horse candidate for the AL Central this season. Well, it didn’t quite work out like that, and they saw their rotation decimated by injuries. Detroit could use a boost all over the diamond, but it’s mostly that guys need to live up to their potential or get back to their performance in recent years from names like Akil Baddoo, Austin Meadows, Jeimer Candelario, and Spencer Torkelson. They also have more pitching prospects ready to lend a hand as early as 2023, but they could really use “A Guy” in that rotation to stabilize things. Eovaldi isn’t the picture of health, and he did miss time with shoulder inflammation late in the season, but he was able to return and pitch well. I originally had Martín Pérez as the suggestion for Detroit, but it might actually make their rotation too lefty-heavy, so Eo it is.
It’s Yuli Gurriel’s walk year, and at age 38, I don’t think Houston will work hard to keep him around. Bell offers a very different skillset at the plate, focusing more on OBP than AVG, but he strikes out at a below-average rate and walks at an above-average rate, which is pretty much The Houston Hitter Blueprint. Did I mention he’s a switch hitter? He’s 8 years younger than the outgoing 1B in Houston and offers a chance for them to just plug him into the lineup and forget it. Houston’s #3 prospect, Yainer Diaz, is a C/1B-type, but the team would almost assuredly prefer that he be able to take over duties behind the plate given that Christian Vázquez is also hitting the market this winter. I’m also assuming that Justin Verlander stays in Houston since it’s been a wildly fruitful relationship, and even if he does exercise his opt-out, I don’t think there’ll be much talk with anybody else before they come back around and re-sign him. He’s their Kershaw.
Drury to Chicago was un-sexy, and this one is just kind of unremarkable. The Royals are… well, they’re kind of like the Rockies in that it feels like nobody really knows what they’re doing, plus they just did a gut reno on the FO and management staff. Looking at their projected roster for 2023 it’s a lot of young players who KC hopes will grow into stars, except at the middle infield. It seems like the Adalberto Mondesi Jr. experience is nearing an end; between his injuries and ineffectiveness, the FO won’t commit to him being an everyday player/starter in the coming year, but the team has Bobby Witt Jr. and Maikel Garcia ready to swoop in and lock down that side of the infield in whatever configuration they think works best. At 2B they currently have Michael Massey atop the positional list. Yes, he’s only 24 and he’s lit up the minors, but his stint in the bigs in 2022 was underwhelming, and 2B prospects are… 2B prospects. Iglesias offers KC a player they know they can slot in at both of their current problem spots in the IF, and I doubt it’ll cost them much in terms of money or years. Their rotation is probably a more obvious spot to say needs help, but their entire staff is something like 25 years old and you would have to think the team sees better days ahead for them all. Maybe somebody like Taijuan Walker?
Ah, The The Angels Angels Of Anaheim. I was tempted to say they should sign Trea Turner just to see how they could take a $500m payroll to an under-.500 finish, but I am trying to be realistic here, right? Their OF is Trout, Ward, and (I’m sure the Angels are hoping) one of Moniak or Adell. Rendon is obviously their third baseman, and between Livian Soto, David Fletcher, and Luis Rengifo, the middle infield is in decent hands. I may be underrating the lasting effects of TOS when it comes to Jared Walsh, but first base usually doesn’t require much throwing. A rotation led by Shohei Ohtani, Reid Detmers, and Patrick Sandoval should also be able to hold its own. But the Angels dealt Raisel Iglesias to Atlanta at the deadline and the back of their bullpen looks questionable. Montero has been lights-out for Houston this year, ably filling in for Ryan Pressly when he missed time on the IL, netting 14 saves in 16 opportunities. Montero is 32, but he definitely still seems like an arm worth picking up to take over the 9th. Of course, since this is the Angels, they’ll give some huge contract to Craig Kimbrel who will completely fall apart.
The same caveat I had with Houston applies here (I even nodded towards it!) in that I am entirely sure they bring back Kershaw. That means the big departing FA is Trea Turner at SS. The Dodgers didn’t waste time extending Mookie when they traded for him, but they’re letting Trea test the market, so let’s play like they’re looking elsewhere. Well, who’s the 1B to his 1A on the market this year? None other than Correa. Who is, by the way, also a year younger than Turner. Maybe the Dodgers think Correa ages better given the lack of speed-based tooling, or maybe they just like the delicious feeling of really leaning into being the NL Evil Empire, but if LA makes a move on the infield, it should be for an SS. They still have Gavin Lux on the other side of the bag, but if they move him back to SS then their 2B situation really gets dicey, with a combo of Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and all-bat prospect Michael Busch available in-house. You’d have to assume the Dodgers would rather have Muncy DH and let Taylor and Busch play in the OF. The Dodgers always have their foot on the gas, and there’s no reason to lift now.
