Another successful Major League Baseball season is in the books, as the Texas Rangers won the 2023 World Series over the Arizona Diamondbacks, their first title in franchise history.
With the conclusion of the World Series, we now head into hot-stove season, meaning that the storm that is free agency, along with trades, will soon begin to occur. Many of the game’s most talented players could potentially be on the move, including two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who is expected to sign the richest contract in the history of the game.
It will also be interesting to see what the San Diego Padres do with superstar outfielder Juan Soto, as he is in the last year of his contract before hitting free agency next winter. And the Padres are rumored to be trimming their payroll heading into the new campaign.
Here are my top five predictions for what will happen this hot-stove season.
- Shohei Ohtani signs with the Los Angeles Dodgers
Shohei Ohtani is arguably the most decorated player of this generation. The Japanese phenom is a force both on the mound and at the plate. Since joining the Los Angeles Angels from Japan in 2018, he has pitched to a 38-19 record with a 3.01 ERA, along with a .274 batting average with 171 long balls and 437 runs batted in (RBIs). He has had a 19.4 wins above replacement (WAR) since entering the league in 2018.
Ohtani is in line to secure a contract that could net him around $500 million. He is a golden jewel that can make any team better. Every team that has the cash balance will no doubt make a run at him.
There are some concerns with the Japanese star’s health, however. He is not in line to pitch in 2024 after injuring his elbow. He did not play in any games in September after the Angels collapsed and fell out of the playoff picture. So with severe limitations coming into next season, there are questions surrounding whether or not he’ll keep up his torrid pace once he makes a full recovery.
Ohtani also has made it clear that he wants to remain on the West Coast, in order to remain closer to Japan. This means teams such as the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Boston Red Sox are effectively eliminated from the bidding. Ohtani does have a plethora of teams to choose from, including the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Texas Rangers, and the Angels.
The Angels are in dire straits after collapsing last season, with a farm system that is also in horrific shape. Ohtani has signaled that the chances of returning to Anaheim are slim. This leaves the remaining West Coast teams in the running. Ultimately, Ohtani will remain in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area but will be trading in the Halo Red for Dodger Blue, securing a long-term 10-year, $500 million contract in the process.
- Cody Bellinger signs a 12-year, $250 million contract with the San Francisco Giants
The San Francisco Giants have had very poor luck when it comes to securing top free agents in recent years. Last season, they nearly signed New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge, before the Bay Area native bowed at the eleventh hour to return to New York. They also came close to landing all-star shortstop Carlos Correa from the Minnesota Twins, before they raised concerns about his knee, which in turn led him to verbally agree to a deal with the New York Mets before they also had concerns about his knee, then led him back to Minnesota on a new six-year pact.
Ohtani most likely is going to Chavez Ravine, and the Giants for sure are going to go after any of the top remaining position players available, especially after being spurned last offseason by Judge and Correa and with their hated rivals signing the best player in the game. Bellinger fits the bill. He fills a much-needed void in the team’s outfield and he can slot in at center field. He can also play in any of the corner spots as well as first base if called upon. He brings a gold glove, as well as some much-needed consistent hitting to the table, batting .307 with 26 home runs and 97 RBIs with the Chicago Cubs last offseason.
Bellinger also has a relationship with team president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, who crossed paths with Bellinger when he was general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The familiarity with the front office, the filling of the team’s center field position and an impact bat in the middle of the order, as well as being a West Coast guy himself, makes the Giants an intriguing fit for Bellinger.
- Juan Soto traded to the Seattle Mariners in a stunning turn of events
The San Diego Padres were an unmitigated disaster last season. They finished the season 82-80 despite coming off a National League Championship Service (NLCS) appearance the year prior, as well as possessing the superpower talents of third baseman Manny Machado, right fielder Fernando Tatis Jr., shortstop Xander Bogaerts and Soto in the middle of the lineup.
