MLB Winter Meetings: Juan Soto is a Yankee, Shohei Ohtani's free agency continues and more takeaways

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The noun "Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings" contains five capitalized words, so straightaway you know it's of grave importance. It's also over – this year's edition, anyway. 

Yes, the protracted industry hootenanny in Nashville drew to a close on Thursday, and that means it's time for some partially forced reactions to what went down over those four or five days, depending upon how you count the start and end dates. No, it wasn't the most frantic of Winter Meetings in the annals of such things, but important transactions went down, momentum was established, foundations were laid, hands were shaken, and roundly misleading expense reports were submitted. 

So to give you the view from above and set the stage for the (vast) remainder of the offseason, let's unfurl a few Winter Meetings takeaways for your uplift and enrichment. Forthwith … 

1. It was mostly a slow one

While we did see a handful of second-tier signings and trades, the Winter Meetings were largely uneventful save for the blockbuster noted below. Sometimes that's what happens. The Winter Meetings, after all, are not the entire MLB offseason, and let's not forget that Aaron Nola (Phillies) and Sonny Gray (Cardinals) were plucked from the board before the calendar even flipped to December. However, given all the ballyhoo surrounding the Winter Meetings, it's easy to be taken aback when headline-grabber after headline-grabber doesn't go down. 

There's good news, and the good news is that we have lots of free agents and trade candidates still available for hire and acquisition, and the abundance is such that it will help us survive the baseball-less expanse before us. Most notably, the game's biggest star, Shohei Ohtani (more on him in a moment), is still seeking his next employer, but that's just the start of it. Peruse our ruthlessly updated free-agent tracker for the 2023-24 offseason, and you'll find that a whopping 43 of our top 50 free agents remain unsigned. Moreover, our top four free agents and eight of our top 10 are still available. That's to say nothing of potential trade candidates like Tyler Glasnow, Dylan Cease, Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber, and probably others who are all still being (reportedly) dangled to varying degrees. Yes, the Winter Meetings were a letdown, but the leading consequence of that is that almost all of the action is still ahead of us. That's good news as we begin to lock eyes with darkest winter. 

2. The Yankees and Padres pulled off a blockbuster

The Yankees fortified their outfield by adding not one but two left-hitting fly-catchers whose last name ends in "o." The Alex Verdugo swap was noteworthy because the Yankees' trading partner was their blood rival in Boston. The big news, however, was that the Yankees added Juan Soto in a major seven-player trade with the Padres. In Soto, who's going into his age-25 season, the Yankees get one of the best "take and rake" hitters in all of baseball (which is another way of saying, well, one of the best hitters in baseball). He's a perfect lineup complement to the Yanks' franchise slugger Aaron Judge, and he's precisely the kind of offensive boost the club sorely needed in order to return to contention. The 2024 season will be Soto's walk year, which means a leading subplot will be whether the Yankees can extend him before he reaches free agency (probably not is the guess here). 

As for the retrenching Padres, they clear Soto's salary in his final year of arbitration eligibility, which will probably exceed $30 million for next season. They also added reserves of MLB-ready or close-to-MLB-ready pitching to cushion against the likely free-agent losses of core arms like Blake Snell, Michael Wacha, and Josh Hader (all still available!). No doubt, the Padres made themselves worse in 2024 by trading away Soto, but they at least got something for him given that they had little chance of re-signing him beyond 2024. 

However you come down on the trade, it tracks as one of the biggest ever made by a franchise that's no stranger to blockbusters

3. The Ohtani plot thickened

At some point probably soon, the two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani will select his next team and ink the largest contract in MLB history – maybe one worth more than $500 million. No doubt, the league was hoping that Ohtani would put ink to paper during the Winter Meetings, but that didn't happen. What did happen, though, is a bit of compelling intrigue. To wit: 

  • Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may have earned himself a talking-to by disclosing his club's meeting with the two-way superstar, which the Ohtani camp wanted to keep under wraps. 
  • The Blue Jays and GM Ross Atkins went to some lengths not to tip off reporters or anyone else that they appear to have met with Ohtani at the team's Florida spring-training complex. Inevitably, citizen-journalists rose up: 

The smart money remains on the Dodgers, of course, and we'll know soon enough whether the long expected becomes reality. The light dusting of intrigue is certainly appreciated, though, and it remains possible that an Ohtani stunner could come to pass. 

