The latest major checkpoint of the MLB offseason is freshly behind us. The Royal We speak of the recently concluded Winter Meetings in San Diego. Teams, agents, and some prominent players available for hire joined the annual hootenanny, and as is typically the case some major pairings came out of it. Yes, major free agents and rumored trade targets like Carlos Correa, Carlos Rodón and Sean Murphy remain available, but thanks to the Winter Meetings a number of notable names are now off the board.
So as we prepare ourselves for the remainder of the 2022-23 MLB offseason, let's have a quick look back at what went down in San Diego with some Winter Meetings takeaways. You can find that below, where demons dwell.
1. The Yankees got their man, but work remains
For a time it appeared that Aaron Judge was bound for his native Bay Area, but in the end he passed on the Giants' overtures and returned to the organization he's been a part of since signing with them out of Fresno State in 2013. Given the offensive struggles and inconsistencies of the non-Judge portions of the Yankee lineup this past season, this was all but an essential step for the Yanks.
There's some risk here. The 2022 season – in which Judge clouted 62 home runs, authored an OPS+ of 211, and flirted with the Triple Crown – will probably stand as his career year. As well, we don't have many examples of how hitters of Judge's immense physical dimensions age as they move into their late thirties. That, however, is how superstar free-agent contracts go. Teams assume some risk on the back end in exchange for surplus value on the front end, and this one is no exception. Judge boasted a career OPS+ of 150 with top-of-the-scale batted-ball metrics before his legendary 2022 was even part of the calculus, so he's very likely going to remain an elite force at the plate for at least the front half of his new contract. This is to say nothing of the Yankees' effectively limitless revenues and capacity to absorb Judge's eventual decline phase without it even registering.
Ponying up for Judge is praiseworthy, but the Yankees still have holes. They need additional depth and upside in the rotation, and to that end the Carlos Rodón rumors are encouraging from the Yanks' standpoint. They also need to accept the reality that Isiah Kiner-Falefa is not an acceptable solution at shortstop for a team with World Series aspirations. Whether that means swinging big in a free agent market flush with star-grade options at the position or giving the job to an internal candidate with more offensive upside than IKF has, something needs to happen on that front. Re-upping with the reigning AL MVP is an excellent start, but it's just that for the Yankees – a start.
2. The Mets may have upgraded the front of their rotation
Outgoing ace and erstwhile Mets lifer Jacob deGrom inked a $185 million pact with the Rangers just prior to the start of the Winter Meetings, and the Mets swiftly responded by signing Justin Verlander to a two-year, $86.66 million deal with a vesting option for 2025. While it sounds strange to say the Mets may have improved their lot in the rotation, at least in the near-term, by signing a pitcher who's roughly five years older than deGrom and fetched $100 million less on the market, that's probably what they achieved.
Mostly, this comes down to health and durability – reliability, if you will. Yes, Verlander is pushing 40 and has Tommy John surgery in his recent past, but he's coming off a 2022 season in which he made 28 starts and worked 175 innings en route to winning the AL Cy Young award. DeGrom, meantime, has a total of 156 1/3 innings over the last two seasons combined. That's thanks to shoulder, forearm, and back injuries – the types of injuries that can recur and raise concerns moving forward. Framed another way, which pitcher would you bet on working more innings and making more starts over the next two seasons, deGrom or Verlander? Throw in the similar upside in terms of performance, and the Mets can rightly argue they have more certainty in the rotation for the next two years for having, in essence, swapped out deGrom for Verlander.
3. Turner landed in an ideal spot
Yes, Trea Turner reportedly could've fetched a substantially larger guarantee by signing with the Padres, but he still cracked $300 million with his Phillies contract. He also lands on the East Coast, which was his preference, and he reunites with his friend and former Nationals teammate Bryce Harper. As well, Turner gets to remain at his preferred position of shortstop for the foreseeable future, as Bryson Stott will shift to second base. Perhaps best of all from Turner's standpoint, he lands on a pennant-winner with a deep recent history of doing what it takes to field the best team possible. Buy-in from team ownership is all too rare in MLB these days, but the Phillies have been a pleasing exception over the last few years. And as our own Matt Snyder recently wrote, Turner will no doubt move the needle for the Phillies as they look to return to the World Series in 2023 and beyond.
4. The Cardinals addressed the catcher position in a big way
The retirement of franchise legend Yadier Molina and the internal assessment that Andrew Knizner isn't a full-time solution left the Cardinals in need of a catcher this winter. To address that top offseason priority, they forged a five-year deal with Willson Contreras, late of the Cubs. It's close to an ideal fit for St. Louis.
No, Contreras isn't the defender that Molina was, particularly when it comes to framing. However, Contreras' framing skills have improved over the last handful of seasons, and he's got an excellent arm. Most of all, Contreras directly addresses the galling lack of production the Cardinals' suffered last season.
In 2022, St. Louis catchers – mostly Molina and Andrew Knizner – combined to "hit" .209/.261/.291, while the average MLB catcher last season had a slash line of .228/.295/.368 (and note that league-wide line is dragged down by the Cardinals). Contreras is a career .256/.349/.466 hitter with elite quality-of-contact numbers, especially by positional standards. He's also coming off a 2022 campaign in which he put up a career-best OPS+ of 128 and backed it up at the level of the batted ball. Contreras is going to be a massive upgrade over the status quo with the bat.
As for the presumed framing drop-off, the likely arrival of automated ball-strike calls at the MLB level, possibly in time for the 2024 season, make that much less of a long-term worry. The presence of the universal DH also provides a way to keep Contreras' bat in the lineup while giving him some rest, and the DH is also a potential landing spot for him on the back half of this contract as he moves into his mid-thirties.
5. The Red Sox came up short
Time was when the Red Sox had a committed ownership group and the product on the field that reflected said commitment. However, that hasn't been the case for some time, and in many ways it dates back to the disastrous-so-far Mookie Betts trade of early 2020. Despite tremendous revenues and a loyal fanbase, the Red Sox have ranked outside the top five in payroll in each of the last two seasons, and right now they rank outside the top 10 in MLB when it comes to 2023 salary commitments. Not surprisingly, the on-field results are also in a state of decline. Yes, they've signed closer Kenley Jansen and Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, but they failed to retain Xander Bogaerts, as the All-Star shortstop ended up in San Diego.
A lack of effort on the part of ownership is sadly all too common in MLB these days, and in that sense the Red Sox are merely in thrall to a grim trend. What seems different, however, is the Red Sox' emerging strategy of saying "well, we tried" on, to be frank, C-grade free agents. Consider what's gone recently, including during the Winter Meetings:
It would be one thing if, say, the Giants planted in the press their good-faith efforts to sign Judge, but it's something altogether different – and altogether lesser – to do what the Red Sox have done of late. If you're going to neglect the basic duties of team ownership to such an extent, then at least have the decency to do so quietly. Yes, the Red Sox on the final day of the Winter Meetings did more than they've done in some time, but that's too low a standard for one of the most well heeled franchises in the game.
6. A number of big names remain on the board
Yes, the Winter Meetings are over, but, no, it's not time to tune out on the 2022-23 offseason. Survey our updated free-agent tracker, and you'll find that at this writing our No. 3 FA Carlos Correa is still looking for work. Overall, five of the top 10 and 10 of the top 25 are still available, and there's also A's catcher Sean Murphy, who's still likely to be traded before Opening Day. So if you're disaffected by your team's level of activity thus far, then please know that genuine needle-movers still abound.
CBS Sports kept track of the Winter Meetings action and rumors throughout the week. You can find our live blog below.