It's time for something a little fun. We're going to come up with one thing every team should do this offseason. We've already seen some important transactions: The Dodgers re-signed Clayton Kershaw, the Mariners acquired Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays and the Angels signed Tyler Anderson. We'll still make a move for those teams.
We have three rules for this little exercise, however, that make it a bit different:
We can use a player only once. A lot of teams are interested in Trea Turner. We can pick one.
No re-signing of free agents. Aaron Judge, for example, will not re-sign with the Yankees, even if that is clearly the one thing the Yankees should do.
Each team can be used only once. We can't have a team signing a free agent and then also making a trade.
That second rule might seem like a silly guideline, but history suggests Judge -- or any of the other high-priced free agents, for that matter -- is unlikely to return to the same team. Cot's Baseball Contracts lists 117 contracts of $100 million in total value in major league history. (Actually, I think it should be 116, as Jose Ramirez is listed twice.)
I looked at each deal and it turns out those 116 contracts are about evenly split between contract extensions (59) and contracts signed as free agents (57). Of those 57 free agent deals, only six involved players who re-signed with the same team: J.T. Realmuto with the Phillies (2021), Stephen Strasburg with the Nationals (2020), Yoenis Cespedes with the Mets (2017), Chris Davis with the Orioles (2016), Matt Holliday with the Cardinals (2010) and Alex Rodriguez with the Yankees (2008). Six out of 57: 10.5%.
When a star player reaches free agency, the odds are overwhelmingly in favor of his signing with a new team. (CC Sabathia and Edwin Diaz signed after the end of a season, but before they officially hit free agency, so I considered those extensions. If you want to include them as re-signings, that's eight out of 59, or 13.6%.)
Now, the odds of Judge signing with the Yankees have to be considerably higher than 10%. After all, they are the Yankees and they need Judge anchoring the lineup. At the same time, there is little track record to go on here. The only two Yankees to reach free agency and receive at least $100 million were Rodriguez and Robinson Cano (who signed with the Mariners). Plus there was the re-signing of Sabathia after he had opted out. When Rodriguez opted out after the 2007 season, he ended up negotiating a new $275 million deal without agent Scott Boras, dealing directly with Hank Steinbrenner.
By the way, Rodriguez was coming off a 54-homer, 156-RBI MVP season in 2007. Sound familiar? While the Yankees did win a World Series with him in 2009, he never hit more than 35 home runs again and would hit just 178 home runs the rest of his career.
With that in mind, let's start our exercise.
Aaron Judge and the fallout
San Francisco Giants sign OF Aaron Judge
No, this is not about geography, even if Judge did sort of, kind of grow up near the Bay Area (two hours away). Only a few teams can reasonably afford Judge, but no doubt the final dollar amount is going to make any general manager uncomfortable -- see how that Rodriguez deal ended up for the Yankees. That makes signing Judge an emotional move more than an analytical one, which means it is likely to come from ownership more than from the baseball operations side.
Now listen to Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi at the recent general manager meetings: "I think from a financial standpoint, there's nobody that would be sort of out of our capability to meet what we expect the contract demands will be. So then it will just be a question of whether there is mutual interest and how we put together the best possible team. It's not going to be about any one player."
The Giants have just $18.5 million in salaries committed beyond the 2023 season. They have the payroll flexibility, an owner willing to spend, and a need for a franchise player.
Los Angeles Dodgers sign RHP Justin Verlander
The Dodgers are certainly one of those teams that could afford Judge, but I'm not buying the whole idea of signing Judge and moving Gold Glove right fielder Mookie Betts to second base, no matter how much Betts would be up for that challenge. Of course, the Dodgers could play Judge or Betts in center field, or their big move could be to re-sign Turner or one of the other free-agent shortstops.
But I'm going in another direction. Here's a rule that fits the Dodgers: They'll sign anyone at any average annual value if that player is willing to take less than five years. For the Dodgers, Verlander is a perfect short-term contract. For Verlander, with 244 career wins and a goal to reach 300, what better team to sign with than one that won 111 games? Heck, he could win 25 games for the Dodgers.
