Baseball’s hot stove is firing up. The Winter Meetings took place this week in San Diego, and MLB teams are making moves, signing free agents and laying the groundwork for the 2023 season.
Let’s break down all the MLB free-agent deals, assessing whether they made sense for the team and the player.
New York Mets reportedly agree with center fielder Brandon Nimmo on eight years, $162 million
Does it make sense for the Mets? Nimmo might be a distant second to Aaron Judge when it comes to the outfield market this offseason, but the rest of the field is an even more distant third. And after losing their center fielder (that is: Brandon Nimmo) to free agency, the Mets needed to make a move in that department.
At 29, Nimmo is a phenomenal athlete () with a career 134 wRC+, and even if he slides to a corner position for the latter half of the deal, his offensive skills should age well. Rather than power, Nimmo provides reliable on-base ability; since he debuted in 2016, only seven qualified hitters have a better OBP. Running back relatively the same lineup as last year might not be the splashiest way for the Mets' winter to go, but remember: Before their disappointing early October departure, the 2021 Mets won 101 games and had the second-highest team OBP in baseball.
Some Mets fans seem concerned that the payroll has rocketed past the so-called Steve Cohen tax threshold at $293 million and the arbitrary, if admittedly eye-popping, $300 million. But, look, it’s not Nimmo or GM Billy Eppler’s fault that the organization will owe Robinson Cano $24 million next year. And it’s not your money. Besides, spending doesn’t guarantee success; it just makes it a lot more likely.
Does it make sense for Nimmo? Given the option to have one of their players who hit free agency return on a deal that would make him a career Met, the denizens of Citi Field might not have picked Nimmo over Jacob deGrom. But while deGrom claims to have ended up in Arlington out of an eagerness to win, Nimmo will make more than $20 million per year to play for a team that certainly seems a lot closer to contention than the Rangers — and he’ll probably retire with the franchise that drafted him 13th overall in 2011. How much he cares about that is unclear, but I bet it’ll ensure he remains a favorite of a rabid fan base, and that sounds fun.
Does it make sense for the Padres? The Padres and ever-active president of baseball operations A.J. Preller wanted to make a splash (another splash — yes, another splash). With Fernando Tatis Jr. due back from suspension but likely to play outfield upon returning, Juan Soto in the outfield for at least two more years and Manny Machado entering the final season before an opt-out decision, San Diego locked in the longtime Red Sox shortstop on a long but reasonable deal — $25.45 million per year. That’s only a hair above Marcus Semien’s average annual value with the Texas Rangers, and Bogaerts is a far surer bet. The 30-year-old is basically a hitting metronome, logging an OPS+ between 128 and 135 and earning MVP votes in every season since 2018.
He’s OK at shortstop for now and could slide to third base at some point during the deal if a more agile shortstop defender supersedes him. The last couple of years of this deal might as well not exist — a similar story to the Phillies’ Trea Turner contract — but that’s simply a clever maneuver by Preller and the Padres to give themselves more financial room to work with during Bogaerts’ peak.
Does it make sense for Bogaerts? Reports indicated he wanted to give Boston — the club with which he won two World Series rings and signed one extension — the chance to make a final offer, but the money was so far off that he simply had to choose San Diego. So yes, it seems the move made sense for Bogaerts, a sterling player who did everything within reason to be a one-team star for the Red Sox, only to find a big-budget franchise unwilling to meet him in the middle.
St. Louis Cardinals reportedly agree with catcher Willson Contreras on five-year, $87.5 million deal
Does it make sense for the Cardinals? With the retirement of Yadier Molina — who had been the Cardinals’ regular catcher since 2005 (read that again) — finding a new backstop was the top priority for president of baseball operations John Mozeliak. In Contreras, a longtime rival with the Cubs, he got the best hitter available among free agents at the position. Contreras boasts a career 115 OPS+, excellent for a catcher, and put up a career year in 2022. The alternatives included Christian Vazquez or a trade for Oakland A’s star catcher Sean Murphy.
The main concern with Contreras is a defensive drop-off from Molina. Even at age 39, Molina was an above-average framer of pitches and all-around defender. Contreras is below average as a framer by Baseball Prospectus metrics and rates as one of the least effective defensive catchers among regulars the past two seasons. Because of that (and perhaps the qualifying offer attached), the Cardinals got him at a relative bargain rate of $87.5 million. If they can help him improve as a framer, or if MLB implements the automated strike zone soon, this will turn out to be a boon for a hitter of Contreras' quality.
Does it make sense for Contreras? After the Cubs held on to him at the trade deadline, Contreras is jumping to the rival Cardinals. The five-year term is more than the industry expected, with FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections forecasting a four-year deal.
Boston Red Sox reportedly agree with relief pitcher Kenley Jansen on two-year, $32 million deal
Does it make sense for the Red Sox? Jansen posted his best strikeout rate since 2017 in 2022, but $16 million for two years is a pretty hefty investment for a 35-year-old reliever, even if he is one of the generation’s best. Perhaps the Red Sox will add more investment to the club to necessitate a useful closer, but they have been shy with bigger deals so far.
