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2024 MLB free agents: Who are the best non-Shohei Ohtani hitters available?
Major League Baseball

2024 MLB free agents: Who are the best non-Shohei Ohtani hitters available?

Updated Jan. 19, 2023 6:48 a.m. ET

Barring Shohei Ohtani signing a contract extension, which would be fairly shocking at this stage, nothing that happens in the next 10 months will stop next offseason from being entirely about the two-way phenom's free agency.

This offseason might have been overwhelmingly focused on Aaron Judge — and rightfully so — but there was an awfully strong class of stars available beyond him, with five other position players signing nine-figure deals as well. 

As it stands now, next winter does not project to feature the same dynamic. While Ohtani is obviously special enough that he'd be the headliner in any free-agent class, he's projected to be so far ahead of the rest of his peers that the discourse and intrigue surrounding his free agency might be more concentrated than any individual free agent in MLB history. 

Think about it this way: If Ohtani was just a position player, he'd be the best free-agent hitter available next winter. Never mind his Cy Young-caliber pitching pedigree. 


This might not have been true a month ago before Rafael Devers signed an 11-year extension with the Red Sox. The lefty slugger was scheduled to hit the market at the end of this season as a 27-year-old with an extensive track record that teams would've been lining up to pursue. 

With Devers in Boston for the long haul, the focus now shifts to another star third baseman on the other side of the country: Manny Machado, who has an opt-out in his Padres contract following the 2023 season. Few players could confidently opt out of the five years and $160 million Machado is owed on the remainder of his deal with the knowledge that an even bigger payday might await them, but Machado could realistically make that decision. 

It's worth noting that we did just watch one of Machado's closest statistical peers in Nolan Arenado opt in to the five years and $144 million remaining on his Cardinals deal entering his age-32 season, so it's not entirely implausible to imagine Machado making a similar decision entering his age-31 season, if he is as comfortable in San Diego as Arenado is in St. Louis. 

However, Arenado would've been opting into a much more crowded free-agent class this winter. Perhaps the lack of other star position players hitting the market will entice Machado further into testing free agency again. It's more likely that the way the 2023 Padres season goes will have the biggest impact on Machado's decision.

But let's say Machado stays put in San Diego, either via opt-in or a re-structuring of his current contract. Who is the second-best hitter scheduled to hit free agency next winter behind Ohtani?

All players are listed alongside their age-season for next year — that is, how old they'll be on June 30, 2024.

The Favorite

I know, you might already be thinking: Really? He's the best guy? Hear me out: We're talking about one of the best defensive third basemen on earth who is a lock to give you 25-plus dingers and has been one of the more durable infielders in baseball during his career. In a lot of ways, he's a third base version of Dansby Swanson with a much longer track record of hitting for real power and legitimate MVP-candidate upside as recently as 2019. Swanson had the benefit of being two years younger than Chapman will be next winter, but even in a crowded market, he landed a seven-year, $177 million deal this offseason. Perhaps he never rediscovers his six-WAR magic from 2018-2019, but if he can make strides back in that direction after back-to-back 4.1 fWAR seasons, he should retain this top spot by the time next winter arrives. He simply offers the best combination of offensive and defensive upside available. 

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The Contenders

This is a talented foursome fully capable of posting huge platform years and ascending to or surpassing Chapman as the best non-Ohtani hitter on the market. 

Happ earned his first All-Star nod and first career Gold Glove Award in 2022. A switch-hitting outfielder with power is a strong profile to bet on, especially considering the huge strides he's made as a right-handed hitter after posting fairly extreme splits in favor of his left side earlier in his career. 

You could make a case for Hernández's offensive track record as deserving of the top spot on this list entirely, even ahead of Chapman. But as a meh defensive corner outfielder whose numbers took a slight dip in 2022, he settles into this tier, albeit as a strong candidate to rise to the top by season's end. Granted, it's much more difficult to envision him having a monster platform year in the less-friendly confines of T-Mobile Park relative to his previous home ballpark in Toronto. Still, the consistency with which he absolutely crushes the ball is every bit on par with some of the higher-profile free-agent signings of recent years. 

