Judge, Ohtani and deGrom, oh my! 10 storylines to watch

November 7th, 2022

Let the Hot Stove burn.

The Astros capturing their second World Series championship and first since 2017 capped a memorable 2022 season, leaving the other 29 clubs wondering what must be done to put them in position to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy next fall.

This year’s free-agent market features some superstar names, while the trade market could also be very active as the GM Meetings get underway this week in Las Vegas. What will baseball fans be buzzing about in the coming weeks and months? Here are 10 storylines to watch.

Judge’s verdict
Aaron Judge’s future has been a topic of conversation from the moment he turned down the Yankees’ seven-year, $213.5 million extension offer prior to Opening Day. Now, after setting the American League home run record and posting an MVP-caliber season, it’s time to see just how big his bet on himself pays off -- and which team is going to have the slugger in its lineup for most of the next decade. The Yankees are expected to make every attempt to keep Judge, but the Giants, the Dodgers and possibly even -- gasp! -- the Mets are thought to be serious contenders for his powerful bat.

deGrom’s decision
Jacob deGrom maintained all season that he would opt out of his contract, and even after an injury-shortened year that saw him make only 11 starts, the 34-year-old should be the most sought-after arm on the market. deGrom will have plenty of options, and depending on the length of his contract, could challenge Max Scherzer’s AAV record of $43.3 million. Will the Mets keep their ace, or will he be putting on a different uniform for the first time in his career?

Shortstop carousel
For the second consecutive offseason, the free-agent market is loaded with talent at the shortstop position. Trea Turner and Dansby Swanson are first-time free agents, as will be Xander Bogaerts, if he opts out of the final three years and $60 million of his contract with the Red Sox as expected. Then there’s Carlos Correa, who was part of last year’s free-agent shortstop crop, but intends to opt out of the final two years and $70.2 million of his three-year, $105.3 million deal with the Twins. Turner is expected to get the biggest contract of the group, but once the first shortstop signs, the dominos could fall quickly.

Texas two-step
The Rangers made some noise last offseason, shelling out more than $500 million in contracts, including $325 million to Corey Seager and $175 million to Marcus Semien. Chris Young is now running the show in baseball operations, and after hiring Bruce Bochy as his new manager, the GM is expected to be a big spender again this winter. The focus this time should be pitching, with Jacob deGrom likely high on the club’s wish list.

Kings of Queens
The Mets had a busy offseason a year ago, signing Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar and Mark Canha. This year, GM Billy Eppler has some work to do to fill out the roster, as the Mets started the offseason with 11 free agents from the 40-man roster. The rotation alone could face the loss of Jacob deGrom, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco. Eppler did take care of one big order of business, agreeing with All-Star closer Edwin Díaz on a reported five-year, $102 million contract, pending a physical, according to MLB.com's Anthony DiComo. Sound the trumpets.

Shohei on the move?
There are plenty of questions hovering around the Angels this offseason, starting with the potential sale of the club. But the biggest is the status of Shohei Ohtani, who is slated to become a free agent a year from now after agreeing to a one-year, $30 million deal for 2023 to avoid arbitration. If the Angels don’t think they can sign Ohtani to an extension or come to terms on a new deal after he becomes a free agent, then trading him this winter should be one of the considerations given how much he would potentially bring back.

For the Birds
It’s been four years since the Orioles have been players on the free-agent market, their last notable signings coming in 2018 when they inked Alex Cobb (four years, $57 million) and Andrew Cashner (two years, $16 million). But Baltimore’s surprising 83-win season was the first sign that GM Mike Elias’ rebuild was working, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Orioles spend some money to add a player or two -- specifically some starting pitching -- this offseason.

Closing time
Teams seeking late-inning bullpen help will have a plethora of free-agent options this winter, including a number of proven closers. Though Díaz is reportedly off the table, Kenley Jansen, Taylor Rogers and David Robertson are among the other relief options this offseason.

San Francisco treats?
The Giants are believed to be focused on Aaron Judge, hoping to lure the hometown kid -- Judge hails from Linden, Calif., which is about 100 miles from San Francisco -- out west. But Judge isn’t the only player the Giants will be in on, as the club has plenty of payroll flexibility. The Giants might be in on the shortstop market, and they’ll either have to bring back Carlos Rodón (who opted out) or find a starter to take his place.

Pitch meeting
Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney are all free agents, while Walker Buehler could miss the entire 2023 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career. That leaves Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May with rotation spots next season for the Dodgers, but who will fill out the starting five? Kershaw seems likely to return, but the Dodgers -- who might also make a play for Judge this winter -- will have to add at least one starter to bolster the rotation.