Does it make sense for Jansen? The cutter-flinging Dodgers staple has entered the closer-for-hire stage of his career. Perhaps benefitting from the Red Sox's striking out on several other recent pursuits, he got a two-year deal that most didn’t see coming and significantly more money per season than promising relievers Robert Suarez and Rafael Montero.
New York Mets reportedly agree with starting pitcher Jose Quintana on two-year, $26 million deal
Does it make sense for the Mets? Yes. They needed more starting pitching but probably didn’t need to pony up to bring back No. 4 starter Taijuan Walker at the rate he got from the Phillies. Behind Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Carlos Carrasco, the Mets just need some reliability.
And while Quintana is no spring chicken himself, his resurgence last season has convinced the Steamer projection system that he could be good for a better ERA (4.00) in 2023 than the more prized Walker (4.46) with half the commitment length and $5 million less per year.
Does it make sense for Quintana? Certainly. The expansive Citi Field will only help him as he looks to continue limiting homers as he did in 2022. Plus, the Mets give the veteran lefty a solid shot at a deep October run.
The AL MVP and single-season AL home run king is staying in the Bronx. Coming off his headline-monopolizing, 62-homer contract year, Judge is reportedly re-signing with the Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million deal. The pact will pay him an average of $40 million through his age-39 season. Reports indicate that his choice was between the Yankees, the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres, who made a late push during the Winter Meetings.
Does it make sense for the Yankees? It was almost obligatory. The 6-foot-7 slugger is now a pinstriped icon whom the Yankees simply couldn’t let walk away immediately after making so much history. That history, of course, came in an epic contract year they perhaps could've averted with a larger offer in the spring. GM Brian Cashman publicly revealed that the team offered Judge an extension that would've come out to seven years and $213.5 million. By declining that overture and then posting the best offensive season since Barry Bonds, Judge earned himself a deal two years longer and almost $10 million per year richer.
Yet what was the alternative for the Yankees? Sure, they might've been forced into a new reality if Judge had chosen the Giants, as was his right. But it would've left a crater in a Yankees lineup that looked dangerously uneven for much of 2022. They would've needed to pivot hard from their plan to leave shortstop mostly clear for top prospects Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza. They would've needed to “replace” Judge in a half-dozen different ways.
Now, they don’t have to do that. Sure, they have to absorb the risk of signing a mammoth slugger, who will turn 31 in April, to a deal likely covering the rest of his career. But based on what we know today, it’s well worth it.
Does it make sense for Judge? He bet on himself. He won. And after exploring the open market, he decided to stay with the sport’s most legendary franchise. Judge is now the Yankees’ most clearly defined face since Derek Jeter, and he could cement an even more pristine legacy if he powers New York’s first World Series winner since 2009.
Chicago Cubs reportedly agree with starting pitcher Jameson Taillon on four-year, $68 million deal
Does it make sense for the Cubs? If you’re struggling to get excited about Taillon, I feel you. The 6-foot-5 right-hander was once the No. 2 overall pick, but he has since settled in as the definition of a No. 3 starter. He doesn’t beat himself — walking almost no one — but he has never developed the type of overwhelming stuff to consistently best hitters. What he can give the Cubs is steady innings with an average ERA. The past two years, he was good for 144⅓ and 177⅓ innings, with a perfectly average 100 and 101 ERA-. Maybe there’s more in the tank, but if nothing else, there’s that.
Perhaps the Cubs have a plan to sharpen his fastball or accentuate his breaking balls, but it seems like Chicago, in the midst of working in young players, might've done better with someone from the class of pitchers who have flashed upside without proving enough to command $15-plus million — Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, maybe Ross Stripling.
Does it make sense for Taillon? He probably figured he would wind up with a contract comparable to Taijuan Walker's, and they agreed to similar terms within hours of each other.
Philadelphia Phillies add pitcher Taijuan Walker for four years, $72 million
Pitchers continue to get paid handsomely this offseason, and the pennant-winning Phillies continue to pile on. Not content to stand pat on the position-player front, they snagged the first of the four big shortstops in Trea Turner on Monday, and on Tuesday, they beefed up their rotation by signing Taijuan Walker to a four-year deal reportedly worth $72 million.
Does it make sense for the Phillies? Asked Tuesday what the back of the Phillies' rotation could use to supplement internal options, manager Rob Thomson said, “I think if we get one, that would be enough. And if we don't get one, then I think we'll be covered anyway ... But I think one would be probably enough.”