He offers even less defensive value than Hernández as a below-average first baseman, but Hoskins has been one of the more steady power-and-patience sluggers in the league since debuting in 2017. He's essentially a lock for 60-plus extra-base hits per season, which you can say about only so many players in the league. 

The Philadelphia Phillies dugout reacts after Rhys Hoskins hits a home run against during the fifth inning in Game Three of the 2022 World Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Rosario may seem like a stretch to include here, but he's projected to be one of the youngest free agents and by far the most desirable shortstop available. He never walks and doesn't hit the ball very hard but his elite speed and contact ability have enabled him to be a league-average hitter for several years now anyway. Even if he simply repeats the season he just had, he'll be in good shape entering free agency. If his offense (or defense) takes another step forward, he could be in a really strong spot. 

Upside Outfielders

Each of these players has demonstrated varying degrees of star potential during their careers while also exhibiting severe red flags to the point where it's difficult to get too excited about them as free agents just yet. This year could go a long way toward boosting any of them up these rankings, but it seems just as likely that they continue to frustrate and wind up with a shorter-term deal. 

Bader's elite defense in center field offers arguably the highest floor of this bunch. Though his production at the plate has never reflected that of an All-Star, Bader's ridiculous October hot streak with the Yankees reminded us that there may still be some more in the tank on offense. Winker still got on base at a decent clip, but his power was completely sapped relative to his monster 2021, likely due to a combination of the injuries he was battling and the far less friendly home ballpark in Seattle compared to his previous home in Cincinnati. A return to the NL Central and a more hitter-friendly park in Milwaukee could do wonders for him. 

The wild ups and downs of Gallo's and Bellinger's careers would register as extreme on the "RollerCoaster Tycoon" ride-intensity scale, but that's not going to stop us from dreaming of a return to stardom with their new teams. The talent is obviously still within each of them to bounce back in a huge way and cash in next winter — particularly Bellinger, who will be just 28.

Michael Conforto (30) and Jorge Soler (32) each could opt out of their current contracts after this season and may also fit in this category should they have strong seasons in 2023. 

Reliable Veterans

You generally know what you're going to get from this group of players, so it's harder to envision a dramatic leap. Still, each is good enough to put up a big year and ultimately benefit from the weak free-agent class around them. 

An early draft of these rankings had Gurriel Jr. much closer to The Contenders tier due to age and star-level production as recently as 2020, but a drastic drop in slugging in 2022 and limited defensive value moved him into this group. Arizona should be a great place for him to rediscover his power stroke.

Joc is an awfully tough one to evaluate, just as he would've been this offseason had he not accepted the qualifying offer from San Francisco. His gaudy 2022 line may suggest he deserves to be closer to the Hernández/Hoskins duo above, but his track record of being a full-time offensive force is shorter and he's a year older. He also arguably offers even less defensive value than those two, which is really saying something. 

Joc Pederson of the San Francisco Giants hits against the Arizona Diamondbacks. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Wong and Urshela are both steady defenders who quietly posted strong offensive seasons in 2022, though each is now moving to new ballparks that will make it much harder for them to repeat such success at the plate.

The same could be said about Renfroe, Urshela's new teammate in Anaheim, although his power generally plays anywhere. He's a much bigger threat to suddenly hit 40-plus dingers and make a ton of money. 

Josh Bell (31) should also be mentioned here, as he could opt out of his Guardians deal and hit the market again if he can put together a more complete campaign in Cleveland rather than just a scorching half season as he's been wont to do over the course of his career. 

If this crop of position players isn't coming close to diverting your attention from Ohtani, I don't blame you. It will likely factor into Machado's decision whether to hit free agency again. However, it's important to note that the tremendously thin market for free-agent hitters may be offset by what could be an especially strong class of starting pitching — even beyond Ohtani. 

This offseason saw a trio of super-aces atop the market in Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom and Carlos Rodón each secure sizable deals as expected. While the next tier of arms beyond them like Kodai SengaJameson TaillonChris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker also did quite well, I believe the depth of talent in next winter's starting pitching class is markedly deeper. 

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He has covered baseball for his entire adult life, most notably for, DAZN and The Ringer. He's a Mariners fan living in the Eastern Time Zone, which means he loves a good 10 p.m. first pitch. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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