Who is the top free-agent bat with Ohtani off the board?

December 12th, 2023

This offseason has belonged to Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto.

Following Ohtani's record-shattering 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers and Soto's trade to the Yankees last week, teams will now pivot to the remaining free-agent hitters to bolster their rosters. Given that Ohtani and Soto likely held up the market, few position players have signed deals to date. Of MLB.com's Mark Feinsand's top 25 free agents, Ohtani and Jeimer Candelario (Reds) are the only two position players who've signed deals.

While none of the remaining free agents will approach Ohtani and Soto (obviously), there are plenty of quality hitters left on the market. Which ones are the best? While there's some level of subjectivity in this, taking a look at track record, their most recent performance in 2023, the underlying metrics and projections for next year can give us an idea of who might be the best non-Ohtani bats in free agency.

Let's dive into the best remaining hitters (not including defense and baserunning value).

Case for: After a tough stretch from 2021-22 with the Dodgers, Bellinger was non-tendered and signed by the Cubs, who reaped the rewards of a player who won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2023. Seemingly fully recovered from 2020 shoulder surgery, Bellinger produced a .307/.356/.525 line with 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (per FanGraphs) while making the All-Star team and finishing 10th in NL MVP voting. Bellinger cut his strikeout rate to a career-low 15.6% and became more of an elite contact hitter.

Case against: MLB.com's Mike Petriello looked at Bellinger's free agency case and the questions that arose from his peculiar season. As Petriello illustrated, Bellinger produced a .500-plus SLG despite a hard-hit rate in the 10th percentile. Bellinger outperformed his expected wOBA -- based on the quality and quantity of contact -- by 43 points, a larger gap than all but four qualified hitters. Bellinger made some real changes and will bring significant value as a legitimate defensive center fielder and good baserunner, but his offensive profile moving forward is unclear.

Case for: Chapman has never gone below a league-average 100 OPS+ in a season and has been at 108 or higher all but once (2021). With that relatively high floor comes some pop. He owns a career .461 slugging percentage, has popped 24 or more home runs in four seasons and has excellent quality of contact. He ranked in the 98th percentile or better in average exit velocity, barrel rate and hard-hit rate in 2023, suggesting the potential for more damage ahead.

Case against: Is he trending downward? Chapman's OPS+ has declined from 127 (2017-20) to 108 (2021-23), and this past year he had a 1.152 OPS in March/April but a .659 OPS the rest of the season. While Chapman continues to make quality contact, his strikeout rate hasn't ranked in better than the 16th percentile since 2019. He's still a gifted defender, but the offense comes with real questions as he enters his age-31 season.

Case for: By expected wOBA, Soler (.374) was the top free-agent hitter behind Ohtani (.426) in 2023 and ranked 18th among all qualified hitters. Soler shaved his whiff rate to a career-low 27.6% while his expected wOBA, expected SLG and barrel rate ranked in the 91st percentile or better.

Case against: Soler is coming off a great season with encouraging underlying numbers but consistency has been an issue. He was great in 2019 (48 home runs, 137 OPS+) and last year, playing in at least 137 games in each of those seasons. In Soler's only other seasons (2015 and '21) when he played in at least 100 games, he produced a roughly league-average 99 OPS+ each year. Further muddying the waters is Soler's defensive value has slowly pushed him closer to a permanent DH role.

Case for: Martinez began showing signs of decline in his final years in Boston before rejuvenating his career in his first year with Los Angeles. Reunited with Dodgers' hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc -- who played an integral part in Martinez's MLB success -- Martinez surged back with 33 home runs and a .572 SLG in 113 games. Martinez's underlying numbers supported the bounceback, with the righty slugger finishing in the 91st percentile or better in xwOBA, barrel rate and hard-hit rate.

Case against: The power outburst came with a steep decline in plate discipline and bat-to-ball skills. For the first time in his career, Martinez saw his strikeout rate exceed 30% (career 24.7%) while his walk rate dipped to 7.1%, the lowest it's been since 2014. Most of that came against non-fastballs, which Martinez swung and missed at a whopping 45.8% of the time. While he still slugged a healthy .563 against those pitches, there's a potential weakness that pitchers can target in Martinez's age-36 season in 2024.

Case for: MLB.com's Thomas Harrigan recently looked at how Hernández was an under-the-radar free-agent bat. Even with a down 2023 season (106 OPS+), there were encouraging signs. Hernández's expected wOBA (.336) was 19 points higher than his actual wOBA, while his barrel rate ranked in the 88th percentile and his hard-hit rate ranked in the 90th percentile. He may benefit from leaving Seattle for a more hitter-friendly environment.