In the sense that the Phillies wanted another arm and now have one, sure, this makes sense. Walker is coming off his age-29 season, in which he posted a 3.49 ERA and 3.65 FIP in 157.1 innings. Those numbers will fit just fine in a rotation headlined by Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler — another then-mediocre former Met who has since flourished in South Philly — but notably, Walker’s stuff is middling, and he struggled in the second half the past two seasons. In 2021 especially, he followed an All-Star-caliber first half with a dismal 7.13 ERA in the second half as the Mets collapsed down the stretch. Last year, he relied less on his four-seamer and more on a split-finger, which yielded a little more success and a little more consistency, but his ERA was still two runs higher in the second half than in the first.
The Phillies will benefit from the fact that the Mets did not extend a qualifying offer to Walker. And when your sights are set on playing deep into October, you can never have enough reliable pitching. After losing Kyle Gibson, Zach Eflin and Noah Syndergaard to free agency, the Phillies enter 2023 with Nola, Wheeler, Ranger Suarez and Walker, leaving the back end open for the young Bailey Falter and their up-and-coming pitching prospects.
Does it make sense for Walker? After missing nearly all of 2018 and 2019, Walker parlayed a brief-but-inspiring 2020 into a two-year deal with $23 million in guaranteed money and a player option for the third year in New York. After an All-Star appearance in 2021 and arguably his best season as an above-average rotation stalwart in 2022, he turned down a $7.5 million option in favor of a $3 million buyout to end up playing for the pennant-winning Phillies while making $17.75 million.
After spending his 20s on a series of short-term deals, he’ll head to South Philly with the security of a contract that’ll take him through his age-33 season. And hey, he seems pretty happy about it.
San Francisco Giants agree with outfielder Mitch Haniger on three-year, $43.5 million deal
The Giants, reportedly in hot pursuit of Aaron Judge, inked a different outfielder Tuesday. The club is bringing in Haniger, a powerful but injury-prone outfielder, on a three-year deal.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the deal includes an opt-out for Haniger after 2024.
Haniger breakdown with Giants:
$6M signing bonus in 2022
$5M salary 2023
$17M salary 2024
$15.5M salary 2025
Opt out after 2024
$1M bonus if traded
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 7, 2022
Does it make sense for the Giants? Haniger is immediately the Giants’ second-best power threat behind Joc Pederson, though the team would clearly like to bump him farther down that list. Their lineup prior to this signing was extremely thin and even thinner on thump. Haniger, who has consistently produced power when on the field, is an easy bet to like at a $14.5 million average annual value.
Does it make sense for Haniger? A Bay Area native, Haniger found a competitive team with a recent record of success with power-first bats. The club moved in the fences at Oracle Park prior to 2020, and it has played more hitter-friendly since then, but it remains a tough place for righties such as Haniger to hit homers. Mostly, he needs some better health luck. Because Pederson is on the roster, Haniger won’t get the designated hitter slot to himself, but he should have some days there.
Texas Rangers agree with starting pitcher Andrew Heaney on two-year, $25 million deal
Huge strikeout upside, similarly huge injury risk? The Rangers are in. After making the big splash with Jacob deGrom, Texas made a smaller bet on Heaney, a left-handed starter who flashed major strikeout potential after tweaking his slider with the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, he managed only 72⅔ innings in 2022 and still struggled to limit homers. ESPN’s Alden Gonzalez reports that the deal includes an opt-out after 2023 and incentives that could bring the full value to $37 million.
Does it make sense for the Rangers? In terms of pure value, Heaney looks relatively affordable compared to the other appealing starters on the market. In terms of the Rangers’ plans … things are more dicey. They certainly needed to add real upside to a rotation previously led by Martin Perez and Jon Gray, but planning for two-fifths of your 2023 rotation to be deGrom and Heaney feels a bit like asking for two-fifths of your rotation to be shuttled in from Triple-A for significant swaths of the season. Maybe the Rangers will simply keep spending and bulking up so they aren’t overly reliant on Heaney’s health. But at the moment, it looks like tempting fate.
Does it make sense for Heaney? The opt-out and incentive structure are definitely logical for Heaney, a pitcher who could immensely increase his earning power with 150 decent innings. Also helpful: The Rangers’ home park hasn’t been particularly conducive for right-handed batters to hit homers, which can only help a pitcher who has allowed an eye-watering 1.63 homers per nine innings in his career.
Cleveland Guardians agree with first baseman Josh Bell on two-year, $33 million deal
Bell pinballed from Pittsburgh to Washington to San Diego the past three seasons, and his production was similarly all over the place. He was below replacement level for the Pirates in 2020, with an uncharacteristic strikeout spike. He got back on track with Washington, then floundered after a trade to San Diego at the deadline, batting .192 down the stretch. He lands in Cleveland looking to find some consistency, and if he does, he will probably use an opt-out after 2023.
Does it make sense for the Guardians? At this point, you have to assume the Guardians just don’t even like real power hitters. Bell, though he’s big and strong, doesn’t actually hit the ball out of the park very much. Instead, he’s a strapping version of the rest of Cleveland’s solid hitters: switch-hitter, plenty of walks, not many strikeouts, minimal home run pop.