The Padres want to trim payroll after this season, and with Machado, Tatis, and Bogaerts locked up long-term, Soto is the odd man out. He is due for free agency in a year, and if the Padres want to secure a return, they need to do it this winter. Some of the teams in the running for Soto include the Yankees, Mets, Cubs and Red Sox, but I believe there is one team that could make a splash for him that not too many people are talking about.
And that team is the Seattle Mariners.
I might get some flak for this one, especially since they may not have the necessary financial resources to secure the stud long-term, as well as having young guns Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic manning the outfield. I believe the Mariners can take that big step forward with Soto, and the dynamic duo of Soto and the young buck Rodriguez can be a thorn in their fellow AL West foe’s side for years to come.
How will the M’s make this deal work? They can start with Kelenic, who can easily replace Soto in San Diego at a cheaper price as well as longer team control, and they can also part with two of their top prospects in the MLB top 100 prospects list, catcher Harry Ford and outfielder Gabriel Gonzalez. Throw in a couple more minor-league or MLB-depth pieces and make it a deal.
The Mariners should also find a way to make this work. They haven’t been afraid to spend in the past, with them stealing Robinson Cano from the New York Yankees a decade ago, and pouring money into their starting rotation nowadays with pieces such as Luis Castillo and Robbie Ray locked up long-term.
If Seattle wants to be in the same class as their divisional rivals like the Houston Astros and the Rangers, they have a major opportunity with premier talent on their hands.
- Yoshinobu Yamamoto signs an eight-year, $200 million contract with the New York Mets
Just like the Padres, the New York Mets were a disgraceful embarrassment last season. Coming into the season with the highest payroll in the game, the Mets whiffed and finished the campaign with a 75-87 mark, a far cry from their 103-win finish the season prior.
Poor performances have consequences, and the Mets understood that as they packaged pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander and outfielder Tommy Pham at the trade deadline for prospects. With an improving farm system and a solid positional core, the Mets are at a crossroads between competing and looking ahead down the line.
What the Mets need to do this offseason is upgrade the starting rotation. They have three spots to fill behind Japanese ace Kodai Senga and veteran Jose Quintana, who are both under contract next season. What better candidate to fill at the top than Yamamoto? The Mets found success with Senga last season when coming from Japan, and who better to front the top of the rotation both in the short-term and long-term with Yamamoto.
Furthermore, the Mets have the financial resources to get him to Flushing. Team owner Steve Cohen isn’t afraid to spend to make his team better, and if there is a logical target for the Mets to target, it is no doubt Yamamoto. Their previous investments in Scherzer and Verlander, two pitchers at the tail end of their careers on short-term deals, did not work out, and this, with a pitcher who is just entering his prime years, makes the most sense.
- Blake Snell signs a five-year, $150 million contract with the Boston Red Sox
The Boston Red Sox are mediocre at best. After years of being one of the top spenders in the game, they have taken a bit more of a moneyball approach in recent years under former Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. They have cut ties with core pieces Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi in recent years, and the returns of using a more conservative and analytical approach did not work out, leading to Bloom’s ouster in September.
The Sox have replaced Bloom with former pitcher Craig Breslow, and team ownership no doubt is looking to return to the high-spending approach that was overseen by former general managers Theo Epstein and Dave Dombrowski. If there’s an idea the team needs to address, it’s the starting rotation.
If the decision-makers on Jersey Street have a target in mind, they should be zeroing in on Padres ace Blake Snell, who is very unlikely to return to San Diego. Outside of oft-injured pitcher Chris Sale, the Sox have a very inconsistent rotation. Kutter Crawford and Tanner Houck show flashes, but they have not shown that they have the ability to be a trusted member at the top of the rotation.
Snell brings experience and leadership and struck a cord by pitching one of his best seasons. The Southpaw went 14-9 with a 2.25 earned run average (ERA) this season in 180 innings, one of the few positives from a dysfunctional Padres team. The Sox have the spending power to get a deal done, and a return to the American League East may become intriguing to Snell, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays.