Free Agent Frenzy Heats Up MLB Winter Meetings

Free Agent Frenzy Heats Up MLB Winter Meetings

Published on 10 Dec 2022 12:06 am (UK Time)

It was the first time in three years that General Managers from all 30 Major League Baseball teams could meet face-to-face to conduct their annual Winter Meetings and they didn’t disappoint. The meetings took place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Hotel in downtown San Diego from Sunday 4th to Wednesday 7th December. There were several top free agents on the market looking for a new team, but without doubt, the cream of the crop was Aaron Judge, and the question on everyone’s lips – would he still be a Yankee?  Judge and his management team didn’t disappoint as he signed a blockbuster deal for the ages: $ 360 million over 9 years with the New York Yankees.  

The reported deal is not the longest in MLB history (Fernando Tatis Jr. signed a 14-year contract with the San Diego Padres) or the largest in terms of Annual Average Value (Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, $43.33 million) or total salary (Mike Trout, $426.5 million), but it ranks in the top 3 all-time and at $40 million per year it is the highest AAV among position players. For both the Yankees and Judge, this deal solidifies the possibility of Judge playing his entire career for the Bronx Bombers, a chance to create a legacy similar to many of the Yankee greats who grace the walls of Monument Park, and despite the attraction of playing for the San Francisco Giants (his childhood home team), this was a deal that benefits both parties and had to be made. 

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In 2022, Judge produced one of the greatest seasons of all time, ranking first in the American League in more than a dozen offensive categories including Home Runs, RBI, Runs, On-Base, Slugging, OPS, OPS+, xwOBA, Barrel percentage and WAR. He broke a 61-year-old American League record for most Home Runs in a single season, hitting 62. He was .05 decimal points away from winning the Batting Title and taking home the Triple Crown – a feat accomplished by only six players since the American League was founded in 1901. He won the AL Silver Slugger Award, Hank Aaron Award, and Most Valuable Player, and was recently selected to the All-MLB First Team for 2022. There aren’t any superlatives that can justly describe what Judge accomplished and what we bore witness to. It was a once-in-a-generation season. Now Judge will reap the rewards of that handsomely, and deservedly so. 

Jacob deGrom and Xander Bogaerts 

The Judge deal was announced on Wednesday, but huge waves had already been made before then. Arguably one of the most jaw-dropping moves came on Friday before the Winter Meetings had even begun as the Texas Rangers signed Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million contract. deGrom is viewed by many as the best pitcher on the planet today and one of the greatest pitchers of all time, however, he comes with baggage having already been side-lined with serious injuries since 2019 and undergoing Tommy John Surgery last year. When he’s healthy, there’s no one better, but he will be in his age-40 season when the fifth year of his contract begins. Only time will tell if this will be a great deal for the Rangers or one they will come to rue.  

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Bookending the meetings with another stunning deal was the San Diego Padres signing Xander Bogaerts for 11 years, $280 million, much to the surprise of many across the industry. The Padres were reportedly all in for Trea Turner, offering $342 million, but missed out on him so moved quickly for the shortstop Bogaerts.  The Padres already have two natural shortstops in Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr., so it’s likely Tatis Jr. (who is currently serving an 80-game suspension for violating the MLB rules on banned substances) will be moved to the outfield to make way for Bogaerts. Bogaerts has won two World Series for the Boston Red Sox and was an inspiring presence in their clubhouse. Padres General Manager A.J. Preller will be expecting more of the same from Bogaerts and signing him sends out a clear message that San Diego are in a win-at-all-costs mode right now. 

Justin Verlander

Having lost one great pitcher in Jacob deGrom, the New York Mets wasted no time in bolstering their top of the rotation with the signing of another great, Justin Verlander, to a two-year, $86 million contract with an option for a third year at $35 million. Verlander had one of his best seasons ever, despite coming off Tommy John surgery. He unanimously won the 2022 AL Cy Young Award (his third Cy Young) with a 1.75 ERA whilst helping the Houston Astros win their second World Series. He will start the 2023 season age 40, so there’s some risk attached to this move, although father time doesn’t seem to be catching up with Verlander yet. The Mets weren’t done yet, adding José Quintana on a two-year, $26 million deal. Along with Max Scherzer, and with rumours that they could add another top arm, the Mets would have a rotation that could match any other in either league.  

Phillies and Guardians 

The 2022 National League Pennant winners, Philadelphia Phillies, were hot on the tails of their division rivals New York Mets by signing one of the top shortstops on the free market, Trea Turner. 29-year-old Turner agreed to an 11-year, $300 million contract including a full no-trade clause. The Phillies, two wins away from winning the World Series this past season, added a huge bat to their lineup and a dynamic player on both sides of the ball. Bryce Harper is expected to be back after surgery midway through the ‘23 season and when he does the Phillies’ lineup will be as deep and potent as any in the National League. The Phillies also added a great arm to their rotation with the signing of RHP Taijuan Walker to a four-year, $72 million contract. The former Mets starter has been terrific for the past few seasons and with Aaron Nola and Zach Wheeler, the Phillies will feel confident they can take the extra step next year and win it all. 

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Cleveland Guardians added Josh Bell to their lineup on a two-year, $33 million deal with an opt-out after 2023. The switch-hitting first baseman had an All-Star first half in 2022 and was part of the blockbuster trade that took Juan Soto from the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline this past Summer. He never quite acclimated to his new surroundings and didn’t put up the same numbers in the second half of the season. However, Bell is a proven power bat which the Guardians desperately needed. The Guardians were the youngest team in MLB history to reach the postseason last year (average age 26.1 years), so adding an experienced player to their clubhouse will be a major boost. 

Bellinger and Contreras 

Cody Bellinger signed a one-year, $ 17.5 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. Bellinger’s stock has fallen steadily since his National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player seasons in 2017 and 2019, so there is the potential for a high ceiling for this move for both player and team. The Cubs will hope they can fix some of Bellinger’s issues at the plate and get the type of production with the bat which he has shown in previous seasons. For Bellinger, a change of scenery and a different approach might be exactly what he needs to reignite his career and prove he is still one of the top players in the game before hitting free agency again next year. The Cubs also added RHP Jameson Taillon on a four-year, $68 million deal. Taillon is a great pick-up for the Cubs, who need more pitching. Taillon had been a solid starter for the Yankees since 2021, posting a 14-5 record and a 3.91 ERA last year. 

Leaving the Cubs is Willson Contreras who will be playing ball in a St Louis Cardinals uniform in 2023 after he signed a five-year, $87.5 million deal. Contreras broke out in a big way for the Chicago Cubs as a rookie in their 2016 World Series winning campaign, taking charge of their rotation and delivering clutch hits down the stretch. He showed incredible poise under pressure that year and six years on, he has matured into a very talented catcher. He has enormous shoes to fill in replacing Yadier Molina, who retired at the end of the 2022 season and is regarded by many as a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, but Contreras has shown he has the mental fortitude to not let that pressure overcome him. 

Who will be the next big signing? 

This was a huge Winter Meeting with a long list of stars signing big contracts, but there are still several big-name free agents waiting to make their move. Top of that list is shortstops Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson, both of whom would significantly improve any roster. Likely suitors could be the Chicago Cubs, St Louis Cardinals, or San Francisco Giants. 

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Outfielders Brandon Nimmo and Andrew Benintendi, and pitchers Carlos Rodón, Chris Bassitt and Kodai Senga are still available and will be sought after by many clubs with aspirations of making a postseason run in 2023. 

We may have to wait until the end of Spring Training in March 2023 to see where one or more of these players land, leaving plenty of time for another major twist. 

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