MLB’s offseason has arrived, and with it, so has the official opening of free agency. Each team’s exclusive five-day negotiating window has closed, contract options have been exercised or declined, qualifying offers have been extended (and rejected), non-tender decisions have been made and now, finally, any team can negotiate with any free agent — with an eye on capturing the World Series 11 months from now.
With several big names on the market — including quite possibly the biggest name in the history of baseball free agency — there will be a lot to keep track of in the coming weeks and months. So we’re here to help: All winter long, we’ll be grading each major free-agent signing right here.
2023-24 MLB free agent grades
Jorge Soler: Three-year, $42 million deal with Giants
After two straight listless seasons and another winter gone without landing a star, it’s hard to imagine any acquisition really moving the needle for Giants fans. But while he might not be Aaron Judge or Shohei Ohtani, Soler promises to provide precisely what this San Francisco offense has been missing most in recent years.
More specifically: a whole bunch of power. Soler is coming off a season in which he slashed .250/.341/.512 (128 OPS+) with 36 homers and 24 doubles in just 137 games, helping fuel the Marlins’ unlikely run to a Wild Card spot last season. Health and consistency have been issues throughout his career; he’s played more than 100 games just four times in nine full big-league seasons, and he finished with an OPS below league average four times over that same span. But when he’s locked in, few hitters in the league are more dangerous.
To say that the Giants have struggled in that department would be an understatement. Soler has two 30-homer campaigns in his last five seasons; San Francisco hasn’t had one of those since Barry Bonds back in 2004. San Francisco ranked a dismal 27th in slugging percentage in 2023; Soler’s .512 mark would’ve been the best on the team, with just one other regular (Wilmer Flores) above .450. This team has, for lack of a better term, gotten a bit too cute during Zaidi’s time at the helm, and its handling of the DH spot — trying to cobble together above-average production via a pu pu platter approach rather than just ... signing an above-average bat — is exhibit A. With a crowded position-player picture, finding a full-time designated hitter was the one spot at which San Francisco could realistically make a major offensive upgrade, and Soler fits the bill.
Gary Sanchez: One-year, $7 million deal with Brewers
Just when we thought we had Milwaukee’s offseason pegged — holding onto their biggest names while making moves on the margins to try and squeeze out one more NL Central run — they’ve zagged on us. The Corbin Burnes trade was a shocker, and now the Brewers have signed ... a veteran backup catcher to go along with their two other veteran backup catchers?
Milwaukee had already brought in Eric Haase (on a big-league deal) and Austin Nola (on a Minor League one) as depth behind presumed starter and 2023 breakout William Contreras. One of the team’s top prospects, Jeferson Quero, also happens to be a catcher, and could be ready to contribute in the Majors by late 2024. Sanchez still has plenty of power — he popped 19 homers with a 113 OPS+ in just 75 games last year — and makes sense as both lefty-mashing DH and occasional first baseman even if there aren’t a ton of backup catcher starts available. But this remains a puzzler: Either the Brewers are trying to thread the needle between rebuilding and contending, flipping Burnes for future assets while continuing to supplement the roster elsewhere, or this is just the first few steps of a complicated maneuver designed to reposition the team for 2025 and beyond.
Clayton Kershaw: One-year deal with Dodgers
The last time we saw Kershaw on a big-league mound, he was getting lit up by the Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the NLDS. A few weeks later, he was undergoing shoulder surgery that’s expected to keep him out for at least the first half this season.
But while injury derailed his 2023, Kershaw was still a very good starting pitcher when available, with a 2.46 ERA and over a strikeout per inning. Granted, that ERA came over just 131.2 innings, the third straight year in which the future Hall of Famer has made fewer than 25 starts and thrown fewer than 132 innings. The point remains that if Kershaw’s arm holds up, he’s still got plenty left in the tank. And there’s good news on that front: After a blockbuster offseason, the Dodgers have built up enough starting pitching depth that they can afford to let Kershaw take his time rehabbing and keep too much wear and tear off that surgically repaired shoulder, hopefully getting him to October in better shape than he was in last year. While we’ve yet to get the dollar amount here, there’s almost no such thing as a bad one-year deal, especially when the player in question is as good — and as important to the franchise — as Kershaw. If all goes well, don’t be surprised to see him starting a postseason game again in a few months.
Justin Turner: One-year, $13 million deal with Blue Jays
Turner had been linked to Toronto for weeks now, and it’s not hard to understand why. With their pursuit of Shohei Ohtani falling agonizingly short and Brandon Belt hitting free agency, the Jays needed to add a DH — preferably one with the ability to moonlight at third base, should a reunion with Matt Chapman not be in the cards. Turner checks both of those boxes, and he’s coming off a season in which he hit a very solid .276/.345/.455 (114 OPS+) with 31 doubles, 23 homers and a career-high 96 RBI for the Boston Red Sox.
Turner may not bring the upside of some of the other corner/DH bats on the market like, say, Jorge Soler or J.D. Martinez. But both of those guys are likely holding out for richer deals that would’ve compromised Toronto’s flexibility to fill holes elsewhere, and neither have Turner’s defensive versatility. Plus, Turner remains among the most professional hitters around. Though we’re a bit removed from the man who was a downballot MVP candidate with the Dodgers, Turner has shown plenty of signs that he can continue to be a quality bat for at least one more year. He’s posted a combined .807 OPS (118 OPS+) over the last three seasons, and the underlying skills remain very much present: great command of the zone, tons of contact, tons of line drives and a strong batting average to go with 20 homers or so.
