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09/26/23 10:24:00

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09/26 10:22 CDT Shohei Ohtani headlines majors' soon-to-be free agents, and there's a sizable gap to the next name Shohei Ohtani headlines majors' soon-to-be free agents, and there's a sizable gap to the next name By JAY COHEN AP Baseball Writer CHICAGO (AP) --- There is Shohei Ohtani, and then there is the rest of baseball's soon-to-be free agents. With the season winding down and the playoffs coming up, it's almost time for major league teams to go shopping once again. And there is one player that is sure to dominate the conversation until he makes a decision. It looks as if Ohtani is going to the open market after another stellar season with the Los Angeles Angels. The Japanese slugger is the favorite for the AL MVP award after batting .304 with 44 homers, 95 RBIs, eight triples and 20 steals. The right-hander also went 10-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 23 starts on the mound. The questions surrounding Ohtani's free agency once centered on the money and length of a contract that could set multiple financial records for the sport, and exactly which teams might be willing to go into that territory to secure his services. Those questions remain, but the situation has grown more complicated than it was as late as the All-Star break. Ohtani tore a ligament in his elbow on Aug. 23 at Cincinnati, ending his pitching season. He remained in the Angels' lineup as the designated hitter until he was shut down because of an oblique injury in early September. Ohtani, who doesn't turn 30 until July, had elbow surgery last week and will not pitch next season. The elbow injury, especially considering Ohtani had Tommy John surgery in 2018, raises questions about just how effective he might be as a pitcher moving forward. That will all figure into the calculus for Ohtani's potential suitors, along with the other possibilities. Here's a closer look at a couple more of baseball's best potential free agents:

1B/OF CODY BELLINGER Bellinger also was a free agent in 2022. This time figures to be a little different. After battling injuries during his final years with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Bellinger returned to form with the Chicago Cubs. The 2019 NL MVP was batting .305 with 26 homers, 95 RBIs and 20 steals heading into Tuesday night's game at Atlanta. Belllinger just turned 28 in July, and he figures to do quite well for himself after playing this season on a $17.5 million, one-year contract. He likes Wrigley Field and the Cubs have the money and desire to bring him back, but he likely will have several enticing options.

LHP BLAKE SNELL Snell has been a bright spot in a disappointing season for San Diego. The lefty, who turns 31 in December, is 14-9 with a major league-low 2.25 ERA in 32 starts. He also has 234 strikeouts in 180 innings. He won the 2018 AL Cy Young Award with Tampa Bay, and he is the front-runner for the NL honor this year. Snell has a 1.20 ERA over his last 23 starts, joining Bob Gibson (0.85 ERA) in 1968 as the only players with an ERA of 1.20 or lower over a 23-start stretch in a single season since 1920, according to STATS. Snell is finishing a $50 million, five-year contract from March 2019, and he almost assuredly will do better than that deal on the open market.

RHP AARON NOLA With Philadelphia on its way to an NL wild card, the 30-year-old Nola could strengthen his case for a big-money deal with a strong performance in the playoffs. He has a 4.57 ERA going into Tuesday night's start against Pittsburgh; he had a 4.63 ERA in 2021 and a 4.78 ERA in 2016 in his only other years in that vicinity. Nola's best attribute is his durability. He has totaled at least 30 starts and 180 innings in five different seasons, including each of the last three years. That type of track record will be appealing for any contender looking to reinforce a developing rotation.

LHP JOSH HADER Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman are on their way to free agency as well, but the best closer on the market is Hader, who turns 30 in April. Hader has a 1.19 ERA and 31 saves in 36 opportunities for San Diego this season. The five-time All-Star also has 81 strikeouts in 53 innings. He could command a record-breaking contract for a reliever.

3B MATT CHAPMAN There are several contract options and opt-out clauses that could change the market, but it's looking pretty light when it comes to free agent infielders. Chapman might be the best possibility when it comes to infield help. The three-time Gold Glove winner is batting .241 with 15 homers and 52 RBIs in 135 games for Toronto this season. He is a .240 career hitter with 153 homers and 424 RBIs in seven years in the majors.

OTHERS OF NOTE Rangers lefty Jordan Montgomery has been excellent since a midseason trade from St. Louis. He's 10-11 with a 3.25 ERA over 182 2/3 innings this season overall and will turn 31 during the offseason. ... Sonny Gray turns 34 in November but has had one of the best seasons of his career with Minnesota, going 8-8 with a 2.80 ERA. ... Jeimer Candelario will be a free agent for the second straight offseason, but this time, the 29-year-old infielder could get a multiyear deal after hitting .253 with 21 homers while playing above-average defense at third base. ___ AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB
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