Next offseason's best free agent at each position

February 18th, 2024

The last thing the many still-available free agents from this offseason want to hear about is next winter’s free-agent class. But with Spring Training underway and Opening Day approaching, it’s always interesting to look at the guys who have a lot riding on the season ahead.

Here’s a very-much-subject-to-change look at the best 2024-25 free agents at each position.

Catcher: Danny Jansen, Blue Jays

It’s serviceability, not star power, available at backstop next winter.

We’ll put Jansen atop that particular list, given that he’ll reach the open market at age 29 and has been an above-average hitter for the Blue Jays, posting a 120 OPS+ (or 20% better than league average) with 43 homers and 38 doubles over the past three seasons. He’s regarded for his framing and blocking behind the dish. But Jansen has been a tandem receiver with Alejandro Kirk and also dealt with his share of injuries, and those factors will have to be taken into account.

First base: Pete Alonso, Mets

Potential Hall of Famer Paul Goldschmidt is nearing free agency, though the Cardinals see him as a legacy-type player and might act accordingly. Two-time Gold Glove winner Christian Walker of the D-backs is also a big name here.

But Alonso is the most fascinating of the pending free-agent first basemen -- and a possible trade chip. The Polar Bear has hit 37 or more homers in each of his four full seasons, with a career OPS+ of 136. Alonso has risen to the occasion many times before, including in those two Home Run Derby wins, so it will be interesting to watch how he handles his pressure-packed walk year.

Second base: Gleyber Torres, Yankees

Torres has not emerged as the reliable force he was deemed to be early in his big league career, when he was an All-Star in his first two seasons. He wasn’t able to stick as a shortstop.

But the 27-year-old Torres was the most consistent hitter in the Yankees’ injury-plagued lineup last year, and he’s mustered a respectable .266/.330/.452 slash line over the past two seasons. Torres’ 116 OPS+ in that span was sixth among qualified second basemen. A third strong season at second would cement Torres’ status as one of the top infielders available in next winter’s market.

Shortstop: Willy Adames, Brewers

Though his MVP-caliber play for Milwaukee after a midseason trade in 2021 did not become his norm, Adames is still a very strong option at a premier position. He took a step back offensively in '23, with an OPS+ (95) that was 5% below league average. But he still cranked out 20-plus homers for the fourth straight full season while posting a career-best 11.1% walk rate. And he continued to shine defensively, finishing second only to the Cubs’ Dansby Swanson in Outs Above Average at shortstop, with 16.

The defensive value gives Adames a high floor, and his bat was better than league average in 2021 and ’22. Having already dealt Corbin Burnes, the Brewers might be open to moving Adames prior to the season or midseason.

Third base: Alex Bregman, Astros

The Astros have unsurprisingly assured Jose Altuve will remain with them for the remainder of his career, but locking up Bregman has long been seen as a less-realistic proposition.

Bregman can hit the open market going into his age-31 season and, while he hasn’t had an MVP-caliber year since the revelations about Houston’s sign-stealing scandal in 2019, he remains a foundational type of player who can command a big deal. Over the past two seasons, he’s posted a .261/.365/.447 slash and 127 OPS+ while staying healthy and providing disciplined at-bats and reliable defense at the hot corner.

Left field: Tyler O’Neill, Red Sox

It’s looking like relatively slim pickings at this position, unless you count Juan Soto as a left fielder (we’ve got him listed in right, where he’ll take the field for the Yankees this season). But O’Neill has an interesting opportunity in front of him after an offseason trade from St. Louis to Boston. He’ll be a free agent at just 29 years old. So anything resembling his 2021 season, when he won his second Gold Glove while breaking out offensively with a .286/.352/560 slash, 34 homers, 26 doubles and 15 steals, would put him in prime position for a proper payday.

Trouble is, O’Neill was below league average (.229/.310/.397 slash) while dealing with a wide variety of injuries the past two seasons. Having seemingly fallen out of favor with the Cards, a fresh start with the Red Sox could benefit O’Neill.

