2024-24 MLB Top 40 Free Agent Big Board: Tracking where they land – The Athletic
Tim Britton and Aaron GleemanDec 19, 2024
This is our Free Agent Big Board, comprised of our top 40 rankings (a composite of individual rankings by Keith Law, Tim Britton, Aaron Gleeman, Eno Sarris and Jim Bowden), stats breakdowns, contract projections, best fits and more. And whenever any player signs, check back here for instant analysis — how the fit works for the player and the team — all offseason long.
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10 years$700 milProfileAge29PositionDH, RHP,SPLast teamLos Angeles AngelsInnings pitched132ERA+142HR44OPS+184
Ohtani tops this list as a dual-position unicorn, but he’d also top it purely as a hitter or a pitcher despite an elbow injury that will keep him off the mound in 2024. As a hitter from 2021-23, his .964 OPS was No. 2 in MLB behind only Aaron Judge. As a pitcher during that same period, his 2.84 ERA and strikeout rate of 11.4 per nine innings each ranked third for starters with at least 400 innings.
Ohtani is unlike anything MLB has ever seen, with a legit case for being a top-five hitter and a top-five pitcher, which is absolutely bonkers. In the past three seasons, he produced 26.5 fWAR — 15.5 as a hitter and 11.0 as a pitcher — a mind-bending total that breaks down to roughly $70 million a year in strictly on-field value. He’s all but assured of securing the largest contract in MLB history. Buckle up.
Sometimes, the most obvious answer is the right answer. Ohtani stays in California, for the big-market team of his choosing, and shatters the record for the biggest deal in MLB history with a $700 million payday that nearly equals the previous biggest contracts for a hitter ($426.5 million, Mike Trout) and pitcher ($324 million, Gerrit Cole) combined. And despite the preference for secrecy, and complaints about how long the process took, Ohtani actually got signed earlier in the offseason than many past mega-deals, getting everything wrapped up well in advance of Christmas. — Aaron Gleeman
This is the Dodgers flexing their spending power, above and beyond the usual ways to reach a level only possible for the rare teams secure with massive local TV deals unlikely to burst soon. For purely on-field value, the $70 million annual salary is a near-exact match for his production the past three years. Maintaining that level of play for a decade will be difficult, even for the unicorn that is Ohtani, but it’s only money and the off-field value provided by the biggest superstar in the game, in the bright lights of Hollywood, carries off-field value unlike we’ve ever seen. — Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details10 years, $700 milStaff rankings1Law1Britton1Gleeman1Sarris1Bowden3 year fWARDHRHPSP2
7 years$172 milProfileAge31PositionRHP, SPLast teamPhiladelphia PhilliesInnings pitched193 2/3ERA+96
Over the last six seasons, Nola ranks first in the sport in games started, second in innings, third in strikeouts, and 15th in FIP (among pitchers with 100 starts). He has pitched at close to an ace level over that time, and he has been available all of that time. His last missed start due to injury was in May 2017.
The rub for Nola is that, in two of the last three seasons, his ERA has been worse than the league average. When he struggled in 2021, Nola’s peripheral stats suggested a bounceback was coming; he complied in 2022 to earn a fourth-place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting. His peripherals aren’t as rosy this year as they were then, although they are still better than league average. His strikeout rate is down a bit, and his walk rate moved back up after a career best last season. He served up a career-high 32 home runs in 2024.
This is a no-brainer for Nola, who stays with the team that drafted him in 2014 and gets roughly $25 million per year through age 37 despite coming off a 4.46 ERA season. Seven years is the longest deal for a free-agent pitcher since Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg in the 2019-2020 offseason, and Jacob deGrom (five years and $185 million last offseason) is the only free-agent starter to sign for more total money since then. — Aaron Gleeman
Dave Dombrowski doesn’t mess around. Contracts this big aren’t normally signed this early in free agency, but Dombrowski doesn’t care about normal when it comes to adding and keeping stars. Nola is now the Phillies’ seventh player with an average annual salary of at least $20 million, joining Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber. The Athletic’sTim Britton had projected a six-year, $180 million deal.— Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details7 years, $172 milStaff rankings3Law3Britton2Gleeman2Sarris4Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP3
12 years$325 milProfileAge25PositionRHP, SPLast teamOrix Buffaloes (NPB)Innings pitched171ERA+NPB
Yamamoto will be the most prized pitcher on the open market for two reasons. First, he’s posted better results in Nippon Professional Baseball than any pitcher who’s ever signed in the majors. Second, he’s only 25, making him an appealing option for teams that are both looking to win right away in 2024 and toward a sustained window of competitiveness beyond next year.
Yamamoto has won the last three Eiji Sawamura awards — Japan’s version of the Cy Young Award — and twice been named the Pacific League’s most valuable player.
Yamamoto works with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and touches higher. His best secondary pitch is a splitter that dives off the table, and he utilizes an unorthodox grip on a tight curveball. Yamamoto has struck out opposing hitters about 50 percent more than the league average in Japan.
A team signing Yamamoto will be subjected to a posting fee, paying 20 percent of the first $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of anything over $50 million.
Even a diehard major-league fan could have been forgiven for not knowing who Yoshinobu Yamamoto was at the start of the 2024 season. By the end of the calendar year, he’s signed the largest contract for a pitcher in the sport’s history. Not a bad rise, eh? Yamamoto seized on a market that broke to his advantage in myriad ways, signing a deal that’s twice as long as any other for a free-agent pitcher in the last four years. It’s three years longer than the Gerrit Cole contract he eked past for total value, with an average annual value ahead of Carlos Rodón’s deal from last winter with the Yankees.–Tim Britton
Despite winning 100 games yet again last season, the Dodgers limped into the playoffs with a threadbare starting rotation; Clayton Kershaw allowed six runs in the first frame of the postseason, and LA never recovered in a sweep by Arizona. Now Los Angeles has rebuilt the rotation in one offseason: Yamamoto joins Tyler Glasnow atop the hierarchy next season, with Shohei Ohtani tagging in for 2025. There’s plenty of risk here, for sure. Yamamoto hasn’t pitched an inning in the big leagues, and his relatively short stature could affect his long-term durability. (Glasnow himself isn’t exactly an innings eater.) But LA’s long-term rotation has as high an upside as any in the majors, and the Dodgers beat out a lot of desperate and wealthy teams to land another prize.–Tim Britton
Photo:MLB Photos / StringerData:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details12 years, $325 milStaff rankings4Law2Britton3Gleeman4Sarris2Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP4
Staff rankings2Law4Britton5Gleeman5Sarris6BowdenProfileAge28PositionCF, 1BLast teamChicago CubsHR26OPS+133
The only words that glide off a GM’s mouth smoother than “risk/reward” are “sustainability” and “opportunistic.” So here is Bellinger, as risky a big-time reward as free agency has presented in some time.
After a pair of bewilderingly poor seasons, Bellinger returned to being one of the game’s premier players in 2024 on a pillow contract with the Cubs. He was the linchpin to an improved Chicago offense, propelling it into contention during one otherworldly stretch this summer and overall posting his best numbers since his MVP campaign in 2019 while patrolling center field most of the time.
Bellinger is still only entering his age-28 season, and his ceiling is as a superstar capable of pairing top-flight offense with standout defense at a premium position. There’s no other position player available in this market that can claim that.
Bellinger has also shown a lower floor than most any free agent who’s signed for the kind of deal he may land this winter, and his batted-ball data suggested his offensive results last season may have outpaced his input.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection6 years, $162 millionBest fitsBOS, CHC, NYY, SFStaff rankings2Law4Britton5Gleeman5Sarris6Bowden3 year fWARCF1B5
Staff rankings7Law5Britton4Gleeman3Sarris5BowdenProfileAge31PositionLHP, SPLast teamSan Diego PadresInnings pitched180ERA+182
Few pitchers have hit free agency coming off as dominant a stretch as Snell put together in his walk year: From the end of May on, he compiled a 1.20 ERA over 23 starts, blanking the opposition in 11 of those outings (and only twice allowing more than two runs). He is likely to claim his second Cy Young Award later this month and thus become just the seventh pitcher to win the award in both leagues.
