Welcome to the week where, in theory, the MLB hot stove should pick up. Generally speaking, between Thanksgiving and Christmas -- with the week of the winter meetings being prime territory -- is when there's the most offseason movement with free agent signings and trades.
Now, we've had a stretch of weird offseasons, with the owner lockout last year following the impact COVID had and there were even a few unnecessarily slow winters before the 2019-2020 one that had some major fireworks at the winter meetings. This is why I said "in theory."
It has certainly been slow to this point. Of the top 50 free agents, the only one who has signed with a new team has been starting pitcher Tyler Anderson, who went from the Dodgers to the Angels after rejecting his qualifying offer. The big names to sign were Anthony Rizzo and Edwin Díaz, but none came with much drama and they stayed put. The predictable Clayton Kershaw return to the Dodgers was rumored, but doesn't appear to be final yet.
This is a roundabout way to say that we're hopeful things are about to pick up.
And, hey, what do you know? After this was initially published, José Abreu agreed to a three-year deal worth roughly $50 million with the Astros (full story here).
Let's check out the latest rumors in preparation for a coming uptick in activity.
Dodgers to meet with Verlander
The Dodgers are meeting with free agent ace Justin Verlander Monday, according to Jon Heyman, who also names the Yankees, Mets and Astros are teams in on the starting pitcher.
Verlander is heading for his age-40 season and recently had Tommy John surgery. Of course, he also went 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA (220 ERA+, which was a career best), 0.83 WHIP and his third Cy Young. The strikeout rate has fallen from its 2018-19 peak, but the future Hall of Famer clearly has learned how to pitch around that -- and it isn't low.
In all likelihood, Verlander's model here is Max Scherzer's short-term, huge average-annual value contract with the Mets (two years, more than $86 million plus a $43.33 million player option for a third year).
The Astros can absolutely afford to do this, especially after winning the World Series. We know the Dodgers can. The Yankees probably wouldn't do this unless this miss out on Aaron Judge. As for the Mets, well ...
Mets' "focus" is deGrom
While the Mets are showing interest in other available aces, retaining Jacob deGrom "appears to be their focus," reports Ken Rosenthal in a long column on The Athletic that hits many different angles and is worth a read for subscribers.
As Rosenthal noted, it's possible to see someone like the Braves or Rangers swoop in while we can't count out the likes of the Dodgers. We'll speculatively throw in the Yankees and Giants, whichever one -- or both -- misses out on Aaron Judge, too. But it does seem like it's possible that the most likely match for deGrom is simply heading back to Queens.
deGrom was a frontline starter from his rookie year in 2014 through 2017 and then morphed into the best pitcher on the planet. From 2018-21, he had a 1.94 ERA (205 ERA+) and 0.88 WHIP with 774 strikeouts against 115 unintentional walks in 581 innings. Basically, that's Prime Pedro territory. Injuries held him to just 26 starts between 2021 and last season. Plus, his ERA tumbled to 3.08 in his 11 starts last year and he's heading to his age-35 season.
Of course, he also struck out 102 against eight walks (2.13 FIP) and posted a 0.75 WHIP in his 64 1/3 innings last year. He's far from done.
Perhaps the Verlander and Judge signings would make things more clear on deGrom? Or maybe the Mets just make things easy and lock him up before anything else happens.
Big market for Bogaerts
Unsurprisingly, there appear to be a lot of teams showing interest in free agent shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Among the teams, according to Marino Pepén, are the Phillies, Red Sox, Padres, Dodgers, Cubs and Twins with the Cardinals on the periphery.
None of the teams are especially surprising and we know a few things:
- The Red Sox are prioritizing Bogaerts
- The Twins are focusing on bringing back Carlos Correa
- The Cardinals are likely to stay on the periphery unless the market falls apart
- The Padres could get priced out, given their heavy commitments and need for starting pitching
- The Dodgers, Cubs and Phillies are likely engaged on multiple fronts with Correa, Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson also on the market.
The shortstop musical chairs remains the most fun part of this free agency class.
Many have Bogaerts ranked behind Turner and Correa, but he's no slouch. The four-time All-Star is still only heading to his age-30 season and he's gotten MVP votes each of the last five years, finishing fifth in 2019 and ninth last season. Speaking of 2022, he hit .307/.377/.456 (131 OPS+) with 38 doubles, 15 homers, 73 RBI, 84 runs, eight steals and 5.8 WAR. By WAR, it was the second-best season of his career after 6.3 in 2019.
Mariners interested in Conforto
The Mariners are among the teams with interest in outfielder Michael Conforto, according to Jon Morosi of MLB.com. Conforto, of course, did not play this past season after suffering a shoulder injury during a workout. Conforto was nevertheless ranked by CBS Sports as the 34th best free agent available this winter. Seattle has already added one notable outfielder this winter, acquiring Teoscar Hernández from the Blue Jays as part of a three-player swap.
Orioles in on pitching via trade and/or free agency
The Orioles are in prime position to make a big splash this offseason. They have such a strong farm system they could trade from it for big-league talent, they should have money to spend and are likely looking to build off the momentum from surprise contention last season.
Starting pitching appears to be a focus. Rosenthal reports the Orioles are "dabbling" in the free-agent market for starters but also "cannot be ruled out" on trading for "any" starting pitcher that becomes available. He names Corbin Burnes, Pablo López, Zack Plesac and Tarik Skubal.
Obviously, there's variance in those names from a Cy Young winner in Burnes to mid-rotation types in Plesac and Skubal.
Between 2022 breakout Dean Kremer and promising prospect Grayson Rodriguez -- not to mention the eventual return of John Means from Tommy John surgery -- the Orioles aren't desperate for rotation help, though they'll need to add multiple arms to continue their ascent in the AL East.
Pirates looking at Gibson
The Pirates have shown "genuine interest" in free agent starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, reports The Athletic.
The 35-year-old Gibson was 10-8 with a 5.05 ERA (81 ERA+), 1.34 WHIP and 144 strikeouts against 44 walks in 167 2/3 innings for the Phillies last season. Things never really clicked for Gibson in Philly after the Rangers traded him there ahead of the 2021 trade deadline. In his 19 starts for the Rangers that season, Gibson was 6-3 with a 2.87 ERA.
In the mix for Pirates rotation spots right now would be the likes of Roansy Contreras, Mitch Keller, J.T. Brubaker, Johan Oviedo, Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson.
Teheran signs minor-league deal with Padres
Former MLB pitcher Julio Teheran has signed a minor-league deal with the Padres, Heyman reports. The deal could be worth up to $6 million for Teheran, but if he earns all those incentives on an MiLB deal, it'll have been well worth it for the Padres.
Teheran could have something left in the tank at age 31. He last pitched in the majors in 2021, making one start for the Tigers before a shoulder injury ended his season. This year, he's pitched for two different teams in the Mexican League, as well as in the Dominican Winter League and with the Staten Island FerryHawks in the independent Atlantic League. Combined, he's posted a 3.57 ERA and 1.12 WHIP with 56 strikeouts against 10 walks in 68 innings across 14 starts.
As things currently stand, the Padres have Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell atop their rotation, while it looks like Nick Martinez will get a shot to start again with the fifth spot open.
Aquino heads to Japan
Former Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino has signed with the Chunichi Dragons in Japan's NPB, reports Jon Morosi. In 762 plate appearances over parts of five seasons with Cincinnati, he hit .211/.285/.434 with 41 home runs and 108 RBI. Notably, the Cubs might breathe a sigh of relief. Twelve of Aquino's 41 homers came against the Cubs, despite not hitting more than six against any other team.