The Month That Was in Baseball: December 2022
Hello, I Must be Going: Carlos Correa’s Brief Giants Tenure
The Mets Spend, and Spend, and Spend • Cooperstown Welcomes Fred McGriff
Thursday, December 1
Gaylord Perry, one of baseball’s most colorful and controversial players who made it to the Hall of Fame with 314 wins, 3,534 strikeouts and a wet pitch he only got caught using once, passes away from natural causes at the age of 84. The tall right-hander first telegraphed his legend in one of the longest games ever played, a 23-inning, 8-6 win for the San Francisco Giants over the Mets at New York; he entered in the 13th, pitched 10 shutout innings and struck out nine—but the game is noted as the first time Perry used the spitball, as he later claimed. Soon after, he became a prime component of the Giants’ rotation, twice winning 20 games over a 10-year tenure at San Francisco; opponents had caught on to the inside talk of his spitball usage, and Perry keenly played with their heads, making moves with his fingers, lips and cap often without even using the spitter.
Believing that his best pitching was behind him, the Giants traded Perry in 1972 straight-up for Cleveland ace Sam McDowell in a trade that blew up in the Giants’ faces; McDowell quickly faded while Perry charged on, winning a Cy Young Award in 1973 and throwing well over 300 innings per season. But he clashed with player/manager Frank Robinson, precipitating a trade to Texas. He then found himself in San Diego, where at age 40 he grabbed his second (and last) Cy with an excellent 21-6 record and 2.73 earned run average for the Padres. Perry toiled for four more years, playing for five different teams (including the Rangers, again); to the end, he continued to drive opponents crazy, most memorably Reggie Jackson while pitching for the Mariners.
Former Philadelphia pitcher Zach Eflin inks a three-year, $40 million deal with Tampa Bay, making him—and this is true—the largest free-agent signing in Rays history. The 28-year-old Eflin has had a hard time getting his career into full gear; he was 3-5 with a 4.04 earned run average this past season for the Phillies, appearing in 20 games (13 starts). In seven MLB seasons, all with the Phillies, he’s 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA.
The previous record contract doled out by the Rays was $35 million over five years, handed to pitcher Wilson Alvarez before the franchise’s inaugural 1998 campaign.
Friday, December 2
The first major offseason free-agent signing is in the books, as former Mets pitcher Jacob deGrom signs a five-year, $185 million deal with the Rangers. It’s a big moment for Texas, which has been trying to elevate its presence in an increasing tough AL West and haven’t had a winning season since 2016. The question for deGrom is how fragile and effective he’ll be as the contract will cover his age 34-39 years. He’s started only 26 games over the past two seasons, but he’s been awfully sharp when available—posting a 12-6 record and 1.90 ERA. Curiously, he’s got an 8-11 record and 3.11 ERA in 26 career starts against AL teams—and he’s never pitched against the Houston Astros.
Another AL West team, the Seattle Mariners, continue to be the most active early in the 2022-23 offseason by making yet another deal—acquiring second baseman Kolten Wong from Milwaukee in exchange for outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro. The 32-year-old Wong is expected to take over the spot held this past year by Adam Frazier, who’s currently a free agent; with the Brewers in 2022, Wong batted .251 with 15 home runs and 17 steals. For Winker, it will be another year, another team—departing Seattle a year after being dealt from Cincinnati, where he was a surprise All-Star in 2021. This past year, Winker hit only .219 with 14 homers and 84 walks; his most noteworthy moment occurred when he was at the center of the season’s nastiest brawl, between the Mariners and Los Angeles Angels.
Former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Chris Martin has a new employer, signing a two-year, $17.5 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The 36-year-old right-hander will be a welcomed edition to a Boston bullpen which this past year had the American League’s second-worst ERA (4.59).
Saturday, December 3
Bryan Reynolds, arguably the only All-Star-worthy talent currently in Pittsburgh, doesn’t want to wait for a midseason trade that would benefit the Pirates’ future more than his own. He’s made a request to be dealt from the Bucs now, likely to a team that’s more serious about building a winner. The 27-year-old outfielder has unequivocally been the Pirates’ best hitter since being making the roster in 2019, batting .281 with 74 home runs over 493 games. Making noise is about all Reynolds has on his side; the Pirates publicly stated that his request will have “zero impact” on their offseason plans, and why shouldn’t it? Reynolds is not due to be a free agent until 2025.
Pitcher Kyle Gibson signs a one-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles after posting a 10-8 record and 5.05 ERA with the NL champion Phillies this past season. The 35-year-old right-hander is 89-91 with a 4.52 ERA over 10 MLB seasons.
Sunday, December 4
In eye-opening results from the “Contemporary Era” subset of the Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee, Fred McGriff emerges as the sole nominee gathering enough votes to be admitted into Cooperstown—while three steroids-tainted superstars of the 1980s and 1990s come nowhere close to earning the 75% needed for belated enshrinement. McGriff gets selected by all 16 of the participating voters—a mix of Hall of Famers, executives and sportswriters. The player receiving the second-most votes is Don Mattingly, who nabs eight votes (50%). Curt Schilling receives seven votes, followed by Dale Murphy (six).
