Will American League MVP Aaron Judge return to the New York Yankees or end up back home in California with the San Francisco Giants? Is former New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom bound for Texas? Where will each of the Big 4 shortstops land?
Major League Baseball’s 2022-23 free agent period is here, and some of the biggest names in the game are set to move (or stay put).
We asked seven of ESPN’s MLB experts — Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez, Joon Lee, Kiley McDaniel, Buster Olney, Jesse Rogers and David Schoenfield — to predict where the most coveted players will sign this winter — and for how much.
McDaniel: Yankees, nine years, $325 million. If you made me guess (and you have), I don’t think we’ll get a wild bidding war, and the Yankees need him more than any other team. At this sort of number I think they match whatever is out there and they’ll skew toward adding a year to get the AAV/luxury tax number lower.
Doolittle: Yankees, nine years, $340 million. My assumption is that the Yankees will top whatever the market yields for Judge and so I landed a little above the years and annual value of the consensus projections.
Schoenfield: Giants, nine years, $332 million. I’m going with Farhan Zaidi’s comment at the GM meetings: “I think from a financial standpoint, there’s nobody that would be sort of out of our capability to meet what we expect the contract demands will be.” The Giants have enormous payroll flexibility, with only $18.5 million in commitments beyond 2023.
Rogers: Yankees, 10 years, $370 million. Pretty simple. He’ll top Mike Trout‘s deal by $10 million, becoming the highest paid position player in the game by annual salary. How can the best player on the most iconic team leave? He won’t. And the Yankees will pay up to make sure of it.
Lee: Yankees, 10 years, $360 million. The Yankees fan base will revolt if Judge is not in pinstripes next year and Hal Steinbrenner has given every indication that he will extend every possible financial resource to make sure the AL MVP returns. Even if there is a bidding war, I think the Yankees will make any decision very tough.
Olney: Yankees, nine years, $360 million. In their entire history, the Yankees have never had a player who bore more leverage against them than Judge in this moment. In fact, in the franchise’s history, individual players have never really held an upper hand — not Babe Ruth (who was released), not Joe DiMaggio (who retired while under threat of losing his stature), not Mickey Mantle (who retired in spring training), not Reggie Jackson (who was allowed to leave as a free agent), not Derek Jeter (who got less than half of what his camp asked for in negotiations). In this case, however, the Yankees need the player more than the player needs them.
Gonzalez: Giants, eight years, $352 million. Two things we can pretty much assume about the Giants and their presumed pursuit of Judge: They’d prefer a shorter deal, given that he’ll be heading into his age-31 season, and they’ll have to outbid the Yankees. So what about an eight-year deal that allows Judge to smash the AAV record, set by Max Scherzer on only a three-year contract? $44 million a year for eight years is a wild sum. But wild might be a prerequisite here.
McDaniel: Texas Rangers, four years, $155 million. I was leaning toward him returning to the Mets and getting the Scherzer deal (3 years/$130M) with a vesting option based on innings pitched in the third year, but I’m now more convinced that Texas makes a bold move for a pitcher with a maxed-out guarantee and I think it’ll be deGrom. Carlos Rodon would also make sense, but he probably signs later in the winter to ensure he gets a precedent-setting number or two in his deal.
Doolittle: Los Angeles Dodgers, three years, $120 million (with a mutual opt-out for the last season). A deal similar in structure and value to the one Justin Verlander played under this season makes sense. You could see how the Dodgers might see deGrom as the missing piece and how deGrom might be curious to find out why so many pitchers find another level in L.A.
Schoenfield: Rangers, four years, $160 million. The Rangers have already burned one year of the Corey Seager–Marcus Semien era. They brought in a win-now manager in Bruce Bochy and they need starting pitching help. It’s a big roll of the dice given deGrom’s health history, but this is the position the Rangers have put themselves in.