Minimal is, admittedly, relative. Bell has shown the capacity for big homer seasons, but most recently, he hit 17 in 156 games as a first baseman. The Steamer projection system at FanGraphs predicts a .440 slugging percentage for him in 2023, which isn’t notable for a hitter at his position and likely won’t move the needle for a Cleveland lineup desperately in need of a real threat in addition to Jose Ramirez. This move is on brand but not in a good way.
Does it make sense for Bell? It’s fair value for Bell, who did well to get in the same neighborhood as more proven bats such as Anthony Rizzo. Getting the opt-out is also a win, and there’s plenty to like about a switch-hitter with great plate discipline. If Bell can get into a groove for a full season without wild cold streaks, there will be even more to like.
Chicago Cubs reportedly agree with outfielder Cody Bellinger on one-year, $17.5 million deal
If there’s going to be a Cody Bellinger rebound tour, it will launch at Wrigley Field. The former NL MVP non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers is joining the Chicago Cubs, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The Los Angeles Times’ Jorge Castillo reports that the deal is technically for $12 million in 2023, with a 2024 mutual option that carries a $5.5 million buyout, guaranteeing Bellinger $17.5 million.
The one-year pillow contract predictably comes in short of the $18 million projected arbitration salary the Dodgers declined to pay.
Agent Scott Boras said Bellinger turned down multiyear offers in favor of rebuilding his value on a one-year deal.
From his debut in 2017 through 2020, Bellinger was a force. His upright, almost piston-powered swing produced a .273/.364/.547 line, 37% better than a league-average hitter. Combine that with stellar defense at both first base and then center field, and he was a top-15 position player in MLB over those four years, peaking with a monster 2019 season that earned MVP honors.
Shoulder and leg injuries then derailed him in 2021, and modest improvement in 2022 didn’t get him back above water offensively.
When David Ross finds out about Cody Bellinger on “International Talk”. LIVE TV. pic.twitter.com/HEXqmjPDE0
— Luke Stuckmeyer (@LukeStuckmeyer) December 6, 2022
Does it make sense for the Cubs? Yes. The Cubs are trying to take a step forward in 2023, even as many of their top prospects — collected in a rebuild that really started in 2020 — continue to percolate in the minors. Bellinger is a lottery ticket with the bat, but he’s a sure thing as a defender, and he plays two positions the Cubs don’t presently have clear answers for. Even if his bat remains underwhelming, he can be a useful center fielder as Chicago waits for Pete Crow-Armstrong to mature into a major-leaguer. And if Bellinger’s bat roars back to life, they’ll really be in business.
This dollar value is probably about as high as we could’ve reasonably expected, but there’s really no such thing as a bad one-year deal, especially for a deep-pocketed team such as the Cubs.
Does it make sense for Bellinger? It’s going to be difficult to assess much for Bellinger until we see what adjustments he’s making and how they work, but Chicago seems as good a place as any.
The Cubs are certainly going to give him a clear lane to work out struggles with his swing. If things click with newly promoted hitting coach Dustin Kelly and/or the organization, the Cubs would presumably be moving in the right direction to offer him a longer deal. That’s about all he can ask for right now.
Trea Turner agrees with Phillies as first shortstop domino to fall
Trea Turner, the lightning-fast shortstop who has burgeoned into a perennial MVP candidate, has a deal to join the Philadelphia Phillies, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. Turner is reportedly set to sign an 11-year, $300 million deal with the team. The contract includes a full no-trade clause.
The move ensures Turner will pair with Bryce Harper in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future. Both Harper and Turner signed similar deals with the Phillies, fully committing to the franchise for the long term. Turner's 11-year term and $300 million total both handily exceeded expectations. FanGraphs' crowdsourced projections pegged Turner for a seven-year, $210 million deal. However, the longer term actually creates a lower average annual value — $27.27 million per year — which will help Dave Dombrowski's big-spending Phillies in calculating their annual competitive balance tax.
Source: Turner is getting 11 years, $300 million with a full no trade clause https://t.co/mvpDfFLrHb
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) December 5, 2022
Does it make sense for the Phillies? Would you want to face a lineup coming at you with some combination of Turner, Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto? That whooshing sound you hear is everyone in the NL East vigorously shaking their heads. No, you don’t want to face that lineup. For at least the next three or four seasons, it’s going to be absolutely ferocious.
The elephant in the room is what Turner, a speed-based player, will look like in his mid-30s and beyond. This deal will keep him in Philadelphia until he’s 40, and his skills don’t immediately present as the kind that will age gracefully.
But Dombrowski, ever aggressive in his pursuit of elite stars, had a hole in the middle infield and a roster perhaps overly reliant on lumbering power hitters. Turner reshapes that immediately, giving the Phillies a more well-rounded attack. The signing also likely means Bryson Stott, a rookie shortstop who improved as the 2022 season went on, will likely move over to second base.
