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Madness: Recapping the Wild Winter Meetings

Aaron Judge

Aaron Judge

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In years past, the Winter Meetings have wound up being more sizzle than steak – high expectations that a flurry of major activity would occur, but ultimately a disappointing result. That was certainly not the case this season.

Perhaps the increased activity was due to the fact that this was the first time the Winter Meetings were able to be live and in person since 2019. With a backdrop of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in sunny San Diego, California – MLB executives, players, reporters and media personalities converged for four days of wheeling and dealing. The action did not disappoint.

Let’s take a look at what went down.

Aaron Judge Returns to Yankees

Despite some serious rumblings to the contrary, Arson Judge – I mean Aaron Judge – ultimately spurned a reported nine-year, $360 million contract from the Giants in order to re-sign with the Yankees for the same terms.

Judge apparently had similar or even better offers on the table from the Giants and Padres -- at least in terms of overall guaranteed dollars -- but he’ll ultimately head back to the Bronx on a new nine-year pact that runs through his age-39 campaign at an average annual value of $40 million. Remember that he turned down a seven-year, $213.5 million ($30.5 million AAV) extension from the Yankees in the spring. Judge went on to set a new single-season AL home run record (62) in 2022 en route to being named American League MVP for the first time in his career. He slashed .311/.425/.686 across his 696 total plate appearances, falling just short of becoming the first Yankees player to win the Triple Crown since Mickey Mantle in 1956. Judge bet on himself and won big with the richest free agent contract in MLB history.

His fantasy value shouldn’t change much, as he’ll return to the same lineup and the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium. In early NFBC Draft Champions drafts, Judge has settled in as the fifth overall selection – behind only Trea Turner, Julio Rodriguez, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Jose Ramirez.

Trea Turner Joins N.L. Champs

Speaking of Trea Turner, the 29-year-old superstar shortstop agreed to a blockbuster 11-year, $300 million contract with the National League Champion Phillies on Monday. The deal was officially finished and announced on Thursday.

The contract comes with no opt-outs across the 11-year term, but Turner does get a full no-trade clause. The 29-year-old boasts a .316/.364/.514 batting line over his last 1,613 plate appearances dating back to the beginning of the 2020 season, and he’s averaged 25 home runs and 37 stolen bases for every 162 games played since the beginning of 2018. He’ll bring his full five-category fantasy skillset to a Phillies team that made it to the World Series in 2022 and should be all the more dangerous in 2023. Look for Turner to bat leadoff in front of Kyle Schwarber, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, and Alec Bohm. Bryce Harper (elbow) will also eventually join in on the fun.

In terms of his fantasy value, it can’t go any higher – as he has already been the top overall selection on average in early 2023 drafts – but he does get a slight improvement in surrounding cast and a major upgrade in terms of his home ballpark. He’s the closest thing that you can get to a lock for guaranteeing monster five-category production.

Justin Verlander to the Mets

You know that things were crazy when the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner signed a contract with an AAV over $43 million and it’s not the biggest move of the Winter Meetings.

It was an absolutely necessary move for the Mets though, as their way to replace the hole in their rotation that was made when Jacob deGrom signed with the Rangers. Verlander will be reunited with former rotation-mate Max Scherzer with the Mets – and the duo will look to finish what they were never able to accomplish in Detroit – winning a World Series title.

The deal also contains a $35 million vesting option for a third season in New York. The 39-year-old veteran right-hander, who took home the American League Cy Young Award last month, finished last year with a microscopic 1.75 ERA and 0.83 WHIP and 185/29 K/BB ratio across 175 innings (28 starts) for the World Series champion Astros.

In terms of his surroundings, Verlander gets a bit of a boost going from Minute Maid Park in Houston to Citi Field in New York. He’s currently the 13th starting pitcher off the board in early NFBC Draft Champions drafts – sitting just inside the top-50 players overall on average.