The other four nominees on the ballot receive “less than four votes”: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro and Albert Belle. The first three of those players had their brilliant careers tarnished by either admitting to, being caught and/or accused of using steroids. The rejection of Bonds and Clemens is startling, given that each received just over 65% approval from Hall-of-Fame voters in their last year of eligibility in the general vote. In the case of Bonds, it also destroys the narrative that he was denied entrance into Cooperstown by writers seeking revenge for his often surly (at best) treatment of them while he played. McGriff, on the other hand, never received more than 40% in the general vote. Named to five All-Star games and owner of 493 career home runs and a lifetime .886 OPS, McGriff put together consistently solid numbers throughout his 19-year career—but he played in a hitter-friendly era where hitters of his ilk were aplenty.
Had McGriff put together these numbers in the 1960s or 1970s, his presence would have stood out more. That’s what may have accounted for his low rate of approval in the general vote, and we understand; to us, he was a very good player, but not a great one—certainly not an immortal. But he’s made it to Cooperstown, so congrats to ‘Crime Dog’.
Monday, December 5
Just a few days after losing one ace (Jacob deGrom), the Mets gain another by bringing on 2022 AL Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander on a two-year deal worth $86 million. The contract includes a vesting option for a third season (2025) for an additional $35 million. After virtually two years off due to various injuries (including Tommy John surgery), Verlander had a spectacular return to the mound in 2022, leading the Astros to a world title with an 18-4 record and 1.75 ERA. With the Mets, he’ll be one of two pitchers—once-and-current teammate (from Detroit) Max Scherzer being the other—making $40 million in annual wages; there are no major leaguers, pitchers or otherwise, who are currently slated to make that much money in 2023—yet.
Verlander will be 40 years of age when he makes his first start for the Mets; it’s his first employment by a National League team.
The Mets aren’t the only NL East team going for broke on the day, as former Washington and Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Trea Turner agrees to an 11-year contract worth $300 million for the defending NL champion Phillies. The 29-year-old Turner brings a career .302 average, 124 homers and 230 steals to Philadelphia, providing a major upgrade to the shortstop position held this past season by rookie Bryson Stott.
While the Dodgers lose Turner, they’ll be keeping, arguably, the greatest pitcher in franchise history. Three-time Cy winner and five-time ERA champ Clayton Kershaw returns to Los Angeles on a one-year deal worth $20 million, a quarter of which is a signing bonus. Kershaw, who turns 35 next March, has remained as effective as ever in spite of recurring back issues; so far this decade, he’s 28-13 in 54 starts with a 2.76 ERA.
It seemed a foregone conclusion that Kershaw would stay in Los Angeles—think Derek Jeter wearing any uniform other than that of the Yankees—but he does state that his choice for next season came down between the incumbent Dodgers and the Rangers, close to his hometown of Dallas.
Tuesday, December 6
The first-ever Major League Baseball Draft Lottery, begun as a mild deterrent to keep teams from tanking for the #1 draft pick, takes place with the Pirates grabbing the top selection. Under the old draft order, the Nationals (55-107 in 2022) would have picked first, followed by Oakland (60-102) and the Pirates (62-100); with the new lottery system, those three teams each had an equal (16.5%) chance of drawing the #1 pick. The Nationals get the #2 slot and, as bad luck would have it, the A’s wind up with the #6 selection. On the flip side, the Minnesota Twins—who would have picked #13 in the old system, get Lotto’d into the #5 spot. All non-playoff teams are eligible for the lottery, while the 12 postseason teams will pick in the order of their traditional draft finish.
There’s a good deal of substantive—albeit not blockbuster—movement on the second day of Baseball’s winter meetings in San Diego. Among the deals made on the day:
The Phillies, not resting after picking up Trea Turner the day before, snap of former Mets pitcher Taijuan Walker (12-5, 3.49 ERA in 2022) for four years and $72 million, while also signing reliever Matt Strahm (4-4, 3.83 ERA in 50 appearances for Boston). The defending NL champs are determined to set their standing in what’s expected to be a tense three-team NL East race between themselves, the Mets and Braves in 2023.
The Giants don’t pick up Aaron Judge—yet—but they do nab another outfielder in former Seattle slugger Mitch Haniger for three years and $43.5 million. The six-year major league veteran, who turns 32 late in December, suffered through an injury-riddled 2022 campaign (.246 average, 11 home runs and 34 RBIs in 57 games) after hitting 39 jacks the year before.
The Cubs decide to take a chance on 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger, who’s slumped horribly through the past two seasons. The 27-year-old outfielder will earn $17 million in 2023 on a one-year contract.
Switch-hitting first baseman Josh Bell will leave San Diego, inking for two years and $33 million with the Cleveland Guardians. After a strong start this past year with Washington, Bell struggled with the Padres following the trade that sent both he and Juan Soto out west; overall, he batted .266 with 17 homers and 71 RBIs.
After signing Jacob deGrom, the Rangers further strengthen their rotation by agreeing to a two-year, $25 million deal with veteran southpaw Andrew Heaney. This past year with the Dodgers, the 31-year old went 4-4 in 16 games (14 starts) with a nice 3.10 ERA.
