Your lingering Hot Stove questions, answered

December 8th, 2023

The 2023 Winter Meetings from Nashville, Tenn., came and went without much activity, continuing what has been a quiet offseason to this point. However, Wednesday’s blockbuster sending the 25-year-old outfielder from the Padres to the Yankees could be a sign that things are about to heat up.

Here’s a breakdown of the offseason landscape coming out of the Winter Meetings, including some key storylines to watch, notable free agents who are still available and potential trade candidates.

Who are the top free agents left on the board?

Two-way superstar , one of the biggest free agents in baseball history and the reigning American League MVP, remains unsigned. So does 25-year-old Japanese ace , the Eiji Sawamura Award winner -- annually bestowed upon the best pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball -- in each of the past three years.

There's also reigning National League Cy Young Award winner , center fielder , closer , left-hander , designated hitter and third baseman .

In fact, all but four of the players from executive reporter Mark Feinsand’s rankings of the Top 25 free agents at the start of the offseason are still on the board, with only (No. 5), (No. 7), (No. 12) and (No. 22) agreeing to deals so far.

You can see a full list of the available free agents and deals that have been reached this offseason right here.

What are the key storylines to keep an eye on?

1. When (and where) will Ohtani sign?

And still we wait, though perhaps not for much longer. Ohtani reportedly met with a number of teams recently, and MLB Network insider Jon Paul Morosi said on Friday that a "decision is imminent, possibly as early as today."

While the Dodgers have long been considered the favorites, it's possible that status is wavering. Morosi said on MLB Network that "momentum has built for the Blue Jays" over the past week, adding: "In the last several days, the Jays have certainly improved their standing."

The Dodgers, Blue Jays, Giants, Angels and Cubs are believed to be the finalists for the 29-year-old, and the bidding could potentially get as high as $600 million by the time this is all said and done.

2. The trickle-down effect for the market once Ohtani is off the board

As Feinsand pointed out on Tuesday, the ongoing Ohtani saga has stalled the rest of the market. As long as he is still in play, all of the clubs that are considered finalists for him are going to remain singularly focused, at least when it comes to the top of the free-agent market.

Meanwhile, agents for other big-name free agents appear to be in no hurry for their clients to sign until they see what happens with Ohtani -- and how the clubs that miss out on him might respond.

“One executive pointed out that the teams that don’t sign Ohtani will find themselves with quite a bit of money to spend, and while no single player will command anything close to Ohtani, those teams could look to spread it around to two, three or even four players,” Feinsand wrote.

3. How high will the bidding get for Yamamoto?

There’s another elite free agent whose market appears to be even larger than Ohtani’s: Yamamoto, whose combination of stuff, age and performance overseas has big market teams across the Majors lining up for the chance to sign him.

With the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox and Cubs all believed to be involved, some have even speculated that the bidding could get as high as $300 million.

is the only pitcher in MLB history to sign a contract for $300 million or higher, and no player coming over from Japan has even reached $200 million. The current record in that category belongs to , who inked a $155 million deal with the Yankees in 2014.

4. Which teams are poised to strike in the trade market?

All eyes are on the Orioles and Reds, two clubs stacked with young talent and in need of an ace starter. There just so happen to be multiple frontline arms available via trade this offseason (see our section below on trade candidates), and Baltimore and Cincinnati are well positioned to land one of them.

Another team that could dive head-first into the trade market? The Dodgers, especially if they land Ohtani for big bucks. Los Angeles needs pitching, something Ohtani won't be doing in 2024 after undergoing elbow surgery. And with five players who rank among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 prospects -- tied for the fourth most in the Majors behind the O's, Cubs and Padres with six apiece -- the Dodgers also have the stockpile to swing a blockbuster trade for an arm.

As for a team that could make a trade for a big bat? How about the Mariners, who dealt third baseman and left fielder after opting not to make right fielder a qualifying offer. Seattle has plenty of young, controllable pitching to offer in a potential trade, including , and .

Which teams need to make a big move?

Well, considering the relative lack of activity so far, a lot of teams.

The busiest clubs so far have been the Yankees (Soto, ), D-backs (Suárez, E-Rod), Cardinals (Gray, , ), Reds (Candelario, , ), Tigers (, ), Braves (Kelenic, , ), Phillies (Nola) and Mets (, ).

As we noted above, all of the five Ohtani finalists -- Dodgers, Blue Jays, Giants, Cubs and Angels -- have been reluctant to spend money elsewhere while the two-way superstar is still available. Each of the five absolutely needs to make a big splash, whether it's Ohtani or someone else.

