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MLB offseason grades: Luis Arraez heads to Miami, but was the return enough for Pablo Lopez?

The 2022-23 MLB offseason is underway, and we’ve got you covered with grades and analysis for every major signing and trade this winter in one place.

Whether it’s a nine-figure free agent deal that changes the course of your team’s future or a blockbuster trade that has the whole league buzzing, we’ll weigh in with what the deal means for all involved for 2023 and beyond.

Follow along as our experts evaluate and grade each move, with the most recent grades at the top. This piece will continue to be updated, so turn back for the freshest analysis of the hot stove season.

Marlins get bat, Twins get rotation boost in trade

The deal: Twins trade IF Luis Arraez to Marlins for RHP Pablo Lopez, SS Jose Salas and CF Byron Chourio

Miami Marlins grade: B-
Minnesota Twins grade: A-

The Twins’ rotation comprises an interesting mix of right-handers and no clear pecking order. The assumption here is that the Twins hope that Lopez can rise to No. 1 starter status. Even if that doesn’t happen, he gives Minnesota five rock-solid veteran starters, with Lopez joining Sonny Gray, Joe Ryan, Tyler Mahle and injury returnee Kenta Maeda in the core group. The depth is improved by this deal as well, with younger pitchers Bailey Ober and Josh Winder on hand and Chris Paddock hopefully joining the fray at some point during the first half of the 2023 season.

The Twins have had good luck with veteran starters acquired from other teams in recent seasons, but a lot of that occurred under the tutelage of ex-pitching coach Wes Johnson, who left the team last season to become LSU’s pitching coach. That’s not to say that the processes put into place under Johnson won’t hold up under a staff led by new pitching coach Pete Maki. It’s more that until we see it happen once or twice, we can’t really view that as a likely reason for Lopez to make a leap with his new team.

Lopez is pretty good as it is, with a 3.52 ERA, 119 ERA+ and 188 strikeouts per 162 innings pitched since the start of the 2020 season. Last season was the first full one in which he put together a stem-to-stern campaign, making 32 starts and racking up 180 innings. Only 14 of those outings were quality starts but five of them saw Lopez put up a game score of 75 or better, a total matched by only 12 other pitchers across baseball, all of whom carry reputations as aces or, in the case of Hunter Greene, future aces.

That ability to put up dominant starts while staying healthy for a full season is perhaps the best reason for the Twins to hope that they are bringing in Lopez at just the right time. He’s got two more seasons before he hits free agency, so he’ll be highly motivated to pair consistency with his periodic dominance. He’s also a cerebral player who will fit seamlessly into the Twins’ clubhouse.

The loss of Arraez is significant, if only because while you might be able to account for his bottom-line value, his contact-driven offensive skill set is hard to find and the absence of it might unbalance the lineup. But the Twins have plenty of candidates to fill his spot, especially with Carlos Correa back in the fold. Newcomer Kyle Farmer can take over as the primary utility player and perennial prospect Royce Lewis should see more of a playing opportunity once he’s recovered from knee surgery.

As for the prospects, the addition of Salas adds to the middle infield depth in the Minnesota system. He’s a 50-grade prospect, according to both MLB Pipeline and Baseball America, with a good all-around offensive tool kit and an arm that should keep him on the left side of the infield, even if he outgrows shortstop. Chourio doesn’t turn 18 until May. He’s so young that he could turn out to be the best player in the deal, or this may be the last time we type his name.

The Twins needed more pitching and Lopez was the best available option at this point of the offseason. The loss of Arraez hurts, but the prospects swing the overall balance of value in the deal in the Twins’ direction and if Chourio develops into something, it could turn out to be lopsided. The Twins needed a No. 1 starter more than anything. Lopez is far from a sure bet to be that player but it is within his capacity to get there, and he has the intangibles to reach whatever ceiling he has. There isn’t a team in the majors that wouldn’t like to have him.

As for the Marlins, I love Arraez. He is easily one of my 10 favorite players in the majors, though much of that is due to my affinity for hitters with incredible contact ability. And that he has. Since Arraez broke into the majors in 2019, he leads all 247 hitters with at least 1,000 plate appearances with 10.8 at-bats per strikeout, per Baseball-Reference.com. (The Angels’ David Fletcher is in second place at 10.0. Incidentally, in dead last with just 2.3 at-bats per strikeout is new Twin Joey Gallo, which makes for an unsightly lineup swap if you want to view the Arraez departure through that lens.)

The Marlins needed starting-quality position players in the worst way and Arraez gives them one. Everyone knew they could and almost certainly would deal from their starting pitching depth and because Lopez had just two more seasons before free agency — and he’s good — he seemed the most likely to go. Arraez has three controllable seasons left, which is likely a big reason why the Twins were able to extract real prospect value from Miami in addition to Lopez.

The acquisition of Arraez now works in tandem with the Marlins’ lone significant free agent signee, Jean Segura, to give Miami a new top of its batting order. There really isn’t such a thing as a sure .300 hitter anymore, but Arraez is as close to one as you’ll find and also draws enough walks to stick in the leadoff slot every day. Meanwhile, Segura hits for average as well, has decent plate discipline and the two of them will give the Marlins a chance to set the table nicely on a daily basis. Of course, someone has to clear the table, but that’s another story.

Arraez almost has to hit .300 with a .350-plus on-base percentage to have real value because he doesn’t do much else. He’s not athletic and generally offers little defensive value, though he did well enough at first base in 2022 to become a Gold Glove finalist at the position in a thin field. He also doesn’t hit for much power. But pointing out the flaws in Arraez’s dossier is almost beside the point. He gets on base and that plays anywhere, anytime.

All of this warrants measured enthusiasm about this deal for Miami. Arraez can play, and by stacking him and Segura on top of the lineup, you can see some intention for how the Marlins are putting together their team. And they can fairly easily fill the void opened up by the loss of Lopez because of their aforementioned pitching depth.

But Lopez, and Salas, and Chourio — it’s significant package. As much as I like Arraez, my lingering question about this for Miami is simply: Could they have gotten more from another club? Should they have gotten more?

The answer to that depends, to a large extent, on how Lopez is viewed across the majors. Does he have a top-of-the-rotation ceiling? Or is he what he has been: a solid, middle-rotation guy of the sort Miami could easily afford to surrender. I like Lopez a great deal and think he has more than he’s shown. That is really the explanation for the grades in a trade that I think truly helps both clubs. — Bradford Doolittle


Red Sox fill rotation hole with two-time Cy Young winner

The deal: One-year, $10 million contract that includes a club option for 2024

Grade: C-

No, this signing isn’t going to appease Red Sox fans after their long, angry offseason of discontent. While Kluber was healthy for a full season for the first time since 2018, he’s not close to the same pitcher he was during his dominant peak with Cleveland from 2014 to ’18, when he won two Cy Young Awards and finished third in the voting two other times.

Even in his prime, Kluber never had an overpowering fastball and he has completely morphed into a finesse pitcher, at least by today’s standards. He relies on supreme command and changing speeds. His fastball — he pretty much just throws a two-seamer these days — averaged 88.9 mph for the Rays in 2022. That ranked in the second percentile among all pitchers and Kluber ranked 136th in fastball velocity out of the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings.

The decline in velocity means Kluber has become more hittable. He allowed 178 hits in 164 innings and a .274 batting average — after allowing a .224 average from 2014 through 2021. That happened with a good Tampa Bay defense behind him. Overall, he finished 10-10 with a 4.34 ERA. How valuable was that? We get a big split between Baseball-Reference, which puts his value at 0.7 WAR, and FanGraphs, which put it at 3.0 WAR. FanGraphs however, is ignoring the hits and just looking at his strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed and saying Kluber was unlucky.

Look, there are some positives here. He doesn’t walk many (just 20 in 31 starts), so he doesn’t beat himself. He can still induce batters to chase his curveball and changeup out of the zone to induce weak contact. Really, however, the Red Sox are just hoping that he can chew up innings and perform at a league-average level. That’s the upside. The downside is at age 37, Kluber’s stuff continues to drop and he misses time with health issues. And that’s the problem with the entire Red Sox rotation:

Chris Sale last qualified for an ERA title in 2017 and has pitched 48 innings the past three seasons; James Paxton last pitched in 2021, when he made one start; Kluber will turn 37 in April and has one healthy season in the past four; Nick Pivetta is the high-volume starter, having made 33 starts in 2022 and 30 in 2021. He also has a 4.54 ERA over the two seasons; Garrett Whitlock will move from the bullpen to the rotation. He last started in Double-A in 2019, when he fanned just 57 batters in 70⅓ innings; Brayan Bello had been the team’s top pitching prospect, but struggled in his initial taste of the majors, going 2-8 with a 4.71 and .315 average allowed across 11 starts.

So, umm … yeah, a lot of question marks there. Good luck. — David Schoenfield


Rangers add to rotation depth with Nathan Eovaldi

The deal: Two years, $34 million, with performance bonuses and a third-year vesting player option

Grade: B

This is the kind of move the Rangers needed to make: They’re $685 million into Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jacob deGrom, so signing the best remaining starting pitcher to add to that win-now nucleus makes sense and improves the Rangers’ chances of being more than a .500 team. That’s about where my colleague Brad Doolittle had the Rangers before this signing. In his run of 10,000 simulated seasons, Brad had the Rangers averaging 79.5 wins, with odds of reaching the playoffs at 24%. He also had them as the most improved team this offseason — adding not only deGrom, but re-signing Martin Perez, signing Andrew Heaney and trading for Jake Odorizzi.

Yes, if you do the math, that’s four new starting pitchers to go alongside Perez and Jon Gray — for a rotation that ranked 25th in the majors in 2022 with a 4.63 ERA — worse than the Tigers or Pirates. That group of six combined for a 3.52 ERA last season, which would have been the fifth-best rotation ERA, so it’s not a stretch to envision the Rangers going from one of the worst rotations to one of the best.

The hitch, of course, is keeping all these guys healthy. They also combined for just 123 starts last season, with only Perez making more than 24. Eovaldi made 20 starts for the Red Sox, missing time in the first half with back inflammation and then much of August and September with shoulder tightness. Staying on the mound has been an issue throughout his career, including two Tommy John surgeries (once in high school and the second one in 2016). He had surgery in April of 2019 to remove “loose bodies” from his elbow and missed a couple starts in 2020 with a calf strain.

The Rangers can point to 2021 as the upside here. Eovaldi made 32 starts and led American League starters with a 2.79 FIP thanks to a sterling 195/35 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just 15 home runs allowed in 182.1 innings. Even though the home runs dropped across the sport in 2022, Eovaldi had trouble keeping the ball in the park, allowing 21 home runs in 109.1 innings. While his fastball still averages 95.7 mph, it’s hardly his most effective pitch, as batters slugged .522 against it. Eovaldi has morphed from a flame-throwing fastball-centric pitcher earlier in his career to a guy with a five-pitch repertoire, throwing each pitch at least 10% of the time, and excellent command.

Compared to what some of the other free-agent starters have received, the money makes sense — and the Rangers won’t mind paying that extra bonus money if it means Eovaldi makes 30 starts. Certainly, it’s an extremely high-risk rotation — even Perez will have to prove his 2022 career year wasn’t a fluke — but one with big upside. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Rangers go with a six-man rotation, at least to start the season, in an attempt to keep everyone healthy. Look, it’s not likely that all six of these guys will be available at all times throughout the season, let alone pitch the best they’ve pitched, but it’s clear that rotation depth — meaning six, seven, eight deep — is a key to today’s game and the Rangers now have that kind of depth. — Schoenfield


D-backs make slam-dunk swap with Jays

The deal: Toronto deals C Gabriel Moreno and OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona for OF/C Daulton Varsho

Blue Jays grade: C
Diamondbacks grade: A

All during this hot stove season, it felt like the Toronto Blue Jays held one of the wild cards, by virtue of their surplus of ready-right-now, starting-caliber catchers. Moreno, Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk each offered something a little bit different, with the 22-year-old Moreno’s long-term value all in the future, Jansen the more veteran of the trio who probably would bring more modest return in a deal, and Kirk more of a bat-first backstop who had already established himself but still was barely out of his own prospect chrysalis.

In the end, it was Moreno who was dealt, and Toronto’s trade partner — the Arizona Diamondbacks — was a bit of a surprise, as were the reported details of one of the bigger trades of an offseason that has been so frenetic on the free agent front. The Blue Jays have turned their catching surplus into a new starting outfielder. But did the Jays give up too much? And what were the Diamondbacks thinking on this one?

One irony about the deal is that in Varsho, Toronto is acquiring a bit of a unicorn in terms of a combination of traits. He’s coming off a huge defensive season as an outfielder, split mostly between right and center field, in which he posted 19 defensive runs saved and 17 outs above average. He’s also a player who was developed as a catcher and started 18 games behind the plate for Arizona a year ago.

The addition of Varsho, who will team with Kevin Kiermaier and George Springer in Toronto’s primary outfield configuration, gives the Jays three players athletic enough to have logged significant time in center field in recent seasons. Suddenly, the mashing collection of Toronto position players looks like a group that can also be an elite defensive outfit.

Thus, in the short term, Varsho helps bring this roster into even greater focus, especially because he can also serve as the third catcher, which gives John Schneider the luxury of using Kirk at DH on any given day without worrying about being caught short behind the plate.

Alas, Moreno is awfully good, and a straight-up trade for Varsho wouldn’t look great through the prism of long-term value. But when you add an in-his-prime plus hitter like Gurriel to the deal, it starts to look like a real overpay.

Even so, I’m good with this if this is the deal that puts Toronto over the top. I love defense, and this new combination of athletes in the Blue Jays’ outfield is not just going to be fun to watch but could have an amplified effect on the Jays’ pitching staff.

But the scale of Varsho’s defense has to remain similar to what it was a season ago, or we could start to run into problems, even through the short-term lens. The thing is, Gurriel and Moreno are both superior hitters to Varsho. Let’s go the projection route to illustrate this and refer to Steamer:

That’s just a starting point for the young Moreno, a contact-hitting savant with an aggressive approach and developing power. It’s possible that Varsho might get a boost from both the shift ban and the possibility of an explosion in the running game around baseball, as he’s a threat on the basepaths already.

Still, Varsho has a heavy weight to carry — justifying the loss of one of baseball’s top catching prospects along with a viable, good-hitting outfielder still in his prime. Nevertheless, I give the Blue Jays a passing grade simply because of that defensive upgrade for a team looking to get over the top in 2023.

Like the Blue Jays, Arizona was dealing from a position of strength. Varsho was a breakout performer for the Diamondbacks last year, but they also featured other young, lefty-hitting outfielders in Jake McCarthy, Corbin Carroll and Alek Thomas, as well as righty-hitting Kyle Lewis, the 2020 AL Rookie of the Year, who was acquired in a deal with Seattle. Add the righty-hitting Gurriel and Arizona has a deep, balanced collection of talent in the outfield.