Toronto could still very well be in the market for another bat, although a big splash like Cody Bellinger no long appears to be in the cards. But after watching their offense disappear in last year’s postseason, a reliable veteran presence like Turner makes a lot of sense — especially considering his ample playoff experience (a .270/.370/.460 line in 86 career postseason games, including a 2017 NLCS MVP award). It’s hard to imagine the Jays regretting having Turner in the lineup on a daily basis, and that’s a good thing for a team that felt lacking in depth at times in 2023.
Hector Neris: One-year, $9 million deal with Cubs
When we outlined the Cubs’ next steps in the wake of the Imanaga signing, first on the list was securing a reunion with Cody Bellinger — who remains unsigned, and should remain priority No. 1. But item No. 2? Finding a way to upgrade a bullpen that wasn’t bad last year (Chicago ranked 13th in reliever ERA) but felt like it was punching a bit above its weight. The Cubs have some intriguing pieces, including Adbert Alzolay, Mark Leiter and Julian Merryweather. But each member of that trio felt a bit stretched in his current role, and the depth behind them was sorely lacking. Neris may not be an elite option like, say, Josh Hader, but he’s a proven producer of quality, high-leverage innings.
Neris has made at least 68 appearances in each of the last four full seasons (not including the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign), establishing himself as among the most durable relievers in the game. He’s also been one of the better ones, and he’s coming off a career year in 2023: Neris produced a sparkling 1.71 ERA in 71 games as Ryan Pressly’s setup man in Houston, striking out 77 batters over 68.1 innings. That production came with some red flags under the hood — his average fastball dipped from 94.3 mph in 2022 to 93.0 mph, and the whiff rate on his trademark splitter dipped from an otherworldly 52.4% to a merely very good 42.2% — but Neris should at least provide above-average innings for Chicago in 2024, and for a team that has eyes on returning to the postseason, his big-game experience will be a plus.
Joc Pederson: One-year, $9.5 million deal with Diamondbacks
Pederson’s pedestrian 2023 stats — the 31-year-old hit .235/.348/.416 (111 OPS+) with 15 homers and 51 RBI last year with the Giants — were deflated by the fact that he was playing his home games at San Francisco’s Oracle Park, one of the worst ballparks in the game for lefty power. Pederson still puts together quality at-bats, and he still hits the ball very, very hard, metrics that figure to play a lot better at Chase Field.
The slugger should only be used in the corners at this point in his career, but that works out just fine for the D-backs, whose outfield dance card is already full with Alek Thomas in center, Corbin Carroll in right and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in left. Where Arizona needed some help, however, was at DH — and with lefty power in particular. (The D-backs ranked just 10th in the NL in homers in 2023.) Pederson checks both of those boxes, and they should be able to give him regular work there against right-handed pitching. Along with the trade for Eugenio Suarez and the signing of Eduardo Rodriguez, Arizona continues to fill his team’s needs with quality, above-average players on a reasonable budget, and Pederson adds one more professional hitter to what is now a sneaky-deep lineup.
Rhys Hoskins: Two-year, $34 million deal with Brewers
Long rumored to be sellers this winter, Milwaukee has instead held onto its core and added another key piece in Hoskins — a sign that they’re all-in on another NL Central title in 2024.
That’s the right organizational choice; plenty of hard choices are coming next winter, but this team has talent and a rich farm system, and they deserved one more run. Plus, they found an ideal on-field fit in Hoskins: If there are two things the Brewers needed, it’s a legit first baseman and a righty bat who can hit lefties, and the longtime Phillies star checks both of those boxes emphatically. (He hit .286/.387/.558 off southpaws in his last healthy season in 2022.) The only thing keeping this from being a straight A is the opt-out after year one, but Hoskins wants to rebuild his value post-ACL tear and hit the market again as soon as possible, so Milwaukee was unlikely to land him without it.
James Paxton: One-year, $12 million deal with Dodgers
The understandable buzz around the additions of Yamamoto and Glasnow masked the fact that the Dodgers were more or less starting from square one with their starting rotation. Even with Yamamoto and Glasnow in tow, there still weren’t enough innings that you could put in pen, especially given Glasnow’s injury history and Yamamoto accustomed to pitching every six days in Japan.Andrew Friedman and Co. rightfully felt one pitcher short — not a star, necessarily, but someone to occupy the old Alex Wood/Rich Hill role, a credible fifth starter on a short-term deal.
And they got just about the best available version of that type in Paxton. In classic Paxton fashion, the 35-year-old was very good when available for the Red Sox in 2023 but had both the start and end of his season marred by injuries to his hamstring and knee. The good news here for the Dodgers is that they won’t be relying on the lefty to anchor their staff; they brought in Yamamoto and Glasnow for that. Heck, they don’t even need Paxton to make it through a full, 30-start season, with swingman Ryan Yarbrough around and high-Minors prospects like Nick Frasso banging on the door. They just needed one more body in the mix, someone to give them 90-100 more innings and help them get their best arms to October in one piece. Paxton checks that box, and he also just so happens to provide more upside than any of the other candidates for the role.