Wednesday, December 7
Aaron Judge is staying with the New York Yankees. After chatter from the previous day suggested momentum toward a move with the Giants, the 2022 AL MVP decides to return to the Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million contract. The deal will last through his age-39 season, and the Yankees will immediately make him the first team captain at Yankee Stadium since Derek Jeter retired in 2014. The new package is two years and $150 million more than the extension offered by the Yankees before the start of this past season. Of course, that was an AL-record 62 home runs ago; Judge’s successful pursuit of Roger Maris’ mark, along with a .311 average, 131 RBIs and 111 walks, greatly enhanced his market value.
The Giants were said to offer a similar deal to that of the Yankees, and the San Diego Padres—aggressive A-list pursuers as they have become in the last few years—reportedly also made a healthy last-gasp effort to land the California native.
In the wake of Yadier Molina’s retirement from St. Louis, the Cardinals waste no time finding an adequate replacement as they ink former Cubs catcher Willson Contreras for five years and $87.5 million. The 30-year-old Venezuelan native batted .256 with 117 home runs over seven years in Chicago, garnering a World Series ring during his rookie season, and was considered the top free-agent catcher this winter.
While the Cubs lose Contreras, they pick up former Yankee pitcher Jameson Taillon on a four-year package worth $68 million. The 31-year-old righty had one of his finest years in 2022, producing a 14-5 record, 3.91 ERA and 151 strikeouts over 177.1 innings. He joins a young Chicago staff that impressed in the second half of this past season.
Just a day after announcing his availability to MLB, star Japanese hitter Masataka Yoshida finds his American home with the Boston Red Sox, who sign him for five years and $90 million. The 29-year-old outfielder spent his last seven years with Japan’s Orix Buffaloes, where in 762 career games he collected a .327 batting average, .421 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage; he wields good power with average home run totals in the 20s, draws plenty of walks and rarely strikes out—a unique mix in this day and age. Boston will also pay an additional $15.8 million posting fee to the Orix Buffaloes, Yoshida’s Japanese employer of seven seasons.
The Red Sox aren’t done on this day; they also sign veteran closer Kenley Jansen for two years and $32 million. The 35-year-old right-hander, in his one year at Atlanta after 12 seasons with the Dodgers, saved an NL-high 41 games and posted a 3.38 ERA; only seven players in MLB history have more saves than his 391.
The Mets add one more arm two days after nabbing Justin Verlander (and after losing Jacob deGrom and Taijuan Walker), signing veteran Jose Quintana for two years and $26 million. The 33-year-old right-hander appeared to fade out after 2021, but impressively refreshed this past season—posting a 2.95 ERA in 32 starts (in spite of a 6-7 record) split between the Pirates and Cardinals.
The Hall of Fame names Cubs radio voice Pat Hughes as this year’s recipient of the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence. Hughes just completed his 40th year in the booth, the last 27 with Chicago; before that, he did play-by-play for Minnesota in 1983 and Milwaukee from 1984-95. He’s the third recipient of the Frick award to have worked most of his career with the Cubs; two other two are the legendary Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray.
Thursday, December 8
The Padres continue to be aggressive in building an All-Star roster with the intent of knocking the Dodgers off the NL West podium. They take in shortstop Xander Bogaerts on an 11-year, $280 million deal after 10 years with the Red Sox—where he batted .292 with 1,410 hits including 156 home runs and 308 doubles, tied for the 10th highest total in Boston franchise history. Bogaerts’ signing will bump Ha-Seong Kim to second and Jake Cronenworth to first; when natural shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. returns from his steroid suspension early next year, he’ll assume right field, bumping Juan Soto to left.
It’s hard to say whether anyone offered anything near the type of package the Mets give outfielder Brandon Nimmo to stay in New York. The 29-year-old Nimmo agrees to an eight-year deal worth $162 million—an impressive payday for one who owns a career .269 average, wields fair power at best and, although he’s speedy, hasn’t leveraged such dash into an abundance of stolen bases. (He swiped only three bags this past season.) But owner Steve Cohen has tons of money, the Mets are happy to have him back, and so there you are.
The Atlanta Braves, relatively quiet this past week while the divisional-rival Mets and Phillies bulked up and/or reloaded, consummate a trade they had been seeking for months as they acquire power reliever Joe Jimenez from Detroit for two minor leaguers. The 27-year-old right-hander, after five difficult years with the Tigers, finally put together a nice campaign in 2022 with a 3.49 ERA and 77 strikeouts over 56.2 innings.
Friday, December 9
When the new Basic Agreement was signed off this past Spring, one of the new wrinkles to placate the union’s concern of underpaid pre-arbitration major leaguers was to set aside a pool of $50 million that would be doled out to such players based on their placement in the voting for major awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year) and ranking on the statistical chart for WAR (wins above replacement). The bonuses from that pool for this past year are released, with White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease earning the highest amount of pool money at $2.457 million, followed closely by Houston slugger Yordan Alvarez ($2.381 million) and Toronto pitcher Alek Manoah ($2.191 million). Such financial fruits are wondrous for pre-arb players who, more than likely, are roughly being paid the minimum MLB salary ($700,000).
