While we're getting close to the period where trade rumors dominate the discussion, it's never too early to look ahead at what could be available during the offseason.
Before we do that, here are some disclaimers about how this article was constructed:
- To create a list like this, you have to consider both past production and what a given player is doing in the 2022 season as you attempt to quantify future value.
- Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray are among those who could become free agents after the 2022 season, but they weren't considered for this list because their current employers are overwhelmingly likely to exercise their team-friendly club options for 2023.
- Here's a list of some of the names who just missed out on cracking this list: Craig Kimbrel, Jean Segura, Michael Brantley, Kiké Hernández, Kolten Wong, Joc Pederson, Joey Gallo, Zach Eflin, Mike Clevinger, Kenley Jansen, Josh Bell and Edwin Díaz.
With all that acknowledged, here's the 15 best potential MLB free agents for the 2022-23 offseason:
1. Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
While it was quite the risk for Judge to turn down a seven-year/$230.5 million offer from the Yankees before the 2022 season, the early returns suggest he made a wise business decision. Judge currently leads baseball with 18 home runs, and seems well on his way to playing in his fourth All-Star Game. While Judge will turn 31 early in the 2023 season, he's been a Hall of Famer-caliber player when he's stayed healthy in his career. Audacy Sports MLB Insider Jon Heyman has already mentioned the San Francisco Giants as a team that could make a run at Judge.
2. Carlos Correa, Minnesota Twins
Correa perhaps overplayed his hand last offseason, declining to pounce on a 10-year/$275 million offer early in the offseason from the Detroit Tigers. The good news is that Correa is still only 27, and the three-year/$105.3 million deal he signed with the Twins will allow him to opt out after the 2022 season if he chooses to do so. It's possible that Correa could end up with a similar offer to the one he received from the Tigers last winter if he puts up major numbers again in 2022.
3. Trea Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers
One of the most complete players in baseball, Turner finished third among all position players with a 6.8 fWAR a year ago, during a season that he split between the Washington Nationals and Dodgers. It's possible that Turner is even better at second base than shortstop, but there's no reason to think he won't want to continue playing his natural position moving forward. One would think the Dodgers will make an aggressive play to keep Turner in their uniform, but they have let Manny Machado and Corey Seager depart in free agency in recent years, so who knows. On top of that, Jon Heyman wrote for The New York Post that the 28-year-old is "still believed to prefer the East Coast."
4. Nolan Arenado, St. Louis Cardinals
Outside of a World Series trophy, the only thing missing from Arenado's resume is an MVP, and he's one of the early candidates to win the honor in the National League in 2022. The nine-time Gold Glove Award winner declined to opt out of his deal with the Cardinals last offseason, but will have the opportunity to do so once again this offseason. Arenado can opt into five years and $144 million after the 2022 season, but Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors recently wondered if he'll chase a longer deal on the free-agent market.
5. Xander Bogaerts, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts has three years and $60 million guaranteed after the 2022 season, so he appears likely to exercise his opt out this winter if a long-term deal isn't reached in the interim. The Red Sox offered to add another year at $30 million onto his current deal, but the 29-year-old understandably expects to get much more than that. A friend of the four-time Silver Slugger Award winner predicted that Bogaerts will leave the Red Sox this offseason when speaking anonymously to Jon Heyman for The New York Post. If Chaim Bloom and company believe that re-signing Bogaerts this winter is unlikely, they could consider trading him this summer if they don't have a realistic path to the postseason.
6. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
If you could guarantee the health of deGrom, he'd likely be at No. 1 on this list. Even though the two-time National League Cy Young Award winner hasn't pitched in going on a calendar year, he has arguably the greatest pitch repertoire in MLB history. If he returns in the second half of the 2022 season and pitchers well for the Mets, there's a very real chance that deGrom will decline the $30.5 million option that he has for 2023 and see what's out there on the open market.
7. Joe Musgrove, San Diego Padres
Since being acquired by the Padres ahead of the 2021 season, Musgrove is in the top 20 in fWAR among all starting pitchers. Still only 29, Musgrove is already an excellent No. 3 starter for a contending team, and it wouldn't be hard for a team to convince themselves that the best is yet to come from a starter that's flashed top-of-the-rotation talent at times in his career.