But “walk year” was an apt way of describing Snell’s season in multiple ways. He posted those remarkable results while also leading the league in walks; the last Cy Young Award winner to do that was Early Wynn in 1959. Because he goes to so many full counts, Snell rarely works beyond the sixth inning and averaged fewer than 5 2/3 innings per start this season.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection5 years, $135 millionBest fitsLAD, SF, STL, TEXStaff rankings7Law5Britton4Gleeman3Sarris5Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP6
Staff rankings6Law6Britton7Gleeman7Sarris3BowdenProfileAge31PositionLHP, SPLast teamTexas RangersInnings pitched188 2/3ERA+138
Montgomery’s raw stuff doesn’t excite and he was traded in back-to-back seasons, but he’s quietly been one of MLB’s most effective and durable starters since 2021. Getting ground balls with his sinker, and whiffs with curveballs and changeups, he joined Gerrit Cole and Kevin Gausman as the only pitchers with 30-plus starts and a sub-4.00 ERA in each of the past three seasons.
Like most southpaws, Montgomery is death on left-handed hitters, but he also uses good command and two quality off-speed pitches to neutralize righties. It’s not the sexiest profile for a pitcher set to cash in big at age 31, but Montgomery is a quality second or third option in a contending rotation and figures to be a lot of teams’ top fallback plan in a relatively shallow market for starters.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection5 years, $105 millionBest fitsBOS, LAD, NYM, TEXStaff rankings6Law6Britton7Gleeman7Sarris3Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP7
3 years$75 milProfileAge34PositionRHP, SPLast teamMinnesota TwinsInnings pitched184ERA+154
Sick of nagging injuries limiting his workloads in otherwise strong seasons, Gray retooled his offseason routine at age 33 and posted his best ERA (2.79) in his most innings (184) since 2015. Gerrit Cole was the only pitcher in either league to throw more innings with a lower ERA, and Gray has a 3.22 ERA in 124 total starts since leaving the Yankees after 2018.
Much of his 2024 success can be traced to allowing just eight homers, a rate of 0.4 per nine innings that led MLB and was roughly half of his career rate. He deserves credit for that, but it’s also not sustainable. Any team signing Gray can expect more homers, and shouldn’t bank on getting more than 400 or so innings on a three-year deal, but he’s an established playoff-caliber starter with a deep pitch mix.
Gray had great timing, becoming a first-time free agent at age 34 after posting his best ERA (2.79) and most innings (184) since 2015 to finish runner-up for the Cy Young Award. He nearly doubles his $12.7 million 2024 salary on a deal that runs through age 36. An ultra-competitive veteran, he’ll fit well in a mid-sized market with a team that expects to contend for the playoffs annually, and Gray previously spent three seasons in the NL Central with the Reds. — Aaron Gleeman
After making no secret about their desperate need for starting pitching help, the Cardinals moved quickly to sign Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson as veteran innings eaters before adding Gray atop the rotation. It’s a big commitment to a 34-year-old who has topped 150 innings just twice in six seasons and had an unsustainably low homer rate in 2024, but Gray was the best free-agent starter likely to be attainable for a contract shorter than five years. — Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details3 years, $75 milStaff rankings5Law7Britton6Gleeman10Sarris10Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP8
Staff rankings9Law9Britton9Gleeman6Sarris7BowdenProfileAge31Position3BLast teamToronto Blue JaysHR17OPS+108
Chapman’s overall 2024 numbers are largely in line with career norms, but he got there in an odd, worrisome way. He had a monster April, hitting .384 with a 1.152 OPS. But then after May 1, he batted .205 with a .659 OPS in 113 games, including a sub-.650 OPS in four of the last five months. Soon to be 31, and with his last .800 OPS season in 2020, it’s fair to wonder if his days of being an impact bat are over.
His fielding remains elite, combining exceptional range with the arm strength and aggression to get outs on plays other third basemen wouldn’t even attempt. Suitors offering Chapman big long-term deals will need to feel certain his defense will age gracefully. If it does, even being an average-ish hitter with 20-homer power would make him an All-Star-caliber all-around player.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection5 years, $95 millionBest fitsARZ, CHC, DET, TORStaff rankings9Law9Britton9Gleeman6Sarris7Bowden3 year fWAR3B9
4 years$80 milProfileAge31PositionLHP, SPLast teamDetroit TigersInnings pitched152 2/3ERA+134
Two offseasons ago, Rodriguez snagged a five-year, $77 million contract from the Tigers that included an opt-out after the second year. And despite personal reasons and injuries limiting him to 17 and 26 starts, opting out became a no-brainer for the 31-year-old lefty after posting a 3.58 ERA with Detroit. He should have little issue surpassing the three years and $49 million left on his original deal.
Rodriguez sets batters up with his fastball and cutter, and puts them away with his trusty changeup, which allows him to neutralize righty bats better than most lefties. His lack of durability, time away from the Tigers in 2022 and headline-making veto of a midseason trade to the Dodgers could suppress Rodriguez’s market somewhat, but he’s a playoff-caliber lefty in a weaker free-agent starter class than last time.
Rodríguez opted out of the remaining three years and $49 million on his deal with the Tigers, landing a four-year, $80 million deal with the Diamondbacks. That’s a clear win for the 31-year-old left-hander, who gets a bigger payday and joins the reigning National League champions. And a vesting option could increase the contract to $99 million over five years. His original deal with Detroit, signed in November 2021, was $77 million over five years. Rodriguez pitched well for Detroit, posting a 3.58 ERA in 43 starts, but he also read the markets correctly, first by negotiating the opt-out and then by using it.— Aaron Gleeman
Arizona’s rotation suddenly looks a lot more formidable with Rodríguez joining Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly as the veteran front three. Last season, that trio combined to make 90 starts with a 3.36 ERA and 550 strikeouts in 540 1/3 innings. And if Brandon Pfaadt can build on his October success to take a step forward in his sophomore campaign, the Diamondbacks could have four playoff-caliber starters after needing to rely on bullpen games multiple times during their run to the World Series. —Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details4 years, $80 milStaff rankings8Law11Britton8Gleeman12Sarris11Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP10
5 years$95 milProfileAge30PositionLHP, RPLast teamSan Diego PadresInnings pitched56 1/3ERA+321
For two months of the 2022 season, one of the game’s most dominant closers broke. Over his last month as a Brewer and first as a Padre, Hader allowed 25 runs in 15 innings. Remove that stretch from his résumé, and Hader owns a 1.96 ERA over the past six seasons, a stretch of remarkable dominance.
Yes, his strikeout rate is down from the ridiculous high-40s rates he ran back in 2018 and 2019 to merely one of the top five in the sport, and his walk rate in 2024 was a new career worst. Under the hood, there are some reasons to be concerned that Hader can be as good as he has been, broadly, up to this point.
But how many relievers would you trust more in a ninth inning right now than Hader? You’re probably not counting on a second hand, and you may not be using all the fingers on the first.
