Ranking the most likely landing spots for Josh Hader

December 15th, 2023

One of the most fun factoids about Josh Hader is that he was actually traded twice before even reaching the Majors. He was taken by the Orioles in the 19th round of the 2012 Draft, shortly after his 18th birthday, traded a year later to the Astros for Bud Norris and traded again two years later to the Brewers for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez.

Hader, now established as one of the best closers in baseball, was quite famously dealt again, at the 2022 Trade Deadline, to the Padres. That’s three trades before he ever got a chance to reach free agency.

Now that the 29-year-old Hader is at last on the open market, there are many teams that should be lining up for his services. There isn’t a team in the Majors that couldn’t use bullpen help, and Hader is a five-time All-Star who, after a difficult stretch in 2022, may have had the best year of his career in 2023. The biggest free-agent contract ever given to a reliever was the Mets’ $102 million deal for Edwin Díaz a year ago. Hader has a chance to beat that.

But where will he go? Here’s a look at the most likely suitors, our Josh Hader Power Rankings.

1) Dodgers
Why not, right? The Dodgers didn’t defer all that Ohtani money for the next decade only to not go out and spend to make this team even better. They’ve already taken a step in that direction, agreeing to a deal with the Rays for Tyler Glasnow, and there’s no reason to think that will stop them from also landing Yoshinobu Yamamoto as well. But the Dodgers want to beef up their bullpen too, and there’s no better option than Hader. The Dodgers’ bullpen isn’t necessarily one of their weaknesses, but making Hader their closer would turn them into a juggernaut. The Dodgers are going big. They might as well go big everywhere.

2) Rangers
The Rangers are looking to become the first team in 24 years to win two World Series titles in a row, and Hader can help them do that. The bullpen was the obvious weak spot for the Rangers in 2023, as anyone who watched them in the postseason could tell, and we certainly have learned that this team isn’t afraid to be aggressive in free agency. Hader would make a terrific team -- a defending champion -- much better, immediately. The Rangers last year proved the value of going for it. Getting Hader would show they’re doing it again.

3) Yankees
The Yankees have traded away a bunch of pitching this offseason, and hey, when that results in Juan Soto joining your team, it’s difficult to argue. But they still need bullpen help to support (or even supplant) Clay Holmes in the closer role, and Hader would certainly fit the bill. The Yankees have featured some excellent closers since Mariano Rivera, from Aroldis Chapman to David Robertson to Holmes, but Hader might be the best of them.

4) Phillies
Here’s another terrific team that had all sorts of bullpen issues in the playoffs, with Craig Kimbrel’s struggles costing the Phillies dearly in some key spots. Now that Kimbrel is in Baltimore, could he be replaced by another historically top-shelf closer? It certainly is in the Phillies’ character to go after guys like Hader -- big-ticket items that fit an obvious need. Phillies fans have been extremely frustrated with their bullpen for quite a few years now. No better way to assuage their concerns than signing Hader.

5) Cubs
Hader would be a huge hit at Wrigley, a place where he closed many games as a member of the Brewers. The Cubs don’t have an obvious closer, and they could use a bullpen piece around which to build as they filter in all the young talent they have coming. Plus, new manager Craig Counsell is plenty familiar with Hader from their days together in Milwaukee.

6) Angels
The bullpen is just one of the Angels’ many needs, but it is most definitely a need. If they’re keeping this team together post-Ohtani, they’re going to have to spend, and Hader is a logical place to invest some of the money they had earmarked.

7) Braves
Atlanta looked into dealing for Hader at the Trade Deadline, but now that they have Aaron Bummer, their bullpen is loaded with lefties already.

8) Cardinals
The Cardinals need bullpen help, and they certainly have gotten familiar with Hader from his years of competing against them in the NL Central. But spending big on a closer isn’t something the Cardinals have done for many years. They’re highly unlikely to start now.

Honorable mentions

Orioles: A veteran bullpen arm made sense here, but they already got Kimbrel.

Giants: Hader is a star, and they still need more of those.

Blue Jays: Bolstering the bullpen is one way to pivot from Ohtani.