This is a team that just clawed its way to a pennant and will need to continue upping the ante to keep up with the Mets and Braves. And it’s being run by an executive and a team owner in John Middleton who are unafraid to pay top dollar for top talent. In this case, they have reeled in one of the winter’s most appealing players for a $27.27 million annual salary that trails other recent contracts, including Corey Seager’s, Manny Machado’s and Anthony Rendon’s. For now, it’s a bargain. And if Turner slows down in five, six or seven years, the Phillies can wring their hands about it then — possibly with rings on their fingers.
Does it make sense for Turner? Hey, baseball contracts are fully guaranteed. By securing 11 years, even at a lower annual salary, Turner is collecting something on the high end of the total millions he could have foreseen entering the offseason.
He has been the straw that stirs the drink in some truly excellent lineups — the recent Dodgers and the 2019 Nationals — and looks likely to seamlessly join a new one. He will also be reunited in Philly with Kevin Long, the hitting coach who oversaw his ascent toward MVP candidacy in Washington.
Justin Verlander joining New York Mets for two years, $86.66 million
Justin Verlander, the age-defying AL Cy Young winner and two-time World Series champion, is reportedly signing with the New York Mets.
The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reports it's a two-year, $86.66 million deal with a vesting third-year option. The deal's $43.33 million average annual value matches the all-time record set by Max Scherzer's deal with the Mets last offseason. The move pairs Verlander with Scherzer days after Jacob deGrom bolted New York for a five-year deal with the Texas Rangers. Scherzer and Verlander were previously teammates with the Detroit Tigers.
Verlander's deal tops deGrom's annual value but with fewer years. According to the New York Post's Jon Heyman, the deal includes a full no-trade clause. The third-year option is worth $35 million, and vests into a player option if Verlander throws 140 innings in 2024.
Verlander option vests as a player option at $35M for 2025 if he pitches 140 innings in 2024 https://t.co/KrGFUUh4Ji
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 5, 2022
Does it make sense for the Mets? On one hand, this is the most straightforward possible response to losing Jacob deGrom: Replace the two-time Cy Young winner with a three-time Cy Young winner. But it’s not quite that simple. The Mets want to win now, but they also wanted to hedge their health risks by not giving deGrom five years. Getting Verlander — who returned from Tommy John surgery with flying colors in 2022 — for only two or three years is theoretically a smaller risk.
But now, the Mets’ undeniably impressive one-two punch will consist of a 38-year-old who has worn down in recent Octobers (Scherzer) and a 40-year-old (Verlander). That does add some serious pitfall potential to the Mets’ World Series ambitions.
Aside from the health and aging risks, this move is obviously a boon for Buck Showalter. Verlander is coming off 175 innings with a 1.75 ERA. He will be pitching in a more favorable home park in Citi Field.
The Mets' rotation beyond Scherzer and Verlander is not complete. With last year’s No. 3 starter, Chris Bassitt, also a free agent and likely to demand a hefty contract himself, GM Billy Eppler will likely be looking for at least one more starter, possibly multiple.
Does it make sense for Verlander? Assuming the Mets can help him stay on the cutting edge of pitching ideas and tactics, as he always was with the Astros, Verlander couldn’t have picked a much better team to rack up wins in his quest for 300.
Matching or exceeding Scherzer’s average annual value record was probably the goal for Verlander coming off his Cy Young triumph, and he did that. He got fewer years than Scherzer, but that was to be expected entering his age-40 season, and the third-year option is very attainable based on Verlander’s track record.
Like Scherzer, Verlander is in the winning and legacy-building business. It’s not an easy task in a division with the loaded Atlanta Braves, but it’s clear that the Mets will be pouring resources into chasing rings, and that’s a good spot for a future Hall of Famer trying to add to his plaque.
Texas Rangers agree with Jacob deGrom on five years, $185 million
The contract is for five years and $185 million, with a conditional sixth-year option that would increase its value to $222 million, per ESPN's Jeff Passan. DeGrom reportedly received a full no-trade clause.
Having watched the average annual value record for starters skyrocket — Max Scherzer reset it last offseason with his $43.3 million per year Mets pact — the 34-year-old exercised the opt-out clause in the five-year, $137.5 million extension he signed prior to the 2019 season.
This deal fell short of Scherzer's annual salary at $37 million per year, but its length provides security for a pitcher who has faced a concerning string of injuries the past few years.
BREAKING: Right-hander Jacob deGrom has signed a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers, sources tell ESPN. Physical is passed. Deal is done. Includes conditional sixth-year option that would take total deal to $222 million. Full no-trade clause. A massive haul.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 3, 2022
Does it make sense for the Rangers? In contrast to conventional wisdom, sometimes a baseball team should succumb to the sunk-cost fallacy. Assuming it was spent wisely enough, an investment in payroll that doesn’t produce a postseason performance calls for doubling down, lest the window be wasted.