But it’s the addition of Moreno that puts this deal over the top for the D-backs, who figured to have Carson Kelly as their everyday catcher this year after he limped to a .211 average a year ago. Now an already-exciting position player group looks like something of a complete set, now and for years to come. Moreno might not be ready to take over for Kelly on an everyday basis just yet, but it won’t take long, and at the very least he upgrades the depth chart by supplanting journeyman Ali Sanchez.

But these are near-term observations. In the bigger picture, the Diamondbacks filled an organizational position of need with a player who is one of most exciting prospects at that position in the game. The deal is a slam-dunk win for the Diamondbacks, whose prospects in the long term look increasingly promising and, entering the 2023 season, Arizona is increasingly becoming a team to watch at the back end of the playoff chase. — Doolittle


Giants bounce back from Correa mess, land Conforto

The deal: Two years, $36 million, opt-out after first season

Grade: B

The important thing here is to grade this signing by the San Francisco Giants on its own merits and not through the lens of my overall disappointment with an offseason marked by the failed pursuits of a couple of baseball’s top players. Michael Conforto has been attached to the Giants in the rumor mill going back to the spring, even after we knew it was likely he would miss most or all of the 2022 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, a procedure that thwarted his first shot at free agency last year and wiped out an entire season of his prime.

Now Conforto lands with the Giants on a make-good contract, a kind of mini-Carlos-Correa-to-the-Twins agreement, in which if Conforto performs, he’ll be right back on the market next winter looking for the deal that will create some comfort and stability for the rest of his career. The money on a deal like this for a resource-rich team like the Giants is beside the point. This is all about the baseball fit.

And it’s a good one if, as I presume, LaMonte Wade Jr. is now slated to see a chunk of his playing time at first base, which he could share with righty-hitting J.D. Davis. Conforto isn’t really a center fielder but Mike Yastrzemski is a plus defender at that spot, even if his best position is on the corner, so there’s no worry there. Newly acquired Mitch Haniger should be a fixture in right, leaving Conforto to hold down the largest portion of playing time in left, likely his best defensive position and also probably his best option in lieu of the shoulder surgery.

Joc Pederson fits into this mix as well and should do the heavy lifting at DH. The Giants now have quality lefty/righty options at most positions, and under Gabe Kapler, they’ve proven adept at maximizing any kind of matchup advantage they can uncover. Conforto gives them a potential All-Star-level option in that approach. The Frisco lineup isn’t really about nine players, more like 12 or 13.

It’s also a good fit because at 29, the talented Conforto has untapped potential that the Giants, with their progressive analytics department and academy of coaches, can help him find. They are also deep enough to manage Conforto’s workload, which is important because last year’s injury was just the latest to disrupt a career that not that long ago appeared to be on a trajectory that would land Conforto among the game’s elite.

The Giants can also protect Conforto from his worst matchups, especially against lefties, whom he has hit just .227 against in his career. It’s also possible they could help him find something that will unlock his game against southpaws, which would really bolster his value moving forward.

One tweak Conforto might have to make is to become more of a gap-to-gap hitter than he already is, because playing at Oracle Park will do no favors for his game. The Giants have adjusted the dimensions of the park over his career, but according to Statcast, Conforto’s homer total since 2016 would be 94, the fewest of any venue in the majors. His actual total is 123.

Finally, for anyone (like me) who was concerned that the fiasco with Carlos Correa might harm the team’s ability to land Scott Boras clients, this acquisition is great news, as Conforto is among those Boras handles.

Signing Conforto doesn’t save the Giants’ offseason, but it does fit in with the team’s approach in free agency beyond the pursuits of Correa and Aaron Judge. The same holds true of Frisco’s other reported signing on Thursday of the other Rogers twin, Taylor, who gives the team a proven relief option to leverage in the late innings. This kind of “one middle-of-the-road move at a time” strategy isn’t as sexy as the pursuit of the stars, but it is one that has paid off for the Giants in the recent past, namely the 107-win season of 2021.

As for Conforto, not only does the move help the Giants on paper right now, but the potential is there for it to turn into one of the better pickups of the offseason. It also has the potential to become the kind of move a number of other teams wish they would have made when the opportunity was there. — Doolittle


Correa spurns Giants for Mets for whopping 12-year deal

The deal: 12 years, $315 million

Grade: B

It all looked a little suspicious Tuesday when the San Francisco Giants canceled a news conference in which they were expected to introduce Carlos Correa.

Then overnight it was followed by the stunning news that the $350 million agreement between San Francisco and the infielder had indeed fallen apart, and Correa is headed to the New York Mets on a 12-year, $315 million deal. For Giants fans, it’s like when Charlton Heston sees the destroyed Statue of Liberty at the end of the “Planet of the Apes” and bellows out in primal fury.

That’s probably what 29 other major league owners are doing right now. When Steve Cohen completed his purchase of the Mets after the 2020 season and became the richest owner in the sport, there was always the fear that he would ignore the unspoken agreement among owners and run his payroll well over the luxury tax threshold. He somewhat held the line his first two seasons, although the Mets did run a $288 million payroll in 2022, second highest behind the Dodgers and higher than the Yankees have ever run.

Now comes Correa to complete an offseason for the ages.

The Mets’ free agent haul includes re-signing Brandon Nimmo ($162 million), Edwin Diaz ($102 million) and Adam Ottavino ($14.5 million), while adding Correa ($315 million), Justin Verlander ($86.667 million), Kodai Senga ($75 million), Jose Quintana ($26 million), Omar Narvaez ($15 million) and David Robertson ($10 million).

That’s $806 million in guaranteed commitments, with Correa signing the 10th-highest total value deal in history (although not as much as Francisco Lindor‘s $341 million extension) and Verlander matching teammate Max Scherzer for the highest annual average value at $43.33 million. That $806 million is more than the Rays have spent on free agents in their entire franchise history, according to Cot’s contracts (a mere $366 million), and more than the Pirates ($305 million since 1991, the first year Cot’s began tracking free agent contracts) or the A’s ($450 million) or the Reds ($450 million) and perhaps a few other teams.

It is, in short, a stunning figure.

With Correa signed through 2034, Lindor through 2031 and Nimmo through 2030, the Mets could have three bad contracts down the road. They’ll probably have to reconfigure their rotation after 2024, when Scherzer and Verlander are both free agents. But they’ll tackle those issues as they arrive and, well, Cohen has the money to plug holes. (And dear lord, does this now make the Mets the favorites to land Shohei Ohtani next year?)

For the next two seasons, however, it’s World Series or bust. — Schoenfield

Full analysis of Correa’s deal with the Mets


The deal: Two years, $17 million

Grade: C+

The Los Angeles Angels certainly need more good players, and they need players who can make an impact right now for a top-heavy team that has underachieved for years. Drury is a solid player. The deal, a reported $17 million for two years, is a pretty much a prescription for a league-average veteran. You put up a couple of 2-WAR seasons, and you’re good.

For a top-heavy team, solid players who lengthen the lineup are good fits especially on a shorter-term, fair-value deal. Drury’s numbers have been all over the map during his career and the Angels are taking him on after a career season, one that tailed off considerably after he was traded to San Diego. A league-average hitter with plus power can help the Angels but Drury, whose bat carries his value, has to show that he can remain a league-average hitter (or better) over more than one season.

It’s a good pickup for L.A., but my one nitpick is that my fear is that Drury’s playing time could mostly come at the expense of better all-around players. Namely, I’m looking at David Fletcher, who admittedly hasn’t hit the past couple of years and has a not-very-large fraction of Drury’s raw power. He’s also a high-contact hitter who adds value on the bases and is a fine defensive player. These are glue-type skills that might have heightened value under the new set of rules, especially for second basemen — if that’s where Drury gets the bulk of his time.

It would be a shame for the Angels if the production they get from Drury’s bat is offset by the difference between his glove and that of Fletcher and/or Luis Rengifo if he’s overexposed in the field. Still, there are a lot of plate appearances to be filled over the course of the season and Phil Nevin should be able to balance the needs of his roster if he has good options. Drury is a good option. — Doolittle


Padres bring in Matt Carpenter for utility role

The deal: One year with player option for 2024

Grade: C+

Carpenter had one of the all-time great small-sample-size seasons in 2022. Following a six-year run as one of the more underrated players in the game with the Cardinals — from 2013 to 2018, he averaged 4.3 WAR per season and had two top-10 MVP finishes — Carpenter declined in 2019 and then completely collapsed in 2020 and ’21. The Rangers invited him to spring training in 2022 but sent him down to Triple-A to start the season. Carpenter eventually exercised an opt-out clause, and the Yankees signed him as a free agent. He promptly turned into Babe Ruth, hitting .305/.412/.727 with 15 home runs and 37 RBIs over 154 plate appearances. Prorate that to 600 plate appearances and you get 58 home runs and 144 RBIs. Wow. Among players with between 100 and 200 plate appearances, his 1.138 OPS was the fourth highest ever (behind Ted Williams 1953, Mark McGwire 1993 and Juan Soto 2000).

It was, of course, a fluke. Carpenter didn’t suddenly find a magic wand at age 36 — although he did find the short porch at Yankee Stadium to his liking. He hit .388 and slugged 1.082 at Yankee Stadium. To be fair, he was pretty good on the road as well: .253/.333/.506. The Padres would be more than ecstatic if he can replicate those road numbers. Carpenter had a wOBA (weighted on-base percentage) of .472 — versus an expected one of .362, suggesting a fair amount of luck in his results. His average exit velocity was actually less in 2022 (89.8 mph) than it was in 2021 (90.0). His max exit velocity was in just the 36th percentile. Those are not the numbers of the slugging results Carpenter produced.

Still, there were some improvements. His strikeouts rate dropped significantly as he improved his contact rate in the strike zone, back to where it was during his best seasons in St. Louis. He obviously became a master at yanking the ball right down the line and that can work well in San Diego. While Carpenter hit into some good luck in 2022, he had some bad luck in 2021, when he hit just .169. If we combine 2021 and 2022, we get a .221/.346/.448 line. That’s still much better than he hit from 2019 to 2021, so I would still take the under, but don’t completely discount the idea that Carpenter made some adjustments that will stick.

How much Carpenter hits will determine how much he’ll play. The Padres don’t have a DH on the roster, so he could soak up a lot of at-bats there, while filling in as needed at first base, corner outfield or even a little second or third base. I give this a C+ as a reasonably low-cost signing and gamble, but really, it could end up as an A+ or an F. — Schoenfield


Red Sox, Dodgers swap DHs as Martinez and Turner switch sides

The deals: Red Sox signing Justin Turner for two years, $22 million; Dodgers signing J.D. Martinez for one year, $10 million

Red Sox grade: C
Dodgers grade: B

This pair of agreed-to deals ends up being an exchange of designated hitters — two players who certainly keyed a lot of success for the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers over the years. It’s hard to imagine the Dodgers without Turner in the lineup. Former GM Ned Colletti brought Turner on board after the Mets had non-tendered him, one of the best moves of the past decade, and the last season they played without him was 2013 — believe it or not, that was the year Yasiel Puig exploded on the scene.Turner ranks 18th in WAR among position players since 2014 — more than Bryce Harper or Joey Votto or Giancarlo Stanton, among players who have played every season in that span.

So it’s interesting that the Dodgers would decide to let Turner walk while signing Martinez for essentially the same annual average value. In some ways, Turner is viewed as the heart and soul of the Dodgers — certainly the player most likely to get on a teammate who might not be putting in the work. He’s also entering his age-38 season and has been declining — albeit slowly — in recent seasons: A 151 OPS+ in 2018, to 130 in 2019, to 120 in 2021, to 116 in 2022. His plate discipline metrics have remained amazingly consistent, but his hard-hit rate has dropped from the 75th percentile in 2019-20 to the 54th percentile in 2022. Given his age, the Dodgers undoubtedly see the possibility of Turner suddenly falling off a cliff.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, see a player who has remained in above-average hitter despite his age, and is viewed as one of the smartest hitters in the game. He’s also a great fit for Fenway Park: a dead-pull hitter who hit 14 of his 16 home runs in 2022 to left field or left-center. Maybe some of those home runs turn into doubles off the Green Monster, but some of his fly balls will now turn into cheap home runs or doubles. While he did start 66 games at third base in 2022, he’s probably a full-time DH at this point — or, perhaps, an option at first base as the Red Sox just dumped Eric Hosmer and might send Triston Casas back for more time in the minors. Red Sox fans are not exactly in love with their team right now, but they should love Turner. He would fit right in as the fifth friend in “Good Will Hunting.”

Martinez hit .274/.341/.448 in 2022, his age-34 season — producing a 117 OPS+. So the same as Turner! His .174 isolated power, however, was the lowest since the Astros let him go after 2013, after which he revamped his swing to turn into a star with the Tigers. Martinez’s hard-hit rate also took a big drop in 2022 — from the 90th percentile in 2019 and 2021 down to the 60th percentile. He did hit 43 doubles and 16 home runs, so it would seem there is some juice left in the tank.

I guess given the difference in age, I would give Martinez the edge on bounce-back potential or at least keeping level, and getting him on a one-year deal as opposed to two is an advantage. The Dodgers still have to figure out their infield. They would love for rookie Miguel Vargas to take over at third base, but they clearly weren’t quite ready to just hand him the position and let Max Muncy DH (but Muncy might have to play second base if Gavin Lux slides over to shortstop). One thing for sure: Dodgers fans will miss a fan favorite and that kind of stinks.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox are still just kind of … I don’t know if “meandering” through this offseason is the correct description, but it certainly is an odd collection of players. Ownership has clearly set a limit on payroll. I don’t think the Red Sox are as bad as a lot of pundits are yelling, but I also don’t think signing a 38-year-old DH is the path to playoff glory. And let’s just put this out there: Turner could end up at third base if, yes, the Red Sox look to trade Rafael Devers. — Schoenfield


Brantley returns to Astros

The deal: One year, $12 million with $4 million in incentives

Grade: B

As batting averages continue to plummet, Brantley has been the rare hitter who has managed to hit .300 or close to it year after year — in 64 games in 2022, he hit .288, and it was his lowest average since 2013 (not counting 2016, when he played 11 games). His season ended on June 26 with a shoulder injury that required arthroscopic labral repair, so the Houston Astros won the World Series with Brantley on the sidelines. Getting him back on a year-deal feels like an easy move for both parties — Brantley gets to remain with a winning franchise while coming off an injury and the Astros don’t have to overcommit to a long-term deal.

Because Brantley’s offensive game is mostly wrapped up entirely in his batting average these days, it’s imperative he keep that going. Over the past three seasons, he has just 18 home runs in 882 at-bats; he does mix in some doubles and he’s also coming off a career-high walk rate, but he mostly puts the ball in play and rarely swings and misses. He’s a unique throwback in this age of swinging from the heels.