While Hader’s deal falls just shy of both Edwin Díaz’s $102 million guarantee and the nine-figure threshold in general, he and his representatives can argue it’s still the largest-ever deal for a reliever. Díaz’s, after all, had deferrals that brought the present-day value down to $93.2 million. Getting five years as a reliever, even one as dominant as Hader has been in his career, remains a big deal. — Tim Britton
It makes a lot of sense in the short term. Put Hader in the ninth, after Bryan Abreu and Ryan Pressly, and games get a lot shorter for the Astros moving forward. The concern here would be the slight backslide in Hader’s peripheral numbers — a strikeout rate that is merely among the league’s best rather than a runaway No. 1, a walk rate that hit a career high last season — and the long-term plan for a roster that will see José Altuve, Alex Bregman and Framber Valdez all hit free agency in the next two winters. — Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details5 years, $95 milStaff rankings23Law8Britton10Gleeman8Sarris8Bowden3 year fWARLHPRP11
2 years$37 milProfileAge33PositionRHP, SPLast teamChicago CubsInnings pitched136 2/3ERA+113
On June 20, Stroman’s 2.28 ERA led the National League, and he was a frontrunner for the Cy Young award. He’d make only nine starts after that point, and he’d post an even 9.00 ERA in those starts.
A lot of that can probably be attributed to first a hip and then a rib-cage injury that knocked Stroman out of action for six weeks and meant an initial return to the bullpen in September as he built back up. However, it’s the second straight season in which injuries have limited Stroman to fewer than 140 innings total, and his performance when on the field has been a step back from what it was during his best years with the Blue Jays and Mets. His walk rate in 2024 was a career high. Still, as long as he’s healthy, Stroman should pitch in the top half of a rotation.
Stroman opted out of the final season of his contract with the Cubs, bypassing the $21 million he was owed to become a free agent again. His new two-year deal with the Yankees is worth $16 million in additional guaranteed money, plus a third-year vesting option, and Stroman is a Long Island native, but it’s clearly not what he had in mind at the beginning of the offseason. It’s also a step down from the three-year, $71 million deal he signed with Chicago in December 2021.–Aaron Gleeman
Stroman fits nicely in the middle of the Yankees’ rotation, and an average annual salary below $20 million shouldn’t keep them from continuing to pursue front-line starters. Stroman has a 3.65 ERA in 1,303 career innings and his ability make 25 or more starts in six of the past seven full seasons despite some minor injuries should be especially valuable given the health issues for New York starters Carlos Rodón and Nestor Cortes. He’s a solid pickup at a reasonable price.–Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $37 milStaff rankings11Law14Britton11Gleeman13Sarris14Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP12
4 years$53 milProfileAge30PositionLHP, SPLast teamYokohama DeNA BayStars (NPB)Innings pitched159ERA+NPB
While Yoshinobu Yamamoto has stolen most of the headlines, Imanaga had his own breakout earlier this year in the World Baseball Classic. He’s the left-hander who started the championship game against the United States. In three appearances in the WBC, Imanaga allowed two runs in six innings, striking out seven.
Imanaga was not quite as dominant in 2024 as he had been in 2022; nevertheless, over the past three seasons his ERA in NPB has been about 38 percent better than the league average there. That’s in line with pitchers like Hiroki Kuroda and Hisashi Iwakuma before they signed in the majors.
A team signing Imanaga will be subjected to a posting fee, paying 20 percent of the first $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of anything over $50 million.
Imanaga’s final guarantee is almost exactly what we projected for him (four years and $52 million) at the start of the offseason. However, for the last few weeks it looked as if he might end up with significantly more, perhaps even nine figures. In the end, though, he gets a solid guarantee from a competitive team, with the chance to turn it into a better deal with strong performances in his first few seasons. –Tim Britton
Quiet since their Craig Counsell coup at the GM Meetings, the Cubs belatedly enter the offseason with one of the better moves leaguewide. In a pitching market that has gone above and beyond most expectations, Chicago is paying a more than reasonable amount for a solid left-handed starter, and even the club option/opt-out terms don’t become onerous (especially for a franchise with the Cubs’ financial capabilities) should Imanaga excel. There’s more to be done by the Cubs, but this leaves plenty of room to do it.–Tim Britton
Photo:MLB Photos / StringerData:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details4 years, $53 milStaff rankings12Law21Britton14Gleeman11Sarris22Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP13
2 years$34 milProfileAge31Position1BLast teamPhiladelphia PhilliesHRDNPOPS+DNP
Along with Aaron Nola, Hoskins was the first sustainable piece of the Phillies’ rebuild, which made his missing the last season because of a torn ACL in spring training doubly disappointing. Until that point, Hoskins had been a steady and productive presence in the middle of the Philadelphia order, consistently posting an OPS+ around 125 and approaching 30 homers each season.
The knee injury creates some questions, but maybe fewer than it would if Hoskins were expected to patrol, say, center field. He should still be able to play first base, and in a bad free-agent market for position players, he’s a guy who can fit a lot of different rosters — contending teams in need of a middle-of-the-order bat, teams coming up that could use a veteran presence, rebuilding teams looking to flip someone at the deadline for prospects. That could include a return to the Phillies, depending on where they want to play Bryce Harper long-term.
At the start of the offseason, I compared Hoskins to Josh Bell’s recent two-year deal, surmising that Hoskins could end up with a similar annual value but might have to settle for a club option rather than an opt-out after the first season. Nevermind. Even off a torn ACL, Hoskins gets a second guaranteed year while retaining the freedom to opt out after the first — a big win like the one enjoyed last winter by Michael Conforto in a similarly sized deal. He even goes to a spot where he’s enjoyed small-sample success, with five homers in nine career games in Milwaukee. — Tim Britton
Hoskins always made a ton of sense for the Brewers, regardless of which direction their offseason took. Their combined OPS from their first basemen and designated hitters last season was the worst in the majors. Hoskins remedies that, giving them a middle-of-the-order bat they’ve needed for years. Even if the team decides it needs to pivot during the season, Hoskins’ deal is modest enough to make him easy enough to deal, like Bell last summer.— Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $34 milStaff rankings15Law23Britton13Gleeman9Sarris21Bowden3 year fWAR1B14
3 years$45 milProfileAge30Position3B, 1BLast teamChicago CubsHR22OPS+119
A year after being non-tendered by a team desperately in need of offensive punch, Candelario ranks as one of the better bats on the open market. As they did with Kyle Schwarber before, the Nationals turned a one-year deal with Candelario into on-field production and a mid-season trade. Candelario hopes that translates into a similar multiyear payday.
While the primary statistics were right in line or better with his production in 2021 or the abbreviated 2020 season, Candelario’s underlying metrics were a little less positive this time around. Still, that’s three seasons in the past four he’s delivered solid if not quite spectacular results while playing a decent third base. For a team with a need on either corner of the infield, Candelario is a strong option behind Matt Chapman.
Last offseason, Candelario had to settle for a one-year, $5 million contract with the Nationals after being non-tendered by the Tigers. He got back on track in 2024 and re-established himself as a solidly above-average hitter able to handle either corner infield spot. He has 20-homer power and produces from both sides of the plate, but clearly Candelario’s rough 2022 season kept his market from truly taking off. After playing for three teams in the past two seasons, Candelario gets to stay in one place for a while with an annual salary triple what he made in 2024. — Aaron Gleeman
Cincinnati adding Candelario to an infield mix stacked with young talent perhaps isn’t the most obvious fit, but the switch-hitter was one of the best bats in this class and complements the many right-handed hitters in the lineup. His arrival will lead to Spencer Steer seeing more time in the outfield and could even pave the way for the Reds to trade an infielder for help elsewhere. This deal is on the lower end of most Candelario contract projections in terms of both annual salary and length, so the value is there for the Reds even if the fit isn’t seamless. — Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details3 years, $45 milStaff rankings14Law12Britton12Gleeman20Sarris27Bowden3 year fWAR3B1B15
2 years$38.5 milProfileAge29PositionRHP, SPLast teamCleveland GuardiansInnings pitched184 1/3ERA+91
Giolito was cruising along toward another typically solid year when he was traded by the White Sox and everything fell apart. Sent first to the Angels, and then to the Guardians via waivers, Giolito went 2-9 with a 6.96 ERA in 12 starts after leaving Chicago, finishing with an ERA near 5.00 for the second straight year. Giolito still missed plenty of bats, but he served up a whopping 41 homers in 184 1/3 innings.