Houston Astros sign 1B Jose Abreu
That leaves the Astros without Verlander -- but, truth is, they don't really need him, not with a rotation that would still include Framber Valdez, Cristian Javier, Lance McCullers Jr., Luis Garcia, Jose Urquidy and up-and-coming Hunter Brown. What they do need is a first baseman to replace the aging Yuli Gurriel, who is a free agent and coming off a bad season. Abreu is entering his age-36 season, but he's still reliable at the plate, coming off a .304/.378/.446 year. The Astros were reportedly interested in Anthony Rizzo before he decided to re-sign with the Yankees. Now, Abreu is the best first baseman out there and likely to leave Chicago, with the White Sox handing the position over to Andrew Vaughn.
San Diego Padres sign LHP Jose Quintana
The Padres need a first baseman, which could put them in the market for Abreu, but his projected salary via ESPN's Kiley McDaniel (two years, $46 million) is too high for a club that is already at its 2022 payroll level and closing in on the $233 million luxury tax threshold. But the Padres also need another starting pitcher.
They'll be looking at the second tier of starters, which includes Taijuan Walker, Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Zach Eflin and Ross Stripling. Let's go with Quintana, who might be the most affordable of this group at a projected two years, $28 million. After injuries in 2020-21, Quintana bounced back with a 2.93 ERA between the Pirates and Cardinals. He might not go deep into games, but the Padres have the bullpen to back him up.
New York Mets sign LHP Carlos Rodon
OK, so where does that leave the Mets? They will certainly be in on both Judge or Verlander, and maybe owner Steve Cohen does break the bank and shatter records for annual average value contracts (as he did last season with Max Scherzer). But the Mets also have multiple holes to fill with center fielder Brandon Nimmo and starters Jacob deGrom, Bassitt and Walker all free agents. Look for them to spread the money around rather than give Judge or Verlander a record-breaking AAV.
Rodon is 27-13 with a 2.67 ERA and 422 strikeouts in 310 2/3 innings over the past two seasons and held up all of 2022, throwing 178 innings. He would fit in nicely behind Scherzer as the No. 2 starter and, at Kiley's projected five-year, $130 million ($26 million AAV), he slots in nearly $10 million less than deGrom earned in 2022 -- meaning more money to throw around at some other starters.
Texas Rangers sign RHP Jacob deGrom
Last offseason, the Rangers signed Corey Seager for $325 million and Marcus Semien for $175 million, and they still lost 94 games. Those two aren't getting any younger, so the imperative is to win now while they are still in the early years of those megadeals. Martin Perez accepted the team's qualifying offer and the Rangers acquired Jake Odorizzi from the Braves, but general manager Chris Young said those moves won't change their targets in free agency -- and that means a staff ace.
There's no bigger potential difference-maker than deGrom. OK, he has made only 26 starts over the past two seasons due to an elbow strain in 2021 and a stress reaction in his right shoulder blade in 2022. Over those 26 starts, however, he has a 1.90 ERA with 248 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 156 1/3 innings. If healthy, he's the best starter in the game. It's a big risk, and Kiley's projected contract is three years and $132 million ($44 million AAV), but the Rangers have put themselves in a position to make a big gamble, even if that means going four or even five years for deGrom.
Trea Turner to the Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies already have five $20 million-a-year players, but there is room for one more big salary -- the current payroll is about $179 million, still well below 2022's $242 million threshold. Owner John Middleton finally got a taste of winning, is willing to spend and no executive is better at getting star players to sign big contracts than Dave Dombrowski. Turner is a perfect fit to take over at shortstop and add another dynamic presence to the lineup (with Bryson Stott sliding over to second base to replace free agent Jean Segura).
Carlos Correa to the Baltimore Orioles
The Orioles will no doubt be looking to add pitching, but I'm going to steal this idea from my colleague Brad Doolittle. First off, the offense also needs to improve as it was merely league average last season (99 wRC+). Jorge Mateo played excellent defense, but with a .267 OBP, he's not a championship-level shortstop. Rookie Gunnar Henderson is probably stretched defensively at shortstop and fits better at third base. Yes, signing Correa might cost $300 million, but the Orioles' current estimated payroll is a bare-bones $41 million. They have the flexibility to sign Correa and still have room to add some pitching help. They just have to convince Correa not to be too scared off by that left-field fence -- and that the O's are, indeed, ready to be contenders.
