We're into the stretch run of the 2023 Major League Baseball season, and that of course means our primary focus is on contenders and the various and sundry playoff races of which they are a part. The MLB calendar, however, is a relentless one that spans front page to back, and that means we also operate with one eye on what's ahead. What's ahead – at least after the high-stakes affairs of October and (probably) November – is free agency.
The forthcoming 2023-24 class of free agents is headlined by two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, and his forthcoming recruitment will dominate the news cycle. However, many other notable free agents will be looking for new employers. Let's begin a very preliminary look at the class to come by running down five free agents who may have cost themselves some money on the market by virtue of their walk-year performances in 2023. Spoiler: Ohtani is not on this list.
The 2023 season has been a terrible one for the Sox on and off the field, and no one embodies those depths like Anderson. As of Tuesday, Anderson is slashing .238/.285/.284, which makes him one of the very least productive lineup regulars in all of baseball. The underlying metrics – things like plate-discipline indicators and quality-of-contact measurements – don't paint a much more optimistic picture. He's also struggled badly against sliders, which is an ascendant pitch in the league right now.
As well, Anderson's defensive capacities have been in steep decline over the past two years. Right now, Statcast puts him in the 12th percentile when it comes to Outs Above Average. In terms of Fielding Run Value, a more encompassing Statcast fielding measure, Anderson's minus-3 figure ranks 106th out of 127 shortstops to spend at least 100 innings at the position this year. If his decline with the glove worsens or holds steady, then he's close to unplayable at the position. Maybe you overlook those trends if he's putting up vintage numbers at the plate, but he no longer seems capable of that at age 30. For Anderson, the unfortunate reality is that this season he may have played his way out of a multi-year free agent contract.
Severino coming into 2023 had a less-than-ideal health history, but he almost always performed at a high level when he was on the rubber. This season, however, has been a disaster for him. At this writing, he's allowed 67 runs in 67 2/3 innings this year, and over that span he's also permitted 20 home runs. He's running the worst K/BB ratio of his career, and he's lost late movement on multiple offerings. Maybe a different organization and set of coaching eyes can help him adapt to his new limitations, but it's almost certainly going to lead to a one-year pillow contract this winter.
3. Julio Urías, Los Angeles Dodgers
Urías just turned 27, which makes him young as pending free agents go, and he's got a substantial record of pre-2023 success. So, yes, he's going to get paid this winter, but his 2023 may have taken a bite out of his next contract. This season, he's continued a recent pattern of velocity loss on his fastball, and that decreasing velo separation between his fastball and changeup may have something to do with why hitters are blasting that latter pitch this year. Urías has never been one to get good extension from his delivery, and this year he's been releasing the ball even farther from home plate. That in turn hurts the perceived velocity on his hard stuff. There are some real reasons to be concerned here.
Like Urías, Nola will get a hefty contract this offseason – nine figures, very likely – but there are some worrisome patterns on display this year. The 30-year-old has continued to shed velocity from his fastball and sinker, and his strikeout percentage has fallen for the third straight year (precipitously so this season). HIs whiff rate is caught in a similar pattern of decline, and hitters are doing damage against his fastball. Yes, the ERA is also elevated, but teams are going to put much more emphasis on underlying indicators, and those aren't all that promising for Nola.
5. Teoscar Hernández, Seattle Mariners
Hernández was never headed for a massive payday, but he was a steady power producer on Toronto's watch. His first season in Seattle, though, has raised some red flags as he heads toward the market. He's seen his average exit velocity and max exit velocity take notable dips, and he's also seen his strikeout percentage rise and his walk percentage fall. As well, Hernández's chase rate, or how often he swings at pitches outside the strike zone, is at career-high levels. Those are concerning trends for a corner defender now in his thirties, and the market will take note of them. Hernández in recent days has been trending sharply in the desired direction, so his performance bears close monitoring over the remainder of the season.