Josh Hader: Five-year, $95 million deal with Astros
The 2024 season is shaping up to be something of a Last Dance for Houston: With Justin Verlander about to turn 41 and Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman set to hit free agency next winter, time is running out on the Astros as we’ve come to know them. That’s not to say that this team won’t still be competitive in years to come — Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker aren’t going anywhere any time soon — but simply that GM Dana Brown was feeling some urgency to upgrade his roster and do everything he could to add another Commissioner’s Trophy to the case.
And as the offseason wore on, that upgrade seemed more and more likely to be Hader. Give or take another corner outfielder, Houston’s lineup is more or less set. They were never going to be in on the top starting pitchers on the market, given how much Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed for and how much Blake Snell reportedly wants. That just left the bullpen, a unit that boasted a shutdown in Ryan Pressly and an electric young setup man in Bryan Abreu but some real question marks behind those two.
Hader gives new manager Joe Espada another elite high-leverage option to play with, one who can really shorten games come postseason time. Aside from five very ugly weeks during the 2022 season, the lefty has been one of if not the best closers in the game: In his last 78 appearances — including the 2022 postseason — he’s allowed a whopping nine earned runs. He fills a real position of need, and he also provides insurance should the 35-year-old Pressly begin to slip a little bit. This is a hefty price tag, but Houston is in the business of winning now, and it’s hard to come up with a more impactful move they could have made toward that end.
Aroldis Chapman: One-year, $10.5 million deal with Pirates
Chapman is no longer the 104-throwing destroyer of worlds he was at his peak, and his penchant for losing the strike zone means that he can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride. (Just ask Rangers fans who watched him allow 12 baserunners — including five walks — over seven postseason innings last October.) Still, while the command concerns make him streakier than you’d like, the lefty remains a legit high-leverage weapon when he’s right. Chapman was dominant over the first half of 2023, with a 2.45 ERA and 53 strikeouts over his first 29.1 innings with the Royals. He regained some of the fastball velocity he’d lost in recent years, and while he’s about to turn 36, it seems as though there’s still plenty left in the tank here — and as long as Chapman is still clearing 100 on a regular basis, he’ll be a very valuable addition.
Given that upside, this move is something of a no-brainer for Pittsburgh. The team had plenty of money to spend, and with the starting pitching market so uneven right now, makes sense to spend it on a proven late-inning commodity — one who, if he gets hot the way he did early last year, will likely fetch a nice return at the trade deadline. Just ask Kansas City, who scored a promising young starter in Cole Ragans in the trade that sent Chapman to Texas.
Robert Stephenson: Three-year, $33 million deal with Angels
Not a bad development for a pitcher who had a 5.14 ERA for the Pirates at the end of May 2023. Pittsburgh flipped Stephenson to the Rays, where he promptly took off, pitching to a 2.35 ERA with 60 strikeouts across 38.1 innings in Tampa — largely thanks to a ferocious cutter that earned a .101 BA against and a ridiculous 59.9% whiff rate.
Whether Stephenson can continue that success away from the Rays — he owned a 4.90 career ERA across seven seasons with the Reds and Rockies prior to last season — remains to be seen, but the Angels are certainly paying him as though they think the answer is yes. The Halos’ bullpen was among the biggest reasons the team disappointed in 2023, with a 4.88 reliever ERA that ranked 25th in the Majors. With Stephenson leading a group of newcomers that also includes fellow free-agent signings Adam Cimber, Luis Garcia and Adam Kolarek, that group will certainly have more depth this season. That likely won’t be enough to get this team anywhere near contention as they begin life after Shohei Ohtani, but it’s something at least. And hey, if he continues to pitch the way he did in the second half of last year, that production on that contract figures to be an awfully valuable trade chip down the line for an organization in desperate need of young talent.
Jordan Hicks: Four-year, $44 million deal with Giants
On the surface, it sounds sensible enough: The San Francisco Giants are signing hard-throwing reliever Jordan Hicks to a four-year, $44 million deal. Except the Giants aren’t signing Hicks to be a reliever — per multiple reports, they intend to convert him to a starter.
What makes this particularly puzzling is that Hicks — like many pitching prospects before and after him — only wound up in the bullpen in the first place after flaming out as a starter. He was drafted as a starter by St. Louis in the third round of the 2015 draft, only to blossom in the Majors when the Cardinals moved him into a relief role. He got one more chance in the rotation at the start of 2022, but he posted a 5.84 ERA over seven starts, topping out at just 82 pitches and pitching into the fifth inning exactly once. When Hicks returned from a stint on the injured list, St. Louis moved him back to the ‘pen full-time, where he’s remained ever since — with excellent results in 2023, pitching big innings for the Blue Jays down the stretch and helping Toronto snag a Wild Card spot. At this point, the evidence as to where Hicks is best suited seems pretty clear-cut, right?
Apparently not, at least according to Giants president Farhan Zaidi. No one can deny that San Francisco is in need of a rotation upgrade — no team got less from its starters in 2023 than the Giants, with a league-low 729.1 innings pitched. But there’s very little reason to think Hicks is a solution to that problem. For starters, the righty lacks a third pitch to complement his power sinker and new sweeper. He’s also battled command issues throughout his career: Hicks ranks in the second percentile in strike percentage since breaking into the league in 2018; he ranked 14th in strike percentage in 2023, entirely as a reliever. These are the sorts of things that you can make work out of the bullpen, facing three or four batters per outing. They’re the sorts of things that cause real problems as a starter, trying to go deep into games and facing a lineup multiple times.
