Free agency has become quite the topic this year with Scott Boras’ leading his clients to wait out the clock to sign big contracts only to end up with decent Average Annual Value (AAV) short-term contracts with player-friendly opt-outs after the first year. Which, is really wild when you think about it, and feels like the league is kind of colluding against Boras and his clients… but what do I know? His clients this year have included a former MVP who had a huge bounceback 5-category season and the NL Cy Young winner who also previously won the AL Cy Young. All were seeking long-term contracts, and each has settled for short-term deals with opt-outs. To the opposite point though, I can understand why teams want to do this, just look at Anthony Rendon.

The sourness aside, free agency—as you all know—is when players reach the market and finally on their own terms earn the right to seek out the value of their skill among all the suitor teams. Obviously, the most talented guys look forward to this. They can finally get paid their worth and not have to argue with their front office in arbitration hearings. If in their power, every player wants to hit the market with their best foot forward (who doesn’t?).

And that got me thinking… there’s going to be A LOT of free agents this coming season. Big names too. Many will be seeking out their first big contract. Some have had top skills but were recently injured and want to prove themselves to the market in order to get that bigger contract. Clearly, in fantasy, you shouldn’t let this steer your entire draft strategy… but given the potential names, it would be foolish not to at least be aware of those with a little extra motivation to give it their best this season. I looked, and yep, you can make an entire fantasy team exclusively from pending free agents.

And with that, I give you the ALL-FREE-AGENCY TEAM:

C: Elias Diaz, Danny Jansen

Oh boy, catchers. Elias Diaz will be coming off his first “contract” in which the Rockies bought out his final arbitration year plus two. He’ll be making $6MM this season in which Mitch Garver just earned himself a 2-year $24MM contract with the Mariners to be the backup catcher while mostly DHing. He’s got something to play for and his homefield is Coors. Danny Jansen is another. He just broke out with a 17 HR season (that comps pretty close to Garver) and this is his final arbitration year. Now is his chance to finally get paid. The spring training injury doesn’t help, but once healed, you can bet he wants to capitalize on this season.

1B: Pete Alonso

Some of these will stand out with flashing lights more than others, and Pete screams at me. This is his final arbitration year coming off a bit of a down year for him in AVG despite posting his best HR total (47) since his rookie season in which he hit 50. Scott Boras is his agent. I’m saying it’s a lock for this to be a career year for Alonso, but not betting against it either. Pete is hands down one of the pre-imminent power-hitting run producers of this era. Since 2021 (post-covid season), Alonso is 2nd only to Matt Olson in RBI with 343 and 5th in HR (124) only one behind Shohei Ohtani. I know Pete and Boras want to cash in on that, why not you?

2B: Gleyber Torres

The Yankee 2B has had a wild ride since his explosive breakout 2019 season of 38 HR with the happy-fun ball. He dipped to a low of 9 HR in 2021 but has since surpassed 24 HR and 10 SB each of the last 2 years. It would not surprise me to see him go 25/15 in his walk season to put the cherry on his rookie contract and be able to show suitors a 3-year average of at least 24/10 to maximize his value on the market. Marketing magic word: consistency.

SS: Willy Adames

The Brewers are likely not going to keep Adames with Turang and Frelick on the roster. That makes him a great candidate to be traded given his team’s makeup and lack of spending. There have been plenty of rumors swirling too, that the Dodgers might be in on him especially after Lux flaming out of the SS job in camp. A power-hitting SS on an expiring contract able to showcase his talents in the Dodgers lineup… hmmm where have I seen this before? He might not end up on the Dodgers, but I wouldn’t rule out the Brewers trading him to a contender. Audition time!

3B: Alex Bregman

Another easy call with Bregman about to hit the market for the first time. The Astros previously bought out his arbitration years and added two, each at $28.5MM. A pretty decent payday without hitting the market, but now could be his chance. He hasn’t recaptured the insane helium he had from 2019 with the assistance of trashcans; but, there’s more than trash to his game as he’s had two 90+ RBI seasons with 23+ HR. Yep, you better believe he wants the magic 3-year consistency.

