Now that the marquee names in the free agent pool have found homes, we can now start to look ahead to the 2023 MLB season. But what does next year’s free agent class look like? A lot could change between now and November 2023, but let’s take an early look at which big names could be available come next winter.
Without the services of Fernando Tatis Jr., the Padres relied heavily on the production of third baseman Manny Machado to clinch a birth into the MLB Playoffs. Machado was one of the game’s best hitters last season, as the 30-year-old hit .298/.366/.531 in 2022. The star infielder finished seventh in the league (min. 400 PA) in OPS (.898), and tied for eighth in total extra base hits (70). Machado’s strong season earned him a top-three finish in the NL MVP voting.
The six-time All-Star originally signed a massive 10-year contract in 2019 with the Padres, a deal worth over $300 million. That contract did include an opt-out clause that can be triggered at the end of the season. Reports have already begun to circulate about Machado’s future intentions. As of now, it does appear that Machado plans to exercise it and become a free agent yet again.
Machado is not the only notable Padre eligible for free agency after the end of next season. Ace Yu Darvish is also set to be a free agent after 2023. Darvish had a dominant 2022 for the Padres, as the right-hander struck out 197 over 194.2 en route to a 16-win season.
The five-time All-Star will begin 2023 as a 36-year-old, but if the contracts handed out to pitchers like Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are any indication, that won’t stop Darvish from receiving another large contract after next season. Darvish has plus control and command, to go along with an effective arsenal. If Darvish is at or near his 2022 production next season, expect the Padre to be a popular name.
The Philadelphia Phillies won the NL pennant in 2022, but failed to win it all after a wild run to the World Series. Philadelphia will look to finish the job next season, but after 2023 is when things get tricky.. After next season, the Phillies stand to lose several of its key contributors to free agency. One such name is right-handed starter Aaron Nola. Nola played a massive role in the Phillies’ success in 2022. The ace of the Phillies’ staff threw the second-highest total innings (205) among all pitchers, behind only NL Cy Young award winner Sandy Alcantara. In those 205 innings, Nola recorded a strong 3.25 ERA, and netted the fourth-highest strikeout total (235) in MLB.
Nola doesn’t light up the radar gun with his fastball, but he does possess one of the best curveballs in the game, alongside a solid changeup. The right-hander will enter the market at 30 years of age, and is primed to cash in next winter.
In addition to Nola, Philadelphia may also lose its starting first baseman, Rhys Hoskins, after next year. Hoskins hit 30 home runs in 2022, the fourth time in the California native’s career that he has hit 25 or more in a season. Aside from plus power, Hoskins also possesses a keen eye at the plate. The Phillies infielder has sported an above-average walk rate in each of his six seasons, including in 2019. That year, Hoskins led all NL players in walks (116).
Philadelphia had a very active offseason in 2022, signing star shortstop Trea Turner and former All-Star Taijuan Walker. The Phillies will need to spend again next season, should the defending NL champs want to retain Nola and Hoskins.
Since the start of the 2020 season, Padres reliever Josh Hader has recorded 83 saves. Only White Sox RHP Liam Hendriks (89) and new Red Sox RHP Kenley Jansen (90) have more saves during that span than Hader. The left-hander has been among the game’s elite closers, thanks to deception and a lethal fastball/slider combo.
2022 was a less-than-stellar season for Hader. Despite being named to the All-Star Game, the lefty recorded a 5.22 ERA last season, including a 7.31 figure after being traded to San Diego. Hader did get back on track in the MLB Playoffs, as he struck out 10 over 5.1 scoreless innings. If Hader can repeat that in 2023, the four-time All-Star could be in line for one of the largest contracts given to a reliever.
New Seattle Mariner Teoscar Hernández is poised to cash in come the winter of 2023. A two-time Silver Slugger award winner, Hernández is one of the game’s best in terms of making hard contact. The former Blue Jay has produced four 20+ home run seasons, and crushed 16 in just 50 games in 2020.
Hernández is not well-known for defense, nor his ability to draw walks. The 30-year-old’s power, though, is impressive. Should Seattle let Hernández walk after 2023, the right fielder will have plenty of suitors.
Last season was a typical one for Clayton Kershaw. The lefty went 12-3 for the Dodgers in 2022, with 137 strikeouts and a sparkling 1.6 BB/9 over 126.1 innings. Kershaw will enter his 16th season in the Majors, all of which have come in the blue and white colors of the Dodgers. The question, though, for Kershaw in 2023 is this: what are his future plans?
The future Hall of Famer has entered the free agent market in each of the last two seasons. On each occasion, Kershaw opted to re-sign on a one-year deal. Will Kershaw — who is just three wins shy of 200 for his career — entertain the idea of joining another team in 2024? Will he stick in Los Angeles? We know that Kershaw will look to leads the Dodgers to a second title in four season in 2023. After that, there’s a lot of uncertainty.
Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Julio Urías is also slated to hit the market after the 2023 campaign. Urías is not known for his strikeout ability, but more so for his knack to induce weak contact. That has served him well, as Urías has won 37 games over the past two seasons. This past year, Urías finished third in the NL Cy Young award vote, behind Max Fried and eventual winner Sandy Alcantara.
The Dodgers opted to stay quiet this offseason. Rather than chase the big targets, Los Angeles looked for veterans on short-term deals. Much of that might have to do with staying under the luxury tax threshold. With Julio Urías up next season and a loaded free agent class, the Dodgers do seem intent on waiting until then to spend.
In the winter of 2022, Boston lost a key piece of the franchise. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts left to join San Diego, and former teammate Rafael Devers could be next. The Red Sox third baseman has been one of the game’s elite sluggers since his debut. An extra-base hit machine, Devers racked up 179 extra base hits since the start of 2020. Only Jose Ramirez (185) of the Cleveland Guardians has more than Devers during that span.
The pressure will be on for Boston to retain the 26-year-old slugger. Over the past three years, the likes of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts have all either been traded or left via free agency. Boston is clearly re-tooling for the future, but letting Devers walk won’t solve much of anything.
It’s fair to say that the biggest name available next offseason is Shohei Ohtani. Since entering the league, the list of accolades that Ohtani has racked up is simply incredible: Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, a two-time All-Star, and an MVP. Over the past five seasons, only five hitters have more home runs (87) than Ohtani. And on the mound, the Angels’ star has turned to an elite starter since his MLB debut. In 2022, Ohtani struck out 213 batters — the sixth-highest total among pitchers — en route to a 15-win season.
There is a lot of variability that could determine whether Ohtani hits the market: new ownership, a desire to stay on the West Coast, and the Angels’ competitive aspirations from 2024 onward. If he does hit go to free agency, it’s more than plausible to think that Ohtani’s new contract could shatter records.