By William McDermott
And just like that, the curtain closed on the 2023 MLB season. As always, this season came with the highs and lows that surround all sports. It saw the first 40 home run and 70 stolen base season by National League Most Valuable Player, Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Atlanta Braves. The Orioles reached 100 wins, a feat some might have thought impossible considering their 100-plus loss season in 2021. On a more somber note, legendary Dodgers’ broadcaster, Vin Scully, a Fordham graduate who touched the hearts of many a baseball fan, died this year. Now that this season is over, the baseball world turns to free agency to watch in anticipation as some of the game’s biggest stars search for the next step in their careers, potentially with new teams.
The Cardinals have already been active in free agency this season, signing Lance Lynn. The pitcher, who started the season with the White Sox, had an up and down season last year and was a frequent victim of the home run ball. His playoff start with the Dodgers was far from perfect, as he gave up 4 runs in just 2.2 innings. Reuniting with St. Louis might be all he needs to get back on track.
This Hot Stove season is headlined by the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, as arguably the best player in the modern game enters free agency. The two-way superstar suffered a torn UCL in his elbow at the end of the 2023 season, which rendered him unable to pitch. He continued hitting until the Angels eventually took him out of the lineup altogether.
Although Ohtani won’t be able to pitch in 2024, he is hopeful to return to the mound in 2025. His agent, Nez Balelo, confirmed that Ohtani will need surgery but didn’t specify if it was Tommy John surgery. This could impact possibly the largest deal in MLB history, as executives may be skeptical of Ohtani’s ability to pitch going forward. Regardless, Ohtani’s hitting ability is one of the greatest in the game. Although he only played in 135 games this year, he hit 44 home runs, drove in 95 runs, and had a 1.066 OPS.
The front runner for Ohtani is the Dodgers, and rumors about him going to the other Los Angeles team have been swirling since the last trade deadline. The Cubs, Giants, Mets, Blue Jays, and reigning World Series champion Rangers are also in the mix. Although Ohtani’s pitching future is uncertain, his hitting ability will still secure him the mega contract he deserves, possibly in the coming days during the Winter Meetings.
Juan Soto is also rumored to be on the trading block for the San Diego Padres. He didn’t quite pan out the way the Padres hoped, and he struggled at the end of 2022. He had a bounce back year this year and played a little better but never really got back on the Hall of Fame track that many though he was destined to continue. The slugger who came to them at the 2022 trade deadline had 35 home runs, 109 RBIs, and a .929 OPS. He did lead the league in walks with 132. The super-team of Soto, Manny Machado, Fernando Tatís Jr., and Xander Bogaerts that the Padres assembled didn’t quite mesh into the championship caliber roster that the executives envisioned.
The New York Yankees are rumored to be the front runner for Soto. The Yankees had a letdown year last year that was a combination of multiple factors. Other than Gerrit Cole, the AL Cy Young Award winner, they didn’t have much pitching. The early season injury to Nestor (“Nasty Nestor”), Cortez didn’t help either. Domingo Germán, who threw a perfect game against the Oakland A’s, went into a rehab program for alcohol abuse and was placed on the restricted list for the rest of the year. They were also plagued by injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Aaron Judge, the 2022 AL MVP, went out with a toe injury, and Anthony Rizzo suffered from post-concussion syndrome that eventually kept him out for the season. With all that said, the Yankees could use a young, athletic outfielder who could be an everyday player and a left-handed bat in their lineup to hit home runs over the right field short porch.
The Blue Jays are also one of the teams having talks with Soto. They made the AL Wild Card last season and were one of three teams in the competitive AL East to make the playoffs. They did disappoint though, as they were swept by the Minnesota Twins and lacked offensive production. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the 2023 Home Run Derby winner, is the biggest power threat in the Blue Jays’ lineup, with contact hitters like Bo Bichette and Whit Merrifield hitting more for average. The Blue Jays could use another solid power bat in their lineup to contribute to some more offense.
Cody Bellinger, who recently won NL Comeback Player of the Year, is another valuable outfielder who teams could sign. The Cubs signed him last offseason hoping all he needed was a change of scenery to regain his former MVP glory. He delivered on that with 26 home runs, 97 RBIs, and an .881 OPS. He was also one of the best hitters this season with two strikes, hitting .279.
The Yankees are also interested in Bellinger for the same reason. He may be more of a speed and base stealing threat than Soto and also has a Gold Glove award for his stellar defense in center field. Other than the Yankees, the Cubs are also looking to resign the slugger that the Chicago faithful fell in love with for his heroics down the stretch. Like the Blue Jays, they lacked power at times besides strikeout-prone Patrick Wisdom. Although the Cubs narrowly missed the playoffs this year, their pursuits this offseason might be enough to push them over the hump next season.
The MLB offseason is a time every year for teams to spend a lot of money—hundreds of millions of dollars—to bolster their rosters for next season in the hopes of being the team to hoist the World Series trophy at the end of October.