Padres land Xander Bogaerts

The Padres were in the mix for both Aaron Judge and Trea Turner right up until the end, ultimately losing out on both superstars. That doesn’t mean that they left the Winter Meetings empty-handed though. Just after the clock struck midnight on Wednesday evening, the Padres reached an agreement with former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts on a mammoth 11-year. $280 million contract.

It’s a huge and extended financial commitment, so it’s hard to criticize the Red Sox for not being able to match this one. Bogaerts is 30, and while he was about as productive as ever last year, his power decline was rather worrisome. He’s also probably not going to be viable at shortstop in a few years. The Padres will likely play him at his natural position for now, with Ha-Seong Kim moving to second and Jake Cronenworth going to first. If Manny Machado opts out next winter, perhaps Bogaerts will move to third then. It’s definitely a big lift for the Padres in the short term.

His power production fell off a bit in 2022 – and a move to Petco Park isn’t going to help that problem. He should see an extreme boost in his counting stats though, as he’ll hit in the middle of an absolutely star-studded Padres lineup as opposed to the makeshift cast that the Red Sox trotted out last season. He may even wind up running a bit more as the Padres have shown to be very aggressive as a club on the bases.

Prior to the move, Bogaerts was going as the 12th shortstop off the board in early NFBC Draft Champions drafts – just inside the top-90 players overall. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if this move gives him a bit of a boost – closer to the top-75 range.

Red Sox sign Masataka Yoshida and Kenley Jansen

Speaking of the Red Sox, while they were unable to retain their star shortstop, they did make a huge move of their own – signing Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract.

Yoshida was officially posted by the Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball on Wednesday and didn’t take long to land a massive long-term commitment from Boston. The 29-year-old left-handed hitting outfielder, who batted .326/.419/.538 with 135 home runs across 781 games over the last seven seasons in Japan, seems like a perfect fit for Fenway Park’s compact dimensions. He has an opportunity to bat near the top of the Red Sox’ lineup in 2023 and beyond.

Due to the unknowns of which team he would land with – or if Yoshida would even agree to a contract to come to the MLB – fantasy managers were treading carefully in early NFBC Draft Champions drafts, as Yoshida sports an average draft position outside the top-500 players overall. He did go as high as pick 222 though – and it wouldn’t be surprising if his average wound up coming in well under that. The one thing that the 29-year-old doesn’t have much of – is speed. He stole just 21 bases over seven seasons in the NPB and it’s highly unlikely that he’ll snag more than a handful of bags in his first season stateside.

The Red Sox also made a big addition to their bullpen, locking up top free agent closer Kenley Jansen on a two-year, $32 million pact. The 35-year-old hurler posted a 3.38 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 85/22 K/BB ratio across 64 innings while saving a National League-leading 41 games in his lone season with the Braves.

He gives the Red Sox stability in the ninth inning – something that they have been sorely lacking over the past few seasons. They also bolstered their bullpen by adding right-hander Chris Martin on a two-year, $17.5 million contract.

Giants add Mitch Haniger

It wasn’t the powerful right-handed-hitting outfielder that the Giants coveted, but Mitch Haniger is still a tremendous addition on what looks to be a very affordable contract. The 31-year-old outfielder agreed to a three-year, $43.5 million contract and will add some much-needed thump to the middle of the Giants lineup.

Haniger should slot into the heart of San Francisco’s lineup for the next few seasons and he has clobbered 50 homers in 214 contests over the last two seasons in Seattle. It’s a tougher home ballpark, but Haniger’s prodigious pop should play in any environment.

Haniger is currently being taken just inside the top-40 outfielders in early NFBC Draft Champions drafts – sitting around pick 180 overall.

Cardinals Replace Yadier

After 19 seasons of Yadier Molina carrying the load behind the plate for the Cardinals, the Redbirds had a massive hole to fill this offseason. They didn’t spare any time or expense in their search, landing the top free agent backstop – Willson Contreras – on a five-year, $87.5 million contract.

