The Houston Astros celebrated the 2022 World Series championship a few weeks ago and the offseason is in full swing. The biggest pin waiting to drop is whether Aaron Judge will re-sign with the New York Yankees or sign elsewhere. There have been some news so far, which we will go over here along with some of my thoughts to preview the offseason.
Players have opted out, turned down extensions, and more which only make the free agent class that much more intriguing. Not to mention, there will be a trade market for guys like Ian Happ and Pablo Lopez. Each month of the offseason, I will go over the biggest news and storylines. Let's jump into the first edition.
Astros Fail to "Click" with Their GM
In an unprecedented - but not totally shocking - move following their World Series championship, the Astros failed to retain general manager James Click. Jim Crane and the Houston ownership offered the 44-year-old GM a one-year extension in which he turned down. There has been reported friction between Crane and Click going back at least a month, yet the expectation was that Houston would retain Click had they won the World Series. While Crane did "attempt" to do that, it was a very lowball offer after three straight American League Championship Series, two straight World Series appearances, and a 2022 World Series titles.
It was almost as if Crane was just doing his due diligence in throwing out an offer and hoping that Click would maybe bite. Click didn't build this regime, as the Astros were already a strongly built team when he came on following the departure of Jeff Lunhow in the wake of the cheating scandal. But he did make strong moves to help give the team even more depth and give them a better shot at winning it all. Among his notable free agent signings were Hector Neris and a bargain bin pickup of Ryne Stanek, who both wound up as big pieces to the championship caliber bullpen. Some of the key trades during Click's tenure were also of the reliever variety, including Kendall Graveman, Rafael Montero, Yimi Garcia, and Phil Maton.
Montero was recently re-signed to a three-year, $34.5 million deal, which was first reported by Jeff Passan. The right-hander really came into his own since joining the Astros at last year's trade deadline. He has posted a 2.18 ERA with a 26.8% strikeout rate and an 8.6% walk rate with Houston after a 7.27 ERA in Seattle last year. Montero gave up just three homers this season in addition to one more in the postseason, while also ranking in the 91st percentile for average exit velocity allowed.
In addition to not bringing back Click, the Astros also fired their assistant general manager Scott Powers who Click had hired away from the Dodgers in January. Powers had been the director of quantitative analysis for the Dodgers before being brought in along with Andrew Ball before the season. It is quite unorthodox for a team that just won the World Series to let go of their general manager and assistant general manager.
Crane and Houston have started their GM search, while the owner stated the search could last until the new year. Bill Firkus and Charles Cook were promoted to assistant general manager to join Ball in the baseball operations department. Firkus was the senior director of baseball strategy, and Cook was senior director of player evaluation. Crane said that he has some names in mind and will take some time to make the decision. Last time, there was a bit of rush as he needed to find a new manager and GM after A.J. Hinch and Jeff Lunhow were fired following the cheating scandal.
Top 15 Free Agents Predictions and Breakdown
Aaron Judge - New York Yankees, 8 Years $350 Million
Judge was officially named the American League Most Valuable Player on Thursday night as voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. He was just two votes shy of being unanimous, with the two Angels' beat writers voting for Shohei Ohtani of course. After one of the most historic seasons in baseball in which he broke Roger Maris' American League single season home run record, and led in nearly every offensive category, Judge will target a potentially record-breaking contract.
The highest average annual value in MLB history was earned by Max Scherzer, who is making a contract of $43 million per season by the Steve Cohen led Mets. Judge will likely receive north of $300 million for at least seven or eight years. He has certainly earned whatever he gets, and the sentiment that Hal Steinbrenner, Brian Cashman, and the Yankees' front office has continued to push is that they will not be outbid. As Gerrit Cole was their White Whale, Judge is their homegrown hero who carried the team on his back this year. That on top of bringing many eyes to every Yankee game (even more than usual), as he chased for 62. For more on just how historic Judge's season was, check out my article from the end of the regular season.
Justin Verlander - New York Yankees, 2 Years $60 Million
Another award winner who is now a free agent, Verlander earned his third Cy Young award by a unanimous vote. With him and Judge being two of the top free agents, this is one of the craziest free agent classes of recent memory. We could have seen an NL MVP finalist also on the market to make things even more interesting, but Nolan Arenado decided not to opt out of his contract with the Cardinals. In Verlander's case, the former Tiger turned down the qualifying offer from the Astros after coming over from Detroit in 2017. He signed a 1-year, $25 million deal and was possibly going to retire following the season but bounced back the best way possible from Tommy John surgery. The Astros hoped to convince him of signing another 1-year, $25 million deal with the club, but he decided to enter the market as he heads to his age-40 season.