With the temperature on his seat rising after a second straight disappointing season, Zaidi entered the winter vowing that this time would be different. But instead, it’s been more of the same: more swings and misses on big names followed by confusing contracts doled out to middling players. Zaidi’s time at the helm in San Francisco has been defined by an obsession with his own intelligence — and proving that intelligence to everyone around him. He’s like baseball’s embodiment of the galaxy-brain meme, convinced that he’s able to see bargains and value where no one else can.
Marcus Stroman: Two-year, $37 million deal with Yankees
In the end, Brian Cashman was tired of waiting. New York made an initial offer to the top remaining free agent available, reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell, but the two sides were so far apart that talks quickly shut down. They engaged the White Sox on a trade for Dylan Cease, but Chicago was insistent on a package that included the Yankees’ top prospect, outfielder Spencer Jones — a non-starter for Cashman. They had their eye on a reunion with Jordan Montgomery, but the lefty’s heart appears to remain in Texas. Which presented the Yankees with a conundrum: Wait it out for Snell, Montgomery or Cease and risk getting left with nothing, or pounce now and make sure that you come away from this critical offseason with at least some sort of upgrade to your rotation.
Cashman chose the latter, and you can understand why. Stroman finished with a 3.95 ERA (113 ERA+), the fourth straight season in which he’s put up an ERA better than league average. He still generates a ton of ground balls with his sinker-heavy approach (94th percentile in ground ball rate) and while his walk rate spiked last season, he still profiles as a solid mid-rotation starter when he’s on the mound. Stroman’s approach would seem to be a good fit for right field at Yankee Stadium, and he’ll bolster New York’s rotation in the short-term without costing nearly as much as Snell or Montgomery (or costing the Yankees in prospects in the way that Cease or Shane Bieber would). There are some durability concerns — he’s failed to clear the 150-inning mark for two years in a row now, and three of the last five — but signing Stroman at this number (an eminently reasonable price to pay, given how hot the pitching market has run so far this offseason) secures the above-average pitcher this team needed while retaining financial flexibility for a certain superstar outfielder set to hit free agency next winter.
Shota Imanaga: Four-year, $53 million deal with Cubs
This contract will guarantee Imanaga $53 million over four years. Beyond that, however, things get complicated: Following the conclusion of that second season, both Chicago and Imanaga will have a decision to make. The Cubs can opt to tack three more years onto the deal, running its total to five years and $80 million. They can also opt not to, in which case Imanaga can either play out the original four-year, $53 million deal or become a free agent. (The two sides will face the same choice again after year three.)
Imanaga may not come with the upside of Yamamoto, and clearly teams are at least a little wary of his surgically repaired shoulder as he pushes into his 30s, but that’s a very reasonable price but a player who fits exactly what the Cubs were looking for. Across eight seasons in NPB, the lefty pitched to a 2.96 ERA with two All-Star appearances and more than a strikeout per inning, including a 2.66 mark last season. He sports a deep arsenal: a low-90s fastball that can occasionally touch 94 and 95 and shows great riding action up in the zone, a slider that generated a whiff rate near 40% in 2023 — for context, that would have ranked him ahead of the likes of Chris Sale and Clayton Kershaw, among others — and the sort of splitter we’ve come to expect from Japanese imports in recent years.
That’s at least three pitches that project to be at least above average in the Majors, and Imanaga’s minuscule 2.4 career BB/9 suggests that he has solid command as well. That sounds an awful lot like a solid mid-rotation starter, and that’s clearly what the Cubs are hoping for — and exactly what they need as they hope to vault themselves into real contention in the National League.
Just how much of a workhorse Imanaga can be is something of an open question; he doesn’t exactly look the part at 5’10, 176 pounds, he’s never thrown more than 170 innings in a season and he’s averaged about 155 frames over the last three years while working on Japan’s every-sixth-day pitching schedule. We’ll see how well he holds up over the long haul, as well as how his stuff translates — and how his extreme fly ball tendencies play once the wind starts blowing out at Wrigley in the warm summer months. But he has legitimate No. 2/3 upside, and even if he tops out as something closer to a No. 4, well, $15 million a year is just about the going rate for those right now.
Teoscar Hernandez: 1-year, $23.5 million deal with Dodgers
It feels like we pretty much know who Hernandez is as a player at this point: He’s going to swing at everything, he’ll strike out a lot, he’ll hit for power and he’ll absolutely mash lefties. It just so happens that that’s more or less exactly what the Dodgers were looking for at this point in their offseason, especially that last part. Despite bringing in Manuel Margot as part of the Tyler Glasnow trade, L.A. still found itself at least one outfielder short — preferably a righty-hitting one, given the extreme platoon splits of James Outman and Jason Heyward. The Dodgers won’t need Hernandez to be an everyday player, shielding him from tougher righties while letting him feast on the left-handed pitching he’s excelled against for his entire career. (Hernandez has a .887 career OPS against southpaws and a .772 mark against righties.) This is a pretty hefty salary for one year, but it’s also just one year, and money is no object for Andrew Friedman and Co. right now. Plus, Hernandez was the team’s cleanest fit of all the available corner bats on the market.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto: 12-year, $325 million deal with Dodgers
Welcome to L.A.’s billion-dollar offseason. Weeks after signing the biggest free agent in the history of the sport, the Dodgers followed it up by landing the best pitcher on the market — and filling their most glaring need in the process. Yes, Yamamoto has never taken a Major League mound. Yes, all pitchers are inherently risky propositions. But Yamamoto is still about as foolproof as they come, and it’s just very, very hard to find an argument against this deal.
