ZiPS-ifying the Free Agent Market

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

We’re all looking for an end to the winter doldrums, but whatever meteorological fortunes Punxsutawney Phil might indicate in a few days, the real start of spring doesn’t come until pitchers and catchers report. The vernal equinox ain’t the boss of me! But before camp opens, some unfinished offseason business remains, with scads of free agents still unsigned. And while many of the biggest names — Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Aaron Nola — have long been off the board, there are still players out there who could have a real effect on their next team’s fate.

Of course, we could just wait and see what happens, but I’m impatient. Since I just finished the ZiPS team-by-team rundowns, let’s use them… for evil. Rather than sit around checking our watches, I asked ZiPS to estimate which team will get the biggest championship boost from each free agent. Now, these suggestions don’t have the force of law or extortion — I’d need to be about 700% smarter and at least 7% more villainous to properly construct a doomsday machine — but let’s just imagine. Just to be clear, these aren’t predictions about what will happen, but rather an indication of which team the projections say has the greatest 2024 incentive to sign each player. And if teams aren’t considering these signings, well, maybe they should? We’ll use our 2024 free agent rankings and forcibly sign some of the players remaining. For each player, I’ll include their percentile projections with their new, possibly unwilling employers.

Cody Bellinger: San Diego Padres

Given the riskiness of his profile, especially in the power department, I’m definitely uneasy with some of the contract numbers that have been thrown around for Bellinger. But he’s the best center fielder practically available and he’s not just an acceptable fill-in at the position; he’s a legitimately excellent defensive player whose glove helped mitigate the damage in his brutal offensive seasons. The hole left by trading Juan Soto is San Diego’s biggest unaddressed problem for 2024, but Trent Grisham being included in the swap also created some roster headaches. Grisham isn’t a star, he fought with the Mendoza line last year, and he’s prone to bunting at inopportune times, but he’s projected as a 2-3 WAR player at a position where the Padres don’t have obvious answers. Whatever combination of José Azocar, Jakob Marsee, Óscar Mercado, and others ends up manning the position, the Friars are likely to be towards the bottom of the league here. Bellinger would do a lot to remedy that.

A return to the Cubs may feel more natural, but Pete Crow-Armstrong projects as being more than capable, and with some serious upside to boot, two things that can’t be said of most of San Diego’s options.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Cody Bellinger (544 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 33 30 .309 .374 .543 146 5.0
90% 31 28 .296 .361 .517 136 4.3
80% 28 25 .285 .348 .495 127 3.7
70% 27 23 .275 .339 .475 121 3.2
60% 25 22 .268 .331 .460 114 2.8
50% 24 20 .261 .322 .437 108 2.4
40% 23 18 .251 .315 .422 102 2.0
30% 22 17 .245 .309 .411 96 1.6
20% 20 15 .235 .300 .394 89 1.2
10% 18 13 .224 .286 .370 80 0.5
5% 16 12 .216 .279 .352 73 0.0

Blake Snell: Baltimore Orioles

Bellinger signing with the Padres is extremely unlikely without a shove, and the odds that Snell goes to the Orioles are even more remote. Acting Orioles team owner John Angelos appears to want to pay next to nothing to players, and Snell is going to cost a good chunk of change no matter how you feel about the specifics of the ERA vs. FIP fights that accompanied the Cy Young discourse last fall. But the Orioles’ need for another starter has been obvious for more than a year, with little movement by the team. As you might expect, righties tend to have greater success hitting fly balls off Snell, so if you want him to sustain his low home run rate from the last two seasons, why not put him in Camden Yards, a park that recently made it more difficult for righties to hit homers? Stick Snell at the top of the O’s rotation and suddenly Kyle BradishDean KremerGrayson Rodriguez looks like a pretty enticing no. 2/3/4. What’s more, an injury doesn’t make the team overly reliant on Cole Irvin or Cade Povich.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Blake Snell (159 IP)
Percentile ERA+ ERA WAR
95% 169.3 2.42 5.7
90% 149.1 2.75 4.9
80% 136.3 3.01 4.3
70% 127.4 3.22 3.8
60% 119.7 3.42 3.5
50% 113.1 3.62 3.0
40% 108.2 3.79 2.7
30% 100.4 4.08 2.2
20% 90.5 4.53 1.4
10% 81.3 5.04 0.7
5% 74.4 5.51 0.1

Jordan Montgomery: New York Mets

Since we already gave Snell to the O’s, they would no longer get the biggest boost from adding Montgomery. While ZiPS sees starting pitching as a need for the Rangers, once you factor in possible summer innings from Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, and Tyler Mahle, the need becomes less pressing. But the Mets still need rotation help — they didn’t sign Scherzer and Justin Verlander before the 2023 season because they wanted to film a remake of Grumpy Old Men — and Luis Severino comes with some big question marks. Severino, Sean Manaea, and Adrian Houser serve to keep the floor from getting too bleak, but the team needs more upside if they’re going to have a nice bounce-back season. And unlike the first two proposed signings, there’s actually a reasonable chance the Mets might do this willingly.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Jordan Montgomery (170 IP)
Percentile ERA+ ERA WAR
95% 156.3 2.66 5.4
90% 143.8 2.89 4.9
80% 130.3 3.19 4.3
70% 122.4 3.39 3.8
60% 116.8 3.56 3.5
50% 112.1 3.71 3.1
40% 107.0 3.88 2.8
30% 101.5 4.09 2.4
20% 93.9 4.42 1.8
10% 88.4 4.70 1.3
5% 83.9 4.95 0.9

