Which signing will work out best? We polled execs

February 8th, 2023

This year's free-agent market produced some eye-popping deals, the sum of which exceeded $3.8 billion.

We know which deal featured the most guaranteed money (Aaron Judge, $360 million), the most years (Trea Turner and Xander Bogaerts, 11 years) and the highest average annual value (Justin Verlander, $43.3 million), but which one is the best in terms of value, according to the game's decision makers?

MLB.com posed that question to executives around the league, asking which free-agent deal they considered to be the best in terms of value and fit for the club.

The results:

SS Carlos Correa, Twins: 3
RHP Zach Eflin, Rays: 3
1B Brandon Belt, Blue Jays: 2
OF Aaron Judge, Yankees: 2
LHP Carlos Rodón, Yankees: 2
1B José Abreu, Astros: 1
LHP Tyler Anderson, Angels: 1
OF Michael Conforto, Giants: 1
RHP Edwin Díaz, Mets: 1
LHP Andrew Heaney, Rangers 1
LHP Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: 1
RHP Charlie Morton, Braves: 1
INF Jean Segura, Marlins: 1
RHP Kodai Senga, Mets: 1
SS Dansby Swanson, Cubs: 1
SS Trea Turner, Phillies: 1
RHP Justin Verlander, Mets: 1
C Mike Zunino, Guardians: 1

Correa's place atop the list was influenced by the two deals he agreed to -- a 13-year, $350 million deal with the Giants and a 12-year, $315 million deal with the Mets -- prior to ultimately signing a six-year, $200 million deal with the Twins.

"I don't know the medicals, obviously," an American League general manager said. "But it seemed opportunistic [for the Twins] to get that type of talent for only six years of commitment."

Correa's right ankle caused both the Giants and Mets to have second thoughts about their respective deals, but after having Correa in a Twins uniform in 2022, Minnesota was confident that the six-year deal -- which includes four club options that can each vest based on his performance in the previous season, taking the contract as high as $270 million -- was a good one.

"Whatever the injury risk is, they seemed to have good comfort with it, having him last year," a National League GM said.

The only other player to receive three votes was Eflin, who agreed to a three-year, $40 million deal with the Rays on Dec. 1. Although the contract was the largest the Rays had ever handed out in free agency, Eflin's deal looked like a relative bargain only weeks later as the pitching market erupted.

"Eflin was a good deal," one NL exec said. "Tampa Bay deserves credit for locking him in before the pitching market went totally crazy."

The executives who tabbed Anderson, Heaney and Morton as their choices echoed that sentiment.

"The way the starting pitching market trended, Anderson provides both floor and high-level production at a reasonable price," an NL GM said. "And it was a need for the Angels."

Another early signee -- the earliest one, actually -- was Díaz, who received one vote from an AL executive. Díaz agreed to terms with the Mets on a five-year, $102 million deal -- the richest in history for a reliever -- on Nov. 6, days before he could even talk dollars with other clubs. The deal includes $26.5 million in deferred payments that will be paid out between 2033 and 2042.

"The Mets got the deal done before free-agent prices started skyrocketing," an AL executive said. "They also got added CBT benefits from the deferred salary in the contract."

The Yankees shelled out more than a half-billion dollars to sign Judge (nine years, $360 million) and Rodón (six years, $162 million), but New York's moves were lauded by multiple execs, with each player receiving two votes in the poll.

"The Yankees fared quite well on both Judge and Rodón," an NL executive said. "There's risk associated with both in different ways, but New York did well to utilize their financial power on that pair."

The size of Judge's contract didn't stop one executive from declaring it the best value of the offseason.

"Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani are the two most marketable and biggest stars in Major League Baseball," an AL executive said. "He's an enormous aircraft carrier. Re-signing Judge was huge; losing him would have been disastrous."

Swanson also received a sizeable deal, signing with the Cubs for $177 million over seven years. But compared to the deals given to Turner (11 years, $300 million), the Padres' Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million) and Correa, Swanson's contract seemed like a steal to one executive.

"If you're talking about pure value as relates to the market, I might lean toward Swanson," an NL exec said. "I still think it's a ton of money per year for a middle-of-the-diamond guy, but given what the rest of the shortstop market earned, it might end up being the best value of the group when all is said and done."

The Astros' signing of Abreu (three years, $58.5 million) and the Rangers' deal with Heaney (two years, $25 million) were each recognized by executives for differing reasons.

"Abreu got more than I would've thought," an NL GM said, "but it was a good fit for an already strong lineup, and keeping it to a shorter term made sense for where Houston is."

"There is upside to pitch at a level a tier above his salary," an NL GM said of Heaney. "It's short term, so there's relatively little risk to Texas, and the ballpark and outfield defense should fit him."

One AL executive offered two answers based on differing criteria.

"Purely on value and fit, independent of impact on the standings, I'd say Segura," the AL exec said. "Low-risk, slightly below-market deal -- and there aren't many of those to choose from this year -- for a pretty reliable offensive performer and a team that really needed it.

"If factoring in the impact on the standings, I'd say Verlander," he added. "Though age presents some element of risk, it's not clear he's aware of that. He's a game changer on a short deal."