Really, the only case to be made against Yamamoto becoming a frontline big-league starter is 1) that we haven’t yet seen him do it and 2) that all pitchers are one pitch away from major surgery. But the right-hander is just entering his prime at 25 years old, and every piece of available evidence suggests that he has the stuff to become an ace in the States — the owner of three legitimately plus pitches, a mid-90s fastball with deceptive rise, a sharp, Kershaw-esque curveball and the same sort of wipeout splitter we’ve come to expect from other Japanese pitchers like Ohtani, Kodai Senga and Yu Darvish. International scouting isn’t nearly the guessing game it was even a few years ago, reliant on the eye test and abstract projection; we’re able to quantify pitchers all around the world now, and we know that Yamamoto’s arsenal compares favorably to some of the biggest stars in the game today. Barring something totally unforeseen, he’ll be a true No. 1 option, and that’s well worth this price — especially considering how desperately the Dodgers needed one in their rotation, even after trading for Tyler Glasnow.
Lucas Giolito: Two-year, $38.5 million deal with Red Sox
It’s easy to look at Giolito’s top-line numbers the last two years — 4.89 ERA (86 ERA+), including an AL-high 41 homers allowed in 2023 — and his disastrous finish to 2023 (6.96 ERA in 12 starts after being traded from the White Sox) and wonder what new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow is thinking. And sure, landing Yoshinobu Yamamoto would have gone a long way toward easing the angst swirling around New England in recent weeks.
But few teams got less from their rotation last season than Boston, whose starters threw the fourth-fewest innings in the league. Giolito has proven to be among the most durable pitchers in the game in his career with at least 29 starts in each of the last five seasons; even if he falls short of the heights he reached in Chicago, a roughly league-average starter who can take the ball every fifth day is something this Red Sox roster desperately needed. And, of course, there’s always the chance that Giolito does reach those heights, in which case Boston has acquired a No. 2 starter for a very reasonable number. Including an opt-out after next season hurts, but there weren’t a ton of options to choose from for new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow. This is a nice bird to have in hand, and now Breslow can go about making sure that Giolito isn’t the best arm he adds this winter.
Shohei Ohtani: 10-year, $700 million deal with Dodgers
I understand that no free-agent signing is without risk, especially not one involving this much money. And that risk — that Ohtani’s body simply can’t stand up to the burden of his two-way talent, that after two significant elbow surgeries his days as a starting pitcher are over — shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. But come on now: This is Shohei Ohtani, not just the best player in the sport but probably the best player that the sport has ever seen. He does things that no one player has ever done before, and he does it all while captivating fans all around the globe. Strictly from a craven marketing perspective, this is a dream; per the Los Angeles Times, Ohtani made the Angels $10 million to $20 million a year in advertising, marketing, and whatnot. The Dodgers, a more global brand that outdrew the Angels by nearly 15,000 fans per game in 2023, figure to make substantially more than the Angels in Ohtani-related revenue; combined with even just his value as one of the game’s best hitters, leaving aside his two-way potential, this is a deal that can absolutely pay for itself.
And that’s not even considering Ohtani as a player, one who fits the Dodgers lineup like a glove even allowing for the fact that he won’t pitch at all next year — and that we still don’t know how much he’ll be able to contribute on the mound in 2025 and beyond. After another disappointing playoff exit in 2023, the Dodgers need to do something big; they also needed a DH, and long-term pitching options given the uncertainty in their rotation in 2025 and beyond. Ohtani checks all of those boxes in a big way, reestablishing the Dodgers as a — maybe the? — premier destination for star talent in the game today. This contract is the price you pay for that privilege, and every other big-market team would’ve done the same, risk be damned.
Kevin Kiermaier: One-year, $10.5 million deal with Blue Jays
On its face, it’s hard to find too much fault with this move. Kiermaier enjoyed one of his best seasons in Toronto last year, slashing .265/.322/.419 (104 OPS+) with eight homers, 21 doubles, six triples and 14 steals in 129 games — all while playing his typically excellent defense in center and earning his fourth Gold Glove. While his age is a concern as he pushes into his mid-30s, he shows no signs of losing his freaky athleticism and should likely continue to be a big plus on defense and on the bases. It’s even possible he can sustain the gains he made on offense in 2023 to be a productive lower-order hitter.
In the bigger picture, however, this does raise some questions about where this Jays team is headed. Cody Bellinger seemed a perfect fit here, especially after Toronto missed out on the two biggest names on the market. But while Bellinger remains available, signing Kiermaier at this price would seem to indicate that the Jays’ outfield is now full — especially considering that they still have needs to fill at third base and DH with Matt Chapman and Brandon Belt also hitting free agency. Maybe a deal for Bellinger, or some other big splash, is still in the cards. As things stand, though — with a free-agent market largely barren of offensive difference-makers — it sure seems like Toronto is trending towards running things back in 2024. That’s a dangerous game, considering how in need of a jolt this group seemed after getting swept by the Twins in their AL Wild Card series — and considering that Bichette and Guerrero Jr. are now just two years away from hitting the market themselves.