Xander Bogaerts to the New York Yankees
Whoa. This is a little bit out of left field, but here's the idea. In this scenario, Judge has signed with another team -- and so have the other top free agents. The Yankees need an outfielder, but the outfield market is thin. So, thinking outside the box, the Yankees go after Bogaerts -- to play third base, keeping shortstop open for Anthony Volpe.
Josh Donaldson has worn out his welcome in New York, especially after striking out 16 times in nine postseason games and not driving in a run. Bogaerts gives the Yankees a better, more consistent contact hitter than Donaldson -- exactly what they need in the postseason. Yes, Donaldson is owed $29 million ($21 million in 2023 plus an $8 million buyout), so the Yankees would have to eat that salary or most of it in a potential trade. Yankees fans would view that as good riddance.
Dansby Swanson to Los Angeles Angels
The Angels acquired Gio Urshela from the Twins, but that appears to be more for insurance at third base for the often-injured Anthony Rendon, with the idea of making Urshela a utility guy across the infield if Rendon manages to stay healthy. Urshela can handle shortstop in a pinch, but he's a stretch there on an everyday basis -- and the Angels need that after their shortstops hit .224/.258/.344 in 2022. For an L.A. team that has been burned by free agents in the past, the best thing about Swanson: He shows up every day, playing 162 games in 2022 and 160 in 2021.
Let's make some trades!
St. Louis Cardinals trade IF Nolan Gorman and a prospect to Oakland Athletics for C Sean Murphy
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has said the club's top offseason priority is adding a catcher -- making it clear the Cardinals aren't moving forward with just an Andrew Knizner-Ivan Herrera combo to replace Yadier Molina. "Defense is important because it's what has defined us for so long," Mozeliak said. That would perhaps rule out free agent Willson Contreras -- and makes Murphy the perfect addition. The A's have rookie Shea Langeliers ready to take over and Murphy is a strong two-way catcher with three seasons left of team control.
With Nolan Arenado returning to the Cardinals and the new shift rules coming in, the range-limited Gorman doesn't slot in at second base, especially for a team that loves to emphasize defense. With the A's, Gorman can return to his more natural position of third base. The Cardinals would still have Tommy Edman and Brendan Donovan to fill the middle infield with prospect Masyn Winn a good bet to take over at shortstop in 2024.
Miami Marlins trade RHP Pablo Lopez to Minnesota Twins for RHP Simeon Woods Richardson and a prospect
Lopez has two years remaining of team control, and given where the Marlins are in a tough division, it probably makes sense to deal him now (please, just don't ask about Sandy Alcantara). The Twins should be in win-now mode, even after a disappointing 78-84 season, so while Woods Richardson is pretty much big league ready, Lopez gives a mediocre rotation a lot more certainty and his 180 innings was 33 more than any Twins pitcher threw in 2022.
Yes, the Twins signed Correa to a three-year deal (with an opt-out), but they rarely dig into the bigger names in free agency. The biggest contract they've ever given a pitcher in free agency is Ervin Santana's four-year, $55 million deal -- so a trade is more likely. The Marlins, meanwhile, get a cost-controlled young pitcher who joins a rotation that still features Alcantara, Trevor Rogers, Jesus Luzardo and Edward Cabrera.
Pittsburgh Pirates trade OF Bryan Reynolds to Tampa Bay Rays for OF Josh Lowe, RHP Luis Patino and 1B Kyle Manzardo
I hate advocating for a small-market team to make a trade like this, but the Pirates need players and the Rays need a hitter. Reynolds is still under team control for three more seasons, so the Pirates don't have to trade him now, but they're also a 100-loss team that appears to still be a long way from the playoffs. Lowe and Patino are former top prospects who have major league experience, and Manzardo hit .327 with 22 home runs in the minors with nearly as many walks as strikeouts.
In a sense, the prospects here don't matter -- the Rays have plenty of depth to make a deal that works for the Pirates. Reynolds' $6.75 million salary for 2023 still works for the Rays and gives them a middle-of-the-order hitter for a lineup that was 11th in the AL in runs scored.