The Nationals, whose starting rotation authored the majors’ worst ERA (5.97)—thus leading the team to finish with the year’s worst record (55-107)—sign free-agent right-hander Trevor Williams on a two-year deal. Williams appeared in 30 games for the Mets this past season, starting only nine of them, with a 3-5 record and 3.21 ERA; his better years came in the late 2010s when he pitched decently as a full-time starter with Pittsburgh.
Saturday, December 10
The Mets continue to pile on the talent—and the high payroll deliverables that come with it—by signing star Japanese pitcher Kodai Senga (whose first name is spelled out as Koudai in some circles) for five years and $75 million. As a member of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks over the last 11 years, the 29-year-old right-hander has amassed an impressive 104-51 record and 2.42 ERA; this past season in 23 appearances, Senga finished with an 11-6 mark and 1.89 ERA, wielding a 100-MPH fastball and confounding split-fingered pitch.
The Senga signing—on top of the mass of other offseason deals made by the Mets—has driven the team’s projected 2023 payroll up to $345 million, increased to an unprecedented $400 million once luxury taxes kick in. It shows that New York owner Steve Cohen, easily the majors’ richest Lord, doesn’t care about the financial consequences; he wants a winner at Citi Field, and he’ll pay anything he wants to make it happen.
Veteran outfielder Kevin Kiermaier is signed up by the Toronto Blue Jays after nine years with Tampa Bay, where he sparkled on defense (three Gold Gloves) but was challenged with average offensive totals and incessant injuries which, this past year, limited his time to 63 games. It’s a one-year contract worth $9 million.
Monday, December 12
The Blue Jays deepen their rotation by signing pitcher Chris Bassitt to a three-year, $63 million contract. The 33-year-old right-hander has been all but overlooked in recent years; over the last four seasons split between the A’s and Mets, he’s 42-20 with a 3.31 ERA. Bassitt is likely to be penciled in at the #3 spot on the Toronto starting staff, behind Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman.
Another former A’s pitcher, Sean Manaea, is headed back to the Bay Area—but not to Oakland, but the San Francisco Giants. Like Bassitt, Manaea was traded from the A’s before last season, in his case landing in San Diego—where he finished the 2022 season with an 8-9 record and 4.96 ERA. The deal with the Giants is for two years and $25 million—but he has an opt-out after next season.
The A’s, meanwhile, continue their vicious cycle of trading quality players for prospects. Gone from Oakland is catcher Sean Murphy, who had about as good a season at the plate as any other A’s player—even if those numbers amounted to a .250 average, 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. The 28-year old is the prime asset in a complex trade involving three teams and nine players; he goes to Atlanta, which sends All-Star catcher William Contreras to Milwaukee, which sends young outfielder Esteury Ruiz back to Oakland. Among the six other players dealt are two pitching prospects (Kyle Mueller and Freddy Tarnok) with scant major league experience, from Atlanta to Oakland.
The top remaining free-agent catcher is taking off the market as the Twins secure Christian Vazquez on a three-year, $30 million contract. The 32-year-old Puerto Rican native spent the entirety of his eight-year career to-date with Boston, before being traded to the eventual world champion Astros in August.
Tuesday, December 13
Baseball mourns the loss of Curt Simmons, who passes away at the of 93 in his Pennsylvania home. Only two living former ballplayers began their major league careers before Simmons: Chris Haughey (1943) and Tommy Brown (1944). And it was quite a debut for the 18-year-old southpaw, allowing a ninth-inning run but otherwise going the distance in the Phillies’ 3-1 home win over the New York Giants on September 28, 1947. After sputtering for the next two seasons, Simmons broke out in 1950 for Philadelphia’s famed Whiz Kids, who (barely) captured the NL pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers. Simmons would not get to participate in the World Series to follow; as the season wound down, he became the first major leaguer drafted into the Korean War, and although he was furloughed during the Phillies’ four-and-out Fall Classic loss to the Yankees, commissioner Ford Frick wouldn’t allow him to pitch.
Though he remained statistically in the shadow of ironman ace Robin Roberts during the 1950s at Philadelphia, Simmons remained a solid pitcher who made three All-Star teams. The Phillies gave up on him in 1960 when they attributed a late-decade decline to a dead arm, but the Cardinals picked him up and revived him—becoming one of St. Louis’ top pitchers at the dawn of the Bob Gibson era. Overall in 20 seasons, Simmons sported a 193-183 record and 3.54 ERA.
For the second straight day, the Giants hand a two-year, $25 million contract with a one-year opt-out to a mid-level pitcher. Ross Stripling, who San Francisco fans remember for nearly no-hitting the Giants in his April 2016 major league debut—Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled him after 7.1 hitless innings and 100 pitches—follows Sean Manaea as new additions to the Giants rotation, a year after enjoying his best season yet with a 10-4 record and 3.01 ERA over 32 appearances (24 starts) with Toronto. Durability is a key issue for the 33-year-old Stripling, but the Giants have a recent history of getting the most out of injury-prone starters.