Jung Hoo Lee: Six-year, $113 million deal with Giants
Lee has flown a bit under the radar this winter, stuck in the long shadow cast by Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But in a market thin on position-player talent, a 25-year-old with a long track record of dominance in his home country was always bound to spark quite the bidding war, and sure enough Lee’s landed a nine-figure deal.
Over seven years in the KBO — he broke into the league as an 18-year-old — Lee has put up a .340/.407/.491 batting line, including a .996 OPS and career-high 23 home runs en route to MVP honors in 2022. Scouts don’t expect him to bring 20-plus homer power to the States, but otherwise those numbers paint a pretty good picture of who Lee is as a player: a dynamic athlete who will make tons of contact (he posted an elite 91% contact rate this past season), get on base a bunch and go get it in center field. (He won the Korean equivalent of the Gold Glove each year from 2018-2022.)
In other words, he’s exactly what the doctor ordered for a Giants team that lacked a true center fielder and finished dead last by a mile in steals this past season. There will likely be some bellyaching that the Giants opted for Lee over Bellinger, especially given how good the latter was for the Cubs in 2023. But Bellinger comes with his own risks — his age, for one, and his struggles toward the end of his time in Los Angeles for another — and he’s likely to command something closer to $200 million. There’s no reason to think Lee can’t be just the tablesetter this team needs, and it delivers an immediate message that Zaidi can in fact close — and that this braintrust isn’t asleep at the wheel as their roster slips into 80-win purgatory.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.: Three-year, $42 million deal with Diamondbacks
It’s not flashy, but GM Mike Hazen just keeps plugging away this offseason, filling the holes on his roster with solid players at reasonable prices. Losing both Gurriel Jr. and Tommy Pham left a hole in left field opposite Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas, Arizona did well to secure a reunion here without breaking the bank. The 30-year-old found his power stroke again in the desert last season, slashing .261/.309/.463 (108 OPS+) with 24 homers, 82 RBI and five steals while doing some solid work with the glove as well. He’s always going to be a pretty free swinger, but he was a three-WAR player last season, and among the sturdiest options the D-backs had at a position of need.
Seth Lugo: Three-year, $45 million deal with Royals
This is the third-largest contract the Royals have ever handed out. But after eight straight seasons at or below .500 — including four campaigns of 97 losses or more — GM J.J. Picollo has evidently decided that it’s time to start pulling our of this long, painful rebuild, and that starts with bolstering what was a dismal starting rotation in 2023 (27th in starter’s ERA).
Picollo chose wisely in Lugo, even if he had to include an opt out after the 2025 season to get a deal done. The righty spent the first seven years of his career with the Mets, most of which came as a reliever. But injuries up and down the Padres rotation last season finally thrust him into the rotation full-time, and he put up a breakout season, with a 3.57 ERA (115 ERA+), 1.20 WHIP and nearly a strikeout per inning across 26 appearances and 146.1 innings. With a three-pitch mix highlighted by a truly dynamite curveball, he’s a perfectly adequate mid-rotation starter, the kind of guy who can regularly turn over a lineup multiple times and give you five or six above-average innings every fifth day.
That’s a valuable commodity, and it’s a bit surprising that the many other pitching-needy teams around the league — many of whom have more realistic designs on contention in 2024 than Kansas City — didn’t match or exceed this deal. The Royals never had much hope of shopping in the high-rent district, and they were wise to jump the market and lock Lugo in. Lugo provides some much-needed rotation stability between 2023 breakout lefty Cole Ragans, and more broadly signals a franchise finally willing to get serious after years of bottom-barrel payrolls and accumulating draft picks.
Michael Wacha: Two-year, $32 million deal with Royals
Seriously, good on Kansas City here, both for 1) being willing to invest financially after years in the wilderness and 2) jumping the pitching-needy big-market teams while they’re wrapped up in the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes. I’m a bit less enthused with Wacha than I am with Lugo — there’s a reason the latter got the bigger deal — but the veteran is coming off a very strong season and brings another needed shot of stability to what was a very bad rotation in 2023. Batters simply could not figure out his Bugs Bunny changeup (.207 BA against, 35.9% whiff rate), and he should thrive as he moves to spacious Kauffman Stadium and the offensively challenged (to be polite) AL Central. Wacha won’t set the world on fire or compete for Cy Young votes, but he’s a perfectly adequate mid-rotation starter, the kind of guy who can regularly turn over a lineup multiple times and give you five or six above-average innings every fifth day — in other words, exactly what the Royals need to try and raise their pitching floor after years of terrible starting pitching results.
Aaron Nola: Seven-year, $172 million deal with Phillies
With Nola entering free agency for the first time after nine largely very good seasons in Philly, item No. 1 for GM Dave Dombrowski this offseason was resigning the righty — or filling the hole behind Zack Wheeler with someone else. You could argue that the Phils should’ve pursued option B, at least for a little while; Nola pitched to a 4.46 ERA in the regular season, after all, and there are certainly other top-end pitching options out there via free agency or trade.