The Dodgers have made the playoffs in each of the past 11 years, with 10 division titles in that span, but they've seen a lot of talent walk out the door in the past few offseasons and just had yet another early postseason exit. Los Angeles refrained from signing any players to deals longer than one year last offseason, knowing Ohtani was going to be available after the 2023 campaign. Even if they can seal the deal with Ohtani, they're still going to need to add a frontline starter.

Soto was considered a possible fallback option for the Jays, but with that option no longer available, it may be Ohtani or bust for Toronto. The Blue Jays need Ohtani's bat -- four Toronto hitters (Chapman, , , ) reached free agency in November from an offense that wasn't that good to begin with. And with and eligible for free agency in two years, the pressure is on the club to win now.

The Giants have been spurned by a number of top stars in recent years, including just last offseason. After missing the playoffs in six of the past seven years, San Francisco is desperate for a superstar player around whom to build.

The Cubs were closer to the playoffs than the Giants in 2023, but they can ill afford to come out of this offseason with their biggest addition being manager Craig Counsell, especially with both Bellinger and reaching free agency.

Then there are the Angels, who haven't made the postseason since 2014 despite having both Ohtani and together on their roster for the past six seasons. The Halos made the decision not to deal Ohtani at the Trade Deadline. Now, they could lose him for nothing more than Draft compensation.

The Red Sox, Mariners, Orioles, Mets and Padres are among the other teams that must do something big in the coming weeks. Boston, Baltimore and New York are all searching for starting pitching, while Seattle needs hitting.

San Diego got some much-needed pitching help from the Soto trade, but the Friars could use some more, in addition to another bat to make up for the loss of Soto in their lineup. At least the Padres now have more payroll flexibility after moving out Soto.

Who are some potential trade candidates?

The Soto trade may be done, but there are still a number of attractive trade candidates available, highlighted by these five.

, SP, White Sox
After a disappointing season that led to the departures of executive vice president Ken Williams and general manager Rick Hahn, the White Sox -- now led by GM Chris Getz -- are shopping their ace. The 27-year-old had a down year in 2023, but he topped the 200-strikeout plateau for the third straight season, and memories of his spectacular campaign in 2022 (2.20 ERA, 227 K's) are still fresh. And unlike some of the other trade candidates available in the starting-pitching market, Cease has two years of team control remaining rather than one. As a result, he could fetch a significant return for Chicago.

, SP, Brewers
The Brewers won the NL Central in 2023 and appear poised to contend for the crown again next season. But with Burnes likely to depart as a free agent a year from now, Milwaukee could look to move him for the right offer. The Brewers reportedly have been engaging with teams about Burnes, who won the NL Cy Young Award in 2021 and has pitched to a 2.86 ERA with an 11.1 K/9 since the beginning of 2020.

, SP, Rays
With the Rays looking to trim payroll, the club is reportedly willing to listen on a number of top stars. Glasnow is at the top of that list. The right-hander has one year left on his contract and is owed $25 million in 2024, making him the Rays' highest-paid player by a wide margin. Glasnow underwent Tommy John surgery in 2021 and has never thrown more than 120 innings in a season, but it's hard to look past his brilliant arsenal. Since joining the Rays in 2018, Glasnow owns a 3.20 ERA and a 12.2 K/9 over 71 starts.

, SP, Guardians
The Guardians' situation with Bieber is similar to the Brewers' with Burnes. Cleveland seemingly has a solid chance of vying for first place in a weak division next season, but the club needs to consider the fact that Bieber can leave as a free agent in a year. In Bieber's case, though, it's fair to question how much trade value he actually has. The right-hander missed time with right elbow inflammation in 2023 and has seen his average four-seam fastball velocity drop from 94.1 mph during the shortened 2020 campaign, when he won the AL Cy Young Award, to just 91.3 mph across 2022-23. His strikeout and whiff rates have also dropped in each of the past three years.

, OF, Rays
Arozarena is less likely than the four pitchers above to be dealt, but Tampa Bay is at least open to listening on him, according to reports. Under control through 2026, the 28-year-old is set to receive a raise in his second year of arbitration eligibility after earning $4.15 million this past season. Now that Soto has been traded, we could see Arozarena begin to draw more interest among teams that are looking for outfielders.

Other trade candidates: INF (TB), OF (TB), 2B (MIN), OF (MIN), RP (CLE), SS (MIL), OF (STL)