Former Tampa Bay pitcher Ryan Yarbrough, who played the role of the long reliever taking over for the ‘opener’ over much of his five-year career with the Rays, signs a one-year deal worth $3 million with the Kansas City Royals. The 30-year-old lefty has a 40-31 career record and 4.33 ERA; he’s appeared in 127 games, with only 59 of them recorded as starts.
Another ex-Ray has found a new home as catcher Mike Zunino signs with the Cleveland Guardians. The 31-year-old power hitter blasted 33 home runs in 2021 for Tampa Bay, but fell apart this past season—hitting a meager .148 with five homers, 16 RBIs and 46 strikeouts over 115 at-bats.
Wednesday, December 14
The Giants, boasting up freed-up spending money going into 2023, finally make a big splash in the free-agent market—hooking shortstop Carlos Correa on a 13-year, $350 million pact. The deal is the richest ever for a shortstop, and contains no opt-outs. The 28-year-old Correa is a two-time All-Star and 2015 recipient of the AL Rookie of the Year award. In eight years thus far at the major league level, he’s batting .279 with 155 home runs and 553 RBIs.
The big question, for the moment, on the mind of almost every Giants fan is: Whither Brandon Crawford? The popular San Francisco shortstop of 12 seasons with three All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and two World Series rings appears to be the odd man out with Correa’s arrival. It’s doubtful that Crawford, who turns 36 this winter, will move to another position—nor will Correa, who’s never played any other field position outside of short, be asked to play anywhere else given his massive pay haul.
The Dodgers finally add a free agent after a relatively quiet offseason thus far, signing veteran pitcher Noah Syndergaard to a one-year deal worth $13 million. The 30-year-old right-hander is still attempting to find himself after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2020, as his once blazing fastball has slowed by an average of five MPH. This past season combined between the Angels and Phillies, Syndergaard was 10-10 with a 3.94 ERA over 134.2 innings; his rate of strikeouts per nine innings (5.1) was half of what it was pre-Tommy John.
Thursday, December 15
Pitcher Carlos Rodon is rewarded for two years of post-Tommy John surgery excellence by agreeing to a six-year, $162 million deal with the Yankees. After struggling to gain a foothold on the major league landscape through his first six years, the right-hander has been outstanding since the start of 2021—compiling a 24-13 record and 2.67 ERA while striking out 422 batters over 310.2 innings. His 12 strikeouts per nine innings were the majors’ highest among qualified starters this past season.
Second baseman Adam Frazier is joining his fourth team in the past two-plus years, inking with the Orioles for one year and $8 million. An All-Star in 2021, the 31-year-old Frazier had a down season this past year with Seattle, batting .238 with three homers and 42 RBIs. Baltimore hopes to see a bounceback for a seven-year player with a lifetime .273 batting average.
After two solid years with Milwaukee, veteran reliever Brad Boxberger signs a one-year, $2.8 million contract with the Cubs. The right-hander appeared in 141 games over the past two seasons with the Brewers, furnishing a 9-7 record and 3.15 ERA.
Friday, December 16
Even though his star has dimmed over the past few years after several strong seasons to begin his career, outfielder Andrew Benintendi is apparently valuable enough in the eyes of the Chicago White Sox to be handed a five-year, $75 million contract by the team. The 28-year-old Cincinnati native still has some positive traits to claim; he batted .304 combined between Kansas City and the Yankees in 2022, and made the All-Star team—although that had more to do with the fact that the Royals had no one else of All-Star quality to offer. But his power production was down, with only five home runs over 126 games, influencing a subpar .399 slugging percentage.
The Twins take a chance on all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo, giving the 29-year-old outfielder a one-year deal worth $11 million. Gallo sports a painful .199 career batting average—but a healthy lifetime .794 OPS, thanks to the liberal number of home runs and walks he’s produced over eight seasons. This past year split between the Yankees and Dodgers, Gallo batted an anemic .160 with 19 homers and 163 strikeouts over 410 plate appearances.
Eric Hosmer appears to be the guy nobody wants…for the moment, anyway. Ushered out of San Diego with few tears shed last summer, Hosmer is designated for assignment by the Red Sox—who aren’t even paying him; the Padres receive all his invoices, per the terms of the trade that sent him to Boston. But that’s still not good enough for the Red Sox, who got little out of the veteran first baseman; overall, the 32-year old batted .268 with eight homers and 44 RBIs in 2022 between the Padres and Red Sox.
The Mets fill one of their few remaining needs by signing catcher Omar Narvaez to a two-year deal worth $15 million. The 30-year-old Venezuelan native had an off-year with Milwaukee, batting .206 with four homers over 84 games while nailing only 22% of attempted basestealers from behind the plate.
Saturday, December 17
The last big-name, free-agent shortstop is plucked off the market as the Cubs reel in Dansby Swanson for seven years and $177 million. The 28-year old’s final season in Atlanta was one of his better ones; he batted .277, belted 25 home runs, knocked in 96 runs while scoring 99 (both career bests) and earned both All-Star and Gold Glove honors for the first time.