But Dombrowski didn’t have a ton of trade assets to work with — certainly not enough to land, say, Corbin Burnes or Tyler Glasnow in a league-wide bidding war — and you can understand why the Phillies preferred bringing Nola back rather than making a run at someone else on the open market. Blake Snell is six months older than Nola and has significant durability questions, second Cy Young Award aside. Eduardo Rodriguez and Jordan Montgomery don’t have Nola’s track record and are reportedly interested in signing elsewhere. Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s age (25) and ace upside made him an awfully enticing option, but his market figures to be white-hot, and it’s hard to blame Philly for locking down Nola now rather than running the risk of missing out on Yamamoto and winding up with no one. (Especially given the Braves’ very real interest in Nola.)
Besides, it’s hardly like this can be considered an overpay: Yes, seven years is a long time for a pitcher already on the wrong side of 30, and yes, $172 million is a big number. But Philly has money to spend, and $24.5 million a year is really No. 2/high-end No. 3 money in today’s market — an accurate reflection of what Nola projects to be for at least the next few years. Sure, the end of this contract is likely to hurt, and things could get really ugly if Bryce Harper and Trea Turner fall off the aging cliff as well. But that was going to be true no matter what, and the Phillies are rightfully prioritizing another World Series run in 2024. Ensuring another frontline option behind Zack Wheeler was critical to that mission, and Nola on a reasonable deal fits the bill.
Kenta Maeda: Two-year, $24 million deal with Tigers
You’d be forgiven for not paying much attention to the Detroit Tigers in 2023, but they were one of the league’s quieter pleasant surprises, finishing second in the AL Central at 78-84. They have budding young stars at the plate in Riley Greene, Spencer Torkelson and Kerry Carpenter, plus several intriguing young pitchers in Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Reese Olson and Sawyer Gipson-Long. After years in the wilderness — and given the state of their division right now, especially with the Twins’ commitment to slashing payroll — now is the time for Detroit to finally dip back into free agency in a meaningful way as they push toward contention.
They’ve done just that in signing Maeda, who’ll turn 36 in April and has established himself as a quality Major League pitcher over seven years in the States. He got off to a rough start to 2023 as he made his return from Tommy John surgery, but he figured things out as the year went along: Upon returning from the injured list in late June, he posted a 3.36 ERA over 17 appearances (16 starts). The further he gets from his rehab, the sharper he should be, and his lack of reliance on his fastball — he throws it the third-most often of his pitches, behind his splitter and slider — should help him age gracefully. For as many promising youngsters as Detroit will have in its rotation next season, they were in desperate need of a known quantity or two, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez moving on. Maeda isn’t the flashiest, and it would be nice to see Chris Ilitch follow in his late father’s footsteps and open up the pocketbook, but he fills a need at a reasonable price.
Sonny Gray: Three-year, $75 million deal with Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals entered this offseason knowing that they needed a total overhaul of a starting rotation short on both depth and impact talent. President John Mozeliak wasted no time addressing the former, signing veterans Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson to one-year deals earlier this month. Now, he’s addressed the latter, signing former Twins righty and 2023 AL Cy Young runner-up Gray on a three-year, $75 million deal. Gray may not have the upside of Blake Snell, the workhorse track record of Aaron Nola or the upside of Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. What he is, however, is a genuine frontline talent, one who posted a 2.90 ERA over 303.2 innings (56 starts) across two years in Minnesota — including a 2.79 mark in 184 innings this past season. He also brings some much-needed swing-and-miss to a Cardinals rotation in desperate need of it: Gray’s 9.0 K/9 would have been far and away St. Louis’ best in 2023, and their only two starters who even cleared 8.0 (Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty) are currently free agents.
The Cardinals’ rotation currently lines up with Gray, Miles Mikolas, Lynn, Gibson and a number of potential No. 5 options including Steven Matz, Zack Thompson and Matthew Liberatore. That’s certainly better than how things looked at the end of the 2023 season, but it also doesn’t figure to scare any of the teams St. Louis has to gain ground on in the NL. Mozeliak and Co. figure to still be on the hunt for another option to slot in behind Gray, with a reunion with Montgomery the most enticing possibility
Luis Severino: One-year, $13 million deal with Mets
Severino, 30, has long been injury-prone — multiple injuries, including Tommy John surgery, limited him to only 120 innings from 2019-22 — but over his first seven years in the Bronx he’d established himself as one of the better starters in the game when actually on the mound. And then, in 2023, the bottom totally and inexplicably fell out. A shoulder injury in spring training cost Severino most of the first two months of the year, and when he finally did make it back, he was awful: His 6.65 ERA was the seventh-worst among all starters who threw at least 80 innings, and he also had the second-highest HR/9 in the league.
Severino was a bit better over the season’s final weeks, and the Mets will have to hope that he’ll be able to build on that progress in 2024. Again, this was one of the game’s top starters once upon a time: He pitched to a 3.18 ERA with 450 strikeouts in 384.2 innings from 2017-18, earning an All-Star nod and Cy Young votes in both seasons. Looking under the hood, there’s no immediately obvious explanation for his sudden decline last year, and a one-year represents a worthy gamble on upside with a pitcher familiar with the demands of pitching in New York — while giving Severino flexibility to reenter the market next year if he does indeed bounce back.
