8 bold offseason predictions: Ohtani, Soto and everything in between

November 11th, 2023

Welcome to the 2023-24 Hot Stove, otherwise known as the Sweepstakes!

The discussion over the two-way superstar’s destination will dominate narrative in the coming weeks, but of course there’s other talent available on the open market. And given the big costs of premium pitching and the market being light on impact bats, expect a lot of creativity in the trade department.

What’s going to happen this winter? Look, I had no idea the Rangers and D-backs would meet in the World Series, so I sure as heck can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the Hot Stove.

But I can make inaccurate guesses with the best of them. Here are eight bold ones.

Ohtani is going to the Mariners.

The safest prediction would be that Ohtani signs with the Dodgers and makes annual October appearances. But that’s boring. The World Series champion Rangers are not to be ruled out. The Giants, Mets, Yankees and Cubs all make sense. The Angels will make every effort to bring him back.

But you came here for bold, and I like to go galaxy brain with these predictions. Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto’s infamous comments this offseason that Seattle’s goal is to win 54% of the time over a 10-year span would lead one to believe the Mariners, as usual, won’t be major players in free agency.

Exactly what you’d say to throw us off the scent!

Ohtani barely speaks to the media about non-performance-related issues, but at least he let us in a little bit and said he loves the city of Seattle. Though 2023 was a dud, the Mariners do have a strong nucleus, with an excellent rotation and basically signed to a career-long contract. They are the forever home of Ichiro, Ohtani’s idol. They can offer Ohtani a place to be his unique and relatively reclusive self away from major media demands.

Oh, and they could really use a bat. Ohtani has one of those.

Whoever signs Ohtani could come out with the most complicated contract in the sport, with opt-outs and provisions aplenty.

The real darling of free agency will be .

This is the Offseason of Ohtani, no doubt. But the number of teams that can and will reasonably swim in those waters is relatively small.

Yamamoto is going to be a target for more teams, even though the posting fee is a financial hurdle. In a relatively light free-agent market, the intrigue and upside of the 25-year-old right-hander who won Japan’s Cy Young equivalent each of the last three years stands out all the more. There is excitement about him because he’s so young and so poised, has a five-pitch mix and has an inherent freshness about him that obviously doesn’t apply to the thirtysomethings fronting this free-agent class.

This all bodes well for Yamamoto getting aggressive bids from teams that view him as a potential No. 1 or No. 2, and Ohtani’s lack of availability as a pitcher in 2024 only adds to Yamamoto’s allure. These factors could escalate Yamamoto’s price tag well north of $200 million. It's likely he will get a bigger guarantee than likely NL Cy Young winner or any of the other arms on the board.

Yamamoto’s destination? The Red Sox will land Yamamoto one year after making a big splash in the Japan market with the signing.

Yes, will be traded. Yes, to the Yankees.

Reports that the Padres will pare their payroll by around $50 million to $60 million don’t make it a foregone conclusion that Soto will be dealt before his final round of arbitration. (In fact, Soto’s agent, Scott Boras, said earlier this week that San Diego’s 2024 plans “definitely” include Soto.)

The Padres could move more marginal players, let Snell and walk and find creative ways to support a roster that still includes Soto, , and But given the likelihood of this club doing another megadeal -- the kind it would take to keep Soto past 2024 -- and the difficulty of threading the financial needle with his high arbitration cost in the mix, the most sensible option is to move him and recover as much trade capital as possible.

The Yankees should be highly motivated to acquire Soto, a player who fulfills their need for a legit left-handed bat who can not only hit for big power but also get on base. And there is no reason whatsoever why a team in this country’s biggest city can’t extend a 25-year-old superstar.

The deal will happen.

Right-handers or would make fine centerpieces for a swap with San Diego. Alternatively, even if the Padres insist on one of the top Yankees prospects -- or the rehabbing -- the Yanks would be wise to at least listen, given their glaring need for what Soto provides.

An trade?! An Alex Bregman trade.