Can he keep it going? He’s entering his age-36 season. Brantley had a 125 OPS+ in 2022. Over the past two seasons, only five players age 36 or older have produced a 120 OPS+ or higher in at least 250 plate appearances — and four of the five hit at least 24 home runs (Yuli Gurriel with 15 in 2021 was the exception). Only five others produced even a 100 OPS+. So it’s rare for a player in this era to remain an above-average hitter at 36. Of course, Brantley has always been an outlier in his approach anyway, so I like his chances to hit close to .300 again given a healthy shoulder.

Defensively, we’ll have to see how much left field Brantley will play. He split his action last year between left field and DH and while his speed is all but gone (11th percentile), he’s remained a solid outfielder, relying on good instincts. But … well, he’s 36. And the Astros don’t want to play Yordan Alvarez out there every day with his history of knee problems, so if Brantley can’t play the field, he could end up as a $12 million part-time DH. Still, with Jose Abreu at first base and Brantley at DH, the Astros’ lineup looks much deeper than it did last October (when Gurriel and Trey Mancini were both weak spots). That’s a scary thought for opponents. — Schoenfield


Cubs, shortstop Dansby Swanson agree to deal

The deal: Seven years, $177 million, full no-trade clause

Grade: B-

And then there were none. With Swanson reaching an agreement with the Chicago Cubs on a multiyear contract Saturday, all of this winter’s top free agents have come off the board before Christmas, with eight days to spare. While that’s not quite an NBA- or NFL-style free agent frenzy, by recent baseball standards it’s getting into that territory. In a typical offseason, December is a busy free agent month, but if you look at ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel’s free agent rankings for this winter, you have to skim down to No. 20 Brandon Drury to find an unsigned player. And let’s face it, Drury can certainly help a team, but when he signs it’s not going to generate a spate of large-font headlines.

You know, the kind of headlines the Cubs had failed to generate so far in a winter that was starting to stir up the ire of an impatient fan base. (Believe me, as a Chicago resident and life-long Midwestener, I’ve gotten more than an earful of that sentiment.) One by one, the major free agents have come off the market, many of whom had been mentioned in the whisper mill as possible Cubs targets. Finally, Chicago has made some headlines that may actually spur some excitement among the denizens at Wrigley Field.

With Swanson, one possibly unfortunate consequence of him being the last of the big four free agent shortstops to come off this winter’s market is that his production is always going to be compared to that of Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts. It’s like being a fan of the University of Missouri football team. You might rank in the top 25 in the recruiting rankings, or even the in-season polls. But a good chunk of the teams ahead of you are going to be fellow SEC schools, which tends to temper one’s enthusiasm.

Still, the Cubs probably saved their offseason on Saturday from a fan-relations standpoint by landing McDaniel’s fifth-ranked free agent (and fourth-ranked shortstop). They can deal with the future comparisons months or years from now. If all goes well, the fact that Swanson will cost the Cubs less than the others in terms of both years and dollars will stand up as a sign that the front office’s patient approach in an aggressive market paid off.

McDaniel projected a deal of six years, $150 million — $25 million per season — for Swanson. As seems to be the theme of this year’s free agent market, the Cubs ended up going a year longer on a contract to land a player. If Swanson approaches anything near his recent performance (4.2 bWAR per 650 plate appearances the past three seasons) over the next four or five seasons, that deal will look golden for the Cubs. Swanson is now around the sixth-highest-paid shortstop in terms of annual value, so now it’s all up to him to perform at that level.

The reason for my measured grade is that I have my concerns about Swanson maintaining that level. The Cubs should be in good shape for 2023 and possibly 2024 as well, but after that it could become a crapshoot. That’s the case for many big-money free agent contracts, but Swanson’s offensive allure at the moment strikes me as good as it’s going to get.

Last season’s .277/.329/.447 slash line was in line with his three-year performance (.265/.324/.451), so it’s not like the Cubs are investing based on a single outlying performance. Still, Swanson has been inconsistent on offense through his career, as you might expect of a player who struck out 182 times last season. He’s not a high-walk player, so if he has a down year in the power department or in terms of BABIP, all of a sudden he’s a below-league-average producer. In fact, over his big league career, he has put up an OPS+ under 100 in four of his seven seasons, topping out at 115 in his platform season of 2022.

Swanson is a shortstop and his bat plays well at that position, but it’s not the high-impact stick carried by Correa, Bogaerts and Turner. His value has been tied to additional skills, as Swanson won a Gold Glove in 2022. While he always grades out as a plus performer in the field, last year’s elite showing might have been an outlier. He’s got good wheels (18 steals in 2022) and should be able to stick at short for a while. Still, as McDaniel notes in his rankings write-up of Swanson, if Swanson’s non-hitting skills start to erode sooner than later, putting more of a burden on his bat to carry his bottom-line value, I have my concerns that it won’t turn out well.

All in all though, this should be a happy weekend on the North Side. At this point of the offseason, when there was literally one top free agent left on the market, the Cubs did well to land the jewel of their hot stove work. Now, with Swanson atop their free agent class, the additions of Cody Bellinger and Jameson Taillon and Brad Boxberger start to carry a little less of a narrative burden. The Cubs still need more at catcher and another corner bat/DH with power would make sense. (Drury?) But the heavy lifting has been done.

The Cubs seemed intent on being aggressive this winter, and after Saturday, it’s a label we can now accurately hang on them. In time, we’ll know if they should have been more aggressive a little bit earlier, before one elite free agent was all there was to get. — Doolittle


White Sox agree to largest deal in franchise history

The deal: Five years, $75 million

Grade: D

Yep, no joke: Andrew Benintendi‘s $75 million contract is the biggest total value deal in Chicago White Sox history, eclipsing the four-year, $73 million deal Yasmani Grandal received in 2020. What are they getting for such a landmark signing? A nice player, but hardly a star. The White Sox did need a left-handed hitter and outfield defense, and Benintendi fills both of those requirements, but this feels like a strange signing.

Benintendi was a 2022 All-Star — hey, the Kansas City Royals needed a representative — and he did hit .304/.373/.399 for the Royals and New York Yankees before his season ended in early September with a fractured right hamate bone. But he morphed into a singles hitter, so he didn’t really produce that many runs. He scored 54 runs and drove in 51 in 126 games, hitting just five home runs. He did hit 17 home runs for the Royals in 2021 and has averaged 16 over 162 games in his career, but he also has never hit .300 until this past season. He traded power for average but wasn’t putting that many runs on the scoreboard.

The White Sox needed a power hitter, however, ranking 10th in the American League in home runs last season with no player reaching 20. I guess they will bank on full seasons from Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert and maybe a power spurt from Andrew Vaughn. Benintendi does fit nicely into the leadoff slot for a team that could use a leadoff hitter if he can match that .373 OBP again. I imagine the White Sox kind of view Benintendi as a bargain compared to Brandon Nimmo, who just received $162 million over eight seasons from the New York Mets. Benintendi is even two years younger. The differences, however, are notable: Nimmo has a career .385 OBP and plays center field while Benintendi has a career .351 OBP and plays left field.

Benintendi’s best season came back in 2018, the year the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, when he posted 4.8 WAR — hitting .290 with 41 doubles and 16 home runs. He was just 23 and looked like a future star, but his offensive game never developed from there, and at 28, is unlikely to improve moving forward. Another concern I have is Benintendi’s speed rating was in the 81st percentile as a rookie in 2017 and has slowly dropped since, down to the 53rd percentile in 2022. He doesn’t feel like a player who is going to age exceptionally well to me.

Benintendi was worth 1.8 WAR in 2019, 2.4 in 2021 and 3.2 in 2022 (although again, I feel like WAR overrated his actual offensive contribution), so a 2.5-WAR player at $15 million per season is a reasonable deal. Benintendi was one of my least favorite free agents this offseason, however; I just feel like more can go wrong than go right over the five years, and he doesn’t really push the White Sox much closer to the top of the AL Central. — Schoenfield


Twins look to add power source in Gallo

The deal: One year, $11 million

Grade: C

Joey Gallo was not good in 2022. The extreme example of the “Three True Outcomes” hitter throughout his career, Gallo’s batting average plummeted to .160, his strikeout rate was a career-worst 39.8% and his home run rate of 4.6% was well below his career rate of 6.3%. He was booed out of Yankee Stadium after hitting .159 for the New York Yankees across 140 games in 2021-22, but he wasn’t much better after his trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Nonetheless, the lure of his power potential — seasons of 38, 40 and 41 home runs in his past — and his above-average defense in an outfield corner have the Minnesota Twins rolling the dice. The upside is a very good player, one who posted 3.1 WAR in just 70 games with the Texas Rangers in 2019 and 4.2 WAR in 95 games with them in 2021, before he was traded to the Yankees. There is some belief that the pressure of playing in New York didn’t suit Gallo, so maybe a smaller market like Minnesota will make for an easier transition for him.

He’s only 29 and his skills remain intact, but he’s also a .199 hitter who has a .160 batting average over the past year-and-a-half. It’s certainly possible his career is simply going down the Chris Davis path, with the strikeouts just too much to overcome. It’s also worth noting that Gallo’s two best seasons came in 2019 and 2021 — the two recent seasons with a livelier baseball. I’m not optimistic for a big offensive bounce-back, but it’s possible.

It’s also interesting to see the ripple effect for the Twins’ roster as they already have nine outfielders on the 40-man roster. Max Kepler‘s name has been mentioned in trade rumors. He’s set to make $8.5 million in 2023 with a $10 million club option for 2024, and while he didn’t have a good 2022, there isn’t much left in the way of outfielders in free agency, so maybe a team will take a chance on him given his relatively affordable salary. The Twins also must determine which of the Alex Kirilloff/Trevor Larnach/Matt Wallner/Nick Gordon group are the ones to bank on. — Schoenfield


The deal: Six years, $162 million

The grade: B+

While a six-year contract length is aggressive, if the Yankees can get three good seasons from Rodon at the $27 million average value, everything they get after that will be gravy. The only thing holding me back from giving the signing an “A” are the injuries, but the Rodon we’ve seen the last two years is more than worth this deal.

The Yankees will likely be rubbing up against the second tier of tax penalties with this signing, so it will be interesting to see how aggressive they are for the rest of the offseason or if they look to move some money off the payroll to give them more wiggle room.

In landing the top player on the market (Aaron Judge) and one of the top 2-3 pitchers available, the Yankees are already hot stove winners. Alas, this much we know: The fans in the Bronx won’t be satisfied with that or anything short of the end of the team’s title drought. — Doolittle

Full analysis of Rodon’s deal with the Yankees


Braves pick up Sean Murphy in three-team deal

Braves get: C Sean Murphy (from A’s)
Brewers get: C/DH William Contreras (from Braves), RHP Joel Payamps (from A’s), RHP Justin Yeager (from Braves)
A’s get: LHP Kyle Muller (from Braves), RHP Freddy Tarnok (from Braves), RHP Royber Salinas (from Braves), C Manny Pina (from Braves), OF Esteury Ruiz (from Brewers)

Maybe the simplest way to look at this trade: The Braves get the best player in Murphy, a strong two-way player who won a Gold Glove in 2021 and broke out with his best offensive season in 2022 — and if you get the best player in a trade, there’s a strong likelihood you’re going to end up winning the deal in the long run.

What’s intriguing here is the Braves already had two All-Star catchers on their roster in 2022, Travis d’Arnaud and Contreras (who started the All-Star Game at designated hitter, but also started 57 games behind the plate for the Braves). So why trade six players for Murphy? — Schoenfield

Full analysis of the Sean Murphy blockbuster deal


Blue Jays add ex-Met Chris Bassitt, bolster their starting pitching

The deal: Three years, $63 million

The grade: B

Chris Bassitt is one of those guys who, if you haven’t paid close attention to his trajectory, you might ask, “They gave who how much?” It’s been a slow burn for Bassitt, who ended his 20s with a 4-14 career record at the big league level with just 40 career appearances under his belt.

Bassitt kept working, kept adding pitches, kept refining his command and now, as he enters his age-34 season, he’s cashing in. If we were grading these moves from the player’s perspective, he gets an A because a few years ago, you would never have predicted that Bassitt would someday land a $63 million contract that, by the way, he deserved, at least through the prism of baseball’s funhouse scale of economics.

ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel ranked Bassitt as the 12th-best free agent entering the offseason, with a projection for a three-year, $53 million deal. The years turned out to be right and the extra money the Toronto Blue Jays forked over for Bassitt reflects the heightened valuations on pitchers this winter.

The average annual value of the contract ($21 million) is the third highest of any pitcher who has signed to date, slotting behind Justin Verlander ($43.3 million) and Jacob deGrom ($37 million). This might reflect the timing of the deal, as the remaining options at this tier of starting pitching were drying up fast.

In terms of innings and ERA+ over the past two seasons, one could argue that Bassitt (339 innings, 121 ERA+) has the best combination of numbers among this year’s free agent pitchers, once you move beyond the deGrom/Verlander/Carlos Rodon tier and set aside recent Mets signee Kodai Senga and his overseas track record.

The closest to Bassitt might be Tyler Anderson, who put up 346 innings and a 119 ERA+ over the past two campaigns. Anderson, who, like Bassitt, entered free agency burdened with a qualifying offer, signed quickly, landing a three-year, $39 million from the Angels that increasingly looks like a steal. It’s a pact that kind of makes Bassitt’s agreement with the Blue Jays look like a bit of an overpay, until you start looking at later deals given to Jameson Taillon (four years, $68 million from the Cubs) and Taijuan Walker (four years, $72 million from the Phillies).

The Blue Jays began the offseason knowing they needed another starting pitcher to round out a base rotation that includes Cy Young candidates Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman along with bounce-back candidates Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi. Toronto can also hold out hope for a second-half return from Hyun Jin Ryu, who underwent Tommy John surgery in late June. And maybe things will finally click for perennial power pitching prospect Nate Pearson after an injury-marred season.

Despite standout performances from Manoah and Gausman, the Blue Jays’ rotation ranked 17th in bWAR as a unit in 2022 and last among the 12 teams that advanced to the postseason. For the Blue Jays to take another step toward the franchise’s first title since 1993, those rankings must improve. For that to happen, Berrios and Kikuchi will need to be better, but the Jays will also need Bassitt to be an upgrade that justifies this contract. If he keeps doing what he’s been doing the past couple of years, he will do just that.

Will Bassitt keep doing what he’s been doing? Well, the Steamer projections housed at Fangraphs are iffy, seeing a 4.03 ERA and 3.96 FIP for next season. However, Bassitt’s six-pitch mix is less about swing-and-miss stuff than it is control and staying off the barrel of the bat, which makes him somewhat less projection-friendly. Last season, Steamer had Bassitt with a 4.01 ERA and 4.07 FIP entering the season; he finished at 3.42 and 3.66, respectively.

A more impactful acquisition might have been an aggressive pursuit of Rodon, who has posted a 157 ERA+ over the past two years and is the one remaining ace-level pitcher available. McDaniel projected Rodon to receive a five-year, $130 million deal, but reports over the winter indicate that the oft-injured — but dominant — lefty is aiming much higher than that. If that’s the case, you can understand why the Blue Jays focused on Bassitt.