The Marlins are another one of the teams that’s hard to pick a name for. Sure, I could say they need to make a big splash, but that’s not the market they’re browsing come winter. It feels like every year Miami is somehow made up entirely of solid fantasy picks yet somehow that never comes together to make a competitive team, which is a shame. Their rotation still features some of the best arms in the game, and their bullpen is unsettled but talented. I originally had them down for Adam Ottavino, who would provide a quality right-handed arm, but let’s think slightly bigger. In 2022 the Marlins had Jacob Stallings behind the dish for 114 games, where he was bad both offensively and defensively. They have prospect Nick Fortes already on the roster, as he backed up Stallings last year, but they may not be comfortable or confident in his ability to really take over the job. Vázquez gives them a steady presence at catcher who they can also shift down to a 50/50 split or move to the secondary role as time goes by if Fortes does indeed break out. It’s still something of a margin move, but I thought Houston’s trade for Vázquez was very savvy, and I would feel the same about Miami signing him.
Time for another under-the-radar type move. The Brewers traded for Taylor Rogers hoping he could step in and be a big lefty arm out of the pen with the departure of Hader, and he definitely didn’t live up to the expectation (I mean, nobody was going to show up and truly replace Hader, but you get the gist). I continue to believe there’s still a good pitcher somewhere under there in Rogers, but it looks like they have the chance to get their man from just across the lake in Andrew Chafin. He only picked up a trio of saves in 2022, but it was his second year pitching to a sub-2.00 ERA line to go with two respectable if not amazing years in 2018 and 2019 (2020 was bad, but also only 9.2 innings long, and it was 2020.) Chafin’s 32, so, like Montero, you’re banking on the usual RP volatility and age-related decline holding off for a little while longer, but Milwaukee’s bullpen was pretty much Devin Williams and, uh, shrugging for the entirety of 2022, and Chafin can help in the coming season.
Central division teams and needing bullpen help, name a better duo. Well, at least the Cities That Start With M Central Teams. The Twins were supposed to win the AL Central, but they finished under .500 in 3rd place instead. They should have probably extended Correa; he played well and seemed to enjoy it there, but that didn’t happen and they have Royce Lewis all ready to slide over from 3B to take over the job following an ACL injury that ended his 2022 season. Their rotation is at least decent (again, we’re assuming they exercise Sonny Gray’s club option) and could be better than that depending on how some prospects show up, so let’s turn to their bullpen, which was rather volatile. They have Jorge López and Jhoan Duran under contract for a while yet, so we’re not looking for a closer or even a setup man, but Ottavino can step in to shut down the innings before those guys (or take over for one of them depending.) His time in The Bronx ended poorly, and his year in Boston was certainly not sterling, but with the Mets in 2022, he got the walk rate back down and bumped his K rate back up to 30%. If we’re dinging Chafin and Montero for age, I have to point out that Ottavino is 36, but again, it’s worth a shot to bolster the pen on an otherwise solid team.
The Yankees simply have to re-sign Judge. He’s their MVP who just set a new AL home run record. The team is markedly worse without him on it, and there’s nobody waiting in the wings to fill those shoes (and several guys ready to bear the brunt of the anger that comes with him leaving). The Yankees can afford to eat a couple of years at the end where maybe he’s a DH-only — it doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I need to tell you about Aaron Judge that you don’t already know, and he should play his entire career in pinstripes.
See the above blurb for the gist. But really, there’s no reason the Mets shouldn’t bring deGrom back. Yes, he’s been hurt, but when he’s on the mound he’s still deGoat, and the Mets’ rotation takes a pretty steep drop-off without him given their other names entering free agency this year. Like Judge, there’s really no argument I need to make, and just like their rivals across town, the Mets can easily afford to keep him in Queens. Don’t overthink it, just pay the man.
It’s the A’s. I think a better answer here would probably be “Nobody” but I am trying to pick a name for everybody so… you get a veteran who can play lots of positions to go with the rest of the light-hitting infield in Oakland/Vegas. Given the team is trying to move, they’re not in the market for any big names anywhere, and at the very least Frazier brings a low-strikeout approach at the plate to a team who could use that. Anyway, moving on.
The Phillies are well set up on the field for 2023, with no starting position players coming off the books and a rotation featuring a fantastic 1-2 punch of Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola. Plus, their bullpen went from punchline to asset this year. But their SP depth is looking a little thin past those two aces, depending on how you feel about Ranger Suárez and with Thor and Kyle Gibson hitting the market. Dombrowski may have the Phillies aiming higher than Anderson (maybe Bassitt?) but I figure they’re still looking for a #4-5 type, and swapping Anderson in for Gibson seems like an upgrade. Both of them have shown flashes, but Anderson did it just this past season, whereas Gibson now has over 200 innings of 5+ ERA ball in Philadelphia.
You can see the outlines of the Pirates’ core starting to come together in their current rebuild. Kind of. They’re currently slated to play Miguel Andújar at first base, so we’ll see how that one shakes out, and I was tempted to say they should go after José Abreu to just head that one off at the pass, but signing a 35-year-old corner IF FA doesn’t seem like the type of thing Pittsburgh would do, well, ever? So the next place we can turn is to the corner OF spots, where they are currently playing Jack Suwinski and Cal Mitchell. Pederson would mean taking a step back defensively but for a much better bat. Most of the Pirates’ top prospects aren’t lined up for the outfield, either, so Joc only being 30 helps as well.