Toronto Blue Jays trade C Gabriel Moreno to Arizona Diamondbacks for OF Alek Thomas
At first, I thought the Hernandez trade was clearing a path to perhaps make a run at Nimmo to play center field, but the Jays' payroll is already a tick above 2022 -- and they refuse to operate as a big-market team (they haven't had a top-10 payroll since 2013 and were 11th last season). While the Blue Jays did recently sign their first $100 million free agents (George Springer in 2021 and Kevin Gausman last season), I don't see them going down that road again for Nimmo.
They still could use a left-handed-hitting outfielder, however -- and have a catcher to spare with Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and Moreno. So, enter the rarely seen prospect challenge trade! The Diamondbacks have four lefty-hitting outfielders while starting catcher Carson Kelly hit .211/.282/.334, so this looks like a fit. Trading Thomas allows them to keep Daulton Varsho as a full-time outfielder -- where he's a Gold Glove-caliber right fielder -- while upgrading behind the plate. Thomas, meanwhile, has the athletic ability to play center field and slide Springer over to right.
Detroit Tigers trade RHP Alex Lange to Milwaukee Brewers for OF Esteury Ruiz
The Tigers were awful in their 96-loss 2022 season, but the bullpen was the one shining light for the team, finishing eighth in the majors in ERA. Lange, originally acquired from the Cubs in the Nick Castellanos trade in 2019, had a breakout season in his first full year, with 82 strikeouts in 63 1/3 innings. The Brewers, meanwhile, were a good team, but the bullpen was 18th in ERA and tied for the second-most blown saves. That can be a misleading statistic, but the Brewers were also 15th in bullpen win probability added, so it was basically a middle-of-the-pack 'pen.
With Josh Hader in San Diego, Brent Suter claimed off waivers by the Rockies, and Taylor Rogers and Brad Boxberger in free agency, the Brewers are on the prowl for help in front of closer Devin Williams. They also don't have a lot of payroll flexibility and Lange is still in his pre-arbitration years. What the Brewers do have is a bunch of outfielders on the brink of the majors -- and the Tigers can use an outfielder with some potential. Ruiz came over from the Padres in the Hader trade and would get a chance to start in Detroit.
Good players going somewhere
Seattle Mariners sign RHP Kodai Senga
There is a lot of interest in Senga, one of Japan's best pitchers. He reaches the upper 90s with his fastball and throws a split-fingered pitch that has been called a "ghost" forkball. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto seemed very interested in Senga at the GM meetings, even if the Mariners already have six starters. "I don't think anybody sees [the forkball], judging by the results that the opponents have experienced," Dipoto said, alluding to Senga's 1.89 ERA last season. Senga is a true free agent, so no posting fee is required, although Kiley estimated his deal at five years, $72 million.
The Mariners have a strong rotation, but with Luis Castillo, Logan Gilbert, Robbie Ray, George Kirby and Senga, the Mariners could go head-to-head with the Astros from one to five. Plus, once you factor in park effects, Seattle's pitching is arguably a little overrated and the offense underrated: The Mariners had a 107 wRC+, tied for fourth in the AL, while the rotation was seventh in the AL in FanGraphs' park-adjusted ERA. Plus, sign Senga and you have Marco Gonzalez, Chris Flexen and prospect Emerson Hancock as trade bait to land a second baseman or another outfielder.
Chicago Cubs sign CF Brandon Nimmo
Many believe the Cubs will be in play for one of the shortstops -- Correa in particular -- but Nico Hoerner had a 107 OPS+ and played excellent defense. Shortstop isn't their biggest hole. The Cubs had five players start at least 19 games in center field, however, and they hit a collective .214 with 16 home runs. Christopher Morel started the most often there (50 games), but he also played all over the field and his best value may be as a super-utility player. Nimmo solves center field and gives the Cubs one of the best leadoff hitters in the game.
Chicago White Sox sign C Willson Contreras
The White Sox still owe Yasmani Grandal $18.25 million in 2023, but he's also coming off an awful season in which he hit .202/.301/.269. Injuries played a part in a disappointing season and the White Sox will certainly hope for a comeback. If that happens, fine -- it turns out they could also use a DH, so Contreras can serve as part-time catcher and part-time DH and then take over as the regular catcher in 2024, when Grandal heads to free agency.