At age 29, he’s one of the most obvious rebound candidates among prominent free agents. Giolito received Cy Young Award votes in 2019, 2020 and 2021, and his strikeout and walk rates have slipped only slightly since then. But any team willing to spend big money on Giolito for multiple years must be sure his once-excellent changeup is still a potential weapon rather than just part of the homer-allowing problem.
Back-to-back seasons with an ERA nearing 5.00, including allowing a league-high 41 homers in 2024, kept Giolito from securing the big long-term contract that once seemed inevitable. However, two guaranteed years of an almost $20 million salary is a soft landing for a hard fall, especially after a 7.13 second-half ERA. If he’s able to bounce back in 2024, he can opt out for a big payday. And if he struggles again, there’s still $19 million waiting for him in 2025.–Aaron Gleeman
Giolito is a prime bounce-back candidate at age 29 and the Red Sox needed plenty of pitching help, so it’s a logical union. If he has a great 2024 and opts out, Boston will be plenty happy to have gotten that season for under $20 million. There’s risk for the Red Sox if his struggles are even more pronounced, and especially if he gets hurt, but unless it’s a major injury the $19 million salary for 2025 could be close to his market value anyway.–Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $38.5 milStaff rankings25Law17Britton15Gleeman22Sarris13Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP16
Jung Hoo Lee
6 years$113 milProfileAge25PositionCF, COFLast teamKiwoom Heroes (KBO)HR6OPS+KBO
In a free-agent market with a lot of 30-something corner outfielders, Lee stands out as a 25-year-old capable of playing center. If you can’t pay the price on Cody Bellinger, Lee’s your next target for that spot.
The 2022 MVP of the KBO season for the Kiwoom Heroes, Lee had a tougher season in 2024 that was cut short by a broken ankle. Still, over the past three seasons, he’s posted an OPS about 32 percent better than the rest of the league — in line with what Jung Ho Kang had produced before he signed in the majors and better than what Ha-Seong Kim had done before coming stateside with the Padres. His 2022 season included 23 homers, though he has only one other season in double digits.
A team signing Lee will be subjected to a posting fee, paying 20 percent of the first $25 million, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of anything over $50 million.
Lee’s market was apparently much more robust than expected. Not only did he get a six-year, $113 million deal that’s the largest ever for an Asian-born hitter coming to MLB and well beyond any projected contract, it includes a player opt-out clause after the fourth season. In other words, even if he proves to be worth more than the substantial price the Giants are paying, he can choose to re-enter free agency at age 28 for an even bigger payday. -Aaron Gleeman
After missing out on Shohei Ohtani and Aaron Judge, the Giants secured Lee with a deal substantially above his expected market. Given the uncertainty surrounding any foreign player without MLB experience, and most projections viewing Lee as a good regular rather than a star, the Giants are making a big bet on the 25-year-old’s upside. There’s room for them to be right, as this deal is basically a middle ground between what Brandon Nimmo (eight years, $162 million) and Andrew Benintendi (five years, $75 million) got last offseason. -Aaron Gleeman
Photo:Chung Sung-Jun / StaffData:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details6 years, $113 milStaff rankings10Law13Britton17Gleeman15Sarris37Bowden3 year fWARCFCOF17
2 years$32 milProfileAge32PositionRHP, SPLast teamSan Diego PadresInnings pitched134 1/3ERA+127
Wacha’s career hasn’t followed the typical aging curve. He arrived in the majors fully formed a decade ago, a rookie capable of dominating stout opposition in the postseason. He was a formidable starter before turning 25. The usual prime years of 27 through 29, though, were rough on Wacha. He was well below league average in all three, on the cusp of washing out of major-league rotations entirely.
After altering his repertoire as a Ray in 2021, Wacha has seen significantly better results over the past two seasons with Boston and San Diego. He’s gone 25-6 in that time, throwing about 130 innings each season with an ERA 27 percent better than the league average. Wacha has pitched for five different teams over the past five years. This might be a chance, at 32, for some stability.
Wacha has rebounded from a late-20s lull to become a reliable mid-rotation starter again, and this deal essentially guarantees him the club option the Padres declined on him at season’s end. It pays him well in the short term while once again leaving the door open to earn a bigger contract next winter if he wants to opt out. The Royals will be Wacha’s sixth team in six seasons.-Tim Britton
The Royals continue to raise the floor of their rotation — and their team as a whole — by being aggressive in the mid-tier markets across free agency. Wacha joins Seth Lugo in making the shift from San Diego to Kansas City as an established veteran who possesses a little more upside than most hurlers his age. That’s some nice ballast for a rotation whose 2024 potential resides in the development of Cole Ragans and Brady Singer.-Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $32 milStaff rankings20Law18Britton24Gleeman25Sarris12Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP18
3 years$45 milProfileAge34PositionRHP, SPLast teamSan Diego PadresInnings pitched146 1/3ERA+115
For years with the Mets, even as he evolved into one of the more valuable relief arms in the National League, Lugo maintained both his desire to start and his confidence to do so. Given that chance with the Padres, he justified all of it. He threw nearly as many innings in 2024 as he had in the previous three combined, and he did so at a 3.57 ERA.
Lugo’s carrying pitch has always been his curveball, an early Statcast darling because of its absurd spin rate. But he owns a broad mix that included a slider he was working on as last season progressed. Lugo’s relative lack of innings leading into 2024 can be looked at as a positive (his arm is far fresher than most guys at 34) or a negative (how does his arm recover from the increased workload). In a market with a lot of similar veteran arms, Lugo stands out for his unique upside at 34.
Lugo’s long-stated belief he could succeed as a big-league starter has paid off big-time for the veteran. He bet on himself last winter in a two-year deal that contained a player option, and he cashes in this offseason with Kansas City. The right-hander capitalized on a market in which everyone needs pitching, and he’ll be expected to be a top-of-the-rotation arm for the Royals. -Tim Britton
The Royals had to bring in someone to help anchor their fledgling, and in 2024 too often flailing, rotation. Entering his age-34 season, he doesn’t bring quite the same upside as other names rumored to be in Kansas City’s sights, like Lucas Giolito or Jack Flaherty. On the other hand, he was a lot better than either of those guys last season, and his recent shift to starting means there might be more in the tank even at his age. -Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details3 years, $45 milStaff rankings17Law29Britton25Gleeman14Sarris15Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP19
Staff rankings16Law26Britton29Gleeman16Sarris19BowdenProfileAge32PositionCOFLast teamMiami MarlinsHR36OPS+128
The 2021 World Series MVP opted out of the final year of his deal with the Marlins (worth $13 million) following a 36-homer season with an .853 OPS. In a market without a lot of offensive pop, Soler’s prodigious power stands out. He’s hit as many as 48 long balls in a season, and he’s averaged a home run every 20 plate appearances over the past three seasons. The power is no fluke: Soler hits the ball as hard as most anyone in the sport, and as often.
The downsides are just as clear. He played just 89 games in the outfield over the past two seasons for Miami, and he didn’t play it well. He’s vulnerable to extended cold streaks in which he strikes out about 30 percent of the time. He started the 2021 season brutally cold in Kansas City before that trade to Atlanta, and his OPS was below league average in 2022.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection3 years, $45 millionBest fitsCLE, MIA, SEA, SFStaff rankings16Law26Britton29Gleeman16Sarris19Bowden3 year fWARCOF20
1 year$23.5 milProfileAge31PositionCOFLast teamSeattle MarinersHR26OPS+106
Hernández has a lot of flaws. He swings at everything and whiffs a ton, struggles to produce consistently versus right-handed pitching and is a mediocre, mistake-prone corner outfielder despite good speed. But his raw power and ability to crush lefties are nearly unmatched, making him a prime target for unbalanced lineups in need of substantial right-handed thump.
