The best free agent (after Judge) according to execs is ...

November 29th, 2022

It’s been an annual tradition here at to poll executives around the league as to who is the winter’s top available free agent.

After asking the first general manager that question, it became apparent we were going to have to take a different approach.

“It’s ,” the GM said with a chuckle. “I’d be surprised if anybody gave you any other name. This might not be the most interesting story you’ve ever written.”

Message received.

For this Hot Stove season, we tweaked the poll to avoid a lopsided -- and sleep-inducing -- result. The question posed to executives around the Majors became:

Other than Aaron Judge, who is the best free agent available this offseason?

A total of 20 front-office execs responded, and while no player received more than half of the votes, Trea Turner won a plurality decision.

Those executives who voted for Turner cited his athleticism and all-around game, with three giving him the slightest edge over Correa.

“I’m a sucker for Trea Turner,” a National League GM said. “He’s an athlete, all skills, no black holes in his game. A steady, reliable demeanor. Big markets should be all over him.”

“He’s just so dynamic on both sides of the ball,” a second NL GM said. “It’s hard to find a better two-way player. He’s an elite, championship-level player that would fit anywhere. I don't care how good you are; he’s going to make you better.”

Although Turner is about 15 months older than Correa, his elite speed provides a skill that doesn’t exist with Correa or any of the other free-agent options this year, for that matter. With new rules changes in 2023 -- bigger bases and limits on pickoff throws -- that should encourage players to run more, Turner’s speed could be more valuable than ever in the coming years.

“If I were picking a team, I would go with Turner,” an American League GM said. “The speed element along with everything else, he’s a different type of player.”

One AL executive called Turner “a safe choice” while acknowledging a razor-thin margin between he and Correa.

Even one of the six execs who voted for Correa did so with a hint of trepidation.

“I’d go with Correa for his combination of age and ability on both sides of the ball,” an AL GM said. “But I can see the argument for Turner, too.”

Another AL GM who tabbed Correa as his choice looked several years ahead as he came to that decision.

“I think Correa can slide to third base so easily when he ages -- and be an 80 defender [on the 20-80 scale] there,” the GM said. “Then he can let his body gain weight for power.”

If Turner was the “safe” choice, then deGrom was on the other side of that coin. One AL GM was tempted to tab the two-time NL Cy Young winner as his choice, but deGrom’s recent health issues gave him pause.

“Assuming good health, deGrom emerges as the second-most impactful free agent behind Judge,” the GM said. “Taking health into consideration, I believe that the coveted second-most valuable free agent comes down to a debate between Turner and Correa.”

One of the four executives who chose deGrom said the lack of dominant starting pitching on the market was enough reason for him to give the right-hander his vote.

“Healthy deGrom is tough to beat,” the NL GM said. “There’s just no one on the planet with that kind of arsenal as a starter. Getting 25 healthy starts from him is just about as good as anyone else’s 33.”

Fresh off his third Cy Young Award season, Verlander received one vote in the poll, as one exec said the veteran right-hander will be the most impactful free agent in 2023 -- possibly including Judge.

“If he goes out there and pitches the way he did [in 2022], that’s a game-changer,” the NL exec said. “There just aren’t many true No. 1 aces out there.”

Nobody would argue with the impact that deGrom and Verlander will likely have if they’re able to stay healthy, but that was the biggest “if” for some executives who went with Turner or Correa over the pair of aces.

“It’s hard for me to pick the older guys who will get shorter deals than the young infielders,” an AL GM said.