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The Winners and Losers of MLB’s Wild Winter Meetings

Aaron Judge. Trea Turner. Xander Bogaerts. Justin Verlander. Those and other superstars signed lucrative long-term deals during a whirlwind week in San Diego, but which teams and trends emerged most triumphant?

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Thirty-three mostly uneventful days have passed on the Major League Baseball calendar since Ryan Pressly induced a Nick Castellanos popup to end the 2022 World Series. But as the baseball world descended on San Diego for the winter meetings this week, the transactions arrived in a flurry. So let’s take stock of the first month of the offseason with a classic winners/losers setup—because even the MLB offseason, when clichéd hope springs eternal, can still deliver zero-sum verdicts.

Winner: Free Agents

Every offseason involves an economic guessing game: Just how scorching will the hot stove be, and just how much will teams be willing to spend in their pursuit of roster upgrades?

The answers thus far are mostly encouraging. Out of the top 50 free agents, according to MLB Trade Rumors, 22 have signed, and they’ve collectively earned 14 percent more guaranteed money than MLBTR predicted. Out of those 22 signees, 17 have received more money than expected, versus just four receiving less. (Clayton Kershaw received exactly as much as expected: $20 million over one year.) And 10 of those 22 players have signed deals worth eight figures more than expected.

Biggest Contracts Above Expectation This Offseason

Player Predicted $ (Years) Actual $ (Years) $ Difference
Player Predicted $ (Years) Actual $ (Years) $ Difference
Xander Bogaerts $189 million (7) $280 million (11) $91 million
Jacob deGrom $135 million (3) $185 million (5) $50 million
Trea Turner $268 million (8) $300 million (11) $32 million
Aaron Judge $332 million (8) $360 million (9) $28 million
Taijuan Walker $52 million (4) $72 million (4) $20 million
Tyler Anderson $19.7 million (1) $39 million (3) $19.3 million
José Abreu $40 million (2) $58.5 million (3) $18.5 million
Zach Eflin $22 million (2) $40 million (3) $18 million
Jameson Taillon $56 million (4) $68 million (4) $12 million
Rafael Montero $24 million (3) $34.5 million (3) $10.5 million
Based on comparisons to MLB Trade Rumors’ predicted contracts

The per-year figures for player contracts have generally been in line with expectations, with those 22 free agents receiving a group average of $22.8 million per year, versus an expectation of $22.7 million. But almost every elite free agent to sign thus far, along with many mid-tier options, has gained an extra year (or two, or three, or four) beyond the predicted length. And all that accounting doesn’t even consider surprising deals for players not ranked in MLBTR’s top 50, like new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who signed a record contract for an NPB position player, worth $90 million over five years (plus a $15.4 million posting fee).

Thus, the winter meetings supercharged a lucrative market, with teams committing more than $2 billion in future guaranteed salaries already this offseason—and months of the winter and many free agent signings still to come.

Winner: Aaron Judge

The heftiest of those hefty paydays went to Judge, who signed the largest free-agent deal in MLB history—a nine-year, $360 million pact to remain a Yankee through his 30s. Judge might represent the best example in sports of betting on oneself, because he declined the Yankees’ publicized seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer last spring, proceeded to break the AL home run record and post the best non–Barry Bonds season of the 21st century, and ultimately added nearly $150 million on top of that previous offer.

The Yankees are winners too—though they haven’t improved, necessarily, but merely retained the status quo by re-signing Judge and Anthony Rizzo, their top two offensive producers (other than Matt Carpenter in his magical quarter-season) from 2022. The Yankees simply had to re-sign Judge, not only because he can serve as the next lifelong Yankee in a long line of lifelong Yankee legends, but because their lineup would have been in dire shape without him next season.

Without Judge, the Yankees projected as a third-place team, behind the Blue Jays and Rays and not far ahead of the Red Sox and resurgent Orioles. And there weren’t any like-for-like replacements available if Judge had decamped for the west coast, either—not only because Judge is a better player than any other free agent, but because the top four position players available in free agency beyond Judge were all shortstops, and the Yankees have top prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe waiting to take over that position. A remunerative reunion made the most sense for all parties.

Loser: Giants

Mitch Haniger is a good baseball player. The Bay Area native has a career 122 wRC+, he’s typically a solid right fielder, and he’s produced when healthy ever since arriving in Seattle in a fascinating trade back in 2016. (Between Haniger, Taijuan Walker, and still-unsigned free agent Jean Segura, players involved in that trade are on track to earn somewhere in the range of $130 million this winter, and that’s not even considering Ketel Marte.)

But Haniger isn’t Aaron Judge. So after the Giants seemingly came close to adding the AL MVP, they’ll instead have to settle for Haniger and an attempt to sign one of the remaining shortstops, much like the division-rival Padres pivoted to Xander Bogaerts after whiffing on both Judge and Trea Turner. Yet no matter how the rest of the offseason plays out, the Giants’ mediocre lineup, financial flexibility—Haniger, due $43.5 over three years, now has the most lucrative long-term contract on the books—and geographic association with the California-born Judge make missing out on the Yankees star painful.

