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Best players available, signing updates

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If Major League Baseball is truly a copycat industry, this should be a lucrative winter for free agents.

Five years after executive indifference led to a chilling, multiyear depression for top players, one year after a 99-day lockout split a sizzling market in half and led to a frenzied signing period just days from Opening Day, some semblance of stability has returned to baseball.

The COVID-19 cancellations and restrictions of 2020-21 are largely gone. A five-year collective bargaining agreement was struck, even as the onerous qualifying offer will still stick to a handful of free agents.

And 2023 should resemble something close to a “normal” season for the first time since 2018, bereft of labor strife, juiced baseballs and nascent infectious disease. What’s more, as the highly aggressive San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies joined the stalwart Houston Astros and New York Yankees in baseball’s final four, owners received a not-so-subtle reminder: Aggression helps. Spending helps.

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With that, a look at the top 87 free agents, from the elite to those reasonably expected to sign a major league contract. Rankings based on projected future performance and perceived market value:

Aaron Judge set the American League record with 62 home runs in 2022.

(Age as of April 1, 2023; 2022 team)

1. Aaron Judge (30, OF, Yankees): He does not play the game’s most premium position, but Judge has many factors in his favor: A potential bi-coastal bidding war, a Yankees franchise that should be highly motivated to retain him and, oh yeah, the AL-record 62 homers he slugged last season. Judge may not get the lengthy deal the younger shortstop on this list may receive, but a high annual value and his greater appeal should put him atop this winter’s market.

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