After another Cy Young, he could target a deal worth north of $30 million, with the options wide open as far as teams go. The Yankees could learn a thing or two from their rivals that they have not been able to get by and steal their ace. While bringing back Judge is their biggest concern, adding a pitcher like Verlander to their staff and reuniting him with Cole would be huge.
Jacob deGrom - New York Mets, 3 Years $140 Million
The two-time Cy Young award winner opted out of his contract with the Mets and could earn an even bigger deal than his rotation counterpart in Max Scherzer received from the Metropolitans. With how deep Steve Cohen's pockets are and how willing he is to dig into them, it's more likely than not that he gives deGrom the contract he wants and deserves. Although he has a shaky injury past, the Mets can't afford to lose their ace and won't be afraid to pay up for him. While he is on the mound, the 2010 ninth round draft pick is the best pitcher in the majors and doesn't look to be losing any juice as a now 34-year old. Over the past two seasons, he has posted a 1.90 ERA, 1.69 FIP, and 248 strikeouts to just 19 walks over 26 starts.
Trea Turner - New York Yankees, 7 Years $230 Million
Maybe the likeliness isn't that high, but perhaps the Yankees get ticked off this offseason after once again falling short of the World Series and losing to the Astros for the third time in six seasons. It isn't the exact same scenario, but after missing the postseason in 2008, the Yankees went out and made a number of moves to better their club. The Bombers signed CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeria, and A.J. Burnett, and traded for Nick Swisher that offseason. In addition, they re-signed Andy Pettitte and wound up winning their first World Series in nine years in the first year of the new Yankee Stadium.
Now 13 years later, they haven't even been to the World Series since and need to make adjustments. On top of bringing back Judge, they could easily bring in some other top free agents, like Turner and Verlander. When Hal Steinbrenner is set on a guy, he won't be denied and that is the case with the Judge.
Turner, on the other hand, is the exact type of player the Yankees have been missing at the top of their lineup. He hits for average and can be a table setter, hits for power, has speed, and plays strong defense at short. Turner is coming off back-to-back 20-20 seasons and was two homers short of a 30-30 season in 2021. The Yankees already brought back Anthony Rizzo on a two-year deal, but bringing him and Judge back won't be enough to get over the hump. That was clearly seen this past year, as they need a more complete lineup to take some pressure off of Judge and exercise their demons. A lot of money would be going into Judge and Turner, but for two superstar players like that who are in the midst of their prime, it is worth it.
The Yankees can't think of what the backend of the contracts will look like when they are approaching 40, it's a matter of what they can give now to get the Yankees their 28th championship. Turner would be a gamechanger for the Yankees' offense in every facet. Oswald Peraza is clearly a strong defensive shortstop, but his offense will take some time to catch up in the majors.
The Astros proved that a young rookie shortstop can make huge strides in helping you to a World Series, with Jeremy Peña being the ALCS MVP against the Yankees. But Peraza is also younger, just turning 22 in June, and is a bit farther behind with the bat. If he were to breakout with the bat, having him and Turner is certainly a good problem to have. Perhaps they could also explore trade opportunities with Peraza, notably for pitching.
Carlos Correa - Chicago Cubs, 8 Years, $250 Million
The former Astro opted out of his contract with the Twins, who signed him to just a three-year deal with opt-outs after the first two years last offseason. A reunion isn't out of the question, but it's not looking plausible that Minnesota is going to be willing to break the bank. That is especially true after the Twins are coming off a very disappointing season and are seemingly retooling. They have already traded Gio Urshela, who they acquired from the Yankees last winter, and traded for shortstop Kyle Farmer from the Reds. The Cubs, on the other hand will be once again be competing in a fairly weak NL Central and would benefit from bringing in a top shortstop. While they were unwilling to retain fan favorites in Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez, Chicago would now like to end their rebuild sooner rather than later. Correa is also just 28 years old and is much more a complete shortstop than Baez ever was or ever will be, offensively and defensively.
The Cubs are set up to take a few big swings in the free agent market this year and over the next few seasons. Getting Correa would immediately increase their chances in the division.