At least they can console themselves with Arson Judge, and the minutes of excitement their fans surely enjoyed when they learned of the erroneous report that the Giants had landed their giant prize.

Winner: Star-Studded Reunions in the NL East

Some of the offseason’s biggest contracts to date have involved the continued jockeying between NL East contenders. Jacob deGrom left the Mets to sign in Texas; Justin Verlander replaced him for a guaranteed two years and $87 million. And the Phillies added Turner for 11 years and $300 million, and Walker for four years and $72 million in Dave Dombrowski’s latest splurges.

Both the Mets and Phillies thereby set up notable reunions, between Verlander and Max Scherzer, former Cy Young–winning teammates in Detroit, and between Turner and Bryce Harper, who have moseyed up I-95 from Washington to Philadelphia.

If the Mets weren’t going to re-sign deGrom—more on that ace’s surprisingly lengthy deal in a moment—then Verlander was an ideal fallback option, after winning a unanimous Cy Young award with a 1.75 ERA in 175 innings. It’s strange to say about a pitcher who’s about to celebrate his 40th birthday, and who recently returned from Tommy John surgery, but Verlander might be a more reliable option than deGrom, and he still gives the Mets the majors’ best one-two punch at the top of the best-projected rotation in the sport. (José Quintana also signed a two-year deal with the Mets, to add a cromulent innings-eater to that rotation and help replace Walker and free agent Chris Bassitt.)

Turner’s insertion into Philadelphia’s lineup is even more fun, adding yet another dynamic bat to a lineup already brimming with talent. Turner’s presence at shortstop can also push Bryson Stott to second base to replace the departed Segura, and while 11 years is a sizable commitment to a player entering his age-30 season, by the 2030s, Turner’s $27 million per year might not seem like that much; ditto Harper’s $25 million average annual salary, as the Phillies spread their $300 million-plus contracts over more than a decade each. (That strategy also depresses each contract’s average annual value for luxury tax purposes.)

Most importantly, the decisions to remain aggressive and sign Turner and Walker (plus, reportedly, Matt Strahm) signify that the Phillies know they need to keep improving to keep pace with Atlanta and New York in the NL East. While the Phillies enjoyed a dream run to the World Series, they also snuck into the playoffs as the no. 6 seed with just 87 wins, 14 behind both of their division rivals. In 2022 and beyond, they’ll have a better chance to return to the title round by winning their division, and to win their division, they’ll need to maximize their spending given New York’s financial might and Atlanta’s collection of locked-in long-term talent.

Loser: The Inaugural MLB Draft Lottery

Be honest: You didn’t even know this event—an anti-tanking initiative introduced in the most recent collective bargaining agreement—was happening. The NBA turns its draft lottery into a glitzy, dramatic television experience with days of lead-up and analysis; MLB’s version, uh, happened.

Winner: Rangers Upside

Even before signing deGrom and Andrew Heaney to round out their rotation, the Rangers weren’t as far away from playoff contention as their 68-94 record last season might suggest. First, they were extraordinarily unlucky to finish with so few wins, with their 77-85 Pythagorean record tilted down by a league-worst 15-35 record in one-run games. And second, a cast of young players—like top prospect Josh Jung, who made 102 plate appearances with the big league club last season—is poised to improve the lineup’s problem spots.

But the rotation needed much more help, too, after Texas ranked 26th in starter fWAR last season. And the Rangers were aggressive in their pursuit, furthering a pattern that began with their surprising splashes for Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last winter. DeGrom and Heaney—or at least the version of Heaney the Dodgers unlocked last season—have a few traits in common: They’re very good (deGrom moreso, obviously), and they’re very injury-prone. Among pitchers who made at least 10 starts last season, deGrom ranked first with a 43 percent strikeout rate; Heaney ranked third, at 35.5 percent.

But the reason that stat cites a mere 10-start minimum is because both deGrom and Heaney were injured—as they often have been. Heaney has reached 130 innings once in his career, all the way back in 2018. And while deGrom led the majors in innings pitched from 2017 to 2020, he ranks 148th in innings over the past two seasons, and just about always seems one 107 mph pitch (only a slight exaggeration) away from blowing out his arm.

Inking that sort of pitcher to a five-year, $185 million deal is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward approach for a team in desperate need of high rewards. The Rangers’ ploy probably won’t succeed, given the starters’ health risks, the AL West competition, and just how much needs to go right for Texas to fulfill its potential. But it’s also not hard to envision a scenario in which the Rangers make the playoffs and then have deGrom to anchor a pitching staff in a short series—and that’s much more than they could have said just last week.