Rogers: Atlanta Braves, three years, $125 million. The price will be worth the double whammy when the Braves steal deGrom from their archrivals. Though it’s a high annual rate, it’ll be over pretty quickly, giving Atlanta a few shots at the title with deGrom but still staying flexible — as Alex Anthopoulos likes to do — with the core of the Braves still in place even when the contract is over. It also gives a little protection for the team based on deGrom’s injury history.
Lee: Rangers, four years, $160 million. The Rangers will need to make another big splash to justify the money they spent on Seager and Semien last year and this is one of the obvious spots they can upgrade. Texas needs deGrom more than the Mets need him, and I think that’s where he eventually lands.
Olney: Rangers, four years, $150 million. There’s just too much risk for the Mets to carry deGrom and Scherzer at $80 million annually. The Rangers are the team most motivated to buy pitching this winter.
Gonzalez: St. Louis Cardinals, four years, $150 million. The Cardinals — venturing into a new era with Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina gone and Adam Wainwright heading into his final season — have money to spend, needs to address and championship ambitions to pursue. DeGrom and his devastating stuff would be a perfect fit for what was mostly a pitch-to-contact staff last year.
The Big 4 shortstops
Trea Turner: Seattle Mariners, nine years, $280 million
Carlos Correa: Giants, eight years, $270 million
Dansby Swanson: Braves, six years, $150 million
Xander Bogaerts: Boston Red Sox, six years, $168 million
The tricky part about this is the next-best-shortstop option in free agency is Jean Segura or Elvis Andrus. So, the teams shopping for a shortstop that don’t land one of these four will likely look to swing a trade to upgrade that position: Willy Adames, Amed Rosario, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Paul DeJong, Miguel Rojas, Javier Baez and Jorge Mateo are the main options. In this scenario I have the Dodgers and Cubs doing that, but it’s more of a coin flip than a strong feeling.
If, as I expect, the Giants miss out on Judge, they’ll be looking elsewhere to make a splash and Turner can fit in at a number of spots for them. Correa to the Orioles could be a reach but there is a lot about where the Orioles are as a franchise and the way they go about things that feels like a perfect fit for Correa. Swanson returning to the Braves just makes too much sense to me not to happen. And it’s hard for me to see the Cubs coming out of this winter without one of the top shortstops — and Bogaerts is the one who is left.
This could go in a million different directions with teams like the Cubs and Orioles perhaps factoring into the equation as well. Few owners want to win like the Phillies’ John Middleton, and Dave Dombrowski is the master of signing big stars to big contracts, so I have Turner going to Philadelphia to pair up with his old teammate Bryce Harper (with Bryson Stott moving to second base). Judge and Correa in the same offseason? The Giants could pull it off, even with shortstop Marco Luciano coming up. I’m not buying the Dodgers moving Gavin Lux to shortstop and I don’t see the Braves giving Swanson that kind of money — more than Ronald Acuna Jr. or Michael Harris II — so I see the Dodgers going with Swanson’s good defense to replace Turner.
Turner: Phillies, eight years, $270 million
Correa: Minnesota Twins, seven years, $230 million
Swanson: Braves, six years, $165 million
Bogaerts: Giants (or Cubs), six years, $180 million
Dave Dombrowski has carte blanche in Philadelphia after getting his team to the World Series, while Bryce Harper and Turner know each other from their Washington Nationals days. There’s little doubt Turner’s speed and defense will fit in with the power-laden Phillies. And there’s also little doubt they will spend on someone. The biggest shocker will be Correa returning to the Twins. He made such a good impression there, Minnesota will have no problem opening up the checkbook. He and Bogaerts have done the short-term opt-out deals, so long-term homes are what they’re looking for. The Giants have already stated they have money to spend as well. After the dust settles, could a team in need of a shortstop call the White Sox for Tim Anderson? It’s possible.