Of course, a worthy gamble is far from the only thing the Mets need to fix their depleted rotation. Kodai Senga and Jose Quintana are locked in, but beyond that there are a lot of question marks — questions that Severino doesn’t necessarily answer, given all the risks he comes with. Expect new president David Stearns to add at least one and likely two more arms at some point this winter, whether via free agency (Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Eduardo Rodriguez, Michael Wacha) or the trade market (Tyler Glasnow, Corbin Burnes). If Severino third-best pitcher New York adds this winter, it makes a lot of sense; if he’s the only one, well, we’ve got problems.
Craig Kimbrel: One-year, $13 million deal with Orioles
With All-Star closer Felix Bautista set to miss the entire 2024 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Orioles entered this winter hoping to add at least one high-leverage arm to a bullpen that was one of the best in baseball last year. Kimbrel certainly qualifies: The righty made his ninth All-Star team in 2023, with a 3.26 ERA, 23 saves and 94 strikeouts in 69 innings.
Whether Kimbrel was actually the right choice to fill Baltimore’s Bautista-sized hole, however, is a thornier question. The righty melted down in the Phillies’ NLCS loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a loss in Game 3 and a blown save in Game 4 that forced manager Rob Thomson to drop him down in the pecking order for the rest of the series. He’s also been wildly unpredictable over the last few years: awful with the Cubs in 2019-2020 (6.00 ERA), great first half of 2021 (0.49), awful second half of 2021 (5.09), middling with the Dodgers in 2022 (3.75).
Granted, this wasn’t the best market in which to need relief help, with precious few proven options behind Josh Hader — who reportedly has his sights set on landing a record contract. If you’re looking to acquire a pitcher with real ninth-inning experience while not breaking the bank, your options were essentially Kimbrel or Aroldis Chapman, and it’s understandable that Baltimore GM Mike Elias opted for the former. Still, a lights-out bullpen was a very big part of the O’s winning formula last season — they ranked fifth in reliever ERA — and it’s tough to project just what you’ll be getting from Kimbrel in 2024.
Eduardo Rodriguez: Four-year, $80 million deal with Diamondbacks
D-backs GM Mike Hazen knew that his rotation was in need of another reliable arm if it had any chance of repeating its pennant run in 2024. Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and breakout rookie Brandon Pfaadt carried Arizona in the postseason, but a 162-game marathon requires far more depth, especially considering that Pfaadt remains something of an unknown — his brilliant October was so shocking because he was largely dreadful during the regular season.
Rodriguez may not have quite the track record of Aaron Nola or the ace upside of Blake Snell and Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but the 30-year-old is a rock-solid No. 3 — exactly where he’ll be slotted in Arizona behind Gallen and Kelly. He’s posted a 3.93 ERA over his last four seasons, striking out a batter per inning and averaging 27 starts a year in that span, and he’s coming off arguably the best season of his career in 2023 (13-9, 3.30 ERA). The D-backs have an ace in Gallen and an underappreciated No. 2 in Kelly; what they needed most was a reliable source of above-average innings, and that’s Rodriguez’s stock in trade — with the added bonus of big-time postseason experience, particularly during the Red Sox’ 2018 World Series run. This deal will only take Rodriguez through his age-34 season, and in this market $20 million is a more than reasonable price to pay for a third starter.
Jeimer Candelario: Three-year, $45 million deal with Reds
Call it a cop out if you want, but this is the sort of deal that simply can’t be evaluated in a vacuum. Candelario is a solid player, one who should certainly be worth this contract. The switch-hitter can play third base or first, and has been a significantly above-average hitter in three of the last four years. He slashed a healthy .251/.336/.471 (119 OPS+) across 140 games split between the Nationals and Cubs in 2023, with 22 homers, 39 doubles, eight steals and 70 RBI. Candelario doesn’t bring a ton of power to the table — those 22 dingers were a career high — but he is a line-drive machine, one who will get on base at a healthy clip, spray balls into the gaps and lengthen any lineup (especially with a move to the very hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park).
What’s less clear-cut, however, is just how Candelario fits on this Cincinnati team, and what the Reds have up their sleeve from here — questions that will go a long way toward shaping how we view this signing. The Reds entered the winter with more infielders than they had spots for between Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Jonathan India, Spencer Steer, Noelvi Marte and Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Adding Candelario — who has never played anywhere other than third or first — would seem to further complicate that picture. Meanwhile, exactly one returning starter — rookie Andrew Abbott — had an ERA below 4.46 last year. If the Reds don’t find a way to land its sorely-needed rotation upgrade, this will look like a curious allocation of resources for a team that should be ramping up to contend in a wide-open NL Central. If Krall finds a way to get creative here, though, it could be a way to pounce on some nice value, value that increases the team’s flexibility and allows it to more aggressively fill its needs than it would otherwise be able to on the open market.
Mitch Garver: Two-year, $24 million deal with Mariners
At long last, Jerry Dipoto has added to his lineup rather than subtracting. Garver checks the box for Seattle both as an upgrade at DH after the team got abysmal production from that spot in the lineup last year (.688 OPS, sixth-worst in the Majors) and as a lefty-mashing alternative to starting catcher Cal Raleigh. Garver slashed .270/.370/.500 and authored several big postseason moments for the Rangers in 2023, but he also appeared in just 87 games, and that’s become a bit of a recurring theme throughout the 32-year-old’s career. (He’s appeared in more than 100 games just once in seven big-league seasons.) In a vacuum, this is a solid player who fills a need on a reasonable contract. In the bigger picture of the Mariners’ offseason, however, this feels like too little, too late.