Loser (So Far): Dodgers

We’re qualifying this characterization with a “so far” because the Dodgers have generally waited to strike in recent offseasons, adding Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman in February 2020 and March 2022, respectively. But at least for now, they don’t appear anywhere near as loaded as recent Dodgers squads, with a relatively slim four-game lead in ZiPS’ preliminary projected standings that certainly shrank after the Padres nabbed Bogaerts in the winter meetings’ final move.

After losing the Turners, Trea and Justin, as well as fallen former MVP Cody Bellinger (whom they non-tendered), the Dodgers depth chart includes a whole bunch of question marks. According to FanGraphs, their current projected lineup looks like this:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  3. Will Smith, C
  4. Max Muncy, DH
  5. Trayce Thompson, CF
  6. Gavin Lux, SS
  7. Chris Taylor, 2B
  8. Miguel Vargas, 3B
  9. James Outman, LF

After the top four, those players are either unproven, defensively overextended, or limited in track record. But it’s unclear whom the Dodgers might target for better depth and lineup protection. They reportedly aren’t pursuing Carlos Correa as a shortstop replacement because of concerns that their fans wouldn’t accept him, given his role on the 2017 Astros, who cheated en route to beating the Dodgers in the World Series. But Dodgers fans should probably be more concerned that Lux is set to be their starting shortstop, despite ample defensive issues in the past.

The rotation, too, is a bit lacking with Heaney and Tyler Anderson gone, and Walker Buehler out due to Tommy John surgery. After missing out on Verlander, the Dodgers go just three deep in reliable starters, with Dustin May—who was shaky in 30 innings after returning from TJ last season—and rookie Ryan Pepiot rounding out the projected rotation. Even two members of that top trio (Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin) aren’t paragons of durability.

At some point, as the Dodgers’ dynasty evolves to incorporate a new generation, they will embrace a youth movement rather than turn to the same veterans who have propelled them to division title after division title over the past decade. But this looks like a tremendous amount of youth to incorporate at once for a team with championship designs.

Winner: Logical Roster Fits

Every offseason acquisition should, in theory, fill a roster hole—why else would the club in question make the addition? But there’s still something so satisfying when the right player matches with the right team like a puzzle piece slotting perfectly into place.

The Astros, for instance, did their winter shopping early, signing José Abreu at the end of November to serve as their first baseman for the next three seasons. While Verlander is the biggest star to leave Houston this winter, the Astros weren’t actually pressed to replace him, given that they still have five capable starters in the rotation plus tantalizing prospect Hunter Brown.

Instead, they needed a first baseman to replace Yuli Gurriel—who didn’t hit much last season, anyway—and lengthen a lineup that, even as it won the World Series, fell off mightily toward the back end. Abreu isn’t a completely risk-free proposition, given his age and deflated power numbers last season (a career-low 15 homers and .141 isolated power mark), but he remains a capital-p Professional hitter who’s always healthy and always hits.

Or look to Cleveland, where Josh Bell is streaky and one-dimensional—but even at his most inconsistent represents a marked upgrade over all the Guardians’ other designated hitter options. Last season, Cleveland DHs hit a combined .217/.277/.310, good for a 64 wRC+ and the worst such mark in the majors.

Willson Contreras is an ideal puzzle piece as well, as he switches sides in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry via a five-year, $87.5 million deal. Contreras is almost the inverse of late-stage Yadier Molina, who was renowned for his defense but hit .214/.233/.302 in his last season before retiring; Contreras, conversely, has always had a questionable glove but offers tremendous offensive production for a catcher. Since Contreras debuted in 2016, Will Smith is the only catcher who’s hit significantly better than the newest Cardinals backstop.

Best Catcher Bats Since 2016

Player PA wRC+
Player PA wRC+
Will Smith 1412 132
Mitch Garver 1285 119
Willson Contreras 2859 118
Sean Murphy 1260 116
Yasmani Grandal 3034 116
Buster Posey 2529 115
J.T. Realmuto 3542 115
Wilson Ramos 2005 111
Gary Sánchez 2663 110
Evan Gattis 1275 109

And if robo umps arrive at some point during Contreras’s five-year tenure in St. Louis, as is likely, his defensive demerits may no longer matter. The 30-year-old was a shrewd pickup for the Cardinals, who otherwise would have been stuck with the unproven Andrew Knizner (career 68 wRC+) as their starting catcher.

Loser: Trades

While the free agent market boomed, the typical torrent of trades never arrived in San Diego. The only big leaguers to change teams via trade at the winter meetings were relievers Joe Jiménez, Brooks Raley, and Chad Smith. Meanwhile, the likes of Pablo López, Sean Murphy, Bryan Reynolds, and all the Toronto catchers stayed put.

So a month into the offseason, is Kolten Wong the best player traded so far? Is it Hunter Renfroe, the Mike Trout lookalike now joining Mike Trout in Anaheim? Is the most exciting set of swaps the game of shortstop musical chairs that the Angels, Twins, Reds, and Pirates played last month? In any event, we’re still waiting for a blockbuster.