According to the latest figures at Cot’s Contracts, in signing Bassitt, the Blue Jays’ luxury tax payroll figure will move within $9 million or $10 million of the first threshold. It’s a figure Toronto could probably exceed if the will is there, especially because there is enough flexibility in the future payroll projections that it wouldn’t necessarily be a long-term situation. That flexibility is crucial as the Blue Jays look to lock up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette on extensions that won’t be cheap.

With that in mind, targeting a starter like Bassitt, who ostensibly steps into the slot opened up by free agent starter Ross Stripling, makes more sense than an all-out pursuit of Rodon. Also, don’t forget Toronto still has control over three starting-caliber catchers in Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, giving them a golden opportunity to make a splash via trade before spring training begins.

The Blue Jays still need to build depth in their pitching staff, and they need to be aggressive about that project because you can make the same observation about every other team in baseball. For now, the addition of Bassitt moves them a little closer to their goal of becoming the class of the American League and puts extra mortar on what is a very solid foundation. — Doolittle


Mets push payroll to record levels with Kodai Senga signing

The deal: Five years, $75 million

The grade: B

Every year, Macy’s unveils its elaborate window displays for the holiday season. Many people walk by and admire the sights. Some enter to fight the crowds, hoping to find that perfect gift. Steve Cohen? He would probably just purchase the whole dang store.

The New York Mets owner has added to his team’s offseason spending spree, agreeing to a five-year, $75 million deal with pitcher Kodai Senga, who is viewed as one of the best starting pitchers in Japan. The 29-year-old right-hander posted a 1.94 ERA with 156 strikeouts in 144 innings, allowing just 104 hits. Senga has a big fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a splitter referred to as a “ghost forkball,” because — wait for it — it disappears.

His breaking stuff is considered just OK and his command can be a little shaky as he averaged 3.1 walks allowed per nine innings last season, but given the overall quality of his stuff and the success other top Japanese pitchers have had coming over to the majors, he projects at least as a solid mid-rotation starter with perhaps even more upside than that.

I like this signing as one of the best of the offseason, especially considering the similar contracts for starting pitchers such as Taijuan Walker (four years, $72 million) and Jameson Taillon (four years, $68 million) who don’t have Senga’s upside. Sure, he’s not a lock to get there, but the success of pitchers like Hisashi Iwakuma and Kenta Maeda who also came to the majors from Japan with a splitter as a primary piece of their arsenals and Senga has better velocity than those two. Shohei Ohtani mixes a high-octane fastball with a splitter and batters have hit .104 against Ohtani’s splitter the past two seasons, so the ghost forkball has a chance to be a huge weapon for Senga. — Schoenfield

Full analysis of Senga signing — and Mets’ offseason spending spree


The deals: Mets sign CF Brandon Nimmo for eight years, $162 million and RHP David Robertson for one year, $10 million

The grade: C

Sometimes there is a perfect match between team and free agent: The Mets needed a center fielder, needed a leadoff hitter, needed a little speed and got a player who can offer all three traits in Brandon Nimmo. Of course, he just happened to be the Mets’ center fielder last season, so let’s call this a renewal of vows.

Nimmo timed his free agency perfectly with the best season of his career — mostly because he stayed on the field for 151 games — and in an offseason with few premium outfielders available. That combined to drive his price up well beyond expectations, although as we’re learning all the big free agents are getting more total dollars than anticipated.

Nimmo hit .274/.367/.433 with 16 home runs and 102 runs scored, making him one of the best leadoff hitters in the game — even though he’s a poor base stealer despite his plus speed (just three stolen bases in 2022 and 23 in his career). Nimmo has always been able to find a way to get on base due to exceptional plate discipline and a high hit-by-pitch rate. Since his first full season in 2018, he has a .388 OBP — sixth highest in the majors among players with at least 1,500 plate appearances, behind Mike Trout, Juan Soto, Freddie Freeman, Bryce Harper and Aaron Judge. That’s how you can get a $162 million payday despite never making an All-Star team, never hitting .300, never hitting 20 home runs and never winning a Gold Glove. It’s a great time to be a very good baseball player.

Indeed, a generation ago, Nimmo’s ability to get on base would not have been fully appreciated, but over his career he’s averaged 4.6 WAR per 162 games — higher than, for example, Xander Bogaerts, who just agreed to a $280 million contract at the same age and has averaged 4.5 WAR per 162 in his career.

The negative is Nimmo has had issues staying on the field, playing just 69 games in 2019 (bulging disc in his neck) and 92 in 2021 (finger and hamstring injuries). The injuries are why I’m getting some Jacoby Ellsbury vibes with Nimmo. Ellsbury left the Red Sox for the Yankees on a seven-year, $153 million deal and lasted only four injury-riddled seasons.

Another long-term issue to consider is Nimmo is entering his age-30 season, and while he’s coming off his best defensive season, he had never previously been considered an elite center fielder (Statcast rated him in the 90th percentile in outs above average in 2022, despite a below-average jump rate). Let’s see if that was real improvement or if Nimmo returns to being more average to below average in center.

Then factor in this: Center field has increasingly become a young man’s position. In 2022, only ONE center fielder age-31 or older played 100 games out there: Michael Taylor of the Royals. In 2021, just three: Starling Marte (who the Mets moved to right field upon signing as a free agent in 2022), Brett Gardner and Kevin Kiermaier. Given all that, I’m skeptical that Nimmo remains the Mets center fielder more than a couple seasons, three at most.

That leaves the Mets with a lot of years on the back end for a corner outfielder with a marginal power profile. If he continues to get on base and stay healthy, that’s fine, and maybe he remains a productive player into his late 30s, similar to Gardner. Of course, this move is about 2023 and 2024 and the Mets winning now with Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander headlining the rotation, and Nimmo is vital to that happening.

As for Robertson, the former Yankees reliever, returned in 2022 after missing almost all of the previous three seasons after Tommy John surgery. His wipeout curveball remains a big weapon as he held batters to a .173 average with the Cubs and Phillies. With Adam Ottavino and Seth Lugo in free agency, Robertson is a nice addition on a one-year deal, teaming with the just acquired Brooks Raley as the projected top setup guys in front of Edwin Diaz. — Schoenfield


How Xander Bogaerts fits the Padres and why Red Sox Nation is so angry

The deal: 11 years, $280 million

The grade: B

Like the boxer who keeps getting knocked down to the canvas, San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller kept getting right back up. Trea Turner didn’t want the Padres’ money, Aaron Judge didn’t want the Padres’ money, but Xander Bogaerts was willing and it’s a whopper of a deal: 11 years and $280 million for the four-time All-Star shortstop.

The Padres now have one of the most impressive foursomes of big-name position players we’ve seen on one team in a long time. It’s the Dave Dombrowski school of roster building: Acquire star players — no matter the cost. Check out the career highs in WAR for this group:

Manny Machado: 7.5 (2015)

Juan Soto: 7.1 (2021)

Fernando Tatis Jr.: 6.6 (2021)

Bogaerts: 6.3 (2019)

This group didn’t quite reach those heights in 2022, in large part because Tatis didn’t even play after his offseason motorcycle accident and then a PED suspension. Machado (6.8), Bogaerts (5.8) and Soto (5.6) were all excellent, with Machado finishing second in the NL MVP vote, Bogaerts finishing ninth in the AL MVP vote and Soto ranking fifth in the majors in on-base percentage. Tatis is eligible to return from his 80-game suspension on April 20, early enough that it’s possible the Padres could finish with four 5-WAR position players. That hasn’t been accomplished since the Red Sox did it in 2016 (Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia).

Only one team has ever had four 6-WAR players: The 1927 Yankees. Yes, Murderers’ Row.

Bogaerts’ agent, Scott Boras, said at the winter meetings that none of the teams discussing contracts with Bogaerts were considering moving him off shortstop, so while Ha-Seong Kim had a superb defensive season replacing Tatis at shortstop, the likely scenario is that Bogaerts plays short, Kim shifts to second base and the versatile Jake Cronenworth moves to first base.

Bogaerts also had an excellent defensive season, ranking in the 88th percentile in outs above average via Statcast and a career-best plus-4 in defensive runs saved. Both metrics, however, are out of line with his career norms — he had never been above average in DRS. Even if Bogaerts regresses, he’s hardly a big liability at shortstop. With the shift ban coming in 2023 and Machado at third base, this projects as one of the best defensive infields in the majors. Tatis will now likely move to the outfield — alongside Gold Glove center fielder Trent Grisham.

It’s the offense, however, that will have Padres fans gobbling down those fish tacos in elation. How about this look:

LF Tatis Jr.

RF Soto

SS Bogaerts

3B Machado

1B Cronenworth

DH TBD

2B Kim

C Austin Nola

CF Grisham

— Schoenfield

Full analysis of Bogaerts’ deal with Padres


Red Sox finally spend big on Masataka Yoshida

The deal: Five years, $90 million

The grade: C-

Under the leadership of Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox’s front office has drawn a lot of heat for moving too deliberately and clinging too closely to its well-honed valuations. Well, when it comes to the eye-popping agreement with Japanese left fielder Masataka Yoshida, you can at least say that they didn’t move deliberately — the deal came on the same day that Yoshida officially posted.

As for the valuations … let’s just say that this one was aggressive.

Now, I can’t claim to be an expert on Japanese baseball translations, so I am at the mercy of prospect mavens and their reports. Only 5-foot-8 and around 175 pounds, Sports Info Solutions likened Yoshida’s frame as similar to that of Red Sox great Dustin Pedroia — but that’s just body type, not a performance comp.

Let’s get to those: FanGraphs gives Yoshida an 80-grade — always worth noting, as that’s a top-of-the-class evaluation — for bat control, saying that he’s “virtually impossible to strike out.” But from there, FanGraphs notes that Yoshida isn’t a plus runner and is limited positionally to left field … where he put up minus-15 defensive runs saved over his last 3,000-plus innings, per Sports Info Solutions, which also notes his below-average arm. His raw power grade from FanGraphs is 40, which is below average. (Yoshida’s career best in homers overseas was 29, but he has tended to end up more in the low 20s.)

This deal roughly mirrors the one the Cubs gave to Seiya Suzuki, who led the Japanese Central League in hitting in 2021 while Yoshida was winning the batting title in the Pacific League. Suzuki hit .317/.433/.639 in his last year in Japan; Yoshida had a .339/.429/.563 line for the Orix Buffaloes. But in MLB this year, Suzuki fell to a .262/.336/.433 line for the Cubs.

This is not to suggest that Yoshida will necessarily suffer the same degree of drop-off. But it does indicate how rough the transition can be for even the best players overseas. The question with all such players is how much of their game can they bring with them.

The problem for me is that while elite contact can play anywhere, unless a player also has above-average power then I also want to see some plus athletic and defensive traits. In the absence of those, I’d just as soon look into bringing free agent Andrew Benintendi back to Fenway to man left field. The Red Sox’s methods for putting context on his Japanese performance record are a lot more intricate than the train of thought I’ve traced through here, but I have hard time looking at the totality of the package and seeing a player worth a contract that long for that many dollars — a total outlay of $105.4 million, including the posting fee.

The going rate or a solid everyday left fielder is around $18 million or so in average value. If Yoshida fills that bill for the next five years, the contract isn’t a problem. But if he doesn’t reach that level, some hard questions will need to be asked.

Red Sox fans wanted a splash, and this certainly qualifies. Now they just have to hope the club doesn’t keep on sinking. — Doolittle


The deal: Five years, $87 million

Grade: A-

From 2005 through 2021 (excluding his first and last seasons in the majors), Molina played in 2,095 of a possible 2,649 games — a remarkable 79% of all St. Louis Cardinals games. From 2005 through 2022, the Cardinals played 104 postseason games. Molina started 100 of those, missing only the final three games of the 2014 NLCS with a strained oblique and the final game of the 2015 NLDS with a thumb injury. Aside from his leadership skills and defensive prowess, the most important thing about Molina: He was always there, ready to play.

In a sense, that’s the most difficult part about replacing Molina: He has been the rock of the Cardinals for so long. From a numbers sense, however, Contreras will obviously be a significant offensive upgrade over Molina and the other Cardinals catchers in recent years. Over the past two seasons, Cardinals catchers hit just .222/.278/.318, ranking 26th in the majors in OPS. They were even worse in 2022, hitting .209 with a .552 OPS.

Contreras is one of the best hitting catchers in the game. Among catchers with at least 250 plate appearances in 2022, he ranked third with a 132 wRC+ after hitting .243/.349/.466, behind only his brother William and Adley Rutschman. Over the last two seasons, he ranks third behind Will Smith and Alejandro Kirk among catchers with at least 500 PAs. He has consistently produced elite hard-hit rates, ranking in the 86th percentile or higher each of the past three seasons. He’s not a hitter who gets cheated on his swings, that’s for sure — and while he’s not a high-average hitter, Contreras draws some walks and his high rate of getting hit (24 times in 2022) has helped him to produce above-average OBPs throughout his career. He’ll be entering his age-31 season, but his offensive game has remained stable and shows no signs of decline — he even had a career low strikeout rate in 2022. I like the chances for Contreras to maintain this level of offense for a few more seasons.

Now the hitch: His defense. It got a bit of a bad rap after the season when reports surfaced that Dusty Baker didn’t want the Houston Astros to trade for Contreras at the trade deadline. No, he’s not Molina, but consider that president of baseball operations John Mozeliak had talked earlier this offseason about how important catcher defense has been for St. Louis’ franchise. It would seem that the Cardinals are comfortable enough with Contreras and his ability to work with a staff to give him this five-year deal. His arm strength is solid (and he loves the back pick to first base, throwing there more often than any other catcher) and according to Statcast metrics, his catcher framing was a net zero runs in 2022 — not much worse than Molina’s plus-five runs saved in about the same number of innings.

How a catcher works with a staff is more difficult to measure but note that Contreras started nine games as a rookie during the Chicago Cubs‘ World Series run in 2016 (including five of the seven World Series games). He was the starting catcher on three other Cubs playoffs teams. You can win with him behind the plate. And even if you’re concerned about Contreras’ pitch framing, that might go away in a couple of years if the robot umps come in.

The best part: All it cost the Cardinals was money. Instead of trading, say, Nolan Gorman for Sean Murphy, they retain all their young players and prospects. This gives time for catching prospect Ivan Herrera to develop some more, either back in Triple-A or as Contreras’ backup. This lengthens a lineup that was third in the National League in runs scored. While you can expect some regression from MVP Paul Goldschmidt and they’ll miss what Albert Pujols provided, the Cardinals will be much better at catcher, can look forward to perhaps a 30-homer season from Gorman, and hope for a bounce-back from Tyler O’Neill — and perhaps the arrival of Jordan Walker, considered by most the best hitting prospect in the minors. It’s a strong offense with depth and positional versatility. Given what some of the starting pitchers have gone for, I think the Cardinals found a good way to improve three to four wins without losing anything — without the same injury risk that comes with pitchers. I like this move ending up as one of the best of the offseason when you factor in value, need and cost. — Schoenfield


Red Sox agree to contract with closer Kenley Jansen

The deal: Two years, $32 million

Grade: B

The saying is that you can always find good relievers. Tell that to the 2022 Boston Red Sox. In an era when dominant bullpens are a path to both regular-season and postseason success, the Red Sox’s bullpen posted a 4.59 ERA, 26th-worst in the majors. The Red Sox were 27th in win probability added. They were 7-11 in extra-inning games. No reliever recorded more than eight saves.