The Dodgers may have gotten one of the bigger steals of the offseason, signing five-time All-Star J.D. Martinez to a one-year contract worth $10 million. Other teams shied away from Martinez as he heads into his late 30s and suffered a poor second half of 2022—overall, he contributed a relatively mere 16 home runs and 62 RBIs—but he still batted a healthy .274 with 43 doubles for the Red Sox. Martinez will likely be penned in as the Dodgers’ everyday DH.
Sunday, December 18
After nine years with the Dodgers, third baseman Justin Turner has a new team as he signs with the Red Sox for two years and $22 million. The deal contains an opt-out after the first season. This past year, the 37-year-old Turner batted .278 with 13 home runs and 81 RBIs—but the Dodgers declined his $16 million option for 2023 and did not seem intent on bringing him back. With Boston, Turner may play at first base or the DH spot as Rafael Devers currently is employed at third.
Outfielder Michael Brantley is returning to the Astros, inking for one year and $12 million. He can also receive an additional $4 million if he meets multiple incentives, thus matching his annual salary for each of the past four seasons in Houston. When healthy, the 35-year-old Brantley can still be effective; injuries limited his playing time in 2022 to 64 games, but he batted .288 with five homers, 26 RBIs and one more walk (31) than strikeouts (30).
Monday, December 19
Tom Browning, who threw a screwball on the field and was occasionally one off it, has died at the age of 62 at his Kentucky home. No cause is given for his death; a statement from the town sheriff’s office only mentions that foul play was not suspected. The Wyoming-born left-hander is best remembered for throwing a perfect game in 1988, the highlight in a solid stretch of baseball with the Cincinnati Reds that began in 1985 when he finished 20-9 with a 3.55 ERA as a rookie. (He finished second in that year’s NL Rookie of the Year vote to St. Louis speedster Vince Coleman.) Four times, Browning led the National League in games started (peaking with 39 in 1986), but also led the majors three times in home runs surrendered. Only seven other Reds pitchers have more wins since 1900 than Browning’s 123.
Browning made the Funnies reel on occasion. During the Reds’ 1990 World Series sweep against Oakland, he left Game Two early as his wife was ready to deliver their first child; no big deal, he thought, since he was supposed to start the next game. But the contest reached extra innings and the Reds began looking around for him as the bullpen began emptying out; the team even made a public appeal for him to return to Riverfront Stadium, but the Reds won in 10 innings before sweating out the possibility of his inclusion. Crazier than that was a 1993 game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field, where Browning slipped out of the ballpark during the game and, in uniform, hiked to the top of one of the outside rooftop bleachers and mingled with the fans. He was fined $500 for the stunt.
Even before his death, this year had not been a pleasant one for Browning. His wife passed away in the spring, and earlier this month he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor drunk driving charge.
Tuesday, December 20
In a stunning reversal, the Giants release shortstop Carlos Correa back into the free-agent wild after they become concerned with a medical issue during his physical—and overnight, he signs to play with the New York Mets. The Giants’ deal was to have been $350 million over 13 years. With the Mets, Correa will receive $315 million over 12 years. Of course, the Mets will make Correa undergo another physical to make sure that they’re content with his health, so that may change as well.
It’s not known what the issue is, but the news is emerging that there was disagreement between the Giants’ doctors and Correa (along with his agent, one Scott Boras) on the results of the physical. In eight years at the major league level, Correa has played over 150 games only once; he logged all but two games in the 60-game, pandemic-reduced schedule of 2020.
For the Mets, Correa’s addition adds to an already voluminous payroll and talent surge—the former point something Steve Cohen, by far MLB’s richest owner, could care less about. For the Giants, Correa’s loss puts them back to square one, and worse—having bypassed other potential signees who have landed elsewhere, and possibly souring their relationship with popular incumbent shortstop Brandon Crawford, who would have been forced to accept a different position had Correa signed.
Earlier, the Mets also sign veteran reliever Adam Ottavino, who returns to New York on a two-year deal worth $14.5 million. The 37-year-old right-hander enjoyed one of his best campaigns in 2022 with the Mets, registering a 2.06 ERA in 66 appearances with three saves and a 6-3 record.
Pitcher Jordan Lyles, who’s had an up-and-down career over his 12 years in the majors, signs a two-year, $17 million contract with Kansas City. The right-hander recorded a personal-best 12 wins (against 11 losses) along with a 4.42 ERA for Baltimore this past year; he joins a Royals staff that could badly use some help.
Matt Carpenter is rewarded for his bounceback 2022 campaign, inking for one year, $6.5 million and a $5.5 million player option in 2024 with San Diego. After his career appeared headed down the drain in 2021—leading to his release from St. Louis, his team of 11 seasons—Carpenter found stunning redemption with the Yankees, batting .305 with 15 homers and 37 RBIs in just 128 at-bats before suffering a broken foot; he came back to action (and to Earth) in the postseason, going 1-for-12 with nine strikeouts.