Contreras moves on to the rival Cardinals after a seven-year run on the North Side of Chicago that yielded an overall .808 OPS, three All-Star nods, and a World Series ring in 2016. His defense has declined a bit at age 30, but Contreras does have a big arm and can rotate into DH duties at times in St. Louis. He’s a considerable offensive upgrade to what the now-retired Molina offered at the catcher position, even in his prime. Finalization of the agreement is only pending a physical.

His power production could see a small dip leaving Wrigley Field, but Contreras still ranks as the number six catcher in early average draft position – going just outside the top-100 picks overall. Only J.T. Realmuto, Daulton Varsho, Will Smith, Salvador Perez and Adley Rutschman are going higher on average.

Cubs Splurge on Taillon, add Bellinger

The Cubs weren’t going to wait around and be left out of the starting pitching market, agreeing to a four-year, $68 million deal with free agent right-hander Jameson Taillon.

If the Yankees had it to do over again, one imagines they would have given Taillon a qualifying offer. Then again, if Taillon did have the qualifying offer, the Cubs probably wouldn’t have gone this far to sign him. The 31-year-old has remained healthy and posted 100 ERA+s each of the last two seasons after struggling to stay healthy for most of his 20s. He’ll join Marcus Stroman, Kyle Hendricks and Justin Steele in the Cubs rotation, with Hayden Wesneski, Adrian Sampson and Keegan Thompson likely to be in the running for the fifth spot.

The Cubs also made a splash by signing former National League MVP Cody Bellinger to a one-year, $17.5 million contract. It’s a one-year prove-it contract for Bellinger who will look to re-establish his value after a couple of downright dreadful seasons to close out his tenure with the Dodgers.

It’s actually a terrific landing spot for the former National League MVP, as his left-handed swing should play beautifully in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field and there’s plenty of playing time to be had at first base and in the outfield.

The polarizing outfielder has been going just inside the top-200 picks in early NFBC Draft Champions drafts.

Phillies Join the Arms Race

The Phillies jumped into the arms race as well as the Winter Meetings unfolded, surprising everyone by agreeing to a four-year, $72 million contract.

The 30-year-old hurler had a nice season with the Mets in 2022 -- going 12-5 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and a 132/45 K/BB ratio across 157 1/3 innings. The Phillies have really developed into a free agent destination in recent years and look like they’ll have a much stronger club coming back as they look to defend their National League title.

They also added a strong left-hander to their bullpen mix, inking Matt Strahm to a two-year, $15 million deal. There had been talk that Strahm wanted to return to a starting role, but ultimately he’ll join the late-inning mix for manager Rob Thomson.

Rangers Supplement deGrom with Heaney

Even after the Rangers made a massive upgrade to their starting rotation by prying Jacob deGrom away from the Mets last week, they weren’t content to head into the season with the group that they had assembled.

There are still rumblings that the club has interest in Carlos Rodón and Kodai Senga – but they made another solid addition to their core of arms on Tuesday by signing left-hander Andrew Heaney to a two-year, $25 million contract. That deal could run as high as $37 million if Heaney stays healthy and hits all of his incentives.

The Rangers certainly shouldn’t be considered the doormat in the American League West any longer and they’re making every effort to compete in 2023.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

For years, it seems like everyone has been calling for the Guardians to make an investment in their offense – bringing in some type of slugger to give some help to Jose Ramirez in the middle of their lineup – and every year it seems like the Guardians have no interest in doing so.

That’s not the case this year. While they weren’t shopping at the top of the free agent market, they did make a considerable financial commitment – especially for them – by agreeing to a two-year, $33 million contract with Josh Bell.

Jon Heyman of the New York Post adds that the deal contains an opt-out after the 2023 season. Bell gives the Guardians a legitimate middle-of-the-order force to complement superstar third baseman José Ramírez and up-and-coming studs like Andrés Giménez, Amed Rosario and Steven Kwan.

The 30-year-old switch-hitting first baseman struggled last year following a midseason trade to San Diego, but hit .266/.362/.422 with 17 homers and 71 RBI in 647 plate appearances over 156 games between the Padres and Nationals.