Last offseason, the Rangers spent more than half a billion dollars on Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray (and those contracts aren’t coming off the books anytime soon) only to finish 26 games below .500 and miss the postseason for the sixth straight year. Even before Opening Day, it was debatable whether they’d done enough to contend. And sure, Semien and Seager were slow to get started, but finishing 2022 with the fifth-worst starting rotation ERA in baseball offered a pretty clear mandate: The Rangers needed pitching.
Well, by acting early and aggressively to snag deGrom, they’ve added the most talented pitcher on the planet. If you’re a baseball team that wants to win — which is supposed to be the point for all of them, but Texas in particular has telegraphed that winning is not merely a goal but a mandate — employing Jacob deGrom makes obvious sense.
The less obvious caveat — which Mets fans can perhaps cling to in cold comfort — is that five years and $185 million is an awfully big commitment for a pitcher who made only 11 starts last season and hasn’t thrown 100 innings since 2019. Questions about deGrom's durability — and, indeed, the intrinsic durability of throwing over 100 mph regularly in your mid-30s — hang over him as he prepares to enter his age-35 season. And Texas figures to still be paying him $37 million a year when he’s 39.
For my money (which, it’s not), deGrom is worth the gamble, especially as a later-bloomer who didn’t pitch extensively until he was in pro ball. If he stays healthy, he has plenty of miles (per hour) left in his arm.
Does it make sense for deGrom? He’ll have to settle for just the second-highest average annual value in baseball history — behind that of his now-former teammate Max Scherzer — but deGrom got more years and, thus, more total money than many expected. And now he can spend the holiday season comfortable in the knowledge of where he’s playing for the next half-decade.
The Rangers have made a number of changes the past few months as they look to move on from a disappointing season. Those involved elevating former pitcher Chris Young to head of baseball operations, bringing in three-time champion Bruce Bochy to manage and, most, recently adding Mike Maddux as pitching coach.
Maddux was the pitching coach in D.C. when Scherzer won consecutive Cy Young awards there, so perhaps deGrom heard good things about him when the two aces shared a dugout this past year.
And as much as New York fans and even the front office might have liked the idea of deGrom as a career Met, he talked about his intention to opt out of that contract as soon as spring training camps opened last March. He has had time to adjust to the possibility-turned-reality of moving on.
Tampa Bay Rays reportedly sign starting pitcher Zach Eflin to three-year, $40 million deal
The Rays are issuing their largest free-agent contract ever — yes, really — to Eflin, a right-hander they will presumably use as a starter following an inspired, possibly-game-elevating turn in the Phillies bullpen. Eflin is 28 and has rarely been much better than average, but the evolution of his repertoire while he worked in relief has created a sense that he could markedly improve on that.
Does it make sense for the Rays? If the curveball, which looked great out of the bullpen, continues to play up when Eflin returns to starting, this could work out nicely. Expect the pitch to retain its increased stature among his offerings.
Zach Eflin, Wicked 79mph Curveball. 🤢 pic.twitter.com/cHjaGAmoA3
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) October 23, 2022
The Rays likely see Eflin as a pitcher who can produce above his previous level. But it’s worth noting that the starting pitching market is hot to start the offseason. Pitchers coming off abjectly bad or totally injured seasons are getting $10 to $12 million a year, so it’s possible that this is the going rate for someone viewed as, at the very least, a serviceable arm.
Does it make sense for Eflin? Few teams are more adept than the Rays at finding and maximizing a pitcher’s best qualities, so Eflin — who had been with the Phillies since a trade in December 2014, when he was still a minor-leaguer — is probably in good hands. And like other pitchers who have come off the board, he exceeded salary expectations. FanGraphs’ crowd-sourced contract projections had Eflin getting $10 million a year for three years. Instead, he will wind up with an average annual value of $13.3 million.
Detroit Tigers reportedly sign starting pitcher Matthew Boyd to one-year, $10 million deal
Speaking of the frothing starting pitching market … Boyd returns to the Tigers after one season, two employers and a whopping 13⅓ innings away. Detroit, under a previous regime, non-tendered an injured Boyd after 2021. He signed with the San Francisco Giants but didn’t return to pitch until they had dropped out of contention and traded him to the Seattle Mariners. The lefty’s return was brief but impressive. He logged a 1.35 ERA as a multi-inning reliever.
Does it make sense for the Tigers? It certainly seems like a steep price when you consider that Boyd made $5.2 million on a one-year deal last season … and then barely pitched. But Scott Harris, the new Tigers president of baseball operations, is the executive who signed Boyd last winter, when he was with the Giants. He clearly believes there is something here.
Does it make sense for Boyd? Seems great! He goes back to Detroit and back under the wing of a front-office leader who seems to have big plans for him. Boyd is certainly good enough to slot into a Tigers rotation that will at least begin the season without the two young starters — Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize — who were slated to replace him at the front of the line.
