In less than a month's time, Major League Baseball's 2024 season will begin to ramp up. Pitchers and catchers will report for camps in either Arizona or Florida, and soon thereafter they'll be joined by the rest of their squads. Before long, we'll have exhibition baseball and then, mercifully, regular-season action.

But, until then, we feel obligated to pass the time by any means necessary, even if that means taking a look ahead to next winter's free-agent class. Yes, dear reader, today we're going to commit the sin of talking about a future free-agent class while the current one remains ongoing

Below, you'll find what amounts to our rough draft of the 2024-25 free-agent rankings. These will absolutely change over the coming months, so take these for what they are: a snapshot of this point in time. Do note that, as with our annual free-agent rankings, the players are presented in order of their expected average salary. 

To add a little spice to this exercise, we've also added predictions on whether or not the players in question will actually reach free agency, or if they'll make like Rafael Devers and re-sign ahead of their walk year.

Now, onto the good stuff.

1. Juan Soto, OF, New York Yankees

Soto, the winter's biggest trade acquisition, is scheduled to hit free agency as a 26-year-old on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory. He doesn't need a new banner season to convince anyone he deserves a mammoth contract next winter, but he might produce one anyway within the friendliest home offensive environment of his career. He's been reliable in both health and performance, topping 150 games and a 140 OPS+ in all four of his full-length seasons, leaving his below-average glove as his biggest blemish. Let's be real here: the teams put off by that aspect of Soto's game likely weren't serious about signing him in the first place. Prediction: Reaches free agency. As we saw last winter with Aaron Judge, the Yankees tend to let their stars test the open market. Add in how Soto is represented by Scott Boras, and we think it's a certainty he'll become a free agent. That doesn't mean he'll leave; it does mean that you should get used to seeing his name at the top of these lists.

2. Alex Bregman, 3B, Houston Astros

Bregman may not be the force he was earlier in his career, when he finished top-five in consecutive Most Valuable Player Award votes, but he remains a very good player adept at many foundational parts of the game. He reliably takes high-quality at-bats; he seldom swings and misses; he's good for 20-plus home runs a season; and he's at worst a scratch defender at third. He's also appeared in at least 150 games in all but one of his six full, regulation-length seasons. Most clubs would be thrilled to get that kind of steady production from the hot corner. Prediction: Reaches free agency. The Astros have two other players on this list to concern themselves with retaining. Bregman, the youngest of the group and represented by Boras, feels least likeliest to stick around. 

3. Corbin Burnes, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers

When it comes to chucking baseballs, things tend to fall apart. Be that as it may be, Burnes is clearly the right-handed arm in this class best positioned to cash in when you consider his talent level, track record of durability, and age. He's finished top 10 in Cy Young Award voting four years in a row; he's averaged 31 starts the last three seasons; and he won't celebrate his 30th birthday until October. Maybe he gets hurt; maybe he loses the feel for his cutter; maybe he decides he'd rather pursue a professional pickleball career. Who knows. We feel as confident and as comfortable as we can this far out writing that he's more likely to get paid. Prediction: Reaches free agency. 

4. Zack Wheeler, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies

Remember the last time Wheeler was a free agent? He was all promise. Now, he stands a great chance of hitting the market after receiving Cy Young Award consideration in four of his five seasons with the Phillies. We'll probably go back and forth on Wheeler and Burnes a few times -- for now, we went with Burnes because of the age difference and his slight advantage in multi-year performance. That's hardly a knock on Wheeler. He's become the genuine front-of-the-rotation everyone thought he could be this time five years ago. Prediction: Reaches free agency. We wouldn't be surprised if this plays out like the Aaron Nola situation, with the Phillies letting Wheeler dip his toes into the open waters before coming to terms on a new agreement. 

5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros

Astros general manager Dana Brown has been open -- perhaps so open as to giving away negotiating power -- about his desire to keep Altuve and Bregman in Houston for the duration of their careers. We think Brown is far more likely to fulfill that aspiration with Altuve, who is about to enter his age-34 season. The longstanding rule of thumb is that second basemen tend to age poorly. That hasn't been true of Altuve, at least not to date anyway. He's posted a 145 OPS+ in three years since his shaky COVID-19 season, and that's even after missing the onset of the 2023 campaign thanks to an injury suffered during the World Baseball Classic. We don't think the Astros should press their luck by giving him a six-year pact or anything, but it's hard to envision him playing anywhere else. Prediction: Works out an extension to remain with Houston.  