Carlos Rodon - Texas Rangers, 5 Years $130 Million
After being the third overall pick in the 2014 Draft out of NC State by the White Sox, Rodon was highly touted to become an ace. He struggled with injuries and inconsistencies over his first six seasons in Chicago, before breaking out with an All-Star season his final year there in 2021. The left-hander wound up finishing fifth in Cy Young voting after being a frontrunner for half the season. Shoulder fatigue down the stretch dropped his velocity and he made just six starts the final two months. That made his contract a lot less than what it once looked to be, as he got a two-year, $44MM deal with the Giants with an opt-out after the first year - as long as he reached 110 innings. Rodon well surpassed that total, as he pitched a career-high 178 innings while dominating to the tune of a 2.88 ERA, 2.25 FIP, and 12 strikeouts per nine. Now he very much earned a big payday after proving his durability and holding his velocity all season.
The Rangers are certainly in rebuild mode, but could accelerate it with the signing of a top arm. He is also on the younger side of the arms on the market, as he turns 30 in December while the Verlanders and deGroms of the world are older. The Rangers could afford to pay him long-term in hopes he will give them strong pitching at the front-end while they make strides towards the playoffs within the next couple years. Texas went out and signed Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to large contracts, but those moves haven't really paid off fully, at least not in 2022. They could correct the mistakes by giving themselves a true ace to lead a young rotation. Last year showed that they are willing to pay. This time they will just do it in the right places.
Xander Boegerts - Philadelphia Phillies, 7 Years $195 Million
Coming to no surprise to anyone, Boegerts opted out of his final three years of his contract with the Red Sox. That makes the shortstop class one of the best we have seen, even stronger than last season. Boston could still very well give the shortstop they drafted the contract he is looking for and do something they didn't do with Mookie Betts. But there are plenty of teams in the shortstop market, with the Phillies being one of the biggest. They released Didi Gregorius in August and made rookie Bryson Stott the everyday shortstop. Philadelphia's president of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, is familiar with Boegerts after his time in Boston. He also brings the best pure bat of the free agent shortstops, while he lacks a little bit defensively. That is something that the Phillies have built with this team, acquiring big time bats with supbar defense. The X-Man would be a great addition and help strengthen their lineup, while lessening the loss of Bryce Harper for an uncertain time due to elbow surgery.
Willson Contreras - St. Louis Cardinals, 4 Years $75 Million
Jose Abreu - Houston Astros, 2 Years $42 Million
Dansby Swanson - Los Angeles Dodgers, 7 Years $160 Million
Sean Manaea - Baltimore Orioles, 4 Years $50 Million
Brandon Nimmo - Toronto Blue Jays, 5 Years $100 Million
Andrew Benintendi - Cleveland Guardians, 2 Years $25 Million
Josh Bell - Chicago Cubs, 3 Years $45 Million
Chris Bassitt - Minnesota Twins, 3 Years $62 Million
Major Moves Made Thus Far
Erik Swanson, Adam Macko
Angels: LHP Jhonathan Diaz, RHP, Touki Toussaint, RHP Nash Walters, LHP Rob Zastryzny
Astros: RHP Josh James
Athletics: RHP Deolis Guerra, LHP Jared Koenig, INF David MacKinnon
Brewers: RHP Trevor Gott, RHP Jandel Gustave, RHP Luis Perdomo
Cardinals: RHP Alex Reyes
Cubs: LHP Brailyn Marquez, RHP Alexander Vizcaíno, OF Rafael Ortega
Dodgers: CF Cody Bellinger, INF Edwin Rios, UTIL Luke Williams
Mariners: RHP Luke Weaver, C Luis Torrens, C Brian O'Keefe
Marlins: 3B Brian Anderson, RHP Nick Neidert
Mets: 1B Dominic Smith, RHP Sean Reid-Foley
Nationals: RHP Erick Fedde, RHP Tommy Romero, 1B/DH Luke Voit
Rangers: RHP Nick Snyder
Rays: RHP Ryan Yarbrough
Red Sox: OF Franchy Cordero, INF Yu Chang
Reds: OF Aristides Aquino, OF Allan Cerda, RHP Kyle Dowdy, RHP Daniel Duarte, RHP Jeff Hoffman, RHP Derek Law, RHP Jared Solomon or RHP Art Warren
Rockies: UTIL Garret Hampson
Royals: LHP Jake Brentz, RHP Nate Webb
Tigers: 3B Jeimer Candelario, INF Brendan Davis, UTIL Harold Castro, UTIL Willi Castro, C Michael Papierski, RHP Miguel Diaz, RHP Kyle Funkhouser
White Sox: OF Adam Engel, OF Mark Payton, INF Danny Mendick