The Hosmer Era is over, and we’ve already sent Bell to Houston a bit up the page, so where can the Padres turn to get 1B help? Well, look no further than José Abreu. Yes, he’s 35, but he’s never put up a below-average season offensively, and his 137 wRC+ in 2022 is the fourth-best of his career. Moving Hosmer and Voit for Bell at the deadline seems to demonstrate that the Dads are still looking to improve at first, and we’re talking about one of the pre-eminent players at the position being available. San Diego’s prospect list right now is also quite pitcher-heavy, so bringing in outside help and letting Cronenworth continue to play the middle IF/utility role is likely a good way forward for them.
Oracle Park might neutralize lefty batting HR power, but it’s an above-average park for doubles and triples and helps them when it comes to walks and strikeouts. That’s a good environment for Benintendi to play in, given his power comes from non-HR XBHs, he walks a lot, and he doesn’t strike out too much, to boot. The Giants also need to get younger, and Benny’s only 28. Of course, the OF is already pretty young in SF, and the oldest member is Mike Yastremski who still plays a good CF. As a unit, though, they could definitely benefit from Benintendi’s offensive approach and numbers.
Time for a reunion! The M’s had a great year, although it ended with a sweep at the hands of Houston, and while their bullpen was a strength in the regular season, the cobbled-together nature of it did bite them in the ALDS. Paul Sewald did manage to lock down 20 saves in 25 opportunities, but having Díaz around to work the 9th would free up an already effective bullpen to shut down opposing bats even earlier. He’s still only 29, and he had three incredible seasons in Seattle already. Sure, the odds of another 57-save season are slim, but he’s shown that the first season in Queens was the fluky one, and given the quality of the Seattle rotation, being able to shorten games by another inning could be a sizable boost for the team’s chances in the division and beyond.
The Cardinals’ pitching staff has been pretty injury-prone recently, and if there’s one thing Martín Pérez can do, it’s eat innings. He pitched 196.1 of ’em this year in Texas, and he found a new gear as it came with a 2.89 ERA. The Cardinals generally like guys who can pitch a lot, and they don’t mind if they strike everybody out since they continue to field elite defenses. Pérez should be just their type of guy. Who knows how repeatable his performance from Texas will be and to what degree, but St. Louis has a reputation for player development, and they were able to unlock more from Jordan Montgomery following the trade from NY this summer.
Profar is just an incredibly Rays dude. Plays all over the field, switch-hitter, and hits kind of around average to the point where he’s not threatening until he goes to Tampa and suddenly is unstoppable. Brandon Lowe spent most of 2022 hurt, and Profar can ably fill in at 2B when they aren’t cycling him around the rest of the diamond. He’s always been a “post-hype” guy in fantasy and trade-rumor circles which just makes me think he’s going to Tampa Bay even more. And he’ll absolutely walk the Yankees off at least twice.
Texas had the worst wRC+ in the entire league for their OF, so it should be pretty obvious why they should go after Haniger. After missing all of 2020 with a series of injuries, he came back in 2021 and picked up right where he left off, ending the year with a 121 wRC+. In 2022 he missed time with a sprained ankle, but still hit to a 113 wRC+. He’s also been a plus glove in center and left field, although the current Texas OF is definitely oriented around good glove work. Either way, the opportunity to upgrade the offense without taking a defensive hit should be something every team is looking for, and Texas spent big in the 2021-22 offseason looking to build a contender. Here’s another way to continue down that path.
The Jays starting rotation let them down in 2022, although they don’t lack talent. Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman are a premier 1-2, despite the bad luck Gausman experienced on balls in play. Behind them, there’s José Berríos, who has been… unpredictable, plus the underwhelming Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White. The Jays want to win the AL East, and they still have the overall talent level to do it. Bassitt finally got the respect he deserved playing in New York (it’s his fourth sub-3.80 ERA season in a row, and he’s had an ERA above 4.00 once in his entire career!), and adding him to their rotation would likely see Toronto as the division favorite again in 2023.
They’re another team in a deep rebuild, but everybody needs pitching. The Nats’ rotation struggled very mightily in 2022. Manaea’s not exactly a workhouse, but he can pitch a respectable number of innings with a generally respectable ERA. He almost certainly can’t be worse than Patrick Corbin when on the mound and will pitch more innings than Stephen Strasburg. It’s something of a sad endorsement here, but Manaea never really hit the ceiling most people envisioned for him in Oakland, and Washington will need starters, even if they don’t expect to win much next year. This is likely a low evaluation of Manaea, he is a lefty after all, but there doesn’t seem to be much fun in picking one of the lower-end SPs out of a hat there.
All in all, this is a weird FA class, with some clearly elite positions available and some huge names even in the shallower positions. Now I look forward to getting 28 of these totally wrong, please yell at me about it in the comments.
Photos by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire, David John Griffin/Icon Sportswire, and Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire | Featured Image by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)