6. Ha-Seong Kim, SS, San Diego Padres

Kim has scored back-to-back five-win seasons thanks to a well-above-average defensive skill set and a throwback diet of singles, walks, and stolen bases. He's going to have an interesting year. Technically, the Padres and Kim possess a mutual option for his 2025 season. Another high-output showing would seem to ensure he reaches free agency. We wonder, though, if A.J. Preller will attempt to extend Kim during the spring, perhaps guaranteeing and enhancing the 2025 terms while tacking on a few extra seasons to cover the rest of his 20s. Preller almost always seems to get what he wants, and he should want to keep Kim around. For now, we'll go with that as a hunch play. Prediction: Works out an extension to remain with San Diego.  

7. Pete Alonso, 1B, New York Mets

If you've read our coverage for any period of time, you know that we're almost always the low vote on right-right first basemen, be it in the draft or in free agency. It's nothing personal, guys; it's just a reflection of how the league doesn't value that profile as much as it may have in the past. Consider that an unfortunate break for Alonso, undeniably one of the game's top sluggers, and an interesting dilemma for new boss David Stearns. Will Stearns' analytical background convince him to trade or forego extending Alonso, or will he decide it's a worthy gamble to keep a beloved member of the franchise in place? Maybe we're wishcasting, but we learn toward the latter. Prediction: Works out an extension to remain with New York.  

8. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, St. Louis Cardinals

Goldschmidt will celebrate his 37th birthday late in the regular season, making him ancient so far as right-right first basemen go. Everyone expects him to remain an above-average hitter for at least another season, but we feel obligated to note that he may have shown some signs of slippage in 2023. His in-zone contact rate dipped nearly two percentage points to a career-worst 76.8% mark. Clearly it wasn't enough to hamper Goldschmidt from having his 13th consecutive above-average offensive campaign. It is something that merits watching, however, since further decay could weaken his market. Either way, we suspect he's already where he'll finish his career. Prediction: Works out an extension to remain with St. Louis.  

9. Max Fried, LHP, Atlanta Braves

Fried is going to be the best left-handed pitcher on the market. Nailing down where, exactly, he ranks is going to be a year-long endeavor. He was limited to 14 starts last season by forearm and blister trouble. A light workload has been a fixture throughout his career, and to date he's racked up just one season with more than 180 innings pitched. Mind you, Fried is excellent when he is available. His career 144 ERA+ ranks fifth among pitchers with at least 50 starts since he debuted, trailing only Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. A well-timed 30-start season could elevate him in a hurry. Prediction: Reaches free agency. The Braves are no strangers to extensions. The fact that they haven't locked up Fried suggests to us that one of two things is too high: either his price or their concerns about his durability. 

10. Justin Verlander, RHP, Houston Astros

There are a lot of variables at play here. Verlander's contract includes the possibility of him gaining a player option for the 2025 season. In order to do so, he would need to clear 140 innings pitched and pass a physical examination on his throwing elbow. Who knows if he'll check either box -- and, if he doesn't, who knows if he'll be in the condition or the mindset to continue pitching at all. Even if he does, he might decide to re-enter free agency for one last payday. With so many unknowns, we'll take the coward's way out and assume that one way or another he'll be back on the market. Prediction: Reaches free agency. 

11. Max Scherzer, RHP, Texas Rangers

Is Scherzer going to want to pitch into his age-40 season? Will he be in condition to do so after undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disc? We don't know the answer to either question. The Rangers will presumably want to see what he looks like upon his return before they rush into any kind of new arrangement. As such, we think it's more likely than not that he hits the open market for the third time in his career. Prediction: Reaches free agency. 

12. Willy Adames, SS, Milwaukee Brewers

Adames is coming off a relatively disappointing effort. Not only did he post his lowest average exit velocity since 2018, he also expanded the strike zone more readily than at any point in his big-league career. We don't think those aspects are going to sink his chances of landing a lucrative long-term deal -- he's still a slick-fielding shortstop with 20-plus home-run power -- but they are factors to monitor heading into the season. And, if they continue to take a turn for the worst, they certainly could impact his market in a more dramatic fashion. Prediction: Reaches free agency.