Turner: Phillies, 10 years, $300 million
Correa: Giants, nine years, $310 million
Swanson: Braves, five years, $150 million
Bogaerts: Red Sox, six years, $175 million
The Red Sox front office is feeling significant pressure to re-sign Bogaerts, and I think they will need to extend beyond their comfort zone to get a deal done. Following the Mookie Betts trade, Boston fans are still feeling raw about the way negotiations have gone with homegrown stars Rafael Devers and Bogaerts. Both have played big roles in championship teams, and given the struggles of the 2022 season, fans will be irate if the Red Sox do not re-sign Bogaerts or replace him with someone of similar skill and then they fail to reach the playoffs again.
Turner: Phillies, nine years, $270 million
Correa: Twins, eight years, $256 million
Bogaerts: Red Sox, five years, $150 million
Swanson: Braves, six years, $126 million
In the end, if Swanson is to stay in Atlanta, the agreement has to be a deal that makes both sides a little uncomfortable — with the Braves paying Swanson more than they want to pay, and Swanson taking a little less than market value.
Turner: Phillies, eight years, $270 million
Correa: Twins, nine years, $275 million
Swanson: Cubs, six years, $150 million
Bogaerts: Red Sox, seven years, $196 million
I see the Cubs similar to the Giants in that there’s an expectation they’ll spend big on someone. Maybe Swanson is that guy, considering the Braves have shown they won’t let emotion prompt them to overextend on contracts and that, given how it has gone lately, they’ll probably plug Vaughn Grissom in at shortstop and watch him win Rookie of the Year. The Phillies make too much sense for Turner, the Red Sox can’t lose out on another star after trading away Betts, and the Twins and Correa just seem like a good match.
McDaniel: Houston Astros, two years, $87 million. The change here is Jim Crane being in charge and he did this deal last year. I assume Verlander’s reps can get Crane to agree to the Scherzer AAV ($43.3M) or something close to it and the question is if it’s a two- or three-year deal and/or is there an opt-out?
Doolittle: Astros, three years, $126 million. Verlander has flourished with the Astros, whose window of contention remains wide open, and it feels to me like he’s hitting the market mostly to establish his value.
Schoenfield: Dodgers, two years, $80 million. Astros or Dodgers makes the most sense, but the Astros can survive without Verlander in their rotation and spend that money elsewhere. Verlander replaces the departed Tyler Anderson and goes to a team where he can win a lot of games and continue his pursuit of 300 wins.
Rogers: Dodgers, two years, $83 million. I really wanted to pick the Rangers but Verlander will end up where the playoffs are a sure thing. Houston has so much pitching, they’ll pass on tying up that kind of money even if it’s just for two years. Los Angeles, on the other hand, needs to assure itself of October success. Verlander can help with that, finally having proved he can dominate in the World Series. It seems like a perfect fit.
Lee: Astros, two years, $90 million. Verlander should be trying to get a deal that exceeds Scherzer’s contract with the Mets and after the Astros won the World Series and Verlander won a Cy Young, I think the two sides will have a hard time parting ways.
Olney: Rangers, three years, $130 million.
Gonzalez: Rangers, three years, $120 million. The Rangers have money to spend and holes to fill in their rotation. Verlander is the perfect guy for this moment in time. But he’ll have to be enticed to join a division rival that is not certain to compete, so I envision a three-year deal made up of player options. The Astros have too much internal pitching to want to match something like that.
McDaniel: Mets, five years, $135 million. I’m leaning toward deGrom walking and the Mets bringing in one of the other top starters on the market. Rodon and Brandon Nimmo are both Scott Boras clients and I think Boras is eager to find out how deep Steve Cohen’s pockets are.
Doolittle: Orioles, five years, $135 million. As the Orioles look to move into the elite tier of the majors, a splash for a hitter and one for a pitcher should be on the table.
Schoenfield: Mets, five years, $142 million. I have the Mets as well. They have three starters in free agency in deGrom, Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker, so they’ll be spending a lot of money on somebody.
Rogers: Rangers, five years, $132 million. Texas will spend on pitching. That much we know. It wouldn’t shock me if they signed more than one high-end arm, but after retaining Martin Perez and trading for Jake Odorizzi, Rodon is the least they’ll add to that mix.