Hernández has an MLB-leading .626 slugging percentage versus lefties since 2020, hitting .312 with 32 homers in 414 at-bats. During that time, Aaron Judge and Paul Goldschmidt are the only other regulars to slug over .600 against lefties. However, he also hit .264 with a .452 slugging percentage off righties during that span, which is far from star-caliber when attached to a .317 on-base percentage and iffy glove.
On the surface, it was odd to see Hernández settle for a one-year contract given the substantial reported interest in the right-handed slugger, but the 31-year-old clearly valued the higher salary versus the longer term. This gives him a chance to step up his production from a mediocre 2024 campaign and hit the open market again next offseason looking for the multi-year payday nearly everyone was anticipating. The appeal of playing for the Dodgers no doubt was a factor as well.–Aaron Gleeman
This is a no-brainer for the Dodgers, who pay a premium for one year of a player who fits their need for right-handed outfield thump very well and avoid having to make a long-term commitment. Hernández crushes left-handed pitching, posting an MLB-leading .626 slugging percentage off them since 2020, and he holds his own versus right-handers enough to be an everyday option. Hernández’s strikeouts and defense can be tough to watch at times, but he’s an ideal fit for Los Angeles.–Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $23.5 milStaff rankings46Law10Britton18Gleeman18Sarris18Bowden3 year fWARCOF21
Lourdes Gurriel, Jr.
3 years$42 milProfileAge30PositionCOFLast teamArizona DiamondbacksHR24OPS+108
While nothing he does jumps off the page, Gurriel does most everything well. He’s provided above-average offense in every season he’s taken a major-league at-bat, and his defense in left field has steadily improved after experiments on the infield earlier in his career.
Gurriel’s strengths are in putting the ball in play and punishing sliders. He swings a lot but misses less than most, thanks to his ability to put the bat on the ball. He’s the kind of player who’s going to bat fifth or sixth for a good team, as he has in Toronto and Arizona.
Gurriel stays with the Diamondbacks, who acquired him last offseason as part of the Daulton Varsho-for-Gabriel Moreno swap with the Blue Jays and watched as he made his first All-Star team at age 29. Gurriel’s lack of plate discipline and overall streakiness leave him short of true star status, but he’s one of the most consistently solid hitters in a relatively weak outfield class. He’s guaranteed three years and $42 million in a deal similar to Mitch Haniger’s contract with the Giants last offseason.-Aaron Gleeman
Arizona brings back a key contributor to last season’s World Series run in Gurriel, who hit a career-high 24 homers in 2024 and has produced an above-average OPS in each of his six big-league seasons. Our projections had Guerriel getting roughly this annual salary over four guaranteed seasons, so the Diamondbacks committing only three full years and getting a fourth-year team option in exchange for a player opt-out after two seasons is an interesting twist from the front office.-Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details3 years, $42 milStaff rankings33Law16Britton27Gleeman19Sarris17Bowden3 year fWARCOF22
2 years$24 milProfileAge33PositionCLast teamTexas RangersHR19OPS+134
Garver’s last five years have alternated between very good (2023, 2021, 2019) and very bad (2022, 2020). He’s also frequently been banged up, with last season’s 344 plate appearances being the second-most of his career, and it’s no longer clear he’s a realistic option to catch regularly at age 33. But his right-handed power and plate discipline make an undeniable impact whenever, and wherever, he’s in the lineup.
His combined .826 OPS since 2021 is 19th among right-handed hitters, sandwiched between Xander Bogaerts and Nolan Arenado. Garver started just 41 games behind the plate in two seasons with Texas, including only one start there after Sept. 1 last season. That suggests he should be seen as a designated hitter who can occasionally catch, but a healthy Garver is good enough to make a big impact in a bat-first role.
Garver is an oft-injured 33-year-old who has never topped 360 plate appearances in a season and can no longer be counted on as a starting catcher, so a multi-year deal for triple his previous highest annual salary is a pretty decent score. He stays in the AL West after winning a World Series ring with the Rangers and his ability to bash left-handed pitchers should be a good fit in a lineup that saw the league’s fifth-most southpaws last season.–Aaron Gleeman
Seattle has one of the league’s best catchers in Cal Raleigh, who started 114 games behind the plate last season, so Garver figures to be used primarily as a designated hitter. Given his lengthy injury history, that’s likely the best approach to maximize Garver’s value, which is driven by his right-handed power and plate discipline. He has an .826 OPS since 2021, which ranks 19th among righty bats and dramatically out-paces the punchless .677 OPS the Mariners got from their DHs in 2024.–Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $24 milStaff rankings34Law25Britton22Gleeman21Sarris24Bowden3 year fWARC23
4 years $44 milProfileAge27PositionRHP, RPLast teamToronto Blue JaysInnings pitched24ERA+162
Hicks finally turned his high-octane raw stuff into high-end performance at age 26, posting a 3.29 ERA with a career-high 11.1 strikeouts per nine innings for St. Louis and Toronto. It was Hicks’ first year with an ERA below 4.00 in at least 30 innings since his rookie season in 2018, and his 100.3 mph average fastball velocity ranked second in the majors behind Twins flame-thrower Jhoan Duran.
Hicks’ power sinker produces a tantalizing combo of missed bats and ground balls as long as he throws strikes. That’s been a challenge for most of his career, and was an issue at times even last season, but a 27-year-old late-inning reliever with a 100 mph sinker and just 13 career homers allowed in 1,041 plate appearances won’t be lacking in multi-year offers. Hicks picked the perfect time for everything to click.
This is a win on multiple levels for Hicks. If he succeeds in the rotation, he’ll still be paid well — incentives could take the deal up to $13 million per season, in line with Shōta Imanaga’s recent guarantee — and hit free agency again heading into his age-31 season. If that doesn’t work out, he’s being paid like the excellent reliever he was for much of last season.–Tim Britton
The Giants have a solid track record of maximizing talent in their pitching staff, getting very good to outstanding years recently from previously inconsistent arms like Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodón, Alex Cobb, Alex Wood and Anthony DeSclafani. So there’s a level of trust built into San Francisco’s optimism about Hicks in the rotation that might not exist with a different franchise. That said, given that injuries to Cobb and Robbie Ray will keep them out early in the season, the Giants could use another surer thing in their rotation behind Logan Webb than a transitioning Hicks.–Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details4 years , $44 milStaff rankings32Law26Britton26Gleeman17Sarris30Bowden3 year fWARRHPRP24
Staff rankings36Law31Britton23Gleeman28Sarris16BowdenProfileAge36PositionDH, COFLast teamLos Angeles DodgersHR33OPS+134
The back issues that limited Martinez in the middle of the 2022 season looked fully healed last season in Los Angeles. He hit the 30-homer mark for the first time since 2019 and in general had his best season since before the pandemic. Martinez did trade off some swing-and-miss for added slugging this past season: His strikeout rate surpassed 30 percent for the first time in his career and his walk rate was its lowest since 2014.
Martinez’s 2024 Baseball Savant page is filled with red: His expected slugging, hard-hit percentage, barrel percentage and average exit velocity all ranked in the 96th percentile or better last season. In English, the dude hits the ball hard. He’s been a middle-of-the-order bat now for a number of very good teams.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $14 millionBest fitsLAA, LAD, SDStaff rankings36Law31Britton23Gleeman28Sarris16Bowden3 year fWARDHCOF25
1 year$14 milProfileAge28PositionRHP, SPLast teamBaltimore OriolesInnings pitched144 1/3ERA+86
Flaherty was bad in St. Louis and then terrible in Baltimore, allowing 27 runs in 34 2/3 post-trade innings and being left out of the Orioles’ playoff rotation. His last season with 100-plus innings and an ERA better than league average was 2019, and he has a 4.42 ERA in 299 innings since then while being limited by injuries. Flaherty can still miss bats, but his raw stuff and control have both deteriorated in recent years.
