On the brink of baseball’s Winter Meetings, it’s still anyone’s guess as to where the prime free agents – and some potential trade targets – might wind up.
Before these bold-faced names find new addresses, or re-up with their 2023 clubs, here’s our best guess about where they might land:
Pete Caldera: Giants.
San Francisco tried to spend big last year on Aaron Judge, then Carlos Correa, and wound up empty. They've got the resources, the incentive and the geography advantage to reel in the game's most dynamic player.
Andrew Tredinnick: Dodgers.
If Ohtani’s preference to play on the West Coast remains, then the favorites have to be the Dodgers, who have proven an ability to find a path toward contention regularly over the last decade. Ohtani’s superstar stature only grows in the Los Angeles market as he competes for World Series championships.
When they target a free agent, the Yankees can be that "fully operational Death Star'' once referenced by GM Brian Cashman. Along with the money, the Yanks can lean on their franchise history and the lure of the pinstripes. As with fellow Japanese stars Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka, something about Yamamoto suggests he might crave the Yankee Stadium spotlight.
While the Mets' plans might be to keep spending down ahead of 2024, Yamamoto has to be one of the exceptions to that logic. The Mets need another ace atop their rotation if they want to make a push for the playoffs next season, and Yamamoto has dominated Nippon Professional Baseball. Kodai Senga has proven the adjustment can be made. And at 25 years old, there’s less of a risk of Yamamoto burning out.
Here's a long-shot bet, but doesn't Arizona need to keep momentum going after its unlikely World Series run? Bellinger grew up near Phoenix and if a D-backs' offer is right, a return to the NL West with Arizona might not be impossible.
The Yankees are very interested and could surely benefit from his powerful lefty swing, outfield defense and ability to play first base. But a $200 million contract to a player who, not long ago, was non-tendered, should give the Yanks some pause based on their other pricey/lengthy commitments.
Bellinger revitalized his career on a one-year deal with the Cubs in 2023 with 26 home runs, 97 RBI and a .307 average. In the process, the Cubs took another step toward returning to the playoffs. The Cubs would be hard pressed to lose Bellinger’s production in their lineup.
Free agent Sonny Gray seemed a fit here, but St. Louis quickly took him off the board. Atlanta's Max Fried is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season, so maybe the Braves lock up another frontline lefty in Snell.
The Giants have been looking to make a splash in the free agency market. While they missed out on Aaron Judge, and in this case Shohei Ohtani, grabbing the two-time Cy Young Award winner to place alongside Logan Webb would be viewed as a solid pull. After all, it was an elite top end of the rotation that helped lead them to three World Series crowns in the early 2010s.
Caldera: Blue Jays.
The AL East is a beast, and the talented Blue Jays could use another quality starter with Alek Manoah having rapidly fallen on hard times, from last year's status as a burgeoning ace.
There is a noticeable drop-off when looking at the Dodgers' starting rotation right now. Even if the Dodgers snag Ohtani, they will still need another starting pitcher with the superstar not expected to return to the mound until 2025. Imanaga is a veteran in Nippon Professional Baseball with a strong track record. The Dodgers got a solid return from Hiroki Kuroda late in his career, as well.
Assuming the Cubs aren't in a reunion with trade deadline pickup Jeimer Candelario, Chapman might be a nice fit at Wrigley Field. Also, the other free agent Chapman - Aroldis - winds up with the Miami Marlins.
The championship window is now for the Diamondbacks, led by Rookie of the Year Corbin Carroll and aces Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. The trio provided a big boost on the way to the World Series this past season. Why not go for it and add one of the top available position players on the market.
Well-liked in the Yankees clubhouse, Monty never wanted to leave the Bronx when he was abruptly traded to the Cardinals. But the lefty enjoyed his time in St. Louis, and now he's coming off a Rangers world championship and looking at a big-time windfall. A return to Texas makes sense.
Tredinnick: Red Sox.
Boston appears to have its core pieces for its lineup moving forward but could stand to gain a top-end arm through free agency. Brayan Bello had the most innings by a Red Sox starter, with 157 frames. It would be a nightmare for Yankees fans, but a big payday for the left-hander.
It’s likely going to take a much better bullpen to win another pennant in Texas. Hiring Hader as the closer would be a good start.
Before the playoffs began, the Rangers' Achilles heel appeared to be its bullpen, which had the seventh-worst ERA in baseball. The Rangers blew 33 save opportunities over the course of the season. With elite lefty closer Hader in the mix and Jose Leclerc's resurgence, the Rangers would have a dynamic two-headed monster late in games.
Based on our previous predictions, if the mighty Dodgers somehow miss on Snell or Yamamoto (or even Ohtani), maybe they're shopping here.
While the Orioles ended up leading the American League with 101 wins, their rotation fell flat in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Rangers in the ALDS. After Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez gave up five earned runs and Dean Kremer gave up seven. This unit could stand to gain something from a veteran presence in the rotation and Rodriguez posted a career-best ERA (3.30) and WHIP in (1.15) in 2023.
San Diego’s suite might be the most popular stop at the Winter Meetings. They’ll be getting a lot of hits on Soto, a free agent after the 2024 season, but unless there’s a mandate to slash payroll - well, the Padres still must be bowled offer by a trade offer. San Diego gave up a ton of young talent to pry Soto from the Nationals in 2022, and the Padres should have the cast to compete in 2024. They can always resume trade discussions at the deadline.
The one area where the Yankees were sorely lacking last season was at the plate, where they were 29th in team batting average and 27th in on-base percentage. Soto would immediately provide a boost in both areas. He is a lifetime .284 hitter while getting on base 42.1 percent of the time over his career. Plus, the Yankees have the pitching upside to sweeten a deal.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: MLB free agency, trade predictions for Juan Soto, Yoshinobu Yamamoto