4. The Yamamoto derby is underway

The best free agent available who's not named Shohei Ohtani is Japan's Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The 25-year-old right-hander combines youth with ace stuff and ace results, and every team could use that kind of long-term upside in the rotation. He's rightly coveted, and there's a chance he could fetch a $300 million commitment before you even account for the posting fee owed to his NPB team, the Orix Buffaloes. The Winter Meetings brought us some compelling scuttlebutt on that vital front. 

Most notably, Mets owner Steve Cohen was reported to have met face-to-face with Yamamoto in Japan. That passes the sniff test, as the Mets badly need rotation help after dealing away Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer at the deadline, and Cohen of course is a willing and able spender among MLB owners. The Yankees have strong designs on making it "YamaSoto" in the Bronx, and other interested squadrons we learned or had confirmed in recent days include the Giants, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs. Whether Yamamoto is waiting for clarity on the Ohtani front is uncertain, but posting rules mean he has to sign with an MLB team by Jan. 4 or return to Orix. Given that the face-to-face meetings with suitors are underway, he'll probably make his choice soon. 

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Red Sox in on Imanaga

According to Jon Heyman, Boston has interest in Japanese lefty Shota Imanaga. Though not as hyped as Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Imanaga is an interesting pitcher with a rising fastball and a solid track record in Japan. If you watched the World Baseball Classic, you saw him perform against Team U.S.A. Imanaga is believed to be one of several starters the Red Sox are pursuing. 

 
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Giants, Padres interested in Bader

According to Jon Morosi, you can include two NL West teams as potential suitors for free-agent center fielder Harrison Bader. (Those teams have also been linked to Korean center fielder Jung Hoo Lee.) Bader is coming off a rough year offensively, but he remains a skilled defender. 

 
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What's next for Padres?

Juan Soto trade gives Padres their desired financial wiggle room, but plenty of roster holes to fill
R.J. Anderson
Juan Soto trade gives Padres their desired financial wiggle room, but plenty of roster holes to fill

San Diego has its desired financial wiggle room. The Padres also now have a roster that is missing one of the game's best hitters (Juan Soto), one of the game's best closers (Josh Hader) and the 2023 NL Cy Young winner (Blake Snell). How will the Padres fill those roster holes? And how much of their newly freed-up money can they spend? R.J. Anderson took a look at what's next.

 
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Cashman to talk Soto this afternoon

Yankees GM Brian Cashman, fresh off the biggest move of the winter to date, will discuss the Juan Soto trade with reporters this afternoon. Cashman is set to address the media at 1 p.m. ET.

 
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Yankees interested in Hicks

Count the Yankees among the teams who have checked in on veteran righty Jordan Hicks, according to The Athletic. The Yankees have, of course, thinned their pitching depth quite a bit in the last few days. They traded three arms for Alex Verdugo, another four for Juan Soto, and they lost three pitchers in the Rule 5 Draft. It should come as little surprise, then, that the Yankees intend to add arms through free agency.

 
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Nats sign Senzel

Former Reds INF/OF Nick Senzel is on the move. He's signing a two-year, $8 million deal with the Nationals, per Jon Heyman. A former top prospect, Senzel has never found his footing as a major-league hitter. He owns a 77 OPS+ across five MLB seasons in Cincinnati. He was non-tendered this winter.

 
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Candelario to the Reds

Infielder Jeimer Candelario is on his way to Cincinnati. The Reds signed Candelario to a three-year, $45 million deal. They have more infielders than infield spots, however, and perhaps a trade from that infield depth is coming to boost the roster elsewhere.

MLB free agency: Reds sign Jeimer Candelario to three-year, $45 million deal, per report
Matt Snyder
MLB free agency: Reds sign Jeimer Candelario to three-year, $45 million deal, per report
 
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Padres high on Lee

With the Juan Soto trade complete, the Padres could pivot to Korean center fielder Jung-Hoo Lee. They are said to be high on Lee, according to MLB.com. Lee was Ha-Seong Kim's teammate with the Kiwoom Heroes in Korea. The 25-year-old slashed .318/.406/.455 in 86 games before an ankle injury ended his season this year. Last year he hit .349/.421/.575 with a career high 23 home runs en route to being named league MVP.

The Padres have one only big league outfielder on their roster (Fernando Tatis Jr.) and they cleared approximately $35 million by trading Soto and Trent Grisham. They'll undoubtedly use some of that money on outfield help.