He’s one of the youngest free-agent starters on the market at 28, which is probably enough to generate a decent amount of interest as a bounce-back bet, but it’s been a long time since Flaherty was a front-line starter. Landing a one-year contract with a pitching-smart team in the hope of getting back on track and re-entering the market next offseason might be his best-case scenario.
As expected, Flaherty landed a pillow contract after a very rough 2024 season, getting a solid one-year payday that also enables him to hit the open market again next offseason if he’s able to get back on track in Detroit. Choosing a one-year, $14 million deal over a multi-year pact isn’t without risk, but it’s a bet on himself at age 28, and a healthy, effective season from Flaherty could put him in line for a $75 million-plus score this time next year.-Aaron Gleeman
When combined with the Kenta Maeda signing, this makes sense for the Tigers as a way to add veteran upside to the rotation without making a long-term commitment. Detroit’s starter group has the potential be strong in 2024, with Flaherty and Maeda joining Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Reese Olson and potentially Casey Mize, but there’s an awful lot of uncertainty in terms of health, durability and, in Flaherty’s case, whether he can get back to the front-line starter he was a few years ago.-Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $14 milStaff rankings30Law20Britton28Gleeman26Sarris33Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP26
1 year$5 milProfileAge36PositionLHP, SPLast teamLos Angeles DodgersInnings pitched131 2/3ERA+177
The most accomplished pitcher of his generation had one of the toughest seasons of his career in 2024, which included a…let me see…an All-Star appearance and a 2.46 ERA. Yeah, still pretty good.
The big question around Kershaw, of course, is the health of his left shoulder. He looked diminished over the final seven weeks of the regular season as a five-and-dive starter and like a shell of himself when getting hammered in the Division Series. He underwent surgery on that shoulder last week, saying only that he was hopeful of playing sometime in the summer.
Any team signing Kershaw — and yes, it’d be the Dodgers — would thus have to view his potential contributions as icing and thus make sure the cake has all the other ingredients ready for Opening Day.
We’ve seen this film before. Kershaw, banged up physically and possibly thinking of retiring rather than pressing on, instead returns to the Dodgers with a short-term contract that makes sense for everyone involved. It’s a crowd-pleasing classic. This time the future Hall of Famer is rehabbing from November shoulder surgery that’s expected to sideline him until the second half, so he gets $10 million to get healthy in familiar surroundings and can make it back in time for another playoff run in his 17th season in Los Angeles while holding a player option for 2025 as well.-Aaron Gleeman
There aren’t many teams that can afford to spend $10 million for what may be only a half-season of an injured 36-year-old pitcher, but the Dodgers are certainly one of them. They can pile up first-half wins with or without Kershaw, and hope he’s back to his playoff-caliber self down the stretch and in October. Worst case, their gamble doesn’t pay off and the Dodgers spent three percent of the payroll on a parting gift for a beloved franchise icon. And, conveniently, he can immediately be transferred to the 60-day injured list, and won’t take up a spot on the 40-man roster.–Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $5 milStaff rankings24Law37Britton38Gleeman30Sarris9Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP27
2 years$24 milProfileAge36PositionRHP, SPLast teamMinnesota TwinsInnings pitched104 1/3ERA+102
Maeda’s first season back from Tommy John surgery got off to a rocky start when he allowed 10 runs to the Yankees on April 26 and was shut down for two months with forearm soreness. At age 35, there was plenty of reason to doubt if he’d ever return to form, but Maeda rejoined the Twins’ rotation in mid-June and looked like his old self with a 3.36 ERA and 103-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 88 1/3 innings.
Even while thriving in the second half, Maeda’s average fastball was barely above 90 mph, but he’s never relied on big-time velocity and his splitter-slider off-speed combo continues to baffle hitters. Counting on Maeda for more than 125 innings is probably a mistake at this point, and he can’t afford to lose any more oomph on his fastball. He’d be an ideal short-term fit in the middle of a contender’s rotation.
Getting a multi-year deal at age 36 is a win for Maeda, whose previous eight-year contract — signed when leaving Japan in 2016 — was based heavily on incentives and paid just $3 million per year in guaranteed money. He would have been a great fit for nearly every contending team for a one-year commitment, so it makes sense that the Tigers, who went just 78-84 in 2024, stepped up with a second year to get him signed. —Aaron Gleeman
Maeda is an ideal veteran to add to the middle of a rotation. He lacks durability, logging just 104 innings in his first season back from Tommy John surgery and missing two months with forearm issues. But he looked like his pre-surgery self upon returning in June, posting a 3.36 ERA with 10.5 strikeouts per nine innings. And as an added bonus, the Tigers are signing Maeda away from the Twins, who were interested in a reunion after winning the AL Central title. —Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details2 years, $24 milStaff rankings21Law39Britton21Gleeman23Sarris34Bowden3 year fWARRHPSP28
1 year$13 milProfileAge39PositionDH, 1B, 3BLast teamBoston Red SoxHR23OPS+114
Turner is no longer a viable third baseman at age 39, but he remained an impact bat after leaving the Dodgers to join the Red Sox, hitting .276 with 23 homers, an .800 OPS and a career-high 96 RBIs. His production slipped slightly in the second half, but Turner has gas left in the tank based on his ability to control the strike zone by rarely chasing and making consistent, solid contact when he swings.
There’s always a lot of competition in the first baseman/designated hitter pool, and Turner will almost surely have to settle for a one-year contract given his age, but he should be a popular target for contending teams looking to boost the lineup without having to make a long-term commitment. And moving mostly to DH helped Turner stay healthy for a career-high 626 plate appearances in his 15th big-league season.
While not the All-Star he was in his prime with the Dodgers, Turner has remained a very effective hitter into his late 30s. His successful one-year stopover in Boston, in which he set career highs in plate appearances (by playing the field less) and RBIs, rewards him with a one-year deal right around what we expected.–Tim Britton
After spending the first half of their offseason flirting with superstar lefties Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto, the Jays recalibrated to first focus on defense and now to bring in the righty-swinging Turner. The veteran should fit well in that Toronto order: He doesn’t strike out a lot, he takes his walks, and he owns a career .893 OPS with runners in scoring position. There’s a chance Turner can provide some extra insurance at third base, though he played just seven games there last season.–Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $13 milStaff rankingsNRLaw30Britton35Gleeman31Sarris26Bowden3 year fWARDH1B3B29
3 years$33 milProfileAge31PositionRHP, RPLast teamTampa Bay RaysInnings pitched52 1/3ERA+138
Stephenson is the latest journeyman reliever to have a breakout year with the Rays, his fourth MLB team in four seasons. Acquired in a low-wattage June 2 swap with the Pirates, he posted a 2.35 ERA with an incredible 60-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 1/3 innings for the Rays, striking out 43 percent of the batters he faced while allowing a .138 batting average. Stephenson had a 4.91 career ERA before the deal.
Tampa Bay tweaked Stephenson’s oft-used slider into a more cutter-like offering he threw nearly 70 percent of the time, with amazing results. He’s always thrown hard and missed plenty of bats, so Stephenson’s breakout wasn’t totally out of nowhere, but teams will have to weigh four great months versus a mediocre track record. He has one of the widest spectrums of possible outcomes in this free-agent class.