OF: Juan Soto, Tyler O’Neill, Anthony Santander, Teoscar Hernandez, Cody Bellinger (opt-out)

Juan Soto wearing a Yankee’s jersey hitting with a short fence for lefties in walk year. I don’t need to tell you how great that could be. He’s only 25 and looking to get paid like the premier hitter he is. Buy all the shares. I told you what I liked about Tyler O’Neill here; now add to that free agency looming, and the desire to shake the “always injured” stigma. Santander and Hernandez are more or less the same player as both are roughly 25/90/.255 power hitters looking for new contracts hitting with good team context. Cody Bellinger is a not-so-unique-now short-term contract with an opt-out clause. He was originally wanting 6-year deal, if he balls out again this year, he will assuage some fear that 2023 was lucky/fluky and might finally land that big contract. But only if he repeats.

MI: Tim Anderson

Tim has fallen off in recent years, but I bet he’d like to show everyone he’s still got something left in the tank to get that last big contract.

CI: Paul Goldschmidt

Goldy has been about as steady as you could ask for. 6 of the last 8 years he has provided something close to 90/30/90/.290/10 at first base. There’s that pesky buzzword again, “consistency.” As Grey already said, at some point, the wheels will come off and father time will kick him in the pants and take his lunch money. *Cue Aragorn* “…but it is not this day!” So far at age 36 this season, he has continued to hit at a high level, and—right before a fresh contract—I expect him to keep doing it. At least this year.

DH: Christian Walker

Walker might as well be the 1B to Goldschmidt’s 1A since adding around 10 steals with the rule change; he just hasn’t been doing it for as long. Walker has repeated just twice, in fact, since the happy-fun ball season. Also, that’s two seasons in the bank in need of a third to establish what fam? That’s right, consistency.

SP: Corbin Burnes, Max Fried, Shane Bieber, Nick Pivetta, Frankie Montas, Yusei Kikuchi

Not unlike the position players, there are going to be several big names in the pitcher market this coming offseason. The biggest of which will likely be Corbin Burnes. He was just traded to the Orioles this offseason moving to a friendlier park that will no doubt help his rising pull rate to opposing hitters (currently at 45.9% up from the 40% in 2021) and falling groundball rate (44% down from 49% also in 2021). This will be his first free agency so he will no doubt be looking for a multi-year high AAV ticket.

Extra Crispy (my name for Max Fried) has been the linchpin of the Atlanta rotation for several years now after returning from TJ early in his career. He turns 30 this year and is looking to wipe the aftertaste of an injured 2023 from teams’ memories as he vies for his first free agency. The lefty, with good command and decent strikeout totals, should command a nice contract pending a solid season in 2024.

The other household name on the market, Shane Bieber, is looking for his first free-agent contract after what seems like an eternity. Don’t forget he was once drafted as a top 3 pitcher in fantasy. Since 2021 though, his velo had diminished and his pitches lost effectiveness… until this offseason going to Driveline:

Contract year, finally seeking to get paid his worth, regaining his old velocity that creates separation from curveball. Count me in. If there were ever stars aligned for a resurgence season, this feels like the time. Potential for a top-10 pitcher this season especially if the Guardians trade him to a better team halfway through.

Nick Pivetta is another intriguing name of soon-to-be free agents. Last year he bounced between starting and bulk-relieving until settling into the rotation for second half. Once there, he found his groove again and was dominant. From July–September he was behind only Freddy Peralta in K-BB% with a whopping 28.8% (just ahead of Strider). Will he do that again? Probably not; but, I can guarantee you he has all the motivation in the world to attempt it. He is 31, and this too will be his first and best free agency.

Frankie Montas signed a 1-year $14MM deal (mutual option for 2025) with the Reds this offseason and is currently slated to be their Opening Day starter. It’s not the best context to pitch in. This season though, he’s eager to show the world his shoulder is healed and looking for a multi-year contract, and no doubt wants to remind everyone of the 2021 pre-injury version with 187 IP of 3.37 ERA and 10 K/9.

Finally, there’s Yusei Kikuchi. I talked about him some here in my dual breakdown. The TL;DR of it, last year he brought back the curveball and adjusted the speeds of his breaking pitches to create more separation during the season and that allowed him to have his best season since he first came over. If he can repeat a similar season with a sub-4 ERA and roughly 10 K/9 that would do wonders for him in the free-agent market as the next-best option to Max Fried for teams seeking a lefty starter.

Final Thoughts

Many other names could be on this list—like Walker Buehler—but these are the ones that stood out most to me. Not everyone will be successful in “playing-up” for a new contract, but it shouldn’t be ignored either. This is especially true for players seeking their first big contact post-arbitration. Is there anyone else that stands out to you? Let me know in the comments below! The season is almost upon us.

If you want more Coolwhip to top off your baseball experience, fantasy or otherwise, you can follow me on Twitter: @CoolwhipRB.