13. Walker Buehler, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

It's fair to write that this is going to be a big year for Buehler. He hasn't appeared in an MLB contest since June 2022 after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery. Even before that operation, his career had inspired questions about his durability and long-term viability. Those concerns won't be answered in a single season, but Buehler can at least remind people that he's a high-grade starter when he's available. Prediction: Reaches free agency. The Dodgers can always win a bidding war. They just might prioritize keeping a rotation spot for Roki Sasaki or a different top-of-the-rotation arm after what they've done this winter.

14. Gleyber Torres, 2B, New York Yankees

Torres has had an uneven career. He certainly hasn't reached the heights he appeared destined to over his first two seasons but still, he's a second baseman with pole-to-pole power who greatly improved his strikeout rate last season. It's possible that he signs his free-agent contract before his 28th birthday, too, putting him on the younger side of this list. Torres does have other negatives in his game, as he's not going to provide much secondary value in terms of defense or baserunning. That caps his ceiling for us. We think he'll find himself on the receiving end of a nice multi-year contract anyway. Prediction: Reaches free agency. Again, the Yankees almost always let their players test the open market, no matter if they intend to retain them or otherwise. 

15. Danny Jansen, C, Toronto Blue Jays

Backstops capable of providing value at and behind the dish tend to be worth their weight in your preferred legal barter. You might wonder why Jansen isn't higher, then, given he's been an above-average hitter three years running who frames and blocks well. Our answer is durability. Jansen has played in more than 100 games only once in his career, all the way back in 2019. Meanwhile, he's averaged two injured list stints in each of the past three seasons. (It doesn't help his case that he has a well-below-average arm, a deficiency that's tougher to stomach under the new rulebook.) A healthier 2024 would help him move up the board. Prediction: Reaches free agency.

16. Shane Bieber, RHP, Cleveland Guardians

As with Buehler, this is a pivotal season for Bieber. Although he's consistently been an above-average starter throughout his career, there are some red flags to be aware of entering the new year. Most notably, Bieber has seen his fastball's velocity and effectiveness wane. That combination resulted in a 9.3% whiff rate in 2023 that ranked last among pitchers with at least 500 thrown. Perhaps relatedly, Bieber missed more than two months near the end of last season because of right elbow inflammation. We'll see if he can regain his old form and oomph heading forward. Otherwise, his market might be dicier than you would expect based on his track record. Prediction: Reaches free agency.

17. Anthony Santander, OF, Baltimore Orioles

We're giving the switch-hitting Santander a spot because he's quietly been a well-above-average hitter in three of the last four years. He's leveled up the last two seasons, averaging more than 30 bombs while upping his walk rate to career-high levels. Santander consistently hits the ball hard and last season he barely had a platoon split. He's not going to provide a ton of value defensively or on the basepaths, but another strong year at the plate should be enough to get him paid on a multi-year agreement. Prediction: Reaches free agency. The Orioles have shown no inclination to sign players to long-term extensions. We believe that it's unlikely that changes for Santander.

18. Christian Walker, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

It's reasonable to view Walker as a perpetually underrated player. Us ranking him this low after he's posted consecutive 30-homer, Gold Glove-winning seasons won't help change that. Alas, the reality is that he has various circumstances working against him landing a huge payday. For one, he's going to be a 33-year-old right-right first baseman. For two, he might be the third-best right-handed first baseman on the open market. Brutal. Viewed from a certain angle, all the above makes him a sensible short-term extension candidate. Prediction: Works out an extension to remain with Arizona.  

19. Clay Holmes, RHP, New York Yankees

Holmes has turned into a phenomenal late-game reliever since coming over from the Pirates at the 2021 trade deadline. He chucks his mid-90s sinker to good effect, generating an extreme amount of ground balls while reliably evading barrels. Relievers are tricky and prone to year-to-year fluctuations, but we think Holmes has a good chance of being the best bullpen arm on the market next winter. Prediction: Reaches free agency. Once more, the Yankees usually let their players test the market, even if they eventually retain them.

20. Max Kepler, OF, Minnesota Twins

Kepler is coming off his best campaign in years. He's always been an above-average defender in right, and last season he had his finest offensive effort since 2019 by homering 24 times and reaching base at a .332 clip. We'll see if he can keep it up for another year, or if he'll end up sliding down the list before publication. Prediction: Reaches free agency. We don't know where he'll be traded to at this point, so don't hold us to it if his next employer likes him enough to work out a deal.