The San Diego Padres reached an extension with star third baseman Manny Machado on Sunday that will keep him in town beyond this winter, when he would had been eligible to opt-out of his contract. Machado is just the latest of impending free agents who have found an extension to their liking, joining teammate and right-hander Yu Darvish and Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers.
Those extensions -- plus potential future ones -- have diminished what once appeared to be a packed free-agent class. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean the 2023-24 market is without its share of interesting players. With that in mind, let's once again take a look at a premature ranking of the 10 best players in the class. Keep in mind we're doing our best in making educated guesses about which players will opt out. (And do note that we're repurposing the writeups from our first spin at this exercise back in early January.)
Now, let us proceed.
1. Shohei Ohtani, 2WP, Los Angeles Angels
Ohtani is an unprecedented talent heading for an unprecedented payday. How much are teams willing to pay a player who is above-average in both pitching and hitting? Barring an ill-timed injury, it seems likely we'll find out next winter. Ohtani has been adamant that he wants to win a World Series, something the Angels aren't well-positioned to do. The Dodgers and Mets, among others, are expected to pursue him if and when he becomes available. In other words, Ohtani won't have to choose between riches and victories.
2. Julio Urías, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urías will enter his walk year having amassed the fourth-best ERA+ among pitchers with at least 300 innings thrown during the Pandemic Era. Factor in how he'll be only 27 years old; how he throws with his left hand; and how the Dodgers have plenty of financial flexibility heading into the new year, and that would all seem to bode well for his chances of landing a big payday.
3. Aaron Nola, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Nola is a few years older than Urías and his Pandemic Era statistics aren't as shiny because of a down 2021 campaign. Nevertheless, he's an established workhorse with multiple top-five Cy Young Award finishes. Nola should be able to fetch a lucrative long-term deal, be it from the Phillies or elsewhere.
4. Matt Chapman, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays
Chapman rebounded from a career-worst effort in 2021 in his first season with Toronto by posting a 115 OPS+ and homering 27 times in 155 games. Of course, he's not just an above-average hitter, he's also one of the finest fielding third basemen in the majors. Provided Chapman avoids another disappointing outing like he had the season before last, he should be a hot commodity.
5. Amed Rosario, SS, Cleveland Guardians
We expect this to be an over- or an underrank of Rosario. He's coming off a career-best season, but it stands to reason teams will have varying opinions about his defensive ability and the sustainability of his offensive gains. After all, Rosario struck out more than four times as often as he walked last year. A lot could be riding on how he performs this year, in his age-27 campaign.
6. Rhys Hoskins, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies
The market tends to be unkind to 30-something-year-old right-right first basemen. That's unfortunate news for Hoskins, who will celebrate his 30th birthday come March and who hasn't played another position since 2018. (Remember when he played left in deference to Carlos Santana?) Hoskins is a good hitter, no doubt; his 127 OPS+ during the Pandemic Era is tied for the eighth best among first basemen, behind Matt Olson and José Abreu. He's just not the kind of transcendent hitter necessary to overcome the market's bias.
7. Ian Happ, LF, Chicago Cubs
Happ may not make it to free agency, as the rumor mill has had the Cubs yearning to extend him dating back to last summer. An agreement hasn't been reached yet, and so we feel obligated to include him on this list. Happ had an encouraging season in the sense that he sliced into his strikeout rate, reducing it to a career-best 23.2 percent. He still walked and bopped a fair amount, although a return to his previous levels would send his stock soaring.
8. Harrison Bader, CF, New York Yankees
Good center fielders are hard to find these days, as free agents or otherwise. Bader is a defensive demon who has been an above-average hitter in two of the past three seasons. The biggest knock against him is his durability. He's been limited by injury to 239 games over the last three seasons, and he's never appeared in as many as 140 contests in a big-league campaign. A season where he's hearty and hale throughout would go a long way in boosting his stock.
9. Lucas Giolito, RHP, Chicago White Sox
Timing is everything. Giolito has received Cy Young Award consideration in three of the last four seasons. Unfortunately for him, the exception was last year, when all of his pitches performed much worse than they had in 2021. If Giolito can return to form in 2023, he has a chance to move into the top five based on his larger track record as a durable above-average starter.
10. Gio Urshela, INF, Los Angeles Angels
Urshela will be suiting up for his third team in three seasons. He's been an above-average batter in three of the last four years, but there's a bubbling debate about the quality of his defense. While he has a good reputation, advanced metrics like Statcast's Outs Above Average and Baseball Prospectus' Deserved Runs Prevented both grade his glove as substandard in recent years. It only takes one team to believe he's a legit two-way contributor to hand him a big deal and justify this rank.