Perhaps nobody in baseball improved their perception as drastically as Stephenson did over the second half of the season, going from an agate-type trade in early June to a three-year contract for a non-closing reliever in January. Maybe you argue that Stephenson could have netted even more in a market that gave out robust deals for Reynaldo López and Joe Jimenez. But for someone with this brief a track record, this is a great outcome. — Tim Britton
Only four teams posted a worse bullpen ERA than the Angels last season, who relied on Carlos Estevez and [trails off mumbling]. Adding Stephenson helps, for sure. Of course, this team sure looks like it’s more than a helpful reliever away from anything resembling contention, and this kind of move does little to clarify the Angels’ direction for 2024 and beyond. — Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details3 years, $33 milStaff rankings29Law28Britton31Gleeman35SarrisNRBowden3 year fWARRHPRP30
Staff rankingsNRLaw19Britton30Gleeman33SarrisNRBowdenProfileAge36Position1B, DHLast teamToronto Blue JaysHR19OPS+136
Belt signed a one-year, $9.3 million deal with Toronto last offseason after 12 years in San Francisco, and he gave the Blue Jays the full Baby Giraffe experience. Belt was really good, and generally overlooked, drawing walks in bunches, hitting for power and posting an .858 OPS that ranked seventh among AL hitters with at least 100 games. But he also played only 103 games due to hamstring and back injuries.
Belt last played at least 120 games in 2019, which is the only time in the past seven years he’s topped 500 plate appearances. When healthy, he remains a strong middle-of-the-order bat, especially when spotted mostly versus right-handers, and Belt shook off any age-related worries by playing his best down the stretch … until a mid-September injured list stint. At age 36, he’s a high-end one-year solution.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $12 millionBest fitsCHC, HOU, SD, TORStaff rankingsNRLaw19Britton30Gleeman33SarrisNRBowden3 year fWAR1BDH31
Staff rankings18Law33Britton32GleemanNRSarrisNRBowdenProfileAge33PositionRHP, SPLast teamChicago White SoxInnings pitched131 1/3ERA+118
Clevinger regained some lost velocity in his second season following Tommy John surgery, but still hasn’t thrown as hard, or missed as many bats, as he once did. His strikeout rate during five seasons with the Guardians was 10.0 per nine innings, but that’s dropped to 7.5 and 7.2 the past two seasons, along with a predictable increase in homers allowed.
That leaves Clevinger looking more like a mid-rotation starter than a front-line arm at age 33, but he doesn’t offer as much durability as teams generally prefer in those spots, topping 135 innings just once, in 2018. Clevinger’s fastball-slider combo can still get plenty of outs, and his changeup showed signs of improvement in 2024, but fly-ball pitchers with below-average strikeout rates have little margin for error.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection2 years, $22 millionBest fitsCIN, PHI, PIT, WSHStaff rankings18Law33Britton32GleemanNRSarrisNRBowden3 year fWARRHPSP32
1 year$10.5 milProfileAge34PositionCFLast teamToronto Blue JaysHR8OPS+104
One of this era’s best defensive players, Kiermaier moved to Toronto after a decade in Tampa Bay and remained an elite center fielder at age 33, acing both the metrics and eye tests. And for just the second time since 2017, his OPS was also above the league average, making Kiermaier a tremendous all-around value on a one-year, $9 million contract even while playing only 129 games (tied for his most since 2015).
Contending teams should be lining up for a chance to sign him to a similar deal this offseason, but Kiermaier may have played his way into multi-year offers. Counting on more above-average hitting isn’t safe, and even the great up-the-middle fielders can’t fight off aging forever, but Kiermaier’s speed, reaction time and arm strength have shown no signs of decline. He’s still a game-changing defender.
Kiermaier more than paid off the Blue Jays’ investment in him last winter, and he returns with a raise from $9 million guaranteed to $10.5 million. It’s a comfortable situation for the center fielder, who posted one of his best all-around seasons in years in 2024, winning a Gold Glove and delivering above-average performance at the plate. The only complaint he could have is not getting a second guaranteed year entering his age-34 season.–Tim Britton
In a vacuum, this move is fine for Toronto. Bringing back Kiermaier keeps in place arguably the sport’s best defensive outfield with the center fielder flanked by George Springer and Daulton Varsho. On the other hand, the Jays seemed poised for a more significant upgrade to their core this winter, and the paths toward achieving that are diminishing. (Kiermaier’s return should rule out any pursuit of Cody Bellinger, for instance.) Toronto still has holes to fill at third base and DH, though retaining Matt Chapman for the former is probably the biggest move the Blue Jays could make at either spot now.–Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $10.5 milStaff rankings19LawNRBritton16GleemanNRSarrisNRBowden3 year fWARCF33
Staff rankings27Law38BrittonNRGleeman40Sarris28BowdenProfileAge36PositionCOFLast teamArizona DiamondbacksHR16OPS+111
Signed as a fourth outfielder/platoon designated hitter by the Mets, Pham played his way into the everyday lineup with New York, into a trade to a contender in Arizona, and into the middle of the order for a pennant-winner. He had his best season since 2019 with the Rays; you may remember Blake Snell’s disappointed reaction (and colorful phrasing) when Pham was dealt that offseason to San Diego.
Seasons like Pham’s for a 35-year-old are more often dead-cat bounces than full-on revivals. Pham, however, could argue that a late-spring change in contact lenses was a primary driver of his on-field improvement and thus a reason it can be sustained. (He has keratoconus, an eye condition that can blur vision.) A year after his strikeout rate spiked and his walk rate plunged, Pham brought both back closer to his career norms.
Pham’s also known throughout the sport for his diligent work ethic and voice in the clubhouse.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $10.5 millionBest fitsCLE, HOU, KC, OAKStaff rankings27Law38BrittonNRGleeman40Sarris28Bowden3 year fWARCOF34
Staff rankingsNRLaw35Britton19Gleeman34SarrisNRBowdenProfileAge31PositionSSLast teamChicago White SoxHR1OPS+60
It took a truly miserable 2024 season from Anderson to convince the White Sox his once team-friendly $14 million option for 2024 wasn’t worth picking up. He never seemed right after spraining his knee in mid-April, returning four weeks later to hit just .240 with one homer and a .567 OPS in his final 112 games. It was a shocking collapse for a 30-year-old coming off four straight seasons hitting above .300.
Anderson’s value has always revolved around batting average, because he swings at everything and has middling power, which makes last season’s jump in strikeout rate especially worrisome. His fielding metrics have also declined sharply, perhaps forcing a move away from shortstop that would put even more pressure on his bat bouncing back. Anderson is a big name with upside, but there are red flags galore.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $14 millionBest fitsBOS, MIA, PIT, SFStaff rankingsNRLaw35Britton19Gleeman34SarrisNRBowden3 year fWARSS35
1 year$10.5 milProfileAge36PositionLHP, RPLast teamTexas RangersInnings pitched58 1/3ERA+145
Chapman’s free-agent market was cool enough last offseason that he signed with a rebuilding Royals team for just $3.75 million, surely knowing he’d be trade bait if things went reasonably well. Sure enough, he was very quickly on the move, going to the Rangers on June 30 and spending the second half (and postseason) in a setup role. And at age 35, he was able to halt a multi-year stuff and performance decline.
Chapman’s fastball averaged 99.0 mph, his best velocity since his first season with the Yankees in 2017, and he racked up 103 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings for his best rate since 2020. His control is shaky enough at this point that Chapman can be counted on to simply melt down several times a season, but his overall level of dominance, and ability to get whiffs on four pitches, is still nearly unmatched ahead of Year 15.