Atlanta Braves sign RHP Chris Bassitt
The Braves don't really need to do anything, and it's quite possible they just make minor moves around the edges (like the trade for Sam Hilliard). One thing I don't think they'll do is re-sign Swanson. The Braves are an extremely disciplined organization, and paying Swanson $150 million coming off his career season isn't the way they operate -- not to mention it would upset the payroll structure. The Braves have never given a $100 million contract to a free agent, and I don't think they start with Swanson.
Do they need Bassitt? No, the rotation isn't a burning need. Heck, they have multiple fifth-starter candidates in Bryce Elder, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka, plus rookies Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok. But you know what they say about pitching, and if you sign Bassitt to a four-year contract, that's insurance for down the road for the possible departures of Max Fried (free agent after 2024) and Charlie Morton (team option for 2024 that could be declined). Plus, signing Bassitt strikes at your biggest rival and forces the Mets to find another starter.
Kansas City Royals sign RHP Taijuan Walker
This one is simple. The Royals need starting pitching, and Walker projects as a reliable mid-rotation starter with a 3.80 ERA over the past three seasons. Nothing glamorous here, but Walker is one of the youngest free agent starters available (entering his age-30 season) and has been healthy, making 29 starts each of the past two seasons. That makes him a little safer bet than somebody like Eovaldi, who is older and had two stints on the injured list last season.
Cleveland Guardians sign DH Michael Brantley
Let's go full circle. Brantley was a three-time All-Star with Cleveland before he signed with Houston in 2018, but now he's perhaps back in Cleveland's price range -- Kiley estimates two years, $28 million. The Guardians could use some power, which isn't Brantley's forte, but what they need is just some production at DH -- their DHs had the second-worst OPS in the majors, hitting .217/.277/.310. Brantley did end the season on the injured list after undergoing shoulder surgery, but he hit .288/.370/.416.
They have to do something ...
Colorado Rockies sign OF Joey Gallo
No team makes fewer transactions than the Rockies, and after last year's ill-advised adventure into free agency with the Kris Bryant contract, they won't be too keen on another big move -- as much as we would all love to see Judge in Coors Field. Which gets me thinking ... how about Gallo going to a low-pressure environment? He signs a one-year deal to try to rebuild his value. Heck, sign Cody Bellinger while you're at it. All or nothing, baby!
Cincinnati Reds sign RHP Mike Clevinger
The Reds enter the second year of a deep, deep rebuild. They're paying Joey Votto and Mike Moustakas a combined $43 million in 2023, but their third-highest-paid player is projected to be Kevin Newman, just acquired from the Pirates, at $2.8 million. The farm system does have some fun prospects, and maybe we'll see Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte in the second half, but it's shaping up as another rough season. How about a gamble on Clevinger? At the minimum, he plugs a hole in the rotation, and if he somehow rediscovers his pre-injury form, the Reds can flip him at the deadline.
Washington Nationals sign RHP Craig Kimbrel
Then we have the Nationals, who are bad, paying Strasburg and Patrick Corbin $59.4 million in 2023. Keep those deals in mind when you get excited about your favorite team signing a big free agent. Anyway, the Nationals are in the same position as the Reds: OK with losing, not OK with spending any money. What little they might spend probably revolves around the same concept: Sign a veteran who you hope plays well so you can trade him for prospects. The Nationals could be one of the few places where Kimbrel would get a chance to close.
And finally ...
Boston Red Sox sign Rafael Devers to a long-term extension
The Red Sox will be in on a lot of the free agents, especially the starting pitchers and perhaps re-signing Bogaerts, but the most imperative move for them is signing Devers to a long-term contract. The star third baseman heads into free agency after 2023, and given that he's four years younger than Bogaerts, he's the guy you would prefer to make the commitment to -- even though that price will obviously be huge. This is a premier offensive player in the prime of his career: He's top 10 in the majors over the past two seasons in extra-base hits, slugging percentage and RBIs. Boston's roster is a bit of a mess right now, but it would be a bigger mess if Devers isn't on it in 2024.