December 7, 2023, 4:46 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 11:46 pm EST
 
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D-backs land Rodriguez

The D-backs have built themselves a formidable rotation front three. Arizona has added lefty Eduardo Rodriguez to Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly with a four-year, $80 million contract. There's a fifth year club option that can push the total value to $99 million.

Eduardo Rodriguez signs with Diamondbacks: NL champs add to solid rotation on four-year, $80M deal, per report
Mike Axisa
Eduardo Rodriguez signs with Diamondbacks: NL champs add to solid rotation on four-year, $80M deal, per report
December 7, 2023, 4:12 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 11:12 pm EST
 
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Yankees, Padres complete Soto trade

At long last, the Juan Soto trade is complete. The two teams have finalized the trade and it will be made official sometime tonight. The trade is as previously reported: Soto and Trent Grisham for catcher Kyle Higashioka and righties Jhony Brito, Michael King, Drew Thorpe, and Randy Vásquez.

Juan Soto trade: Yankees land star slugger from Padres in seven-player blockbuster
Dayn Perry
Juan Soto trade: Yankees land star slugger from Padres in seven-player blockbuster
December 7, 2023, 3:44 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 10:44 pm EST
 
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D-backs, Rodriguez have had advanced talks

The NL champion Diamondbacks and free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez have had advanced discussions this offseason, and they are a finalist to sign him, reports MLB.com. Rodriguez and D-backs GM Mike Hazen overlapped for a few years with the Red Sox, when Hazen was in the front office and Rodriguez came over in the Andrew Miller trade with the Orioles.

Arizona has two high-end starters in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, and Rodriguez would give them a third above-average starter who eats innings in bulk. Impressive rookie Brandon Pfaadt would then get knocked down a peg into the No. 4 spot. It's worth noting the D-backs still owe Madison Bumgarner $14 million in 2024. The World Series trip allows the team to spend a little more than usual.

December 7, 2023, 2:53 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 9:53 pm EST
 
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'Cautious optimism' Soto trade gets done

The Juan Soto trade has been slowed during the medical review phase, reportedly on San Diego's side. According to SNY, there is "cautious optimism" the two teams will work through the issue and the trade will get completed. It seems a red flag popped up with someone the Yankees would send the Padres. They could agree to a different player, adjust the trade package, etc. The Yankees and Padres both want to get this trade done, so the smart money is on them getting across the finish line. When will that happen though? I'm not sure anyone can say.

December 7, 2023, 2:20 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 9:20 pm EST
 
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White Sox asking price for Cease is very high

The White Sox are known to be dangling most of their roster in trade talks as they undergo a rebuild. One of the most attractive trade chips known to be available is starting pitcher Dylan Cease. The White Sox appear to be "pulling back" on Cease trade talks, at least until the top tier of the free-agent starting pitchers are gone, reports Jon Heyman. Also, according to Bruce Levine of 670 The Score in Chicago, the asking price is "very high" and, for example, the Reds were asked for four prospects in exchange for Cease. 

Cease is heading to his age-28 season and is under team control for two more years before hitting free agency. He's likely to make less than $9 million in arbitration in 2024 and finished second in AL Cy Young voting in 2022, when he was 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 184 innings. Last season, however, Cease was 7-9 with a 4.58 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. 

December 7, 2023, 12:27 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 7:27 pm EST
 
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White Sox not willing to trade Robert

According to the New York Post, the White Sox have no intention of trading All-Star center fielder Luis Robert Jr. Robert is signed long-term to a contract that will pay him less than $70 million over the next four years if all his club options are exercised. That's a bargain salary for what Robert provides, namely top of the line defense and 38-homer power.

Given the weak free-agent class, it would make sense to at least listen to offers for Robert, though the asking price will understandably be sky high. Chicago needn't rush into anything here. They could always circle back around and trade Robert at next year's deadline, or even next offseason, and get a significant return. He's that impactful and that affordable.

December 7, 2023, 12:15 AM
Dec. 06, 2023, 7:15 pm EST
 
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Angels agree to deal with Cimber

The Angels have signed righty reliever Adam Cimber to a one-year, $1.65 million contract, reports ESPN. The 33-year-old had a 7.40 ERA in 20 2/3 innings around injuries in 2023. He was non-tendered by the Blue Jays in November. Prior to this season, Cimber was a steady late-inning option who was especially tough on righties thanks to his low arm slot. Cimber, Luis García, and Adam Kolarek have all signed one-year contracts with the Angels this offseason. They'll join closer Carlos Estévez in new manager Ron Washington's bullpen.

