After back-to-back Major League Baseball offseasons with more than $3 billion spent on free agents, will there be another winter of rampant nine-figure investments, or could we be headed for a quieter offseason than usual?
Sure, the impending Shohei Ohtani signing will be anything but a light day of MLB news, but an otherwise lackluster free-agent class will make for some interesting offseason spending plans—and, if we’re lucky, a handful of blockbuster trades.
Also, where does the potential litany of big-name retirements fit into how the next five months play out?
We’ve put together eight bold predictions for the MLB offseason, which will officially begin at some point in the next two weeks (five days after the World Series ends).
Save for projecting Ohtani’s landing spot near the end of this article, we’re avoiding the “Free Agent X signs with Team Y” sorts of predictions that we’ll have all of November to discuss. Instead we’re going with more team-centric and leaguewide prognostications, presented in no particular order
At the peak of Shohei Ohtani’s unicorn-ish greatness in late July—when he had effectively already won his second AL MVP and when it wasn’t completely outlandish to suggest he might win both the pitching and hitting triple crowns—$500 million felt like a laughably low estimate for what he would get in free agency.
$600 million to sign Ohtani was becoming a more and more realistic estimate, with some estimates even suggesting he could eclipse $700 million.
Then came the second UCL tear of his career, both eliminating pitching from his 2024 plans and causing everyone to re-question what he’s actually worth on the open market.
Even if you’re of the belief he’ll never pitch again—I’m not, but let’s entertain the notion—Ohtani is still one of the best hitters in baseball and one of the most marketable athletes in the world.
On the “best hitter” front, his overall Offense rating on FanGraphs since the beginning of 2021 ranks third in the majors, behind only Aaron Judge (who’s making $40 million per year) and Freddie Freeman. He’s slightly ahead of Juan Soto, who reportedly turned down a $440 million contract offer from the Washington Nationals before getting traded to the San Diego Padres in the summer of 2022.
On the marketing front, Sports Business Journal reported in late September that Ohtani topped the list of both jersey sales and MLB app follows in 2023. I have no earthly idea how exactly that translates into revenue generated for his next franchise, but it has to factor in to some degree, right?
Now factor in the possibility that he’ll be a considerably above-average starting pitcher again starting in 2025, and he should still be worth more than $500 million in free agency.
The contract might need to include vesting options based on innings pitched to protect the team from overpaying if his elbow is never the same again, but I said 10 years for $520 million back in mid-June and I’ll stick with that as the official prediction for Ohtani’s impending deal—probably with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Please note the “Current MLB Free Agent” qualifier here. That does not include Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who has not yet been officially posted by the Orix Buffaloes. Nor does it include candidates for big-time extensions, like Juan Soto, Pete Alonso, Corbin Burnes, Adley Rutschman, etc. If we factor those guys into the mix, there could be a couple of $200+ million contracts handed out this offseason.
But from a ‘current free agents’ perspective, one year removed from eight players—Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, Jacob deGrom, Dansby Swanson, Brandon Nimmo and Carlos Rodón—signing contracts worth at least $162 million each, it’s going to be Shohei Ohtani standing alone in this year’s $160+ million club.
There are several good candidates for massive deals, though, with Aaron Nola being the player most likely to derail this prediction.
Dating back to the start of 2018, only Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom have been worth more fWAR than Nola, and the average 2023 salary of that quartet was $33.5 million. Given how healthy Nola has been during that run, giving him a six-year or seven-year deal wouldn’t be all that terrifying.
However, in light of all of the marquee pitching injuries this season, I suspect teams will be more reluctant than usual to give long-term deals to pitchers—even one who has been as consistently healthy as Nola.
On the non-Ohtani hitters front, the only remotely viable candidates for massive contracts are Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman.
“Belli” will certainly do better than the one-year, $17.5 million deal he got from the Cubs last winter, but given how poorly he performed in the three years prior to this renaissance of a season, it’s hard to imagine anyone committing to something like six years for $27 million apiece. Maybe he’ll get something that could be worth over $160 million with club options, but he won’t get a guaranteed amount that high.
And while Chapman is an elite defender at a position where we’ve seen Manny Machado (11 years, $350 million), Rafael Devers (10 years, $313.5 million) and Nolan Arenado (eight years, $260 million) get massive long-term deals with $30+ million salaries over the past half-decade, he is nowhere near the offensive dynamo that those third basemen are. He’ll get nine figures, but not $160 million.