While the Padres gain Carpenter, they lose Brandon Drury. The utility-type slugger, after his best year yet in 2022 (28 homers, 87 RBIs split between the Padres and Reds), is now the property of the Los Angeles Angels, who hand him a two-year, $17 million contract.
Wednesday, December 21
Denny Doyle, a second baseman of eight major league seasons, passes away at the age of 78. Though he was not known for having a dangerous bat, Doyle enjoyed some offensive claims to fame; he was traded from the Angels to Boston midway through the Red Sox’ 1975 AL pennant-winning season and batted .310 over 89 games. Playing every game of that postseason, Doyle is remembered for mishearing third base coach Don Zimmer on a sac fly attempt during the legendary sixth game of the World Series against Cincinnati, racing home when Zimmer was yelling at him to stay. It’s not the only time he frustrated Zimmer; playing for the Phillies in a 1972 game against the Zimmer-managed Padres, Doyle knocked out a hit with two outs in the ninth to spoil Steve Arlin’s no-hit bid. It was in fact the third time that Doyle had the only hit for his team in a game; no other MLB player has done it twice.
Thursday, December 22
An arbiter frees controversial Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer from his year-plus suspension for violating MLB’s domestic violence policy. Bauer has served 194 of the 324 games (or two seasons); even though he’s now allowed to pitch, he’ll have his 2023 salary reduced by 50 games. The question is: Of the money he’s due, who will pay it? The Dodgers have until January 6 to decide whether to release or hold onto Bauer; if he does become a free agent, his highly toxic reputation will likely scare away potential teams from picking him up to say nothing of the bad PR they would have to absorb from fans and community leaders. Meanwhile, Bauer is still in court attempting to clear his name against a female accuser whom he claims engaged in rough sex with him—but with her consent.
Former San Diego first baseman/outfielder Wil Myers agrees to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million with the Cincinnati Reds; he could earn an additional $2 million through incentives. The deal also includes a mutual option for 2024. Named the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, Myers spent eight years in San Diego, and is currently sixth in team history with 134 homers and seventh with 433 RBIs. His star has faded over the last several seasons; in 77 games this past year, he batted .261 with seven homers and 41 RBIs.
While the Reds pick up Myers, they designate veteran third baseman Mike Moustakas for assignment after a pair of injury-riddled seasons. The 34-year-old Moustakas hit .214 with seven homers and 25 RBIs over 78 games in 2022; he’s due to make $18 million in 2023 (topped by a $4 million buyout for 2024), so it’s likely the Reds will have to eat the remainder of his contract.
The Cubs bring on board two-time Gold Glove-winning catcher Tucker Barnhart on a two-year deal worth $6.5 million. He is expected to back up Yan Gomes, who inherits the starting role vacated by St. Louis-bound Willson Contreras.
Friday, December 23
Perhaps desperate to make up for catastrophic PR earlier in the week, the Giants reel in two of the top free agents left on the market—physicals pending, of course. Going to San Francisco is former Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, who missed the entire 2022 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. The 29-year old hopes to regain his power form of previous years, as he’s averaged 28 home runs per 162 games played throughout his career.
Also landed by the Giants is reliever Taylor Rogers, who will count as one of his new teammates twin brother Tyler Rogers. This past season, Taylor was had a terrific start with San Diego as its closer, but after a rough July was dealt to Milwaukee (for its closer Josh Hader, going through a similar experience); with the Brewers, he produced a stagnant 5.48 ERA over 24 appearances.
The Arizona Diamondbacks, saturated with young, speedy outfielding talent, send Daulton Varsho to Toronto in exchange for outfielder Loudres Gurriel Jr. and, more importantly, top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno. In his third season, Varsho batted .235 but did add 27 home runs, 74 RBIs and 16 steals; his speed on the basepaths clearly shows he can swipe plenty more bags. Moreno, meanwhile, has tremendous upside given his minor league numbers (.310 batting average in five seasons) and a promising call-up session this past year with the Blue Jays, hitting .319 in 69 at-bats with only eight strikeouts; additionally, his defense is said to be at an elite level. The 22-year-old Venezuelan had no short-term path to everyday play in Toronto, as the Jays are currently taken care of at the catcher spot with All-Star Alejandro Kirk and back-up Danny Jansen.
Veteran closer Craig Kimbrel, last seen with the Dodgers, has settled in with the Phillies for one year and $10 million. The 34-year-old reliever saved 22 games for Los Angeles this past year, but also posted a so-so 3.75 ERA; he’s the current saves leader among active pitchers, with 394.
Saturday, December 24
All Carlos Correa wants for Christmas is a long-term deal. Alas for the All-Star shortstop, that appears to be increasingly unlikely. A few days after the Giants canceled their impending deal with Correa over an issue that alarmed them during the team physical, the Mets—who quickly swooped in and agreed to a deal of their own with Correa—have come up with the same concerns following another physical. The issue appears to be his right ankle, which he broke years ago while in the minors and was surgically repaired with a metal plate; it seems he quietly aggravated the old injury late last season while sliding into second base on a stolen base attempt.