Center field: Victor Robles, Nationals

With Kevin Kiermaier, Harrison Bader and Aaron Hicks having all signed one-year deals, next winter’s center-field market looks an awful like this winter’s (minus the star power of Cody Bellinger, who we’d imagine will get a multiyear deal here soon). It’s not going to knock anybody’s socks off, in other words.

We’ll list Robles here, not because of anything he’s accomplished recently, but because he’ll be a 27-year-old free agent. He’s capable of elite defensive play and has speed. If he could get back to an offensive performance similar to 2019 (.255/.326/.419 slash), when he finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting, he’d be an attractive free agent in a position that’s difficult to fill.

Right field: Juan Soto, Yankees

Soto turned down a reported 15-year, $440 million offer from the Nationals in 2022, leading to the trade to the Padres, who subsequently traded him to the Yanks. If he thrives in this platform year in the Bronx, he stands a very good chance of besting that blockbuster offer.

He will be a free agent at age 26 -- or the same age his former teammate Bryce Harper was when he signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. Soto had the fifth-highest OPS+ (157) in history for a player prior to his age-25 season.

The Orioles’ Anthony Santander and Twins’ Max Kepler will be among the right-field options for teams that can’t meet Soto’s asking price.

Utility: Ha-Seong Kim, Padres

Kim could have been listed as our second baseman or our shortstop. He’s capable of elite defense at either position, and in fact won his first Gold Glove after shifting to second in 2023. (Now, he’s moving back to short in 2024.) He can also pitch in at third base. At this point, it’s hard to know where the team that signs him for '25 and beyond would slot him, so we’ll just list him here.

In addition to what he brings with his glove, Kim has made strides offensively in MLB since coming over from the Korean Baseball Organization. He doesn’t make much hard contact, but he’s lowered his strikeout rate and raised his walk rate to become a reliable supplier of above-average offensive output, including a solid .260/.351/.398 slash in 2023. He also brings it on the basepaths, taking advantage of the new rules environment to erupt for 38 steals last season.

Designated hitter: N/A

If club options on Eloy Jiménez (White Sox) and Marcell Ozuna (Braves) are exercised for 2025, there won’t be much to work with in free agency in terms of regular DHs.

Starting pitcher: Corbin Burnes, Orioles

This could be a loaded class, including Braves lefty Max Fried, repaired Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler, Guardians Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, Phillies ace Zack Wheeler and likely future Hall of Famer Max Scherzer. Gerrit Cole can opt out of the last four years of his Yankees deal (unless the club tacks on another $36 million for 2029), Robbie Ray can opt out of his last two years with the Giants, and Justin Verlander has a conditional player option for 2025.

But Burnes belongs atop the list as of now. Trading a healthy, recent Cy Young winner in his prime age years, just a season before he reaches free agency, is actually pretty rare. The best “recent” (and that’s using the term loosely) comp is probably the 2009-10 deal that sent Cliff Lee from the Phillies to the Mariners. Lee went on to finish seventh in the AL Cy Young voting (with the M’s and Rangers), helped Texas reach the World Series, then signed a mammoth deal (at the time, the third-largest ever for a pitcher) that returned him to Philadelphia.

Similarly, Burnes has a big opportunity here. He’ll be 30 when he reaches free agency, and, if he can help the O’s take the next, logical step and advance deep into October, his already ample earning power will reach new heights.

Relief pitcher: Clay Holmes, Yankees

This is an impossible market to project or predict, given the inherent volatility of the role and the number of guys with options or opt-outs. For now, we’ll throw the spotlight on Holmes, who is due to be a free agent at the acceptable age of 32 and emerged as an All-Star in the Bronx after a 2021 trade from the Pirates.

In 154 2/3 innings over 153 appearances with the Yankees, the right-handed Holmes has logged a 2.50 ERA with 170 strikeouts against 47 walks and only six homers allowed. He’s in the 100th percentile in ground-ball rate (66.7%). Keep that up for another year, and he’ll do quite well for himself next winter.