More Mets!

While it technically didn’t occur at the Winter Meetings -- the Mets didn’t stop working after they left. On Thursday, they announced that they had re-signed outfielder Brandon Nimmo to an eight-year, $162 million contract.

Nimmo was widely considered the top outfielder left on the market after Aaron Judge re-signed with the Yankees, and while there were plenty of suitors for his services, the 29-year-old is going to stay with the Mets. The outfielder posted 16 home runs, 64 RBI, and 102 runs scored with an .800 OPS over his 151 games, and should remain a solid -- if unspectacular -- fantasy option in 2023.

The Mets also bolstered their bullpen by signing veteran right-hander David Robertson to a one-year, $10 million contract. Robertson had a career resurgence in 2022, finishing with 20 saves with the Cubs and Phillies while posting a 2.40 ERA over 63 1/3 innings. He’ll be a set-up reliever for Edwin Diaz, and likely would be first inline for saves if Diaz was to miss time.

MLB Quick Hits: The Mets acquired left-hander Brooks Raley from the Rays for minor league southpaw Keyshawn Askew… The Mets also brought in veteran left-hander José Quintana on a two-year, $26 million deal… The Braves acquired hard-throwing right-hander Joe Jimenez from the Tigers in exchange for Justyn-Henry Malloy and left-hander Jake Higgenbotham… Aledmys Diaz agreed to a two-year, $14.5 million pact with the Athletics… The Athletics also agreed to a two-year deal with utility man Jace PetersonJ.P. Feyereisen underwent surgery on his right shoulder on Wednesday and will miss the start of the 2023 season… The Dodgers signed Jason Heyward to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training… The Marlins acquired Jake Magnum from the Mets to complete the Elieser Hernandez trade… Mark Bowman of reports that the Cubs, Cardinals, Twins and Red Sox are among the teams interested in Dansby Swanson… Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic notes that the Dodgers are not one of the teams pursuing shortstop Carlos Correa… Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported that Coke, sorry Cole Hamels, would like to continue pitching in 2023… The Nationals selected right-hander Thad Ward from the Red Sox with the first pick of the Rule 5 Draft… The Athletics nabbed Dodgers first baseman Ryan Noda with the second pick… Wilking Rodriguez was taken from the Yankees by the Cardinals in the Rule 5 draft and he makes for a very interesting gamble for the Cardinals… Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette hears that the Pirates are showing interest in catcher Tucker Barnhart… Heyman notes that the Yankees “remain in on” free agent left-hander Carlos Rodón… Heyman also notes that David Price has no plans to pitch during the 2023 season… The Pirates won the inaugural draft lottery and will pick first in the 2023 draft, followed by the Nationals, Tigers, Rangers, Twins and Athletics… Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the Giants have expressed interest in Sean Manaea… The Padres and Tigers have kicked the tires on right-hander Seth Lugo as a starter… Red Sox president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom told reporters that they’re interested in bringing back free agent catcher Christian Vazquez… The Athletics acquired right-hander Chad Smith from the Rockies for minor league righty Jeff Criswell… Joel Wolfe, the agent for right-hander Kodai Senga, told reporters on Tuesday that his client already has multi-year contract offers of five or six years… Evan Longoria is currently talking to five different teams and his preference is to play for a contender… The Nationals have had discussions with free agent right-hander Jordan Lyles… Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports that the Diamondbacks are among the teams interested in trading for Athletics’ catcher Sean Murphy… The Pirates broke the bank and agreed to a one-year, $3.15 million contract with right-hander Vince Velasquez and a one-year $2.5 million deal with Jarlín García… The Padres signed David Dahl to a minor league deal… The Twins brought in Tyler White on a minor league pact… The Orioles gave Nomar Mazara a minor league contract with an invite to big league camp… The Mets re-signed Tommy Hunter and Sean Reid-Foley to minors deals… The Yankees gave Tommy Kahnle a two-year, $11.5 million contract.