Finding one strong fit for 11 top remaining free agents

January 3rd, 2024

With the holiday season in the rearview mirror and the new year underway, the deep freeze that has settled over free agency is likely to thaw in the coming weeks.

Believe it or not, there are only about six weeks left before pitchers and catchers report to camps in Florida and Arizona, serving as a deadline of sorts and providing motivation for teams and unsigned players alike to ramp up negotiations.

As we eagerly await the increase in activity, we’ve decided to play matchmaker and help find homes for some of the top free agents left on the board. Using each team only once, here are the best fits for 11 notable players who remain unattached.

, SP
Best fit: Angels

Nothing the Angels do this offseason is going to make up for the loss of the incomparable in free agency, but signing the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner would be a big step in the right direction as the franchise looks to turn the page. The Halos certainly need starting pitching -- their current rotation of , , , and  combined for a 4.53 ERA over 111 starts in 2023. There are other arms left on the market who can help the cause and won’t cost as much as Snell, but this is a team desperately in need of a big splash.

, OF
Best fit: Cubs

When you consider how this offseason has progressed with respect to Bellinger’s market, the signs seem to be pointing toward the 28-year-old eventually reuniting with the Cubs. The Yankees were regarded as one of the favorites for Bellinger at the start of free agency, but they’re out of the mix after trading for , and . The Blue Jays briefly emerged as a potential suitor after missing out on Ohtani, but their deal with center fielder lessens their need to meet Bellinger’s asking price. Ditto for the Giants, who signed  to start in center. Chicago, meanwhile, has done nothing to improve its roster since it signed manager Craig Counsell to a five-year, $40 million deal.

, SP
Best fit: Yankees

When the Yankees sent Montgomery to the Cardinals for center fielder at the 2022 Trade Deadline, part of their rationale was that they didn’t expect the left-hander to fit in their postseason rotation. Ironically, Montgomery went on to become a playoff star for the Rangers one year later, helping Texas win a World Series championship. Adding further insult? He was especially dominant in the Rangers’ American League Championship Series victory against the Astros, a longtime nemesis of the Yanks. The Bronx Bombers may have struck out in the  sweepstakes, but they have a chance to right a past wrong and get the durable starting pitcher they need by bringing back Montgomery.

, RP
Best fit: Rangers

In stark contrast to what they did in the past two offseasons, the Rangers have largely remained in the background since they won it all in November. If the club does make one big expenditure in the coming weeks, though, Hader makes as much sense as anyone (assuming Montgomery isn’t a realistic option due to his price tag). Texas may have overcome its bullpen woes during its run to a World Series title, but we can’t overlook the fact that it had more blown saves than successful conversions in the regular season and saw both and  drop off the roster at the start of free agency.

, 3B
Best fit: Giants

The Giants got a much-needed win in free agency when they landed Lee, but they still have a lot of work to do after missing out on Ohtani and Yamamoto. San Francisco has been linked to Snell, but the club arguably has a greater need for another star position player than a pitcher. Of the top two position players left on the market, Chapman seems more likely for San Francisco than Bellinger, in part because of the third baseman’s previous relationship with new Giants manager Bob Melvin from their time together with the A’s. In addition to his elite glove at the hot corner, Chapman would bring some much-needed power to a Giants lineup that got just 87 homers from right-handed batters (the sixth-fewest in MLB) last season. Chapman himself hit only 17 home runs in 2023, but his excellent contact-quality metrics and track record suggest he’s capable of more.

Shōta Imanaga, SP
Best fit: Red Sox

The Red Sox entered this offseason determined to add starting pitching and did just that when they reached a two-year deal with (per a source). But after following up that move by trading to the Braves, Boston’s rotation doesn’t look that much better than it was at the end of 2023. Signing Montgomery would make sense, but given the payroll questions raised in a recent report from Chris Cotillo of, Imanaga may be a better fit. The Japanese lefty has until Jan. 11 at 5 p.m. ET to sign with an MLB team after being posted by the Yokohama DeNA BayStars of the Nippon Professional Baseball in late November.

, DH
Best fit: D-backs

Coming off a surprising World Series appearance, the D-backs haven’t rested on their laurels this offseason. Arizona has already made several major moves, acquiring third baseman in a trade and left-hander in free agency before re-signing outfielder  But the club shouldn’t stop there. While no one expects the D-backs to match the spending habits of some of the other teams in the NL West, we’d like to see them stretch their budget to add one more heavy hitter to their lineup. Arizona’s DH production was among the worst in the game in 2023, making Martinez an ideal target. The veteran slugger isn’t quite the threat he was back in 2017, when he had a memorable stint with the D-backs following a trade from Detroit to Arizona, but his 134 OPS+ would have tied him with  for the team lead last season.

, 1B
Best fit: Nationals

After getting a taste of the postseason for the first time with the Phillies in 2022, Hoskins may prefer to sign with a contender as he looks to bounce back from the torn ACL that cost him all of 2023. However, it’s hard to find an obvious fit for him, considering most playoff hopefuls can be placed into one of three buckets: those that already have first base and DH covered, those that have greater needs elsewhere and those that don’t seem particularly likely to spend in free agency this offseason. Hoskins could be a fallback option for the Cubs if they aren’t able to find common ground with Bellinger, but if that doesn’t work out, we wouldn’t be surprised to see him sign with a rebuilding team like Washington on a one-year “pillow” contract before making another run at free agency next year. The Nats could flip him at the Trade Deadline, like they did with  last summer.

, OF
Best fit: Blue Jays

The Blue Jays dared to dream big as they pursued a difference-making hitter earlier this offseason, making a serious push for Ohtani while connecting with the Padres about a trade for Soto as a possible Ohtani fallback. Toronto didn’t get either player. The Jays did re-sign Kiermaier before landing utility man , but neither move did much to address the team’s offense, which tied for 14th in the Majors in runs scored last year. Toronto’s lineup is already loaded with right-handed hitters, so Soler isn’t a perfect fit. But after missing out on Ohtani and Soto, the Blue Jays need to do something bigger than merely re-signing or bringing in , to name two of the best available lefty bats.

, SP
Best fit: Orioles

The Orioles seem well-positioned to use some of their extensive prospect depth to trade for White Sox ace , but if a deal doesn’t come to fruition soon, pivoting to a high-floor option such as Stroman in free agency would be a wise move. Stroman could slot into the O’s rotation behind and , effectively replacing the departed  and allowing the club to retain its young talent to potentially acquire an ace down the road.

, OF
Best fit: Mets

For all of the focus that’s been placed on the Mets’ rotation this offseason, the team still has several question marks on offense as well, with , and all penciled into starting spots, and 35-year-old right fielder coming off a .625 OPS in 2023. A proven power threat who has hit more than 20 homers in each of the past five full seasons (excluding the shortened 2020 campaign), Hernández could serve as a middle-of-the-order complement to  while bouncing between both corner-outfield spots and filling in at DH.