While the focus in Beantown remains the hope of re-signing Xander Bogaerts, an additional priority was upgrading the bullpen and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has at least done that, first signing Chris Martin to a two-year deal and former New York Mets lefty Joely Rodriguez to a one-year contract, and now adding Jansen. With Garrett Whitlock moving to the rotation, the Red Sox have a top three of Tanner Houck, Martin and Jansen, which projects as a strong late-game trio.

After 12 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Jansen moved to the Atlanta Braves in 2022 and had a solid season with an NL-leading 41 saves and a 3.38 ERA. He did blow seven saves — all of those were in the ninth inning, by the way, so none of those unfair extra-innings blown saves in there — so it’s hard to classify him as an elite closer these days, but he clearly fills a big need and gives the Red Sox some much-needed certainty.

Heading into his age-35 season, Jansen still relies heavily on that late-moving cutter, a pitch he threw 64% of the time in 2022. That’s down from his peak years with the Dodgers when he would throw it more than 80% of the time, plus it averaged only 92.2 mph, but he has adjusted by throwing more sinkers and sliders, giving the batters a different look. Jansen’s cutter actually had a little different shape last season, averaging more horizontal break than in the past, so while it doesn’t generate as many swings and misses as the days when he was throwing 95, it still induces a lot of soft contact and batters hit .170 against it.

The biggest hiccup in Jansen’s game in recent seasons has been the home run ball, at least compared to the most dominant relievers, as he gave up eight in 64 innings in 2022. Still, this is a guy who has been extremely durable, has never had a bad season, remains difficult to hit and won’t have any problems adjusting to the pressure of pitching in Boston. Obviously, the Dodgers lost faith in him at the end as a postseason closer, although he was great in the 2021 playoffs (seven innings, no runs, 14 strikeouts). The Red Sox will hope Jansen will get the opportunity to close out games in October. — Schoenfield


The deal: Two years, $26 million

Grade: B+

We’ve had enough starters come off the free agent market by now that we can do some informed post hoc comparison shopping. To keep it brief, we’ll consider Bill James’ system for rating starting pitchers, as it updates every time a hurler takes the mound and so it’s always timely. There are over 500 pitchers ranked so let’s slot the pitchers according to de facto rotation slots. Thirty teams, so we’ll call the top 30 starters No. 1s, the next 30 No. 2s and so on.

Now let’s put aside the aces who have signed (Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Clayton Kershaw), along with Tyler Anderson and Martin Perez, who were both saddled with qualifying offers. This is our group of comparable pitchers for the newest Met, Quintana.

Among the other free agent pitchers who have signed, you have three who rate as rotation 2s and 3s in Quintana, Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon, whose scores are fairly close. Walker comes out as a No. 3 but is close to the cutoff for a No. 2 and given this coarse method of slotting starters, we can consider all three as being on about the same tier. Being an overall No. 2 doesn’t make you necessarily an ideal fit for that role on a contender, as the best pitchers tend to group together on the best teams and a No. 2 on a first-place team is different from being a No. 2 on a cellar-dweller.

Still, for the Mets, slotting Quintana behind clear No. 1-quality aces Verlander and Max Scherzer is good stuff for a team looking to build a World Series-winning rotation. As a finesse lefty, Quintana also offers a complementary style to the power righty duo of Verlander and Scherzer.

Over the past two seasons, Quintana has posted an overall FIP of 3.45. He strikes out nearly a batter an inning even though he doesn’t throw hard and stays out of the middle of the plate, which leads to some walks but also helps him keep the ball in the yard, an approach that should play even better at Citi Field.

Meanwhile, Taillon’s FIP for his past two seasons is 4.16, while Walker comes in at 4.11. Quintana is about four years older than Walker and has three years on Taillon — in fact this Mets rotation, which also includes veteran Carlos Carrasco, is kind of ancient — but this is only a two-year deal. While his age merited the shorter pact, the Mets should come out just fine on the field and in the payroll department by nabbing Quintana.

A big part of that is the money. Walker and Taillon both landed four-year deals, with Walker landing $72 million from the Philadelphia Phillies and Jameson Taillon getting $68 million from the Chicago Cubs. The Mets committed $26 million to Quintana.

The Mets seem intent on playing at the top of the free agent market but even with the game’s richest owner in Steve Cohen, GM Billy Eppler and his staff need to find good values to fill out the roster or else it is going to be too top heavy, which doesn’t always play well in an era when depth and versatility matter so much.

There is every reason to think that Quintana is both a solid No. 3 option for the Mets, especially in that ballpark, and an excellent value.

One note of concern: The sextet of Scherzer, Verlander, Quintana, Carrasco, David Peterson and Tylor Megill combined to throw 791 innings last season. The Mets are going to need anywhere from 75 to 150 more innings from their rotation than that, especially if they want to keep those who will make up their postseason rotation tip-top for the most important time of the season. Maybe these pitchers could give them more frames but it’s an open question whether it would be a good idea to ask them to do it.

In other words, Quintana was a nifty pickup but unless the Mets feel good about their in-house options beyond the rotation candidates named, they’ll need to add more. — Doolittle


Aaron Judge is staying with the Yankees — but did New York overpay?

The deal: Nine years, $360 million

Grade: A-

The New York Yankees are baseball’s flagship franchise and have been since the 1920s. You don’t have to be a fan of theirs to believe that. You only have to look at the championships, the names on the plaques at Cooperstown, the merchandise sales, and so much else.

That isn’t to say the Yankees are the only team that matters, but it’s important to keep their stature in mind when thinking about how to assess the news that Aaron Judge has agreed to a nine-year, $360 million deal to spend his 30s donning pinstripes in the Bronx.

Judge certainly had reasons to jump ship, perhaps to the San Francisco Giants, whom he watched while growing up in California, and who made an aggressive run to sign him. Those reasons would have been personal and entirely a matter of Judge and his prerogatives. But from an outside perspective, the Yankees made the most sense for him all along.

Why? Because they are the Yankees. In other words, if this franchise, the only one for which Judge has played, were willing to meet the market to retain him, it would have been surprising, even shocking, if he had ended up elsewhere. If the biggest team has the game’s biggest star and wants to keep him, then all things being equal that’s exactly what we would expect to happen.

This matter of the Yankees’ status in MLB’s hierarchy impacts how we assess the deal. Simply put, the signing of Judge for that many years and for that much money generates a different grade for the Yankees than it would most of the other teams in the majors, even high-revenue teams like the Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers.

Make no mistake, losing Judge would have represented a loss of stature for the Yankees as a franchise. The loss would not have been irretrievable, but it would have cast a shadow over the team’s quest to snap a 13-year World Series title drought, and not just because Judge might well be the best player in the game right now. The shadow would also be cast by sudden doubts about the organizational culture, and the allure of the franchise to free agents. The hallowed Yankees mystique might have been consigned to the history books.

Even if Judge isn’t the best player in the game — a good debate for another day — he is probably the game’s biggest star at the moment, coming off a historic 62-homer campaign that across the board was one of the most stunning performances by any player in the history of the sport. — Doolittle

Full analysis of Judge’s deal to stay with the Yankees


Cubs bolster staff, agree to 4-year deal with Jameson Taillon

The deal: Four years, $68 million

Grade: B-

While I tend not to focus too much on explaining how I land on a grade, in this case I’ll begin with that. Simply put, while Taillon is a quality pitcher who throws hard and arguably hasn’t fully tapped into his potential, I’m just not high on him being a top-of-the-rotation mainstay. While the Chicago Cubs have the resources and the payroll flexibility to pay Taillon $68 million over four seasons, I’m not convinced that it’s a good idea.

Hype has followed Taillon ever since he was the No. 2 overall pick out of high school back in 2010 and stayed with him as he remained a touted prospect even after undergoing a pair of Tommy John surgeries. If this much is all we know about Taillon, then we can fairly judge that he has considerable natural ability and the admirable trait of dogged perseverance, the latter observation reinforced by Taillon’s backstory as a cancer survivor.

Yet at some point we have to stop thinking of a player as a breakout candidate, stop thinking about what he might become, and just accept what he actually is. In Taillon’s case, that’s not an indictment. He’s a very good pitcher. And if he can continue to produce the 2-3 bWAR he generally puts up per 162 games, he’s a solid value. He has been consistent enough and remains young enough to believe that he can retain that value over four seasons.

So while I’m fine with Taillon’s contract, I’m still left scratching my head a little bit about why it was the Cubs who gave it to him. Chicago has made tremendous strides in overhauling its pitching processes and thus fielded a plus rotation last year even though Kyle Hendricks struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

Hendricks will be back in 2023 looking to reestablish himself. Veteran Marcus Stroman will be back, and emergent starters Justin Steele, Keegan Thompson and Adrian Sampson will try to repeat their varying levels of success in 2022 while eating little payroll. (To be fair, Thompson fared much better as a reliever than a starter, though he was good overall). It is not clear to me that Taillon upgrades this group, except maybe his track record offers a little more certainty.

As for upside, the Cubs’ rotation has that as well in Hayden Wesneski and Javier Assad, who both enjoyed exciting debut seasons in the majors during the second half of last season.

I’m all for the Cubs making a pitching splash but for me, I’d rather see them make a play at the top of the market for Carlos Rodon, the remaining ace still unsigned, or perhaps Kodai Senga. Maybe Taillon would be the backup option to these pursuits, but I’d exhaust those avenues before landing on Taillon, especially since they’d be OK with or without him.

Of course the Cubs know a lot more about what their plans are than I do. Maybe those aforementioned processes have convinced them that Taillon can be a Rodon-level ace because they’ll be the team to draw out the full potential that once made him such a lofty draft pick. And if they do that, then this deal moves from the status of “solid value” to one of “absolute steal.” They had successes last season helping not-that-young starters Wade Miley, Drew Smyly, Thompson and Sampson show their best selves on the mound. Perhaps they will do the same with Taillon.

For now though, I have to assume Taillon is what he has shown us which is, at best, a marginal improvement over what the Cubs had in 2022. It’ll be up to him, and the Cubs, to show that he’s more than that. — Doolittle


Giants sign a right fielder — Mitch Haniger (who else?)

The deal: Three years, $43.5 million

Grade: C

Let’s get the important thing out of the way here: No, this doesn’t preclude the Giants from also signing Aaron Judge. As Jeff Passan reported, the Giants have been “pursuing both throughout free agency.” What signing Haniger does, however, is provide the Giants a solid backup plan if they don’t land Judge and, if they do, it gives them another power-hitting outfielder for manager Gabe Kapler to deploy.

At his best, Haniger is one of the more underrated players in the game. In 2021, when he played 157 games, he hit 39 home runs, drove in 100 runs and was worth 3.1 WAR. In 2018, when he played 157 games, he was worth 6.5 WAR. The problem has been staying on the field. He missed the final four months of 2019 and all of 2020 with various injuries, including a ruptured testicle, a sports hernia and a herniated disk, leading to multiple surgeries. He played just 57 games for the Mariners in 2022, missing more than three months with a high ankle sprain.

When he did play, he hit .246/.308/.429 with 11 home runs. He has morphed into a bit of an all-or-nothing hitter at the plate. In his best all-around season in 2018, he struck out 21.7% of the time and walked 10.3% of the time, but in 2022 his strikeout rate increased to 26.3% and his walk rate dropped to 8.1%. He’s a dead-pull hitter, always hunting fastballs and particularly fastballs on the inside part of the plate. That produces home runs but has left him increasingly vulnerable to sliders and breaking balls off the plate from right-handed pitchers — he hit .196 against sliders in 2022 — and his OBP against right-handers was just .296. Defensively, he has lost a step from earlier in his career but still shows average range — for now — with an above-average throwing arm that will play well in right field or left field.

The risks are twofold. Haniger turns 32, a precarious age for any player, in December and has had trouble staying healthy. The OBP issues against right-handers go back to 2021 (.303) and you wonder what happens to that part of his game from ages 32 to 34. The Giants didn’t give him $43 million to be a platoon player. Certainly, the power is real, and Giants outfielders were 12th in the majors in home runs in 2022, so a healthy, 30-homer season would be a huge plus. Haniger is also a respected teammate known for his hard work: Mariners teammates used to refer to him as a cyborg for his stoic presence and focused approach.

The Giants’ outfield is now overloaded, even without Judge: Haniger, Joc Pederson, Mike Yastrzemski, Luis Gonzalez, Austin Slater and LaMonte Wade Jr. As much as Kapler loves to mix and match, there is probably a trade or two in order — especially if there is another outfielder to come. — Schoenfield


Phillies add Taijuan Walker to starting rotation

The deal: Four years, $72 million

Grade: B-

The top tier of the starting pitcher market has generated a great deal of buzz this winter thanks to the agreements reached by Jacob deGrom (Rangers) and Justin Verlander (Mets). And while that tier has dwindled in number (Carlos Rodon is still out there), perhaps the best available option on the next tier is changing teams.

Walker was the No. 11-ranked free agent according to ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, which is why he slots in as perhaps the king of the second tier. If that gets you $72 million, it’s a pretty good place to be.

Walker was once an elite pitching prospect, but he has settled into a role as a nice No. 3 or 4 starter in a first-division rotation. Now three years removed from the injury-marred phase of his career, we now have a pretty good baseline on what he has to offer, which is 155 to 160 innings, an adjusted ERA a little better than league average and an arsenal that increasingly has relied on location and sequencing as opposed to raw strikeout stuff.

Let’s consider the multiyear contracts that have been doled out for this tier of free agent starters so far:

Zach Eflin: (28, 181 1/3 innings, 3.63 FIP last two seasons); three years, $40 million
Tyler Anderson (33, 315 innings, 3.82 FIP); three years, $39 million
Andrew Heaney (32, 202 1/3 innings, 4.45 FIP); two years, $25 million
Taijuan Walker (30, 316 1/3 innings, 4.11 FIP); four years, $72 million

McDaniel projected a four-year, $60 million deal for Walker, so the Phillies’ offer doesn’t feel outlandish. They are paying for innings and the fact that Walker, who will be entering his age-30 season, might just be entering his best career stretch. He can justify this contract, but there might have been more efficient deals to be had for a team with a payroll that is getting awfully deep in eight-figure earners.

As for performance indicators, Walker will be moving into a less forgiving park in going from Citi Field to Citizens Bank Park, but he didn’t have much in the way of a home-road disparity for the Mets. Also, Walker’s best season, 2017, came when he was pitching for the Diamondbacks in a decidedly unfriendly venue for pitchers, so he seems adaptable.