Case against: After posting a career-best 146 OPS+ in 2020, Hernández has seen that number drop each year, to go with worsening swing-and-miss issues. He struck out a career-high 211 times last season, chased more than ever (35.2%) and posted a career-low 5.6% walk rate. The 31-year-old Hernández can still play a strong right field and run the bases well, giving him more value than some of the DH-only guys on this list, but there are red flags with his profile.

Case for: Similar to his former teammate Chapman, Gurriel has a high floor of offensive production. Gurriel owns a career 115 OPS+ and has never dipped below 106 in six big-league seasons. The 30-year-old doesn't strike out much (career 19.6% rate), hits for power (.466 SLG) and provides good defense in left field for teams looking to use him as an everyday outfielder.

Case against: While the floor is high, the ceiling is lower compared to others on this list. His career-best 138 OPS+ came in the truncated 2020 season and he's ranged between 108-to-114 in his three seasons with more than 100 games played (2021-23). Gurriel is also coming off a year where he posted a career-worst .309 OBP, potentially making him a tough sell at the top or middle of a team's lineup.

Case for: Hoskins unfortunately tore his ACL in Spring Training this year, wiping out his entire season before free agency. It was a blow for Hoskins, who has a strong track record of offensive production that would've led to a bigger payday without the injury. While Hoskins has never approached his stellar 50-game stint as a rookie (162 OPS+ and 18 home runs), he owns a career 125 OPS+ and has slugged 148 career home runs. His offensive prowess is also supported by excellent batted-ball numbers.

Case against: Any player coming off a torn ACL -- especially a first baseman who already had defensive questions -- while missing an entire season will raise questions. Hoskins will turn 31 before Opening Day and with no MLB at-bats since late 2022, it's unclear if the same version of Hoskins will return. With his previous defensive limitations, too, Hoskins could wind up as a DH-only bat soon.

Case for: Since his career transformation with the Dodgers in 2014, Turner hasn't had a bad year at the plate. Last year's 114 OPS+ with the Red Sox was his lowest since '13 and he's been at 120 or above in every other season. Even if he's not at his peak anymore, Turner still brought a healthy .345 OBP and slugged 23 home runs for Boston in 2023. He's also been extremely reliable, playing in at least 103 games a season since 2014 excluding the '20 season.

Case against: Father Time comes for even some of the best players and Turner is no different at 39 years old. Whereas Turner was consistently running a 130 OPS+ or better for years, he's topped out at 120 in each of the last three seasons. Turner's plate approach is still quite good -- making his floor pretty high -- but he's not crushing baseballs quite like he used to. Having just played a career-high 98 games at DH, teams also won't get the defensive value he used to provide.

Case for: Garver might not be a household name but he certainly helped his case as an integral part of the Rangers' 2023 World Series run. Set to turn 33 before Opening Day, Garver owns a career 123 OPS+ thanks to an ability to get on base (.342) and slug (.483). Garver is also one of the top hitters of this generation when it comes to doing damage against fastballs (career .982 OPS) and has always crushed left-handed pitching (.885 OPS).

Case against: Garver has dealt with an assortment of injuries that have limited him playing in 100 games in a season just once. He's averaged just 70 games a season since 2021 -- which in part is why he's spent more time at DH than catcher in recent seasons. Given his injury history and the fact that he played just 28 games behind the plate in 2023, Garver's days as a real catching option appear to be dwindling.

Case for: Pederson is a 10-year veteran with a career 116 OPS+ and has always blended a good mix of pop (.464 SLG) and eye at the plate (11.5% walk rate). After years of being overshadowed on star-studded teams like the Dodgers and Braves, Pederson took on a more pronounced role with the Giants the last two seasons, hitting 38 home runs with a 129 OPS+. The 31-year-old has a demonstrated track record of offensive success and has always crushed righties (.490 SLG).

Case against: As good as he is against righties, Pederson has never handled left-handed pitching well (.622 OPS), which has capped his overall production and forced him to a platoon role. Like others on this list, Pederson has also seen his defensive struggles push him closer to everyday DH duties (career-high 79 games in 2023). Teams will still value Pederson as a lefty masher who crushes right-handed pitching -- there are just more limitations than others listed here.

Honorable mentions: Brandon Belt, Tommy Pham, Michael Brantley