Baseball Salary Records Likely To Fall In Enormous Free-Agent Market

In baseball, free agents aren’t exactly free. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Nine players own contracts of at least $300 million and seven teams, led by the New York Mets, have projected 2023 payrolls of at least $150 million, according to Spotrac.

Those numbers will rise – probably dramatically – as clubs seem more willing to exceed the payroll tax threshold of $233 million.

The annual salary gravy train is already steaming up for its off-season run, with hundreds of veteran players planning to hitch a ride. Official departure time is five days after the end of the World Series.


Some potential free agents could challenge the existing records for most dollars over the life of a contract (Mike Trout’s 12-year, $426,500,000 deal signed in 2014) and highest annual average ($43.3 million by Max Scherzer last winter).

After hitting 62 home runs, an American League record, Aaron Judge could threaten both.

The 30-year-old outfielder, who chased a rare Triple Crown right into the final days of the 2022 campaign, is expected to be the top prize on the free-agent market.

The Yankees, who offered him a seven-year, $213.5 million extension in April, may need to double the deal to fend off the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, both of whom have made overtures to the towering slugger.


Judge is a Northern California native who grew up rooting for the Giants. But the Dodgers led the majors with a club-record 111 wins in 2022 and have revealed a willingness to move incumbent right-fielder Mookie Betts to second base.

The other New York team may have bigger problems with the new free-agent season: a whopping 26 men on its 40-man roster could leave for greener pastures, according to SpoTrac. That includes their entire bullpen, among them star closer Edwin Diaz, and every starter but Scherzer – assuming erstwhile ace Jacob deGrom opts out of his contract.


The Mets also hope to retain center-fielder Brandon Nimmo and perhaps keep Michael Conforto, who missed the entire season after shoulder surgery.

Even the current World Series contestants have free-agent worries.

A dozen members of the Philadelphia Phillies and 11 Houston Astros could also test the waters this winter.

The group includes Phillies second baseman Jean Segura; starting pitchers Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson, and Noah Syndergaard; and relievers David Robertson, Cory Knebel, and Zack Eflin.

Houston could lose Justin Verlander, who seems likely to win his third American League Cy Young Award; catchers Martin Maldonado and Christian Vasquez; first basemen Yuli Gurriel and Trey Mancini; outfielder Michael Brantley; and relievers Rafael Montero and Will Smith.


A plethora of top-flight shortstops could flood the market for the second straight year. They include Carlos Correa, who opted out of his three-year contract with Minnesota, and fellow stars Trea Turner (Dodgers), Dansby Swanson (Braves), and Xander Bogaerts (Red Sox).

Other top names in the new free-agent field figure to be sluggers Jose Abreu (White Sox), J.D. Martinez (Red Sox), Anthony Rizzo (Yankees), Adam Duvall (Braves), Joc Pederson and Brandon Belt (Giants), and Joey Gallo (Dodgers).


After Verlander and deGrom, the best available starting pitcher could be southpaw Carlos Rodon, coming off a strong season in San Francisco. Other starters for purchase are lefties Clayton Kershaw and Tyler Anderson (Dodgers), Nathan Eovaldi (Red Sox), Corey Kluber (Rays), and Luis Severino and Jameson Taillon (Yankees).

Closers Aroldis Chapman (Yankees), Craig Kimbrel (Dodgers), and Kenley Jansen (Braves) may be fading and could find their asking prices exceed their value to potential buyers.

A team looking for a catcher could contact Willson Contreras, a lifelong member of the Chicago Cubs who started the 2022 All-Star Game for the National League. Also testing is free agency is ex-Yankee Gary Sanchez, a good-hit, no-field backstop who spent last season in Minnesota.

Switch-hitting slugger Josh Bell, who split 2022 between Washington and San Diego, is on the list too, along with former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen, most recently with Milwaukee.

A team that needs a contact hitter to offset a lineup likely to strike out often might consider Andrew Benintendi, a lefty-hitting left-fielder who finished his year on the IL with the Yankees.


Kevin Kiermaier, a lifelong member of the Tampa Bay Rays, will provide strong defense in center field for any team that signs him. Ditto Kolton Wong, a second baseman last seen with the Brewers.

Potential story-lines are everywhere.

Will the botched Freddie Freeman signing influence Swanson’s decision to stay with his hometown Braves? Will deGrom’s age and elbow issues hamper his ability to land a long-term deal? With four star shortstops available, will teams that lose them simply sign one of the others as a replacement?

One thing’s for sure: super-agent Scott Boras, with dozens of free-agent clients, will hold court with the media covering the San Diego Winter Meetings as he tries to create bidding wars that result in nine-figure deals.


Boras traditionally drags on negotiations even past the start of exhibition-game play in late February (Bryce Harper signed his 13-year, $330 million Phillies contract on March 1, 2019).

Players may sign with their old teams at any time but can’t move elsewhere until the post-World Series window opens.