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Way-too-early 2025 MLB free agency rankings: Juan Soto at No. 1, but who’s next?

There are still lots of notable names out there in this year’s class, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead.

Juan Soto of the San Diego Padres reacts after drawing a walk during the fifth inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at PETCO Park on August 19, 2023 in San Diego, California. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

There’s still plenty of work left to be done this winter, with 12 of our top 25 free agents still unsigned and big names like Dylan Cease and Luis Arraez potentially available on the trade market. But there’s also precious little time left, with just a few weeks until pitchers and catchers report to spring training in Florida and Arizona. The hard reality is that the book has nearly closed on the 2023-24 offseason, and soon our attention will turn to real, actual baseball games — and a whole new round of Hot Stove speculation.

So let’s get a head start on that now, shall we? (Besides, it’s not like free agency is giving us a ton else to write about at the moment.) Below, we’ve taken a crack at an initial free-agent ranking for the winter of 2024-25. Please note that these will absolutely change over the coming months, as players break out, regress or sign long-term deals that take them off the market entirely. Take these for what they are: a snapshot of this point in time.

1. Juan Soto, OF, New York Yankees

Hard as Brian Cashman and Co. may try, there’s a virtually zero-percent chance that Soto doesn’t test the market next winter. He’s been among the most consistently elite hitters in the game since breaking into the Majors as a teenager, topping 150 games and a 140 OPS+ in all four of his full-length seasons. Oh, and did we mention he just turned 25? Yes, he doesn’t put up the power numbers of your traditional middle-of-the-order slugger, and yes, his below-average glove is a blemish — one that could loom larger as he ages into his 30s. But still: This is Juan Freaking Soto, and he has a real chance at cracking the $500 million mark.

2. Corbin Burnes, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Burnes took a slight step back from his Cy Young form in 2023, but even if he repeats that exact same production again this year, he’ll still hit the market as the clear top pitcher available. Every free-agent starter is a risk, but look at the pitching landscape around the league — it’s a risk that contending teams simply have to take if they want to remain competitive. Burnes’ stuff and track record are a cut above the rest: He’s finished top 10 in Cy Young Award voting four years in a row; he’s averaged 31 starts over the last three seasons with a 2.94 ERA; and he won’t celebrate his 30th birthday until October. Sure, he could get hurt, or he could start losing velocity or the feel for his trademark cutter. Who knows. Barring something totally unforeseen, however, he’s going to be a very rich man this time next year.

3. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

The first of two major pending free agents in Houston (more on the other one shortly), Bregman feels like the most likely to hit the market next winter. He may not be the force he was earlier in his career, when he finished top-five in consecutive MVP votes with a combined .285/.374/.504 slash line, and his mediocre contact metrics leave some doubt as to whether he’s something of a product of his righty-friendly home park. But Bregman remains among the toughest at-bats in the league, with elite K and walk rates, and his floor feels like 20-25 homers with a strong OBP. Plus, he remains a very good defender at third, and he’s one of the game’s most durable players, appearing in at least 150 games in all but one of his six full, non-COVID seasons. Add it all up, and that’s a very solid player, one that plenty of teams would love to add at the hot corner.

4. Zack Wheeler, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Unlike most names on this list, this will actually be the second foray into free agency for Wheeler. A few years ago, he all promise but uneven production. Now, after four elite seasons in Philly, he’s set to cash in big-time. Burnes gets the nod in these rankings because he’s three years younger, but Wheeler is a legit ace, with a 3.06 ERA and 9.7 K/9 since 2020. His fastball/slider combination remains among the most lethal in the game, and he shows no signs of slowing down. He might not get as many years as Burnes, but if he puts up topline numbers again in 2024, he could match him in annual value.

5. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets

Yes, the numbers — and, correspondingly, the market — tend to hate righty-hitting first basemen, especially those about to hit 30 years of age. And Alonso’s down 2023 season might give pause that he’s about to hit his decline. But he’s still one of the game’s great power threats, and he still hits the ball as hard as anyone — his numbers last year were a product of bad luck as much as anything. Sure, paying Alonso big money at, say, age 35 might hurt a bit, and there’s virtually no floor here if his bat starts to slip. But this sort of offensive production is very hard to find, and Alonso’s lack of a major platoon split should help his value.

6. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

If we had to guess, we’d say that the Astros and GM Dana Brown lock Altuve up before he has a chance to test the market; he’s still the heart and soul of this franchise, and someone who feels like he should retire a one-team star. Second basemen are supposed to fall off a cliff in their mid-30s, but Altuve just keeps on chugging, bouncing back with a 145 OPS+ since that rocky COVID season in 2020. He battled injury seemingly all year in 2023, but when he was on the field he was his usual self. If Altuve wants something like a six-year deal, Houston might have to let him walk, but it’s hard to envision him playing anywhere else.