December 6, 2023, 11:59 PM
Dec. 06, 2023, 6:59 pm EST
 
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Holdup in Juan Soto trade

So all signs pointed to the deal between the Yankees and Padres for Juan Soto being finalized by tonight. However, things still are not quite finished. Per MLB.com, that's because the Padres are still reviewing medical information. San Diego is set to acquire five players -- pitchers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vásquez, and catcher Kyle Higashioka -- in the deal.

 
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Yankees leaving Nashville?

The Winter Meetings are beginning to wrap up in Nashville, and Yankees manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman are apparently heading out of town.

 
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Info still being reviewed in potential Soto trade

Not quite a done deal yet, though all signs continue to point to this becoming finalized before long.

 
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Yankees, Padres finalizing Juan Soto trade

Folks, it appears a deal might be done any minute. Five players appear to be heading to the Padres, including starter Michael King. Trent Grisham will join Soto in New York, making it a seven-player deal. The details from MLB Network:

 
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What's the Soto holdup?

It seems like the Yankees trade for Juan Soto will be finished in the coming hours (or even minutes?). Still not over the finish line, but things are still progressing forward. Sounds like Trent Grisham will be in the trade coming to New York.

 
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An extension for ... Bryce Harper?

Bryce Harper is not close to free agency. The Phillies star has eight years and $196 million remaining on the record-setting 13-year, $330 million deal he inked in February 2019. But that doesn't mean he's not open to an extension. Speaking at the Winter Meetings on Wednesday, Harper's agent Scott Boras explained why Harper -- who does not have an opt-out clause in his deal -- would want to sign up for more years in Philly.

"Bryce has certainly expressed to them that he wants to end his career in Philadelphia," Boras told reporters. "I've certainly told [president of baseball operations] Dave [Dombrowski] I think Bryce is a franchise player. ... He came there for the fans. Apart from my advice, he goes, 'I just want to go and make sure I can recruit players in Philadelphia, let the fans in Philadelphia know that I'm going to be there for the duration, that I am committed.' I think he's been an important voice for them to attract major free agents."

From a business standpoint, the Phillies don't have a reason to re-up with Harper at this juncture. From a personal standpoint, it's a good idea to keep the face of your franchise happy. And what's another 2-3 years and $60-80 million?

 
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O's, Kimbrel finalize deal

The Baltimore Orioles and veteran reliever Craig Kimbrel are in agreement on a one-year deal worth $13 million for 2024, Ken Rosenthal reports. Kimbrel was an All-Star with the Phillies in 2023, but he struggled in the NLCS as the team crashed out of the playoffs against the D-backs. Kimbrel is set to be the O's closer to start 2024 and enters the season -- his 15th in MLB -- with 417 career saves.

 
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Rule 5 Draft results

While we wait for Juan Soto to be traded, Shohei Ohtani to sign or anything else of note to happen, there was one event that went down in Nashville on Wednesday. MLB held its annual Rule 5 Draft, with three Yankees pitchers being scooped up by other teams. Check out the full results below.

MLB Rule 5 draft results: Analyzing all 10 picks from major-league portion as Yankees lose three pitchers
R.J. Anderson
MLB Rule 5 draft results: Analyzing all 10 picks from major-league portion as Yankees lose three pitchers
 
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Juan has a deal

No, not that Juan. The Nationals are signing former Cardinal Juan Yepez to an MiLB deal, per the New York Post. Yepez hit 12 homers in 76 games in 2022, but struggled in 2023, hitting just .183/.246/.300 in 60 MLB at-bats.

 
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E-Rod close to deal

Veteran lefty starter Eduardo Rodriguez is a free agent coming off a strong bounce-back campaign for the Tigers, and he's apparently nearing a decision: 

Rodriguez, who's going into his age-31 campaign, boasts a career ERA+ of 112 across parts of eight MLB seasons. This past season, he pitched to a 3.30 ERA and 2.98 K/BB ratio in 26 starts for Detroit. Consider him a workable No. 2 or strong No. 3 in a contending rotation. 

December 6, 2023, 7:28 PM
Dec. 06, 2023, 2:28 pm EST
 
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Big(?) Ohtani news(?)

Former MLB pitcher Ryan Dempster has the latest:

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