Kielar's MLB Offseason Notebook 2.0: Money Moves
Well here were are, now about halfway through the 2022-23 MLB offseason and most of the big name free agents are off the market. Since the first edition of this notebook, all of my top 15 free agents have signed and much more. We also saw a big trade go down, with the Oakland A's trading away Sean Murphy to the Atlanta Braves in a three-team trade that also included the Milwaukee Brewers. Let's dive into the biggest moves, how my predictions look now, and the best remaining players on the free agent market.
The Verdict is In: New York or Nowhere
Aaron Judge bet on himself and won drastically. While Arson Judge is headed to the Bay Area to play for the San Francisco Giants, Hal Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees could not let Aaron leave New York. After Jon Heyman gave the entirety of Yankees nation a heart attack, Judge was announced to be returning to the Bronx on a nine-year, $360 million contract with the likeliness that he is also named the next captain of the most historic franchise in MLB history. The California native had quite a bit of reason to potentially go home to play for the Giants, but at the end of the day it was "New York or Nowhere". This being a phrase that he had been spotted wearing on a sweatshirt multiple times throughout this past season. He comes off an MVP season in which he smashed 62 homers along with leading several offensive categories, playing solid defense between right and center, and being the ultimate Yankee in the clubhouse.
When Steinbrenner spoke to Judge about the contract, he was adamant that they would have the ability to not only give the 2017 Rookie of the Year a big contract, but also make other big moves. Well, the owner and son of the late George Steinbrenner kept his word. On Thursday evening, the Yankees were reported to vastly strengthen their rotation by signing the top starter remaining on the market, Carlos Rodón, to a six-year, $162 million deal with no opt-outs and a full no-trade clause. Now New York has the best rotation they have had in a while, and potentially one of the best in the majors. Rodón will back up ace Gerrit Cole, who will be followed by a combination of Luis Severino, Nestor Cortes Jr., and Frankie Montas. They also have safety blankets in Domingo German and Clarke Schmidt who have a much better outlook as sixth starters and/or long relievers. Of course, there will be injuries, so one or both of them may have to fill in if someone does go down long-term. But they could also make spot starts here and there if a guy needs an extra rest day or needs to be skipped over. From a numbers standpoint, the Yankees' top two starters in Cole and Rendón are two of the biggest strikeout arms in the majors. Cole led the majors with 257 punchouts in 2022, while Rendón was third with 237 punchies. Now they are both in the same rotation. Reliever Tommy Kahnle also reunited with his former club to help bolster their bullpen.
Giant Contract for Correa, Shortstop Market
The Giants wasted no time after missing out on Judge, pouncing on arguably the top shortstop on the market in Carlos Correa. San Francisco handed out a 13-year, $350 million contract to the former first overall draft pick, which includes a no-trade clause and no opt outs. The Giants have needed that superstar type player to build their franchise around for a while and having Correa for the rest of his career is a big step for what they hope to accomplish. While he was generally viewed as the top free agent in last year's class, the now 28-year-old, like Judge, took a gamble on himself and signed a short term, three-year deal with the Minnesota Twins with an opt-out after the first two seasons. His 2022 season didn't get off to the best start and he ended up on the injured list with a fractured finger after a hit-by-pitch. But he wound up staying healthy the rest of the way outside of a brief COVID list stint, and ended the season with a .291/.366/.467 slash line in 136 games. Correa's overall offensive production was very respectable as he ranked in the top 20 in the majors with a 140 wRC+. There hasn't really been anything to complain about offensively for Correa's career. He has mashed 20 or more homers in six of his seven 162-game seasons and over the last four seasons has hard hit rates of over 40 percent. The only question is how the end of the deal will work out, as he will be 41 at the end of it. But as long as he continues to stay healthy, Correa will be exactly what the doctor ordered for Giants for a good amount of time.
The other shortstops on the market have also gotten lucrative contracts, with Trea Turner getting an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Philadelphia Philles and Xander Bogaerts getting 11 years, $280 million from the San Diego Padres. That leaves Dansby Swanson still remaining on the shortstop market, who has been linked to the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, and maybe going back to the Braves.
Uncle Steve Goes Wild
The Mets lost their ace Jacob deGrom, who signed with the Texas Rangers, leading Steve Cohen and Billy Eppler to go wild on the free agent market. The billionaire owner re-signed outfielder Brandon Nimmo and elite closer Edwin Diaz to massive deals, while also going out and signing 2022 Comeback Player of the Year Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana, David Robertson, and Japanese southpaw Kodai Senga. If this isn't one heck of a "quanity over quality" type beat in replacing deGrom, I don't know what is. Obviously, Verlander has been an ace and bounced back very well from Tommy John surgery. But, he turns 40 in February and can't hold off Father Time forever. deGrom does come with plenty of risk with his shaky injury past, but is arguably the best pitcher in baseball when healthy. Quintana has been up-and-down throughout his 11-year career, but did have a breakout season in 2022. In 32 starts between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, the Columbian-born southpaw posted a 2.93 ERA, 2.99 FIP, 1.213 WHIP, and 137 strikeouts in 165 2/3 innings. Senga, on the other hand was dominant in the NPB, as he had a 2.42 career ERA over 11 seasons, including a 1.89 ERA in 2022 along with a 1.041 WHIP and 159 strikeouts in 148 innings. However, it isn't always an easy transition moving over to the states, especially in the first season. Another thing to mention, of course, is that Verlander and Max Scherzer are reuniting since being in the Detroit Tigers rotation all those years ago. It perhaps might work out very well for the Mets, but right now I wouldn't trust their rotation as being one of the best in the league. On paper and based on past successes, perhaps you can make that argument. But only time will tell how it will work out for the Mets in 2023 and beyond. Making a lot of moves and throwing money around doesn't always equal huge success. It's just a matter if the players put together by the front office can click.
Other Notable Moves
Just on Friday, another one of my top 15 free agents signed in now former Yankee Andrew Benintendi. The left fielder signed with the Chicago White Sox for five years and $75 million, as opposed to the Cleveland Guardians where I predicted him going. Another prediction yours truly correctly predicted was Willson Contreras going to the Cardinals for a five-year, $87.5 million deal and making every Cubs fan out there cry. Jose Abreu went to the Astros, which was my guess as well. Former Met right-hander Taijuan Walker also went to the Phillies, former Yankee Jameson Taillon went to the Cubs as well as Cody Bellinger, and Sean Manaea went to the Giants. Those are just some of the most notable signings for teams hoping to vastly improve their clubs and start to head into further contention.
The Best of the Rest
Swanson is easily the top free agent remaining on the free agent market, and there could be some more trades to go down. Other notable free agents left are outfielders Michael Brantley and Michael Conforto, relievers Will Smith, Brad Hand, and Taylor Rogers, starter Nathan Eovaldi, and first basemen Brandon Belt and Trey Mancini. The trade market could include Twins' outfielder Max Kepler after they signed Joey Gallo, hoping to see a resurgence. It does not seem as though there will be a market for Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates, as Pittsburgh looks for a big return for the 27-year-old outfielder. Diamondbacks' Daulton Varsho and in some cases Jake McCarthy have been rumored in potential trades, with the Yankees being named as potential suitors. The Yankees still need a left fielder after being unable to retain Benintendi and would like to unload a few pieces of dead weight. That group includes Josh Donaldson and Aaron Hicks. If they Yankees fail to bring in another left fielder, though, they will be going into opening day with Oswaldo Cabrera as their starter after the strong start to his career playing multiple positions last season. Conforto, Brantley, and Kepler are definitely candidates they will consider bringing in to fill that spot and leave Cabrera as the utilityman.