There were two proven, veteran first basemen on the market, and the defending champion Astros have snagged one of them to reload their lineup. After coming up short in trying to lure Anthony Rizzo from the Yankees, the Houston front office — currently led by team owner Jim Crane and a band of assistant GMs, apparently — has reportedly secured the services of Abreu, the longtime White Sox slugger. The San Diego Padres were also rumored to be interested in Abreu.
The 2020 AL MVP probably isn’t going to match that blistering, 60-game bonanza, but in the two seasons since then, he has run up a consistent, contact-heavy, .284/.365/.463 line, 31% better than the average MLB hitter by the park-adjusted wRC+ metric. That makes him a top-30 hitter in baseball and a particularly durable one even entering his age-36 season: Only nine players have logged more games than Abreu (656) the past five seasons. As a bonus, he’s widely viewed as a clubhouse leader who was known as a mentor to young White Sox stars.
Does it make sense for the Astros? Well, if Abreu makes about $20 million, as the Houston Chronicle’s Chandler Rome reports, it will match Rizzo’s annual salary with the Yankees to a tee, so that all lines up. The surprise here is that the Astros dished out three guaranteed years for a player about three years older. Abreu doesn’t have glaring red flags, but age will undeniably affect a player whose game is built on excellent contact skills — whether it’s by draining away extra bases or slowing his reflexes.
As of now, though, the extra bases and power seem to be immediate concerns, as Abreu posted a career-best strikeout rate last season. Houston’s Crawford Boxes figure to goose the right-handed Abreu’s homer total at least a bit, but his isolated power did dip below MLB average for the first time in 2022, despite strong exit velocities. Translation: Some homers are turning into doubles, and a lot of doubles are turning into singles. Maybe he can stall or reverse that trend temporarily, but there is some downside in guaranteeing a third year.
Does it make sense for Abreu? Look, signing up to play for the Astros is as good a bet as any player can make on reaching the World Series. Entering the home stretch of an accomplished career that began in his native Cuba, Abreu hasn’t yet experienced a deep playoff run. With Houston, he will replace Yuli Gurriel with a similar but bolder skill set and can get some DH days when Yordan Alvarez roams the outfield. He might need more than just occasional DH spells by the time 2025 rolls around, but that’s a problem no one will fret about if the Astros keep up their winning ways over the next year or two.
Chicago White Sox reportedly sign starting pitcher Mike Clevinger to one-year deal worth more than $8 million
Multiple reports indicate that the former San Diego and Cleveland starter is joining the White Sox on a bit of a pillow contract. MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi says the deal is worth more than $8 million, while The Athletic's Jim Bowden reports that the guarantee is $12 million.
The gist seems clear for Clevinger: The long-haired righty is looking to put together a full season and perhaps reestablish the level of performance he maintained earlier in his career. From 2017 until he went down with an elbow injury in 2020, Clevinger logged a terrific 2.96 ERA across 489 1/3 innings. That injury, which required Tommy John surgery and kept him sidelined for all of 2021, came just a few starts after the trade that sent him to the San Diego Padres.
He threw 114 1/3 innings for San Diego in 2022, but his fastball velocity was down about 2 mph from earlier norms, and his strikeout rate plummeted accordingly. His 4.33 ERA was about 12% worse than league average by park-adjusted ERA-, making him more of a fringe rotation piece than the solid No. 2 the Padres traded for.
Does it make sense for the White Sox? One-year deals are almost always solid plays in a vacuum, but the $8 million guarantee would make far more sense than $12 million. Clevinger has been a very productive starting pitcher before, but the decline in his stuff since Tommy John is worrisome. Assuming the White Sox plan to rebound from a rough 2022 and compete for a division crown, they won't want to truly count on him in a rotation that starts strong with Dylan Cease and Lance Lynn, and inking Clevinger won't be much of a consolation prize as Abreu, the franchise face, walks out the door.
Does it make sense for Clevinger? In returning to the AL Central, Clevinger will hope to regain the footing he had in Cleveland. A one-year deal certainly makes the most sense, as he will aim to reframe his value and hit the market on a stronger note. Just last year, the White Sox and pitching coach Ethan Katz squeezed a shockingly good campaign out of Johnny Cueto, so this isn't the worst landing spot for arms in need of some new ideas.
Pirates sign first baseman Carlos Santana to one-year, $6.7 million deal
ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that the young Pirates are adding the veteran Santana. Still capable as a defender, he's a solid clubhouse presence with a very patient approach at the plate. His batting averages are often ugly (.202 in 2022 with Kansas City and Seattle), but he walks more than 15% of the time to boost his on-base percentage. Also of note: The left-handed Santana could notch some extra hits thanks to the new limits on the infield shift.
Does it make sense for the Pirates? This might be a little bit of a two-part move. Step 1: Acquire Santana as the shift goes away. Step 2: Try to flip him to a contender at the trade deadline. He joined the Mariners in the summer of 2022 and whacked 15 homers in 79 games down the stretch. If he doesn't pop, oh, well, he can mentor the Pirates' up-and-coming hitters.