Lee: Mets, five years, $150 million. This is the pitcher who makes the most sense for the Mets from a value and talent standpoint. Cohen is not going to sit still this offseason and I expect New York to be pulling out its pocketbook again to improve its roster in an area where it struggled with health last season.
Olney: Mets, five years, $130 million.
Gonzalez: Mets, five years, $130 million. I’d love to be different, but I need to stay consistent with my other predictions — none of which have a player ending up with the Mets. The Mets have a plethora of holes to fill on their roster — particularly in their rotation, which saw deGrom, Bassitt and Walker venture into free agency — and are destined to come away with one of the top guys. Rodon might be the one.
McDaniel: Mets, five years, $125 million. I think Nimmo will be coming off the board sooner than later and the buzz is he’s the Mets second priority after Edwin Diaz.
Doolittle: Mets, five years, $110 million. Starling Marte in center field is not the answer for the Mets and unless they can sway Judge to sign with them to play there, Nimmo is the best option.
Schoenfield: Toronto Blue Jays, six years, $135 million. There is a lot of interest in Nimmo, but the Teoscar Hernandez trade opens up the door for Nimmo to go to Canada. The Jays have said they want a little more balance in their lineup and the lefty-hitting Nimmo goes to center field and allows them to move George Springer to right.
Rogers: Blue Jays, five years, $120 million. Toronto absolutely needs to get more left-handed in its lineup and Nimmo is a perfect fit.
Lee: Mets, five years, $140 million. Nimmo is a fan favorite, he’s well-liked in the clubhouse and there are few replacements for someone of his talent available in trades or free agency.
Olney: Blue Jays, six years, $142 million.
Gonzalez: Miami Marlins, five years, $120 million. The Marlins have the organizational starting pitching depth to contend. But they desperately need offense. Ideally it would come from a center fielder, particularly one who can defend in a spacious outfield and is not overly reliant on the home run. Nimmo is perfect for them. The question is whether they can elevate to a contender level. If ever there was a time under this regime, this is it.
Prediction for a player we haven’t mentioned yet
McDaniel: Zach Eflin, Giants, three years, $39 million. He seems like the best candidate to be the bounce-back starter the Giants dramatically improve. Jameson Taillon is the other leading candidate and gets about the same deal.
Doolittle: Willson Contreras, Cardinals, four years, $76 million. The Redbirds need an everyday backstop to step into the sizable empty shoes of Molina, and Contreras is easily the best on the market as a player who fits the bill on the field and in the clubhouse.
Schoenfield: Kodai Senga, Mariners, five years, $80 million. Starting pitching isn’t the Mariners’ biggest need, but Jerry Dipoto raved about Senga at the GM meetings and I think he dreams of a rotation that can go toe-to-toe with the Astros from one through five (or six). Then he can use Marco Gonzales or Chris Flexen in a trade for a second baseman or outfielder.
Rogers: Wade Miley, Dodgers, one year, $7 million. Miley has one key advantage: He won’t have to get used to the pitch clock. The man works fast. He could use a healthy season, which even he admits seems to be every other one for him. This is that “other” year. Miley’s cutter still gets its done when he’s on. Los Angeles is a perfect spot as he fits into any veteran locker room.
Lee: Kodai Senga, Red Sox, five years, $85 million. Boston has been a destination for many Japanese players, and the Red Sox will need to improve their rotation, especially if Nathan Eovaldi leaves in free agency.
Olney: AJ Pollock, Giants, two years, $20 million. The Giants love their platoons, and Pollock wrecks left-handed pitching (.935 OPS vs. lefties in 2022). Plus he knows the division so well.
Gonzalez: Cody Bellinger, Yankees, one year, $22 million. If Bellinger is only going to accept a one-year deal — and that’s the plan, his agent, Scott Boras, told The Athletic — then a nice bidding war is going to play out, and a team might have to kick in a lucrative 2024 player option as a sweetener. Bellinger needs to go to a team that possesses the resources to give him the best chance to recapture who he was. A short porch in right field helps, too.