The chances of this happening are maybe 2% (for Bregman’s No. 2). Actually, make that 0.2%. Actually, make that 0.02%. But we put “bold” in the headline, and the free-agent market for bats is pretty light, so let’s at least explore this possibility, unlikely though it may be.

The Astros are getting older and could be closing in on the end of this impressive championship window. That doesn’t mean they’re going to fall off the face of the Earth. It doesn’t mean they can’t stay competitive. But it does mean they have to make difficult decisions in order to keep the line moving.

Bregman is a year away from free agency, as is teammate . Bregman is terrific, but Altuve is a legacy player, a likely Hall of Famer. The Astros would have a hard time extending them both, and it would stand to reason that Altuve is the player more likely to stay.

The Astros have what MLB Pipeline rated as the worst farm system in the game. They have zero Top 100 prospects. A Bregman trade would be a way to improve the top end of the system while paring down the payroll to provide flexibility. The Astros could pivot to a more manageable, short-term contract with, say,  (who for the record had a comparable OPS+ to Bregman in 2023) while taking advantage of Bregman’s trade value in a third-base market fronted by , who is going to command big money even after a not-very-dynamic year at the plate. The Blue Jays, Mets, Yankees, Cubs and Dodgers -- uh, well, OK, maybe not the Dodgers (because of that whole 2017 thing) -- would be among the fits.

It's a painful, weird idea that will make Astros fans yell at me on social media, but it’s not as terrible an idea as it might seem on the surface.

High school teammates will reunite in Atlanta.

For two straight years, the Braves have fallen flat against the division-rival Phillies in a short postseason series in large measure because of a shortage of quality starting pitching. Even after exercising their 2024 team option on veteran righty , there is a need for a viable upgrade in the rotation department.

The Braves aren’t prone to top-of-the-market expenditures in free agency. However, there are two interesting options this winter who might be had on lucrative one-year pillow contracts -- something the Braves, under Alex Anthopoulos, have done before -- to see if they can rebuild their value. That would be and , both of whom happen to be former high school teammates (at Los Angeles’ Harvard-Westlake School) with Atlanta ace .

Not far removed from being two of the more attractive starting arms in the sport, Flaherty and Giolito were both Trade Deadline duds in 2023. Under the right guidance, they can return to form and prominence on a Braves team that could use the innings.

The Orioles will add an ace starter AND an ace closer.

With a current projected 2024 payroll just north of $60 million and nothing firm on the books for 2025, the Orioles have the ability to aggressively add to a 101-win team that, unfortunately, demonstrated youth and a pitching shortage in a too-brief October. The clubhouse has proven itself worthy of ownership and the front office taking the next step, and that means impact external acquisitions.

The O’s won’t be widely expected to sign a top-end starter such as Snell or , but they have the means to pull it off. They also have the trade resources -- young bats aplenty -- to pry from the Brewers or from the Guardians.

As for the bullpen, Josh Hader would make one heck of a replacement for the injured … and the fact that he’s a former Orioles prospect makes for a great narrative!

The point is, given their low payroll and deep system, nothing should be off the table for Baltimore. They have the ability to sign a relief ace and trade for a starting ace (or vice versa). Here’s hoping they actually do it, because this roster is worthy.

The Reds will make a starting splash.

The Reds have not traditionally been big spenders in free agency. But after making a major surge up the standings this past season and proving they have one of the most exciting young lineups in the sport, a Reds team with a current projected payroll south of $40 million and barely anything on the books past 2024 could be a sleeper in the starting pitching market.

That doesn’t mean Yoshinobu Yamamoto, and it probably doesn’t mean Blake Snell or Aaron Nola, either. But I could see Cincinnati making an earnest effort to bring back or signing or .

Someone will sign .

Wishing this into existence. I don’t care if it’s a Major League contract, a Minor League contract with a Spring Training invite or a one-day contract to tip his cap to the crowd on Opening Day. Someone has to sign Rich Hill in 2024, because, with Nelson Cruz having retired, Hill is now the only active Major Leaguer older than me.

Somebody, anybody, please sign Rich Hill!