Matt Chapman: Toronto Blue Jays

At least from my perusal of social media, Toronto fans seem to have rather mixed feelings about Chapman. I think after three months of full-time starts from Cavan Biggio and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, however, regrets may start to accumulate. The Blue Jays need better third base options than they currently have, and they project to be right in the middle of the AL East division race, meaning that each additional fractional win squeezed out of the roster may be the one that gets them into the postseason. Chapman’s glove came back strong in 2023, so a gentle decline may be in order. And ZiPS doesn’t even know that my colleague Michael Baumann just wrote about Chapman’s defense at third and its value to the Jays.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Matt Chapman (579 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 40 39 .293 .376 .568 156 6.1
90% 37 35 .277 .367 .543 149 5.7
80% 34 31 .265 .356 .506 136 4.8
70% 32 29 .256 .345 .486 129 4.3
60% 30 27 .248 .339 .468 123 3.9
50% 28 25 .240 .333 .453 117 3.6
40% 27 24 .234 .326 .434 111 3.1
30% 25 22 .225 .319 .417 104 2.6
20% 23 20 .216 .309 .399 97 2.2
10% 20 17 .202 .291 .370 86 1.4
5% 18 15 .190 .281 .344 77 0.9

Jorge Soler: New York Mets

Giving Montgomery to the Mets improved the team’s projections enough that Soler’s wins are even more high-impact than they previously would have been. Sure, DJ Stewart was surprisingly adequate during his stint with the Mets, but given that his 116 wRC+ in the minors in 2023 only translates to a high-90s wRC+ in the majors, none of the projections are that enthused by him. Stewart can still find a use on the roster — in this case, as a spare outfielder and a fallback option for Starling Marte in right field — but Soler is the safer bet as an offensive player. And at DH, you don’t have to watch him play defense! With Joc Pederson signed in Arizona, ZiPS still projects Soler as fitting best with the Mets, even if you go by Steamer’s more optimistic Stewart projection.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – Jorge Soler (530 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 29 39 .271 .374 .565 158 4.3
90% 26 37 .262 .364 .537 147 3.7
80% 24 33 .248 .351 .504 135 2.9
70% 23 31 .241 .341 .485 129 2.5
60% 21 29 .233 .332 .467 121 2.0
50% 20 27 .226 .326 .448 114 1.6
40% 19 25 .218 .318 .428 109 1.3
30% 18 23 .210 .308 .415 105 1.1
20% 16 21 .201 .298 .394 97 0.5
10% 14 19 .186 .281 .359 82 -0.5
5% 13 16 .176 .272 .340 74 -1.0

J.D. Martinez: Miami Marlins

The Marlins snuck into the playoffs in 2023, but it had very little to do with the state of their offense, which was last in the NL in runs scored. Losing Soler — first to free agency, and then to the Mets in our scenario — makes an awful situation even worse. The plan for the DH spot in Miami appears to be giving Josh Bell days off and pretending Avisaíl García should be starting in the majors in 2024. Bringing in Martinez for a year could at least give the Fish some additional (very) short-term upside. Yes, the Marlins are spending money; remember, they have to do what the computer says! It’s not a great projection, but the outlook for the DH spot is absolutely brutal otherwise.

ZiPS Projection Percentiles – J.D. Martinez (494 PA)
Percentile 2B HR BA OBP SLG OPS+ WAR
95% 42 29 .308 .372 .567 152 3.6
90% 38 26 .292 .359 .531 141 3.0
80% 35 23 .279 .344 .507 130 2.4
70% 32 22 .269 .334 .488 123 1.9
60% 30 20 .261 .327 .469 117 1.5
50% 28 19 .252 .318 .453 109 1.1
40% 26 17 .245 .309 .431 104 0.8
30% 24 16 .238 .301 .417 97 0.4
20% 22 14 .224 .294 .396 89 -0.1
10% 19 12 .211 .279 .370 78 -0.7
5% 17 10 .196 .268 .338 71 -1.2





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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Ronson
2 months ago

I would honestly be shocked if the O’s get off their wallet for Snell. I would add that while Bellinger would be a huge boost for the Cubs short term, PCA is their long term answering CF. Barring some creative opt outs, a long term deal probably doesn’t make sense to Hoyer.

Pepper Martin
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronson

Snell rejected $150 million from the Yankees and is holding out for $200 million… I cannot imagine the Orioles being the team to blink there.

montrealmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

No way Snell gets 200. Who is going to pay him that ? This crap about Boras holding out would only result in Snell and Montgomery sitting at home waiting for money that will never come. Boras is going to lose this time.

cowdisciplemember
2 months ago
Reply to  Pepper Martin

Hard to imagine the O’s going over 20m, frankly.

montrealmember
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronson

Yes when you think about it the Cubs have Crow Armstrong ready and Bellinger would want a long term deal. Michael Busch is slated for 1B. It can be argued the Cubs are not a fit for Bellinger.

catmanwayne
2 months ago
Reply to  montreal

I was almost about to ask “well what about RF/LF?,” and then just remembered Seiya Suzuki and Ian Happ are pretty good players.

I really think Bellinger to either SD (unlikely given their financial situation), or to COL (unlikely if Bellinger wants to win, but they probably would meet his contract demands) are the two best fits since he’ll be able to play every day CF for those teams. Most contenders/nealry-there teams have full outfields, and most teams who aren’t contending want to save money and build from within.

jacksonv123
2 months ago
Reply to  montreal

If anything Chapman is the better fit

peachiromember
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronson

From the article: “Just to be clear, these aren’t predictions about what will happen, but rather an indication of which team the projections say has the greatest 2024 incentive to sign each player.”

synco
2 months ago
Reply to  Ronson

Well, now we know why Angelos didn’t want to spend any money.