Does it make sense for Santana? I don't know if this is actually Santana's thinking, but if you want to be very sure you'll land with a contender for a playoff run, maybe the best bet is to sign with a rebuilding team such as the Pirates. He'll turn 37 in April and hasn't won a World Series, despite a couple of deep postseason runs with Cleveland.
New York Yankees re-sign first baseman Anthony Rizzo to two-year, $40 million deal with club option for 2025
There was reportedly a race between American League powers — the Houston Astros and the Yankees — for Rizzo’s services. With a one-year qualifying offer in hand, Rizzo stayed in his newfound home in the Bronx on a multiyear deal. It’s $17 million per year, with an option for the third year that comes with a guaranteed $6 million buyout.
The steady, left-handed first baseman is no longer an MVP ballot mainstay, as he was in his Chicago Cubs heyday, but his appeal is nonetheless apparent for contending clubs. He’s playoff-tested, still plenty powerful and always capable of providing a professional at-bat. He and Jose Abreu filled the same general niche on the free-agent market, and the Yankees stuck with the veteran first baseman they know.
Does it make sense for the Yankees? Yes, Rizzo’s experience and left-handed, fly-ball swing are perfect fits in the Bronx.
Does it make sense for Rizzo? Yes. He’s got plenty left to contribute for teams chasing championships, and securing a multiyear deal is a win.
Los Angeles Angels sign starting pitcher Tyler Anderson to three-year, $39 million deal
After breaking out with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022, left-handed changeup artist Tyler Anderson leapt at a three-year offer from the Angels — nearby in geography and … not anywhere close in terms of contention or pitching development know-how.
After seeing pop-up relievers — Robert Suarez and Rafael Montero — sign for similar or greater sums, it’s surprising a starter such as Anderson, coming off an outstanding season with a 2.57 ERA, signed so quickly for a relatively modest amount.
The Dodgers tendered Anderson a qualifying offer, which could have given him a chance to replicate his strides forward on a one-year deal worth $19.65 million. Instead, he will try to port the excellence down the freeway with a club that has a much, much worse track record of helping pitchers succeed.
Does it make sense for the Angels? A big yes here.
Anderson was my favorite midtier starting pitcher to bet on in this winter’s free-agent class. What he did with the Dodgers smacked of a real, sustainable breakout. It might not be 2.57 ERA good, but his underlying numbers showed a pitcher whose cutter and changeup allowed him to attack in the zone, limiting walks while avoiding hard contact. The Angels and general manager Perry Minasian will have to hope they can help Anderson sustain his gains, but I suspect the $13 million rate for Anderson will be a serious bargain by offseason’s end.
Does it make sense for Anderson? Maybe. Getting three years is great, but I’m skeptical he couldn’t have gotten the same with even more guaranteed money once bolder names such as Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi came off the board. There’s also the matter of sustaining his Dodgers success. Hopefully he found himself and can maintain the changes, but the Angels’ recent history doesn’t inspire confidence if he hits a speed bump.
San Francisco Giants re-sign outfielder Joc Pederson on one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer
The best platoon player in baseball is returning to the Giants. His first year in the Bay Area produced a career year as Gabe Kapler & Co. put him in good position to succeed. But this isn’t a simple matter of facing fewer lefties. Pederson boosted his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate to career-best levels and turned in a .274/.353/.521 slash line, 44% better than a league average hitter, per the park-adjusted wRC+ metric.
Does it make sense for the Giants? Yep. The Giants’ roster is in flux, but they could use a bat that packs as much punch as Pederson’s in their expansive park. Committing to only one season? Even better.
Does it make sense for Pederson? He probably wouldn’t have the $19.65 million annual value on the open market, so if he feels comfortable in San Francisco and believes he can replicate the heightened production, this could work out well for him. Pederson will still be only 30 on Opening Day.
Texas Rangers re-sign starting pitcher Martin Perez on one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer
The veteran left-handed starter has found a home in Texas. The definition of a meh back-end starter for most of his career, Perez returned to Texas after three seasons away and posted a career-best year, with a 2.89 ERA in 32 starts. Everyone was happy!
So happy, in fact, that the Rangers, amid an attempt at returning to contention, declined to deal him at the deadline and then gave him the qualifying offer to see if he wants to try to run it back. Answer: He does.
Does it make sense for the Rangers? I can’t pretend I understand Perez’s breakout year. He missed more barrels in 2022, but most of his numbers point to regression toward a more average future. I wouldn’t have dished out a $19.65 million offer to Perez, based purely on projections. That said, this is a case where the gap between public information and the team’s knowledge of Perez might be the entire story. Texas hasn’t been pinching pennies, so if the Rangers like Perez in their rotation and clubhouse and aren’t going to skimp on other reinforcements, keeping him around is great.
Does it make sense for Perez? Yes. Sticking where he has had success is perfectly reasonable, and there’s no way he would have matched that annual salary on the open market.