Correa and his star agent Scott Boras are now scrambling to come up with their best options—none of which will likely include the long-term deal initially offered by either the Giants or Mets. They can renegotiate with those teams—or any other interested ballclubs—but after all the worrisome long-term health news this past week, expect any eventual deal to be shorter in years and sprinkled with team options and/or incentives. In other words: Prove you can play effectively over the long haul, and then we’ll pay you.
Monday, December 26
The U.S. government will allow MLB players born in Cuba to participate in the upcoming World Baseball Classic tournament representing their native country for the first time. Cuba’s communist regime is also on board with this, as it seeks to reestablish its dominance on the world baseball scene. Its roster would certainly be impressive, as players now eligible to perform would include Yordan Alvarez, Jose Abreu, Yoan Moncada, Luis Robert, Randy Arozarena, Adonis Garcia, Nestor Cortes and Raisel Iglesias.
We’ve been a frequent critic of the WBC, with its difficulty finding a sensible time to play it, and lax eligibility requirements (Anthony Rizzo playing for Italy because his ancestors are Italian, e.g.). We’ll bet good money that MLB teams, too, don’t like it because it messes with their Spring Training schedule and puts their players—especially pitchers—at risk of injury as they dabble in competitive March games at the same time that they’re working themselves into shape for the coming MLB season. That said, a Cuban team of MLB All-Stars will make the tournament a better one.
Tuesday, December 27
The Texas Rangers continue to go all in on their rotation, adding veteran Nathan Eovaldi for two years and $34 million. The inclusion of the 32-year-old right-hander adds to a starting staff that includes recent signings in Jacob DeGrom and Andrew Heaney, as well as returnees in Martin Perez and Jon Gray. In 20 starts this past season for the Red Sox, Eovaldi was 6-3 with a 3.87 ERA and one shutout. Staying healthy over a 162-game season has always been Eovaldi’s biggest challenge; only twice in 11 career seasons has he qualified for the ERA title.
Pitcher Rich Hill, who turns 43 next March, agrees to a one-year deal worth $8 million with the Pirates. Unless Albert Pujols U-turns on retirement and comes back to baseball, Hill will be the oldest active major leaguer in 2023. Like Eovaldi above, Hill pitched for the Red Sox and finished with an 8-7 record and 4.27 ERA in 26 starts. Also like Eovaldi, durability remains his main issue; he’s only qualified for an ERA title once over 18 major league seasons.
Catcher Sean Murphy, recently acquired by Atlanta in a trade from Oakland, is extended for six years and $73 million, as the Braves continue to lock in the 2020s with many of their young key players contracted for the long haul. Before the extension, Murphy was facing three years of arbitration before becoming a free agent.
Wednesday, December 28
The Red Sox, looking to ramp up its rotation as free agency has all but cleared out their 2022 starting core—Chris Sale remains but has major injury issues—sign two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber to a one-year, $10 million deal. The pact also includes a team option for a second season. Kluber simply hasn’t been the same since suffering a broken arm early in 2019; while he had his most active season in 2022 since then, it was hardly wowing—posting a 10-10 record and 4.34 ERA for Tampa Bay. The Red Sox will be Kluber’s fourth team in four seasons, after one-year stints with the Rangers, Yankees and Rays.
The Miami Marlins make a rare offseason signings, bringing on former Phillies infielder Jean Segura for two years and $17 million. Segura, who turns 33 shortly before Opening Day 2023, has a career .285 batting average; he hit .277 in 98 games for Philadelphia this past season and participated in his first postseason after 10 years playing for non-playoff teams.
Thursday, December 29
ESPN is reporting that 10 MLB umpires are stepping down, but fans hoping that the resignations include those of Angel Hernandez, Doug Eddings or C.B. Bucknor will be disappointed. Those that are retiring include seven crew chiefs: Ted Barrett, Greg Gibson, Tom Hallion, Sam Holbrook, Jerry Meals, Jim Reynolds and Bill Welke. The other three are Marty Foster, Paul Nauert and Tim Timmons. According to umpscorecards.com, none of the retiring umpires are listed among the top 60 in regards to accuracy of balls and strikes calls in 2022. (Three of the umpires aren’t listed, owing to the fact that Umpire Scorecards’ data does not include all games played from this past year.)
This is good news for minor league umpires who will get the chance to be promoted to the majors for the 2023 season.
Friday, December 30
Third baseman Evan Longoria is switching homes, staying within the NL West as he signs up with the Arizona Diamondbacks for one year and $4 million. The former Tampa Bay star had a rough go at it for five years in San Francisco, suffering one injury after another and never really getting on firm track with the Giants; the 37-year old hopes to have better luck in Phoenix.
Outfielder Marwin Gonzalez, whose MLB career has flatlined so far this decade, is heading to Japan. The Orix Buffaloes have agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the 11-year veteran who holds a career .252 batting average and 107 homers. Since 2019, he’s batting only .198 over 635 at-bats as he’s bounced from Minnesota to Boston to Houston to the New York Yankees.
Aaron Judge adds to his collection of honors, as he’s named Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year. The newly-crowned AL season home run king edges out Shohei Ohtani (of course), with basketball star Stephen Curry finishing third. Three other Yankees have previously won the honor: Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.
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