While Walker’s numbers in 2022 featured fewer strikeouts, that change was accompanied by fewer walks and homers. What’s encouraging is that it seems a matter of approach, as the metrics on his offerings weren’t that different, but the mix of pitches changed. He featured fewer four-seamers and sinkers and ramped up his use of the cutter and the splitter, to good effect.

However, that kind of adjustment means that Walker was increasingly reliant on solid defense behind him. The Phillies certainly did not feature that trait last season, though with Trea Turner manning shortstop and Brandon Marsh around for a full season, perhaps that will evolve.

For now, Walker slots in as the Phillies’ No. 4 after Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez. It’s an impressive rotation, and Walker should prove to be an upgrade over what the Phillies got from that roster spot last season in Kyle Gibson.

Still, the Phillies can’t keep handing out these multiyear contracts indefinitely. Can they? It’s what Dave Dombrowski is best at, after all. At some point, though, they are going to have to create depth without setting or meeting the market for the most coveted players.

Nevertheless, adding Walker to stabilize the rotation depth chart ticks the Phillies that much closer to their quest to win the title they came so close to capturing a few weeks ago. That alone merits passing marks. — Doolittle


Cubs take a chance on former MVP Cody Bellinger

The deal: One year, $17.5 million guaranteed

Grade: B+

A precept in numbers-based baseball analysis has long been that if a player shows a certain skill, he owns that skill forever. So once he has produced a certain stat line, we know those numbers exist within that player’s range of possible outcomes. What we don’t know is when, if or how often the player will repeat the performance. So much can change, including the player’s underlying ability.

This rather cold, rational observation leads off this grading of the Cubs’ reported acquisition of former NL MVP Cody Bellinger on a one-year, make-good contract valued in total at $17.5 million. That number, for a player with Bellinger’s track record, seems fair — so in the case of the Cubs, who are looking to move off the tier of rebuilding teams and onto that of clubs actively pursuing a title, the primary concern in signing Bellinger is more about who they might have been able to sign if they had targeted their resources elsewhere.

Well, let’s consider the center-field free agent market. There’s Aaron Judge and that’s a whole different discussion. Brandon Nimmo is looking for a sizable, multiyear guarantee of his own. On the possible trade market, you look at Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds, whom the Pirates say they have no intention of trading.

Also consider that the Cubs have some young outfielders climbing the prospect charts who aren’t far off, like Brennen Davis, Kevin Alcantara and Pete Crow-Armstrong. Given all these circumstances, a quality stop-gap solution makes sense, especially one with remaining upside.

Bellinger’s upside is as an MVP. That’s what he was just three years ago, in 2019, and next season will be his age-27 season, often the peak of a hitter’s career. If not for the past three seasons at the plate, Bellinger wouldn’t be signing a make-good contract, he’d be touring the majors on the same circuit with Judge, Carlos Correa and the other top free agents.

Alas, we can’t overlook those past three seasons at the plate. While Bellinger did show flashes of his top form, he was consistent only in being consistently poor. Since the MVP season, he has hit .203/.272/.376 with 23 homers, 13 steals, 78 runs and 157 strikeouts per 162 games. It’s a stunning fall, and though injuries have almost certainly played a big part in his struggles, it was no surprise when the Dodgers non-tendered Bellinger just a couple of weeks ago.

For the Cubs, the hope is that better health will lead to something closer to his star level, and in truth, there isn’t a great deal of downside in this contract. The Cubs know Bellinger’s floor — because we’ve seen it the past couple of years. Even when he was struggling so terribly at the plate, Bellinger was still adding value on the bases and, especially, as an elite and versatile defender, one who can slot into any outfield spot but also first base.

As a lefty power hitter who pulls the ball about 9 to 10% more often than the league average hitter, Bellinger has been victimized more than his fair share by the kind of extreme defensive shifts that will no longer be allowed as of next season. When Bellinger was at his best, his BABIP crept up over .300 on a couple of occasions. (Last season it was just .255.)

If the rule change adds enough points to that figure to get him around his career number of .277, with Bellinger’s still-present isolated power skills, all of a sudden you’re talking league average or better at the plate. And if rediscovering success on balls in play leads to a less extreme swing plane that helps Bellinger slice some of the strikeouts from his game, things really could start cooking.

To be clear, Cubs fans shouldn’t get too optimistic: There’s no guarantee that Wrigleyville will see the player who hit 47 homers with a 1.035 OPS in a very recent season (although that’s not entirely unreasonable — he did that, and it wasn’t that long ago). But Bellinger doesn’t have to get back to that stat line to make this signing pay off for Chicago. Maybe letting go of those MVP aspirations and expectations, at least for now, will allow that to happen. And if it doesn’t? It’s only one season.

In the end, if a change of scenery, better health and a new set of rules do help Bellinger to rediscover his lost dominance, the Cubs might have landed the biggest bargain of the offseason. — Doolittle


Guardians make rare move into free agency with Josh Bell

The deal: Two years, $33 million (with an opt-out after 2023)

Grade: B+

It doesn’t require an advanced degree in baseball analytics to understand why the Cleveland Guardians agreed to a deal with free agent Bell: Cleveland designated hitters batted just .217/.277/.310 with eight home runs in 2022, ranking next-to-last in the majors in OPS and last in home runs.

Bell is coming off a solid season with the Washington Nationals and San Diego Padres, hitting .266/.362/.422 with 17 home runs. His numbers did take a steep dive after the trade to the Padres, where he hit just .192 with three home runs in 53 games. His big 37-homer season with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 appears to be one of many aberrations from the extra-lively ball deployed that season, but he’s a disciplined hitter with a high walk rate who has hit for above-average batting averages other than the COVID-shortened 2020 season.

And, yes, for the Guardians, Bell registers as a major signing. If he ends up playing two seasons in Cleveland, this would be the fourth-largest free-agent contract in franchise history, behind only Edwin Encarnacion ($60 million in 2017), Nick Swisher ($56 million in 2013) and Michael Bourn ($48 million in 2013). Sure, it would be nice if ownership would invest a little more cash into an exciting young team but given the lack of moves in recent off seasons, at at least this fixes a glaring hole.

Some simple math here. Bell produced about 23 runs more than an average hitter in 2022 in 156 games; Guardians’ DHs were about 12 runs below average over 162 games. Cleveland DHs were so bad that Bell projects as about a three- to four-win upgrade if he hits like he did in 2022.

That would make the contract an astute move — plus, there’s the hope that Bell hit like he did either in his first four months with the Nationals in 2022, or like he did in 2019.

That, however, is asking for more consistency than Bell has provided. Here are his OPS numbers broken down into two-month blocks since 2019:

April-May, 2019: 1.109
June-July, 2019: .950
Aug.-Sept., 2019: .892
Aug.-Sept., 2020: .669
April-May, 2021: .668
June-July, 2021: .885
Aug.-Sept., 2021: .877
April-May, 2022: .786
June-July, 2022: .967
Aug.-Sept., 2022: .591

Obviously, those last two months with the Padres stand out and at least raise a little concern about his future. Some of those struggles look like bad luck as his batting average on balls in play fell to just .233 (compared to .322 the first four months), but there was deterioration in both his average exit velocity and his launch angle as well. For now, we split the difference and Bell projects as a high-OBP hitter if not necessarily that big slugger the Guardians could really use after ranking next-to-last in the majors in home runs.

There remain two other positions the Guardians struggled mightily at on offense in 2022: Catcher and center field. Their catchers hit with a .533 OPS (better only than the Pirates) and their center fielders (mostly Myles Straw) hit .217 with a .557 OPS (worst in the majors).

The Guardians have been rumored to be in the mix for Oakland catcher Sean Murphy via trade and that makes sense, even with prospect Bo Naylor close to ready after hitting well in Double-A and Triple. The Guardians love Straw’s defense — he was a deserving Gold Glove winner — so they’re probably willing to live with his bat. In the American League Central, upgrading at two of those three positions is probably enough to still make Cleveland the division favorite heading into 2023. — Schoenfield


Phillies agree to long-term deal with Trea Turner

The deal: 11 years, $300 million (full no-trade clause)

Grade: A-

On the morning of the first full day in San Diego, we’ve already had two industry-rattling signings, with Turner landing a massive commitment from the Philadelphia Phillies just after Justin Verlander matched the record average annual value of a contract by reaching an agreement with the New York Mets.

The four-headed class of elite shortstops available this winter has generated a lot of deserved buzz — with each of Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson tickling the whisper mill from day to day. It turns out that Turner is the first domino to fall and with this contract, the gauntlet has been thrown down for Correa and the rest.

While $300 million is a number that makes one’s eyes pop, the average annual value on this deal ($27.3 million) is considerably lower than the $34 million projected by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel, who predicted an eight-year, $272 million deal. Because Turner turns 30 next season, the 11-year duration of the deal is pretty surprising. He’ll be in the fold for over a decade now, and for Philly fans, that’s undeniably a good thing. This assumes of course that Turner lives up to the commitment, and he’s shown plenty of reasons to think that he’s up to the task. — Doolittle

Full analysis of Turner’s deal with Phillies


Mets, Justin Verlander reach agreement on 2-year deal

The deal: Two years, $86.66 million (vesting option for a third year)

Grade: B+

When Jacob deGrom jumped to the Texas Rangers last week, it seemed certain that the New York Mets would move quickly to respond. There are only so many options at that stratosphere of the free agent market and with the uncertainty over whether or not deGrom would return to Flushing gone, there was suddenly nothing to hold GM Billy Eppler and owner Steve Cohen back. And sure enough, Verlander is now a Met.

To call this signing aggressive would be a bit of an understatement. Just to cite one projection: ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel saw Verlander getting two years, but for $36 million in average annual value. The pitching market overall has yielded higher values than most of us foresaw. But Verlander matching the record AAV the Mets gave Verlander’s once and future teammate, Max Scherzer, just last year is quite a statement.

So now the Mets will be pushing the $300 million level in payroll in 2023 once the final roster is put together. And over the next two seasons, they will be paying two pitchers nearly $87 million per season. The Mets will need to get between 5 and 6 bWAR each from Scherzer and Verlander to make these valuations work from an actuarial standpoint. Both were in that range last season but the uncertainty grows with each advancing season for the two aging aces. They might fall short because of injury or decreased durability, but the upside does seem worth the risk — for the Mets. If either of these deals end up a little underwater, well, the contracts aren’t that long and it’s the Steve Cohen version of the Mets. They can afford it. — Doolittle

Full analysis of Verlander’s deal with Mets


Rangers sign Jacob deGrom to megadeal

The deal: Five years, $185 million (vesting option for a sixth year)

Grade: B-

The Rangers and deGrom always made a lot of sense. The Rangers are desperate for starting pitching. They’re in win-now mode after signing Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last year and hiring three-time World Series-winning manager Bruce Bochy earlier this offseason. Most importantly, they’re a big-market team that has been operating like a mid-market team for too long. After operating top-10 payrolls each season from 2012 to 2015, the Rangers entered a rebuild that has yet to produce any positive results and their payrolls slid to 19th and 20th the past two seasons — and as they lost 102 games in 2021 and 94 in 2022, leading to the firing of long-time executive Jon Daniels in August.

So the Rangers had money to spend … but nobody expected a five-year, $185 million contract for a 35-year-old pitcher who has made just 26 starts over the last two seasons. Even one who at his peak from 2018 through the first half of 2021 posted a 1.94 ERA across 91 starts, the highest level of performance the sport had seen from a starting pitcher over a period of years since Pedro Martinez. ESPN predicted a three-year contract for deGrom, albeit with a higher annual average at $44 million as opposed to the $37 million AAV of this deal. Others predicted a similar deal.

Five years? It’s the ultimate high-risk signing from new general manager Chris Young and owners Ray Davis and Bob Simpson. — Schoenfield

Full analysis of deGrom’s deal with Rangers


Seattle Mariners get: 2B Kolten Wong
Milwaukee Brewers get: OF/DH Jesse Winker, IF Abraham Toro

Mariners grade: B-
Brewers grade: C+

Most trades these days involve prospects for major leaguers, so it’s fun to see one of those rare deals with just veteran players. The Mariners had stated their desire to acquire a left-handed hitting second baseman and got one in Wong. The Brewers needed a DH and wanted to trade Wong and his $10 million salary to clear second base for rookie Brice Turang, and they accomplished those goals. Win-win? Perhaps.

Wong projects as a clear upgrade at second base over what the Mariners received in 2022 from Adam Frazier and friends. Baseball Reference estimated the combined WAR at 0.4 — 25th in the majors — as that group hit a woeful .224/.289/.319. Wong, meanwhile, hit .251/.339/.430 with 15 home runs in 430 at-bats and fits into the Mariners’ mantra of “control the zone,” as he’s a disciplined hitter with a low chase rate and an above-average walk rate. Wong was worth 3.1 WAR in 2022, so if he plays at the same level, this looks like at least a two-win upgrade for the Mariners at second base (Wong would likely platoon with right-handed Dylan Moore).

Mariners fans wanted the club to go after one of the free agent shortstops, but that was never in the books as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has insisted all along that J.P. Crawford would remain the team’s shortstop. Indeed, the up-the-middle defense looks like an interesting issue for the Mariners: Crawford and Wong both won Gold Gloves as recently as 2020 but had subpar defensive metrics in 2022. Wong rated in the third percentile in Statcast’s outs above average, while Crawford ranked in the second percentile. Both also rated a little below average in defensive runs saved. One-year defensive metrics can be a little wonky, and the Mariners’ internal belief in Crawford certainly differs from the public metrics, but it’s something to watch, especially with the new shift rules taking place.

The Mariners will also be happy to get rid of Winker as reports surfaced after the season that he wasn’t exactly the most liked teammate in the clubhouse. It didn’t help that his OPS fell from .949 with the Reds in 2021 to .688. He did maintain his elite plate discipline (84 walks), but his hard-hit rate plummeted from the 90th and 81st percentiles in 2020 and ’21 to just the 19th percentile. Winker isn’t an athletic player (he’s slow and a mind-bogglingly terrible outfielder), so it’s hard to know if this is just somebody who lost his bat speed overnight or played through an injury that sapped his strength. Winker did miss the postseason with a neck injury, and he also underwent knee surgery after the season.

The Brewers will hope Winker finds his 2021 form — if so, that gives them a middle-of-the-order hitter for a lineup that needs one, especially after trading Hunter Renfroe to the Los Angeles Angels. Their DHs hit .226/.303/.390, so at the minimum Winker will provide a nice on-base boost. It feels like a worthy gamble for the Brewers since Turang projects as a capable replacement for Wong after hitting .286/.360/.412 at Triple-A with 13 home runs and 34 stolen bases.