For the second straight offseason, Chapman had to settle for a one-year deal from a non-contending team, but this version is worth nearly three times the $3.75 million he got from the Royals last winter. Kansas City used Chapman as a setup man for 29 1/3 innings before shipping him to Texas, where he got a ring and a World Series share worth $506,263. He should probably rent, not buy, in Pittsburgh, but this is a solid payday for a 35-year-old reliever who had a limited market last offseason. — Aaron Gleeman
Like the Royals last season, the Pirates will probably be looking to swap Chapman for prospects before the trade deadline. In the meantime, they’ll likely use him as a setup man in front of All-Star closer David Bednar. Pittsburgh’s payroll sits below $80 million even after adding Chapman, and $10.5 million is a reasonable enough investment for roughly 30 innings of a late-inning arm and, assuming the Pirates don’t emerge as surprise contenders, whatever prospect value he can fetch at the deadline. — Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $10.5 milStaff rankings41LawNRBritton36Gleeman39Sarris23Bowden3 year fWARLHPRP36
Staff rankingsNRLaw36BrittonNRGleeman27Sarris35BowdenProfileAge37PositionLHP, SPLast teamToronto Blue JaysInnings pitched52ERA+123
Given his lengthy injury history — which includes topping 100 innings in just three of the past eight full seasons — Ryu has remained remarkably effective into his mid-30s, posting a 3.97 ERA in 60 starts for Toronto during a just-completed four-year, $80 million deal. At age 37, he’ll almost surely be relegated to the one-year flier aisle of free agency, likely slotting into the back of a contender’s rotation.
Last season’s 88.6 mph average fastball velocity was one of the lowest among all starters, but even at his best (and healthiest) Ryu barely threw over 90. He succeeds now largely the same way he did then, by living dangerously in the strike zone and combatting right-handed hitters with changeups and occasional curveballs. But his margin for error is thinner than ever, calling into question Ryu’s remaining upside.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $11 millionBest fitsARZ, BOS, NYMStaff rankingsNRLaw36BrittonNRGleeman27Sarris35Bowden3 year fWARLHPSP37
1 year$13 milProfileAge36PositionRHP, RPLast teamPhiladelphia PhilliesInnings pitched69ERA+132
Kimbrel’s Hall of Fame track was interrupted during his stay in Chicago, with two subpar seasons as a Cub and (after one ridiculous half-season on the north side) a tough couple of months with the White Sox. Over the last two years with the Dodgers and Phillies, he has reasserted himself as, if not one of the game’s most historically dominant closers, at least a capable closer for a winning team.
Kimbrel’s gotten back to himself by reining in a walk rate that had climbed to untenable heights. (It’s still not ideal.) He needs to be able to command his fastball in the zone to generate chase with his all-world curveball. At 36, he’s probably back in the market for another one-year deal, again appealing to good teams with a high-leverage need late.
While the guaranteed money is a little lower than I projected, it’s a raise from last season for Kimbrel and the fit is excellent. Although Kimbrel is no longer the lights-out, historically dominant closer he was for the first decade of his major-league career, he can own the ninth inning for another good team. The dimensions at Camden Yards, with that deeper wall in left field, can also mitigate his main weakness from last season in the home-run ball. –Tim Britton
The Orioles needed to add to their reliever mix, and bringing in Kimbrel as a one-year stopgap closer while Felix Bautista is out with Tommy John surgery permits them flexibility throughout the rest of the pen. Yennier Canó, their breakout All-Star in 2024, is still free to serve as a late-inning fireman, and there isn’t much of an Established Closer tax on a one-year deal here. –Tim Britton
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $13 milStaff rankingsNRLaw34Britton37Gleeman29SarrisNRBowden3 year fWARRHPRP38
1 year$9 milProfileAge36PositionCOFLast teamLos Angeles DodgersHR15OPS+117
In his first season with the Dodgers, Heyward looked revitalized, posting his best full offensive season since his lone year with St. Louis and starting his most games since 2019. Not bad for a guy released by the Cubs entering what would have been the final year of his eight-year contract with the club.
Heyward has long been known for his defense and his leadership. He’s a useful player when his offense is right around league average, let alone above it the way it was in 2024. Even as he’ll be 34 next season, he can do more than stand in center field and he remains a very good defender in the corners.
Heyward resurrected his career in Los Angeles, posting an .813 OPS in a platoon role after back-to-back seasons with an OPS below .630 for the Cubs. It was just the second time Heyward has produced an OPS above league average in the past eight seasons, which is why his free-agent market was relatively limited, but from the 34-year-old’s point of view returning to the Dodgers — a contending team that helped turn him around and has a favorable role for him — makes plenty of sense. — Aaron Gleeman
In the market for a corner outfielder, but wanting to keep their spending power available for bigger names, the Dodgers bring back Heyward on a reasonable one-year deal. He’ll fill the same role starting against right-handers, which also gives the Dodgers the ability to use Mookie Betts at second base versus righties. Heyward is far from a star at this point, but his solid lefty bat, strong glove and veteran clubhouse vibes make him an ideal role player. — Aaron Gleeman
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsContract Details1 year, $9 milStaff rankings22Law32BrittonNRGleemanNRSarrisNRBowden3 year fWARCOF39
Staff rankingsNRLawNRBrittonNRGleeman38Sarris20BowdenProfileAge35Position2B, COFLast teamToronto Blue JaysHR11OPS+94
Merrifield made his third All-Star team last season despite a mediocre first half and then stumbled after the break with a .656 OPS and just seven steals in 63 games. It may seem like he should still be in the middle of his peak, but Merrifield was a late bloomer, debuting for the Royals at age 27. Now he’s 35 and hasn’t posted an OPS above league average since 2020, with declining speed and fielding flexibility.
He’s still fast, but Merrifield’s sprint speed has dropped from the 94th percentile to the 85th percentile. He led the league by going 40-for-44 on steals in 2021, but he’s 42-for-57 in 284 games since, in part because he’s no longer as able to get on base. Merrifield remains a high-end role player capable of manning second base and all three outfield spots, but he’s no longer an everyday, top-of-the-lineup asset.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection2 years, $19 millionBest fitsBOS, CHW, MIL, SEAStaff rankingsNRLawNRBrittonNRGleeman38Sarris20Bowden3 year fWAR2BCOF40
Staff rankings26LawNRBritton33GleemanNRSarrisNRBowdenProfileAge32PositionRHP, SPLast teamPhiladelphia PhilliesInnings pitched153ERA+105
Three weeks after making his first All-Star team, Lorenzen threw a no-hitter in his second start with the Phillies. He looked poised to play a significant role down the stretch for the defending pennant-winners in the National League, and then cash in this winter having proven his bona fides as a starter. Instead, he made just five more starts for Philadelphia, with an ERA approaching eight across them, and got shifted to the pen for the rest of September and October.
Since shifting back to the rotation in 2022, Lorenzen’s ERA is a hair better than league average, with a strikeout rate well below. He did really improve his walk rate and the effectiveness of the fastball, which is to say there are tools here for a pitcher with less wear on his arm than most at 32. They just may never work in concert quite as well as they did for that wonderful stretch of this past summer.
Data:fWAR from FanGraphsBritton’s projection1 year, $11 millionBest fitsCHW, CIN, COL, WSH Staff rankings26LawNRBritton33GleemanNRSarrisNRBowden3 year fWARRHPSP
- The player’s listed age is how old he’ll be on June 30 of next season (and thus what age he’s considered for the full season), the stats are from the 2024 season, the WAR is from FanGraphs, the best fits are alphabetical and you can filter through by position or search by name.
- Bowden’s rankings published Oct. 31, prior to contract option decisions.
- Law’s rankings published Nov. 2; updated Nov. 4.
- Rankings by Sarris, Britton and Gleeman updated Nov. 5.
- On Nov. 6, Charlie Morton was removed from the rankings. His option was picked up by the Braves.
The good, the sweepy and the nasty: Honoring the best MLB pitches of 2024
(Top illustration of Cody Bellinger, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Shohei Ohtani: John Bradford / The Athletic; photos Michael Reaves, Megan Briggs and Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)
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