By Cyrus Sarfaty
Well, it’s been a few weeks since the World Series ended, when the powerhouse Houston Astros defeated the underdog Philadelphia Phillies in six. Since then, the off season has been in full swing and the stove has been heating up. MLB itself considers this year’s free agent class to be among the best ever, and with many teams attempting to recover from disappointing seasons, it’s going to be fascinating to follow.
Already over the past few weeks, Blue Jays star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez has been traded to their Wild Card predators in Seattle, Yankees 1B Anthony Rizzo and Mets fireballer Edwin Diaz have signed long-term extensions, and my team, the top-heavy Angels, have acquired LHP Tyler Anderson for the next three years.
Today I’m going to review the top free agents left on the market and my picks for where they will sign.
1. Aaron Judge, OF | Current Team: NYY | Future Team: NYY, 9 years, $380M
Sorry Dodger fans, but Aaron Judge is staying in the Big Apple for the rest of his career. Coming off a record-breaking 62-homer campaign and a near-unanimous AL MVP (Ohtani was robbed!), it would be shocking for such a legend in the biggest baseball market to take his talents elsewhere. The Yankees are in need of some depth, with Judge, Rizzo, and pretty much no one else taking the load offensively last season (in the ALCS against Houston, they started a different shortstop each game). Judge appears in no mood to leave, either. His appearance on The Tonight Show last week all but confirms his intent to bolster the pride of New York and maintain superiority over the Mets and Red Sox. Although it’s likely the Dodgers could sign him – after a franchise-record 111-win 2022, they can’t let their outfield continue to struggle – Judge is close with GM Brian Cashman and will sign with them promptly. The Yankees are no cheapskate, and they’re prone to extending 30-year-olds for quite some time.
2. Jacob DeGrom, SP | Current Team: NYM | Future Team: LAD, 6 years, $235M
That’s right, two-time NL Cy Young winner Jacob DeGrom is my second-best free agent on the market. So what if he’s an injury-prone pane of glass? When he’s toeing the slab, DeGrom is easily the best pitcher in baseball, posting an absurd 1.08 ERA (373 ERA+) in 15 starts in 2021, somehow finishing 9th in Cy voting despite such minimal playing time. He is an injury-prone skeleton, and where else will he sign but the City of Angels? So what if he’s 34? As a team, they’ve been known to ink some veteran pitchers in recent years, like relievers Blake Treinen, Craig Kimbrel, and Daniel Hudson, who have all seen plenty of experience on the bump. Plus, the injury-plagued team needs warm bodies to fill the rotation, at least for the time being. The 1-2 punch of 2022 Cy finalist Julio Urias and Tony Gonsolin is stellar, but it drops sharply after that, with Walker Buehler out for 2023 (Tommy John surgery) and Clayton Kershaw out on the market. Trevor Bauer (remember him?) will be out for another season or two, and Tyler Anderson is playing across the I-5. Still, they’re the Dodgers, so they have truckloads of money to burn, and who better than Jacob DeGoat.
3. Trea Turner, SS | Current Team: LAD | Future Team: PHI, 7 years, $224M
The Philadelphia Phillies are baseball’s big question mark. After starting the season 21-29 and climbing all the way back under the helm of Ontario native Rob Thomson to a National League pennant, the Fightins are hungry for more. Still, the question remains: was this year a fluke? Are the 87-win Phillies any different from the 107-win Giants of ‘21? Well, they’ve already non-tendered veteran second baseman Jean Segura and extended Thomson through 2025. They are clearly in the hunt for some additional depth, but why don’t they do one better and lock up multi-time All-Star Trea Turner? He’s coming off his two best seasons in Washington and LA, and coming into his age-30 season, Turner seems ready and able to produce a fourth 180-hit, 25-steal campaign. Philly President Dave Dombrowski is generous with the green, and after forming ten playoff teams throughout his prolific career (five pennants, two titles), I wouldn’t put it past him to ink Turner to a long-term deal. Not only would this move shake up the dynamics of the blood-thirsty NL East, it would present yet another reason why manager Joe Girardi’s June firing was the best thing to happen to the squad. There are rumours that Dombrowski could also splurge on Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts considering their time together in Boston, but don’t forget that postseason hero Bryce Harper was teammates with Turner for four playoff seasons in DC.
4. Justin Verlander, SP | Current Team: HOU | Future Team: BAL, 4 years, $172M
You read it right. Reigning World Champion and unanimous AL Cy Young laureate Justin Verlander is headed east to Baltimore to try to give some spark to the lowly (and promising?) Orioles. After winning a measly 52 games in 2021, the O’s rebounded significantly under manager Brandon Hyde, outfielder Anthony Santander, and rookie phenom Adley Rutschman, winning 83 games and securing their first winning season since 2016. Problem is, they have zero pitching. The front office, regretful after dealing away closer Pablo Lopez and beloved first baseman Trey Mancini at the trade deadline, wants to impress the Maryland fanbase and gain the team’s first postseason berth since 2014, the longest active drought in baseball (tied with my Angels). Hence, they will go after first-ballot future Hall-of-Famer Justin Verlander with all the money they have. In the same light as the recent age-old veteran signings of fellow 3,000-strikeout-club member Max Scherzer (Mets, age 38) and ancient DH Nelson Cruz (Nationals, age 42), I’m picking Baltimore to chase Verlander with a bucket load of cash: 4 years, $172M through his age-43 season, good for an average annual value of $43 million. Although he can still throw 99 in a Tommy John recovery year (a 1.75 ERA at age 39 is superb), I suspect he’ll get injured again and will just become another Wizards Michael Jordan or Mets Willie Mays.
5. Carlos Rodon, SP | Current Team: SF | Future Team: TEX, 6 years, $194M
Carlos Rodon is one of the most valuable southpaws up for grabs this offseason. He tops out at 100 mph and has a nasty slider capable of turning the greatest hitters into nobodies. After a franchise-record 107 wins in 2021, the Giants splurged last offseason, signing Rodon and OF Joc Pederson to multiyear deals and remaining in the sweepstakes for many big-name free agents. Unfortunately, their inactivity at the trade deadline last season caused them to miss an expanded postseason and become sellers once again. They let Rodon opt-out of his contract and are unlikely to be big players on the hot stove this winter (and anyway, they have significant work to do to catch up with the Soto-Machado-Tatis Padres and Betts-Freeman-Turner Dodgers). Many teams are interested in Rodon, injury-prone as he is. His high strikeout rate (in 2022, he led the majors in strikeouts per nine) and tendency to go late into games are assets rare in today’s game that many starter-hungry teams would value. And that’s why I think Rodon belongs in Texas. A perenially mediocre team with little pitching and a weak offense invested half a billion dollars last winter in middle infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, and the rebuilding squad is certainly capable of further indulgences. They are rumoured to be one of DeGrom’s top suitors, although I find it unlikely they would manage to nab him. Still, they are in need of pitching, because after Martin Perez’s 196 innings and 2.89 ERA, the Rangers drop sharply. Rodon would make a good addition to a rebuilding team, and can help propel Texas into AL West contention with Houston, Seattle, and the Angels.
Well, those are my predictions. Let’s see how they pan out!