Toro is one of those guys who looks like he should hit but simply hasn’t, falling to .185 last season. He just doesn’t hit the ball hard often enough — although he did somehow hit 10 home runs in a part-time role. He’s OK at second or third base, but isn’t the best fit as a utility player since he lacks the range for shortstop (although Luis Urias can back up Willy Adames). The money exchange is basically even — $10 million for Wong, $9.65 million for Winker and Toro (and both Wong and Winker are free agents after 2023).

This should still leave the Mariners with plenty of payroll room to make another addition in the outfield if they want to keep the DH spot as more of a revolving door — although given the Mariners’ recent history of poor DH production, they would be wise to find a more permanent fixture there. As for the Brewers, they must now decide whether to make a bigger deal: Will they trade Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes? — Schoenfield


The deal: Two years, $17.5 million

Grade: B

Martin’s story is certainly one of perseverance. Drafted way back in 2005, he returned to junior college, tore his labrum and didn’t begin his professional career in the independent leagues until 2010. He didn’t reach the majors until he was 28, went to Japan for a couple years and just had his best season at age 36 (3.05 ERA, 74 strikeouts and five walks in 56 innings). Despite his age, he was one of the best relievers available, and the Red Sox are betting he can do it again — perhaps as the closer. They certainly need help in the bullpen. The Red Sox were 26th in the majors with a 4.59 bullpen ERA and Garrett Whitlock, their best reliever the past two seasons, is earmarked for the rotation in 2023.

Since returning from Japan in 2018, Martin has moved from the Texas Rangers to the Atlanta Braves and then to the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022. The one thing he consistently does is pound the strike zone, and he really hit that stride after the deadline trade to the Dodgers, finishing with a 34-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 24⅔ innings with them. The one issue is he has been a little homer-prone at times (with the Braves in 2020, he served up the pennant-losing home run to Cody Bellinger in the NLCS). He curbed that issue with the Dodgers, at least temporarily, allowing just one home run with them after serving up five in 31⅓ innings with the Cubs.

What really makes the 6-foot-6 right-hander unique for a reliever isn’t just the exceptional command, but that he throws six different pitches: four-seam fastball (that averaged 95.3 mph), sinker, slider, cutter, curveball and splitter. Most of that is four-seamer (42.5% of the time) and cutter (31.7%), but it’s certainly an unusual arsenal for a reliever.

The Red Sox didn’t have a reliever with more than eight saves, so Martin could end up as the closer. Matt Barnes is still around but struggled in 2022. Tanner Houck could be another option, although his stuff also works in a multi-inning role. My guess is the opportunity to close is a reason Martin went with the Red Sox. Obviously, 36-year-old relievers can collapse at any time, but his ability to throw strikes with a variety of pitches suggests a pitcher who can remain effective in his late 30s. You also don’t want to overrate what he did in two months with the Dodgers, since that was a much higher level than he had ever pitched at before, but maybe the Dodgers’ pitching lab taught him a couple new things. He should be a good reliever, if not quite elite, the next two seasons. And $17.5 million for two years is pretty much the going rate for this kind of reliever in free agency. — Schoenfield


The deal: Three years, $40 million

Grade: C+

The Tampa Bay Rays were apparently serious about spending some money this offseason, agreeing to a three-year, $40 million contract with right-handed starter Zach Eflin. How big of a payout is that for the Rays? It’s the biggest free agent contract in franchise history, topping the $35 million deal Wilson Alvarez signed way back in 1998.

Eflin is a curious pitcher to bet on given his career mark with the Phillies was 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA. He also has missed significant time each of the past two seasons with injuries, pitching just 75.2 innings in 2022 after missing nearly three months with right knee soreness (diagnosed as a bone bruise). He also made just 18 starts in 2021, missing the final two-plus months after surgery for a torn patellar tendon on that right knee. He had surgery for the same injury in 2016 as well.

With the Rays involved, however, you know somebody in the analytics department believes they can get a lot more out of him. Eflin’s fastball isn’t elite, averaging 92.7 mph, but due to his size (6-foot-6) and elite extension, the velocity plays up. For the most part, he throws a sinker over his four-seamer (39.9% of the time in 2022 compared to 15.5% with the four-seamer), so he isn’t one of the pitchers teams crave today because of an ability to throw the fastball up in the zone. Certainly, having a better defense than the Phillies deployed behind him could be a big help. His hard-hit rate was in the 94th percentile, so he allowed a lot of soft contact. Eflin has also become an elite strike thrower: Among pitchers with at least 150 innings over the past two seasons, only Jacob deGrom has a lower walk rate.

Some teams saw Eflin as a potential reliever after his fastball played up when he pitched out of the bullpen late in the season and in the playoffs, but the Rays clearly view him as a starter with this kind of money. With Corey Kluber in free agency and Shane Baz out for the season with Tommy John surgery, they needed another starter to join Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. That’s an excellent rotation, especially if Rasmussen and Springs (both with sub-3.00 ERAs in 2022) are the real deal.

Still, Eflin has topped 130 innings just once and has never quite put it all together over a full season, so the durability concerns limit the grade on this signing. Of course, the Rays have a way of getting the most out of their pitchers, so there’s a good chance if Eflin’s knee holds up that this turns into a solid investment for the usually thrifty Rays. — Schoenfield


Jose Abreu signs three-year deal with the Astros

The deal: Three years reportedly for $58.5 million

Grade: B+

After nine seasons with the White Sox — a terrific run that included six 100-RBI seasons and the 2020 American League MVP Award — Abreu is signing with the Astros. It’s a move that seemed a strong possibility given the White Sox had indicated they wanted to play Andrew Vaughn at first base and the Astros needed a first baseman with Yuli Gurriel being a free agent who is coming off a bad season. Still, it’s a painful loss for the White Sox, as Abreu was a reliable run producer and durable presence in the lineup, playing 150-plus games in six of his eight full seasons (and playing every game in COVID-19-shortened 2020).

That durability and good health is one reason Abreu has continued to age well, hitting .304/.378/.446 with the White Sox in 2022 in his age-35 season, good for a 137 wRC+, ranking fifth among qualified first basemen. It was a different sort of production from Abreu, however, as he hit just 15 home runs, a career low, as was his .446 slugging percentage. Abreu’s exit velocity remained elite with a hard-hit rate in the 97th percentile, but his average launch angle dipped a couple of degrees, leading to more line drives and fewer fly balls that cleared the fence. Abreu has always been a hitter with power as opposed to a true power hitter (his launch angles have always been less than ideal compared to the best home run sluggers), but given a career-low strikeout rate in 2022 of 16.2%, there did seem to be some real changes in his approach that emphasized average over power.

It worked last season, but there’s also a scenario in which he hits .261 (like he did in 2021) with 15 home runs (like 2022), and then you’re looking at a league-average-type first baseman rather than the 4.2-WAR player Abreu was in 2022. Indeed, with a three-year deal, Abreu’s age is a big factor in how this contract plays out. Over the past 10 seasons, only two first basemen/DHs have produced a 4.0-WAR season at age 36 or older — David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz both did it twice. Only three others have produced a 3-WAR season at 36 or older: Ortiz again, plus Gurriel and Joey Votto, both in 2021.

Still, at least for 2023, this projects as a sizable improvement for the Astros, as their first basemen were worth minus-0.4 bWAR. Abreu does ground into a lot of double plays, so I like him more in the sixth spot in the lineup rather than third or fourth, assuming Dusty Baker sticks with the Jose AltuveJeremy PenaYordan AlvarezAlex BregmanKyle Tucker order that he used throughout the postseason. There is a downgrade on defense, but the Astros do have interest in bringing Gurriel back. You could certainly see a scenario where he plays some first base while Abreu DHs.

One final thought: With Abreu coming in at $19.5 million, it will be interesting to see what this means for Justin Verlander‘s future in Houston. The payroll is now at $197 million, via FanGraphs data. The Astros have gone higher — including what would have been about $224 million in 2020 — but with Verlander expected to receive something in the range of two years and $72 million (or higher), a $36 million average annual value would push the Astros over the luxury tax threshold of $233 million. They have the rotation depth to absorb losing Verlander, but this does make it more likely he’s pitching somewhere else in 2023. — Schoenfield


Mike Clevinger signs one-year deal with White Sox

The deal: One year, reportedly for more than $8 million

Grade: B-

After a 2022 performance that marked the Chicago White Sox as one of baseball’s most disappointing clubs, they have embarked on an offseason initiative to improve on the margins, banking on an overall improvement at the team level driven by a cluster of bounce-back seasons from underachieving core players.

Given the lack of prospect flow from the system and an apparent lack of interest in the top-end free agent market, it’s really the only logical path for the White Sox — besides trading off those core players and embarking on another deep rebuild, of course, but that would be like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Chicago GM Rick Hahn told reporters that the White Sox’s most impactful hot stove transactions would be more likely to come in the trade market than in free agency. But that’s different than saying the White Sox won’t sign any free agents at all — hence Sunday’s agreement with Clevinger, a former nemesis during his rise with division rival Cleveland. The move isn’t contrary to Hahn’s suggested offseason approach but very much in step with it.

The White Sox needed a veteran starter to round out a prospective five-man rotation for next season. They already have a Cy Young-level star in Dylan Cease, a potential breakout in Michael Kopech and two other veterans in Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, who were elite starters in the recent past and, after subpar 2022 showings, are part of that aforementioned bounce-back crew.

Clevinger fits right into that mix. In his first season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Clevinger made 22 starts for the Padres last season, going 7-7 with a 4.33 ERA and 4.97 FIP over 114 1/3 innings.

That’s a far cry from the starter the White Sox faced from 2017 to 2020, when he posted annual ERAs about 50 percent better than the AL average, but this is a low-risk move for the White Sox and a chance for Clevinger to build back some market value after another year removed from surgery. Even if he doesn’t quite do that, he should be a reliable source of competitive innings from the bottom half of the Chicago rotation. If that’s the floor for this deal, then it’s still a nifty pickup for Chicago, especially considering the upside that would accompany a Clevinger revival.

Clevinger has always relied on a high strikeout rate to succeed, but his strikeouts-per-9 last season (7.2) were a career low, a big reason his overall line was well below his accustomed level. It really fell off a table during the second half of the season, tumbling from 9.3 to 5.7. During the first half, when that figure was still strong for Clevinger, so was his overall run prevention. Then he lost a little zip on his four-seamer and went heavy on sinkers, an adjustment that didn’t work all that well. The White Sox have gambled that Clevinger can recapture and maintain his strikeout stuff — and that there’s a higher upside there than in re-signing Johnny Cueto, who served this role for the White Sox last year. It’s not a bad gamble.

The White Sox now have a base rotation full of big names and a good amount of variability. It should be a competent group at the minimum. The maximum? Well, it’s not farfetched to think that Chicago could feature one of the AL’s best rotations. There are a lot of hurdles to get from here to there, and that’s as true for Clevinger as it is for anyone in the group. But the possibility of what the White Sox’s starting pitching might look like in 2023 with Clevinger on the roster made this a modest investment worth making. — Doolittle


Pirates agree to deal with 1B/DH Carlos Santana

The deal: One-year, $6.725 million

Grade: C-

On the surface, this deal makes little sense — in no small part because this is the biggest contract the Pittsburgh Pirates have given a free agent since signing Daniel Hudson (two years, $11 million) and Ivan Nova (three years, $26 million) before the 2017 season. So why would the Pirates make a rare venture into free agency for a first baseman who has hit .207 over the past three seasons and been worth a scant 2.1 WAR?

Well, for starters, Pirates first basemen and DHs hit a combined .211/.287/.352 in 2022; only the A’s received a lower OPS from those two positions. The Pirates acquired Ji-Man Choi from the Rays, claimed Lewin Diaz off waivers from the Marlins and now sign Santana. No, none of these guys are exactly Willie Stargell, but this group should be a small step up from Michael Chavis and Yoshi Tsutsugo. (And looking at the recent history of Pirates’ first basemen … holy cow, has it been ugly. Other than Josh Bell‘s 2.8 WAR in 2019, the last regular Pittsburgh first baseman with a two-WAR season was Kevin Young in 1999.

Santana was essentially a league-average hitter in 2022, hitting .202/.316/.376 with 19 home runs between the Royals and Mariners (two tough hitters’ parks, so his production was a little more valuable than it looks). He still draws his walks as one of the most disciplined hitters in the majors, but his last good season was 2019, so at 37 it’s not realistic to expect him to bounce back to anything much more than a replacement-level first baseman/DH.

I suspect the Pirates view Santana more as a mentor for some of the younger players on the team — and Oneil Cruz in particular. Perhaps some of Santana’s plate discipline will rub off on Cruz. Then if the Pirates are lucky, Santana hits well enough that they can flip him at the trade deadline for a prospect, just as the Royals did last year (although the Royals were only about to get a middling major league reliever and another low-level pitcher in return). — Schoenfield


Los Angeles Angels get: OF Hunter Renfroe
Milwaukee Brewers get: RHP Elvis Peguero, RHP Janson Junk, LHP Adam Seminaris

Angels grade: B+
Brewers grade: C

Poor Renfroe. Good ballplayer, but not so good that anyone wants to keep him — or at least not at the projected $11.2 million he’ll make in 2023. Remarkably, Renfroe moves to his fifth team in five seasons, going from the San Diego Padres to the Tampa Bay Rays to the Boston Red Sox to the Brewers and now to the Angels. Along the way, he has produced four slightly above-average seasons in the past five. Ignoring 2020, when he struggled in the COVID-19 season with Tampa Bay, he has averaged 30 home runs and 2.5 WAR since 2018.

Renfroe is a solid right fielder with a plus throwing arm, so he presumably bumps Taylor Ward over to left, giving the Angels one of the best outfields in the majors with Ward, Mike Trout and Renfroe. The trade leaves Jo Adell without a starting job, but the former top prospect simply hasn’t hit in the majors, with a career line now of .215/.259/.373 over 557 plate appearances, including a woeful 79 OPS+ in 2022. Renfroe has just one season left until free agency, so I don’t think the Angels necessarily trade Adell, but he looks like a fourth outfielder for 2023.

For the Brewers, this is mostly about dumping Renfroe’s salary since the team payroll was already bumping up against what it was in 2022 — and they still have holes to fill in the bullpen. It’s possible Kolten Wong (making $10 million) is next to go. In Renfroe’s case, the Brewers are loaded with outfield prospects ready to contribute at the major league level. Garrett Mitchell hit .311 in 61 at-bats with the Brewers (and went 8-for-8 in stealing bases) and might get first crack. Despite his size (6-3, 215 pounds), he hasn’t hit for much power, either at UCLA or in the minors. Sal Frelick (he hit .331 at three levels, including .365 in 46 games at Triple-A) and Joey Wiemer (21 HRs, 31 SB between Double-A and Triple-A) are also ready, with Frelick the best bet of the three to hit and Wiemer the best power source. Milwaukee also has Esteury Ruiz, who came over in the Josh Hader trade and hit .332 with 16 home runs and 85 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A.

