Fortified by an estimated $11 billion in revenue, the movers and shakers of the 30 major-league baseball teams shook the ground in San Diego more than any recent earthquake.
They had come to Southern California for the winter meetings, a heretofore annual event cancelled by Covid-19 in 2020 and a 99-day lockout in 2021.
The twin realties of labor peace and expanded playoffs triggered a plethora of player moves that even involved 2022 All-Stars and award winners.
When the smoke cleared Friday, these were the big winners:
1. New York Mets – Just days after pitching ace Jacob deGrom left to sign a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers, the team added starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Jose Quintana, veteran reliever David Robertson, and center-fielder Brandon Nimmo – after giving Edwin Diaz the largest contract ever offered to a closer. Verlander, almost 40, got a two-year deal with an annual average of $43.3 million, matching new teammate Max Scherzer for the biggest in baseball. The defending AL Cy Young Award winner leads the majors with 244 wins.
2. Aaron Judge – Speaking of size, the 6-7, 280-pound outfielder spurned one Yankee offer in March only to take another, for $146 million more, on Wednesday. The American League MVP got nine years at $360 million after hitting 62 home runs, an American League record, and missing a Triple Crown by an eyelash. The deal probably assures his lifetime legacy in pinstripes.
3. San Diego Padres – With their 11th-hour, 11-year signing of former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts for $280 million, the Friars warned National League rivals that they could make a strong bid for their first world championship. The San Diego lineup will be now be anchored by Juan Soto, Bogaerts, and the returning Fernando Tatis, Jr. – all together for the first time.
4. Scott Boras – The boisterous California-based agent collected commissions for clients Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, and Anthony Rendon, signed for a combined $800 million in 2019, and did even better now with the meetings in San Diego again. Boras clients who signed this week included Bogaerts, Nimmo, Cody Bellinger, Taijuan Walker, and Josh Bell, with negotiations under way for Carlos Correa, J.D. Martinez, Joey Gallo, and Carlos Rodon, among others.
5. Philadelphia Phillies – Not satisfied after knocking off the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and San Diego Padres in the 2022 postseason, the NL champions landed fleet shortstop Trea Turner and Walker, a former Mets starter, from the free agent market. Turner, who has both power and speed, could reach triple digits in both runs scored and runs batted as the team’s new lead-off man.
6. Boston Red Sox – Even though they wanted to keep Bogaerts, the Sox can fill the hole by sliding Trevor Story from second to short. They also bolstered their bullpen with NL saves leader Kenley Jansen and set-up man Chris Martin, another former Brave, while adding Japanese Leagues star Masataka Yoshida, whose plate approach suggest he’s from the Ichiro Suzuki school of hitting.
7. St. Louis Cardinals – The retirement of future Hall of Famers Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols left holes in the lineup that the Cards addressed immediately. They wrestled Willson Contreras, the National League’s starting catcher in the 2022 All-Star Game, from the clutches of the Cubs, his old team, and from the World Champion Houston Astros, who also courted his services.
Not everybody left San Diego happy. These were the losers, at least for the moment:
1. Houston Astros – Losing Justin Verlander, who led the American League in wins and the major leagues in earned run average, hurt. The Astros also struck out in seeking Contreras, who stayed in the NL Central by signing with St. Louis.
2. San Francisco Giants – Did this team put all its eggs in one giant basket? Needing star power to return to contention, the Giants made an enormous offer to Northern California native Aaron Judge, who asked the Yankees whether they could match it. They did, leaving the Giants with a consolation prize in injury-prone Mitch Haniger.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers – After leading the majors with 111 wins but falling early in the post-season, the Dodgers lost Turner, their star shortstop, and Cody Bellinger, a former MVP coming off two down seasons. The team did keep Clayton Kershaw, owner of three Cy Young awards, but isn’t so sure about veteran third baseman Justin Turner, a past post-season hero.
4. Minnesota Twins – Still hoping to convince Carlos Correa to extend his one-year sojourn, the Twins might have to plug a big hole at shortstop. The Twins hope to knock off the surprising low-budget Cleveland Guardians as champions of the American League Central.
5. Colorado Rockies – Convincing pitchers to play half their schedule in the alpine air of Coors Field is never easy but the Rockies have reached the playoffs and even the World Series by slugging their way past opponents. Their silence in San Diego, however, was surprising and certainly disappointing to their fans.
6. Dansby Swanson – Like Freddie Freeman last year, he wanted to re-sign with the Braves but couldn’t come to terms. Atlanta offered $100 million over six years to the Gold Glove shortstop, whose price went up once Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts signed.
7. Texas Rangers – The good news is that Jacob deGrom now heads Bruce Bochy’s pitching staff. The bad news is that he’s already 35 and has spent considerable time on the sidelines during the past two seasons – making his five-year, $185 million contract a questionable investment. The acquisition of erratic Andrew Heaney as a left-handed ace could also be an issue.