8. Noah Syndergaard, Los Angeles Angels
Rather than accept the qualifying offer from the New York Mets last offseason, Syndergaard declined it and left to sign a one-year/$21 million with the Angels. Still only 29, Syndergaard has a 3.08 ERA and 3.54 FIP in his first seven starts with the Halos. If Syndergaard is able to remain healthy for the remainder of the 2022 season, he could be in line for a deal in excess of $100 million next winter.
9. Brandon Nimmo, New York Mets
In a league without a ton of impact center fielders or players capable of hitting consistently out of the leadoff spot, Nimmo will draw quite a bit of interest if he reaches free agency next offseason. The 29-year-old is an on-base machine (.392 career on-base percentage) who has five outs above average in center field since the start of the 2021 season. The most likely scenario seems to be that the Mets will re-sign Nimmo, a first-round pick of the team in 2011. But if the Mets pivot to Starling Marte in center field, Audacy Sports MLB Insider Jon Heyman has already mentioned the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers as potential suitors for Nimmo in free agency.
10. Carlos Rodón, San Francisco Giants
Farhan Zaidi and the Giants probably erred in allowing Kevin Gasman to leave and sign a free-agent contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, but scooped up Rodón when his market didn't develop how he anticipated it would. After a career-year with the Chicago White Sox in 2021, Rodón is off to an excellent start with the Giants in 2022, as he has a 3.60 ERA and 2.63 FIP in 50 innings pitched. Still only 29, Rodón seems likely to decline his $22.5 million option for 2023 (he'll need to pitch 110 innings or more in 2022 to gain the option) if he continues to pitch like this, as he'll likely secure a long-term deal on the free-agent market.
11. Justin Verlander, Houston Astros
Despite missing the better part of the last two seasons as he recovered from Tommy John Surgery, Verlander secured a two-year/$50 million deal from the Astros this past offseason. The future Hall of Famer has a 2.03 ERA, 3.67 FIP and 1.1 fWAR across his first nine starts of the season. If Verlander reaches 130 innings pitched in 2022, he'll be able to opt out of his contract this offseason and become a free agent if he chooses to do so. Even though he'll be entering his age-40 season, a healthy Verlander could probably top the $25 million he's slated to receive in 2023, whether it's from the Astros or someone else.
12. J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Martinez is in the final year of a five-year/$110 million contract, and whether he's traded by the Red Sox this summer or not, he figures to be a hot commodity in free agency this winter. The four-time All-Star is currently slashing .376/.435/.591, and will benefit as much as anyone from the DH becoming universal.
13. Willson Contreras, Chicago Cubs
Contreras is one of the best catchers in baseball, so there will be plenty of interested teams if he hits the trade market this summer and certainly when he becomes a free agent after the 2022 season. However, he'll turn 31 during the 2023 season and already doesn't have very good defensive metrics. So if Contreras is looking for a deal longer than two or three seasons, the two-time All-Star may not have a ton of teams willing to give him what he wants.
14. Nathan Eovaldi, Boston Red Sox
If Eovaldi had become a free agent after the 2022 season -- one where he finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting -- he would have been in demand. However, he has struggled to stay healthy throughout the course of his career, and the 32-year-old has a 5.24 FIP after his first 10 starts of the 2022 season. At his best, Eovaldi is one of the most electric pitchers in the game. But anyone signing him would be taking on quite the risk, as the Red Sox have found out during the lifetime of his four-year/$68 million deal.
15. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Kershaw isn't going to ever pitch 200 innings in a season again, but he's still 20-10 with a 2.91 ERA in 210 innings since the start of the 2020 season. When Kershaw is on the mound and not the injured list, the three-time National League Cy Young Award winner still performs at an elite level. It's always been difficult to imagine Kershaw pitching for anyone other than the Dodgers, but if the 34-year-old wants to continue his career in 2023, there will be plenty of teams who have interest in one of the greatest left-handed pitchers that the sport has ever seen.