The Brewers traded from a strength, but it’s questionable if they got much back from the Angels. Peguero is the one most likely to contribute in 2023, a 6-foot-5 reliever with a 96 mph sinker. He didn’t fare well in a cameo with the Angels, allowing 23 hits and four home runs in 17⅓ innings, but he did have a 2.84 ERA at Triple-A. Junk is an up-and-down starter type without big stuff, mostly a deep depth option for the rotation. Seminaris is a lefty starter who reached Triple-A in 2022 after starting the season in the minors, but he struggled at the upper levels.

The Angels have acted quickly this offseason, adding Renfroe, Gio Urshela and Tyler Anderson, three nice depth additions. They have one big hole to fill at shortstop. Let’s see if they go after one of the big free agents. — Schoenfield


Seattle Mariners get: OF Teoscar Hernandez
Toronto Blue Jays get: RHP Erik Swanson, SP Adam Macko

Mariners grade: B
Blue Jays grade: C

With Friday’s deadline to offer 2023 contracts to arbitration-eligible players approaching, there had been reports that Hernandez was a non-tender candidate since he’s due to make an estimated $14.1 million (and eligible for free agency after the 2023 season). That seemed a little strange for a player who was an All-Star in 2021 and ranks 15th in the majors with 73 home runs over the past three seasons — including 25 homers in 131 games in 2022 — but the Blue Jays were, indeed, looking to move Hernandez’s salary.

The Mariners acquire a slugger with one of the best hard-hit rates in baseball. Over the past three seasons, Hernandez has ranked in the 96th, 88th and 98th percentile in hard-hit rate (the percentage of balls hit at 95 mph or higher). He also ranked in the 84th percentile in sprint speed and 86th percentile in arm strength. Despite those attributes, however, Hernandez is a flawed player. He’s a below-average defender limited to a corner outfield spot, has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, and while he hit .267/.316/.491 in 2022, he does much of his damage against lefties — .325/.366/.686 over the past three seasons, a 1.053 OPS that ranks second only to Paul Goldschmidt against southpaws.

With Mitch Haniger a free agent and Jarred Kelenic still a major question, the Mariners needed at least one corner outfielder and Hernandez will slot into either left field or right field. The Mariners received just 33 home runs combined from those positions in 2022, so Hernandez projects as a significant power upgrade. Plus, Jerry Dipoto is just getting going on his offseason and will still look to add another outfielder and a second baseman. At the minimum, they just got a couple games closer to the Astros.

As for the Blue Jays’ side of the deal: Swanson had a wonderful 2022 season with a 1.68 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings. He adds some much-needed depth to the Toronto bullpen and could fit in as the top setup reliever to closer Jordan Romano. He’s very good at locating his four-seam fastball at the top of the zone and then getting hitters to chase either a splitter or slider.

Macko is the prospect who could turn this deal into a big win for the Jays down the road. He is a left-hander who was born in Slovakia, then grew up in Ireland and graduated from high school in Alberta. He was a seventh-round pick in 2019 but has added nearly 10 mph of velocity since being drafted and now tops out at 97. He’s had trouble staying healthy, however, pitching just 33 innings in 2021 before an elbow strain and knee injury limited him to 38 innings in 2022 — although he struck out 60 batters in High-A. After being out since May, he did pitch in the Arizona Fall League, sitting 92-96, although his control was shaky (13 walks in 13⅓ innings).

The Blue Jays’ outfield now features George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Whit Merrifield. Their lineup was already very right-handed, so let’s see if trading Hernandez is just the first step in clearing payroll to eventually add a left-handed hitter — free agent Brandon Nimmo would make a nice fit in center field with Springer moving over to right. — Schoenfield


The deal: Three years, $51 million (the third year is a club option worth $17 million and has a $6 million buyout, bringing the guaranteed value of the contract to $40 million)

Grade: B

Through the 2019 season, Rizzo was a .273 hitter. Since then, he’s hit .234. There are few lefty pull hitters in the majors who are happier to see extreme shifts consigned to baseball’s past than Rizzo.

None of this is really the source of the solid grade given to the Yankees for this deal. Re-signing your own player can often be looked at as a treading-water move, or even worse than that because Rizzo is 33 years old.

However, because of the ban of the shift, it seems highly likely the Yankees will get more production from Rizzo than they’ve gotten since acquiring him from the Cubs in 2021.

In his first full season with the Yankees, Rizzo hit 19 homers at home with a .270 isolated power percentage. Not bad but at this point, it’s kind of what the Yankees can hope for. However, it’s Rizzo’s .216 BABIP that should get a considerable boost from the rule change.

Some of that is still on Rizzo, who was more fly-ball and pull-heavy than ever in 2022. If he is able to return to more of a pre-2020 swing plane, maybe he could see a late-career spike. Or maybe his leap in strikeout rate from 14% in 2021 to 18.4% last season was the product of a slowing bat. That’s the risk.

Either way, the Yankees needed Rizzo back. They need left-handed power, and they need a regular first baseman. Rizzo was the one guy on the market to fit that bill. Because of the rule change, it feels like there’s a little more upside to the deal than you’d typically look for in a post-30 hitter of this type. — Doolittle


Tyler Anderson departs Dodgers, stays in L.A. with Angels

The deal: Three years, approximately $39 million

Grade: C+

Anderson, 33, is a serviceable starter who raises the floor in an Angels rotation that is looking less hopeless than years past.

In 2022, L.A. used a six-man rotation to accommodate the incomparable Shohei Ohtani, though the two-way wonder still ended up throwing 17 1/3 more innings than any other Angels starter. Still, in Reid Detmers, Jose Suarez and Patrick Sandoval, L.A. has an interesting young rotation core that will hopefully get Griffin Canning back in the mix after he missed last season.

The Angels might have gone a year too long on this contract for Anderson, so that’s one reason for the tepid grade. Another reason is Anderson flourished last season for the Dodgers, but he now he has to replicate that performance without that behemoth’s unmatched infrastructure behind him.

There is also a conditional aspect to the grade: What else are the Angels going to do with their rotation? There is a dire need to build up depth but it could also use another impact power pitcher to augment Ohtani atop the rotation. Anderson is excellent at getting chases and limiting hard contract, but he isn’t a power pitcher.

One other mild strike against the signing is Anderson was burdened with a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, so he will cost the Angels a second-round draft pick.

If the Angels plan to splurge on a strikeout starter like Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon, then maybe bump this up to a B- or even a B. But if this is the Angels’ rotation splash, then opportunity cost comes into play and it was too high. — Doolittle


Rafael Montero returns to Astros with 3-year deal

The deal: Three years, $34.5 million (with bonuses that could push the value of the deal to $36.75 million)

Grade: C-

Ordinarily, you’d give the Astros the benefit of the doubt with a signing like this, simply because you’d figure they know way more than you do. But the current decision tree in the Houston front office looks disheveled right now and the report this week that the Montero signing might have been ownership driven … well, that’s always a bad sign.

Montero, 32, had a great season. There is no doubt about that. He appeared in a career-high 71 games, posted a 2.37 ERA with a 2.64 FIP and recorded 14 saves, nearly doubling his previous career total. In his first full season with Houston, Montero added velocity and became more fastball-reliant, while getting much better results from his changeup, which allowed him to better attack lefty hitters.

Still, if we ding the Padres for locking onto Suarez despite the lack of a major league track record, we have to point out a paradox with Montero. He has a track record in the majors dating back to 2014. The problem is that prior to 2022, it wasn’t very good: His career ERA+ through 2021 was 80.

The aggressive reliever signings has been the early story of the free agent season and so maybe the deal for Montero will settle into the it-was-just-the-market category when everything settles down. But $34 million-plus for a 32-year-old reliever with 0.4 career bWAR over eight seasons?

No thanks. — Doolittle


Clayton Kershaw staying with Dodgers on 1-year deal

The deal: One year, approximately $17 million

Grade: B+

Moving quickly to keep Kershaw in the fold preempts a lot of potential headaches for the Los Angeles Dodgers in terms of media inquiry. With Kershaw’s hometown Texas Rangers in the market to spend and again looking to solidify their rotation, there would have been plenty of speculation — but the notion of Kershaw donning anything but a Dodgers uniform has always seemed kind of unthinkable.

That’s not why the Dodgers get good marks, however. They get good marks because even if they are treading water with this slot on their roster, they are doing so in the most fashionable way possible, retaining one of the best left-handed pitchers who ever lived. Kershaw can’t be counted on for big innings at this point, but on a per-frame basis, he hasn’t lost a beat, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 2.57 FIP in 2022, going 12-3 over 22 starts and 126⅓ innings.

The price tag — believed to be in the range of the $17 million that Kershaw earned in 2022 — is less than the cost of an accepted qualifying offer. It’s a bargain for a pitcher who has averaged 2.9 bWAR over the past two seasons even with his late-career lack of durability, and because you just aren’t going to find a one-year rotation option of Kershaw’s caliber on the open market, the opportunity cost is nil.

For all of the hullabaloo about Kershaw’s velocity drop several years ago, the reinvented Kershaw has proved to be remarkably steady in terms of his stuff. The underlying metrics on his arsenal in terms of velocity and spin rate just haven’t changed much over the past few years. And until they do, there’s no reason to think that the 2.28-ERA Kershaw that we saw in 2022 won’t be back, dealing at the same level next season.

These one-year deals for Kershaw are becoming like an annual rite, and they are a nice little gift to baseball fans, even those who don’t bleed Dodger blue. Even Rangers fans and those who root for the Dodgers’ chief rivals have to agree: When No. 22 takes the hill at Dodger Stadium, all feels right in the world. — Doolittle


Padres agree to deal with reliever Robert Suarez

The deal: Five years, $46 million (Suarez can reportedly opt out after three years)

Grade: C-

Under lead exec A.J. Preller, the San Diego Padres have long had a penchant for the bold maneuver. Signing Suarez to a five-year contract at more than $9 million per season certainly qualifies as that.

Since Suarez didn’t reach the open market for more than a few minutes, we don’t really know if these numbers mirror what he might have gotten if he had shopped his services. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel projected that Suarez would get two years, $17 million. So it’s not the average annual value that gives pause — it’s the length of the contract.

First off, this signing screams, “Recency bias!” Suarez was smoking hot down the stretch, making 13 appearances after Labor Day without giving up a single run. He carried that torrid pitching into the playoffs, teaming with Josh Hader to give the Padres a devastating one-two punch out of the bullpen. He tacked on five more scoreless appearances in the playoffs before getting touched up for a solo homer by Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

That was, in fact, the first run Suarez gave up at Petco Park all season. Then Suarez gave up Bryce Harper‘s stunning go-ahead, pennant-winning, two-run homer in Game 5 at Philadelphia.

The reason this signing seems somewhat bonkers isn’t because Suarez faltered at the end after so much dominance. That would be recency bias. We drop in bonkers as a descriptor because, entering this season, Suarez was a 31-year-old rookie with no big league track record. His journey from the Mexican League to the Pacific Rim to the minors to the NLCS is inspiring, to be sure. But inspiration isn’t worth five years, $46 million, especially for a team that is going to be side-stepping luxury tax landmines for years to come.

Hader will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and the presumption has to be that Suarez will be able to slot in as Hader’s replacement as closer, doing so at a price tag friendlier than it would take to re-sign Hader. If that’s the thinking and that’s how it plays out and Suarez proves to be a contention-worthy closer for at least two or three years, the Padres will come out all roses on this deal.

Teams do give five-year deals to star-level closers, but those pitchers tend to have names like Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, who have the track record to match the name recognition. For anyone else, if teams give a favorite reliever that many seasons, it tends to be for a much lower annual value.

A good comparison is the extension the Guardians gave closer Emmanuel Clase in April, which was five years, $20 million, with two team options tacked on at the end. Clase entered the season with a short track record (still longer and more dominant than that of Suarez, though he’s about seven years younger). Over the life of their respective deals, Suarez will be making $25 million more than Clase. This is just a lot to give to such an unproven player of that age.

For context, consider that Suarez this season posted a 2.27 ERA over 47⅔ innings. That’s his career track record. To compare those numbers, forget five years ago, just consider three years ago.

In 2019, there were 11 relievers who threw at least that many innings with an ERA at least that low. (A 12th, Julio Urias of the Dodgers, is now a starter and a Cy Young finalist.) Four of those 11 were out of baseball by last season. Five more combined to throw an average of 14⅔ innings this season while combining for a 3.67 ERA. The two success stories are Liam Hendriks and Adam Ottavino, who are both still rolling, but they had considerably longer track records by 2019 than what Suarez has right now.

That was just three years ago. That’s just the nature of relief pitching. The turnover is constant. Pitchers who seem unhittable today are gone tomorrow. And the shorter the track record, the bigger the question because so few relievers are able to display any kind of lasting sustainability. That’s what makes this signing such a risk, but that’s kind of what the Padres are all about, right?

San Diego knows Suarez better than anyone and they have seen enough to think he’s the right reliever to buck the frightening scale of volatility endemic to big league relief pitching. It’s a bold assessment, to say the least. — Doolittle


RHP Edwin Diaz re-signs with the Mets

The deal: Five years, $102 million

Grade: B

No doubt the trumpets were blaring around Queens when the New York Mets signed Diaz in the exclusive five-day window before he became a free agent. Not that any team was going to beat that offer. The deal includes a team option that could turn into a six-year, $122 million deal, and Diaz becomes the first reliever to break the $20 million barrier in annual average value, topping Liam Hendriks‘ $18 million he received in his three-year deal with the Chicago White Sox. The deal does include $5.5 million in deferred money per season, so Diaz’s tax number is calculated at a mere $18.6 million per season (he also gets an opt out after 2025).

Diaz is coming off a ridiculously dominant season, going 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 32 saves, but it’s the strikeout rate that stands out: 118 in 62 innings. He struck out just over half the batters he faced at 50.2.%, a total topped only by Chapman in 2014 and matched by Craig Kimbrel in 2012. Obviously, the Mets needed Diaz back, especially since relievers Seth Lugo, Adam Ottavino and Trevor May are all free agents.

So why not an A? Well, that’s still a lot of money for a reliever and the Mets still have a lot of holes to fill in the bullpen — not that owner Steve Cohen doesn’t have money to sign a couple of more key relievers. As good as Diaz was in 2022, he’s also been inconsistent in his Mets tenure, especially that horrid 2019 season when he had a 5.59 ERA. OK, that’s three seasons in the rearview mirror, but even in 2021 he had a 3.45 ERA, a more modest 34% strikeout rate and six blown saves, so he’s only one season removed from being a middle-of-the-pack closer.

Aside from that, there is the general volatility of all closers — even great ones. Hader has been up and down. Kimbrel went overnight from the most dominant closer in the game to a guy you couldn’t always trust. Chapman was lights out — until he wasn’t. Diaz has never had the run of consistent success that Kimbrel had from 2011 to 2018 or that Chapman had for a long period of time as well. At his best, like this past season or with the Seattle Mariners in 2018, he’s at that elite level as one of the top guys in the game. We’ll see how many seasons in the next five are at that level. — Schoenfield

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