7. Max Fried, SP, Atlanta Braves

Fried is one of the trickiest rankings on this whole list. With a 144 career ERA+ — fifth among pitchers with at least 50 starts since his debut — he’s pretty clearly the best left-handed pitcher on the market. He was also limited to 14 starts last season by forearm and blister trouble, and he’s racked up just one season with more than 180 innings pitched in his entire career. Few pitchers figure to have more to gain with a big contract year than Fried does; stay healthy and pitch like the Cy Young candidate we know he can be, and the sky is the limit.

8. Ha-Seong Kim, INF, San Diego Padres

You might be surprised to find Kim all the way up here, but the spark plug has now notched consecutive five-WAR seasons thanks to a ton of walks, steals and a versatile defensive skill set that allows him to be above-average just about anywhere on the diamond. Technically, Kim and the Padres hold a mutual option for 2025. But if Kim puts up another solid season at the plate, he’d be crazy not to try and cash in — plenty of teams would kill for a guy who gets on base at a healthy clip and can fill nearly any defensive hole in their lineup, especially when that guy just turned 28.

9. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

Goldschmidt is a former MVP and future Hall of Famer, but he’s also 36 and coming off arguably the worst offensive season of his career. His plate approach remains excellent, but slugged just .447, and his in-zone contact rate — typically a canary in the coal mine as a player’s bat speed begins to go — dipped nearly two percentage points to a career-worst 76.8% mark. It’s possible that he bounces back and cashes in with one more healthy contract. It’s also possible that he continues to decline and enters a surprisingly chilly market next winter. St. Louis could try to sign him to an extension this spring, but John Mozeliak’s attention is rightfully on his rotation right now.

10. Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros

This is more or less a dart throw, because we’ve stopped trying to predict when and how Verlander — who turns 41 next month — might finally start to show his age. There are a lot of variables at play here: Verlander’s could trigger a player option for 2025, provided he clears 140 innings pitched and passes a physical on his throwing elbow. Who knows if he’ll check either box — and, if he doesn’t, who knows if he’ll be in the condition or the mindset to continue pitching at all. He could call it a career, or he could re-up with Houston, or he might decide to hit free agency for one last payday, or he might want to chase a ring with a team best-suited to get him back to the World Series. Verlander isn’t who he was at his world-destroying peak, but he’s still a very good starter (3.31 ERA after coming back to the Astros at last year’s deadline) with a ton of big-game moxie.

11. Max Scherzer, SP, Texas Rangers

Speaking of wild cards. Is Scherzer going to want to pitch into his age-40 season? Will he be able to come back from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his throwing shoulder? The Rangers will presumably want to see what he looks like upon his return before they rush into any kind of new arrangement; as such, it’s more likely than not that he hits the open market for the third time in his career. Where his market goes from there is anyone’s guess, but the future Hall of Famer looked good in Texas before injury struck, and he might have a little more left in the tank.

12. Willy Adames, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

We had high hopes for Adames entering 2023, but instead he put up the worst offensive season of his career with a 95 OPS+. Adames is always going to be a free swinger, but he posted his lowest average exit velocity since 2018; if he’s not doing enough damage to make up for those strikeouts, he’s a far less appealing player. Still, slick-fielding shortstops with legit 25-homer power don’t grow on trees, and he’s still just 28; it’s entirely possible he has a huge contract year and cashes in with a nine-figure deal next winter.

13. Walker Buehler, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

If Fried isn’t the pitcher with the most to gain in 2024, that honor goes to Buehler, who hasn’t stepped on a Major League mound since early 2022 due to Tommy John surgery. The righty has been dogged by questions about his durability long before he went under the knife, but when he’s on, there are few better: Just go back to his 2021 campaign, when he finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting with a 2.47 ERA across 207.2 innings. That might be too much to ask for this year — he should be focused on just finding his footing again first — and a single season won’t fully ally those concerns. But Buehler can at least remind people that he’s a high-grade starter when available.

14. Gleyber Torres, 2B, New York Yankees

The fact that Torres has failed to live up to the hype engendered by his prospect ranking and early career has masked the fact that he’s actually turned out to be a pretty nifty player. He won’t hit 38 homers again like he did in 2019, but he’s still a solid-enough second baseman with a bat that’s been substantially above average (116 OPS+) over the last couple of years. Middle infielders with that sort of pop are in high demand around the league, and he won’t turn 28 until next December.

15. Shane Bieber, SP, Cleveland Guardians

As with Buehler, this is a pivotal season for Bieber. Although he’s consistently been an above-average starter throughout his career, there are some red flags to be aware of entering the new year — notably dips in fastball velocity, whiff and K rate. Oh, and he missed more than two months near the end of last season due to right elbow inflammation. We’ll see if he can regain his old form and oomph heading forward. Otherwise, his market might be dicier than you would expect based on his track record.