The offseason's biggest winners ... so far
It is far too early to start declaring winners and losers from the Hot Stove already. The Winter Meetings just ended! Carlos Correa hasn’t signed anywhere, Dansby Swanson hasn’t either, Carlos Rodón is still out there! We’re still just getting started!
But still: We’ve learned a lot. Some fans are grousing about their team’s inactivity; some fans can’t stop reveling in their good fortune. The offseason is a time for excitement and there are five teams who, we’d argue, haven’t just provided excitement: They’ve made smart moves that set themselves up well, both in the short and long term. If you’re a fan of these five teams, you have to be happy with how this has gone so far.
Here are your five offseason winners to this point. These are teams that have tangibly improved -- at least on paper -- by filling voids on their rosters or making clear upgrades. As a result, you won’t see the Mets and Yankees listed because, up until this point, they haven’t really added to their talent base, but rather brought back their best free agents. (Or, in the case of the Mets, signed Justin Verlander to directly fill Jacob deGrom’s spot.)
Not much of a difficult call here. Sure, it’s possible that Manny Machado opts out after 2023, and Juan Soto is going to hit the market after the 2024 season, so the incredible foursome that’s going to play in San Diego next year might not be together as long as we might like. But wow, what a foursome! Machado, Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts? In the same lineup? Has anyone team had the top four MVP finishers before? (Ed. note: Nope!)
The Padres have that on the table. But more to the point: The Padres are doing exactly what any fan should want their baseball team to do. They see an opportunity, in a town with no other major men’s professional sports teams, to do something generational. Their fans are supporting them -- this team is a sensation in that wonderful town -- and the Padres are putting all their chips in to win, right now. How do you not root for these guys?
The Cardinals, for the first time this century, had a gaping hole at the catcher position. They had a lot of options, including trading for the A’s Sean Murphy or one of Toronto’s trio of catchers. But that might have cost them considerable talent, even talent currently helping the Cardinals win, like, right now: Guys like Brendan Donovan, or Lars Nootbaar, or Nolan Gorman. They didn’t want to do that, not yet. So they went out and filled their catching spot the old-fashioned way: They paid for it.
Willson Contreras has been playing against the Cardinals for years and has been open about how much he respected the organization, and how open he would have been for taking over for a legend; he’ll be a perfect fit there. The Cardinals just added a three-time All-Star who will give the team a significant offensive upgrade behind the plate. The team probably needs another starting pitcher or two, but it has its backstop, as it always does.
Don’t be too down on the Cubs, though. They were always considered a potential landing spot for Cody Bellinger, and their $17.5 million offer ended up bagging him. Bellinger, considering his struggles the last couple of years, is a risk -- that’s why he only got a one-year deal -- but it sure seems like one with plenty of upside, both for him (who can rebuild his value) and for the team, which certainly needed a big bat. The Cubs' pitching was better last year than you might have remembered, and adding Jameson Taillon certainly isn’t going to make them worse.
More to the point, Cubs fans have been waiting for the team to start trying to win now, rather than some indeterminate moment in the future. They should probably still go after a shortstop -- and they may still will -- but the Cubs look like a potential Wild Card sleeper contender next year … and they may not be done.
Quietly, the Guardians’ offense last year was better than it usually is, despite the team’s usual resistance to pay for outside talent. The reason the offense wasn’t bad was because of its bat-to-ball skills, which, as we saw in the postseason, makes for really exciting winning baseball … until it doesn’t. Thus, bringing in Josh Bell makes a ton of sense. He has only really had one fantastic year, in 2019, when he slugged 37 homers and 37 doubles and made the All-Star team, but even his base level is solid, and certainly one of the best hitters in this lineup. And he brings them power, which they need more than anything.
Also: What a fun pair of switch-hitters to have, with Bell and José Ramírez. The AL Central looks as wide open in 2023 as it did this past season. Signing Bell makes it more likely the Guardians take advantage of it again.
Let’s not overthink this. For all the justified love for Aaron Judge this offseason, you could make an argument that, when you account for position, ability and the likelihood of aging gracefully, it was in fact Trea Turner who was the best free agent on the market. (I would make this argument. I believe this!) So while it is certainly wild to see anyone signed to an 11-year contract -- Turner is now one of the few people on this planet who has some inkling of what their life will be like in 2033 -- that the Phillies were able to get Turner at a seemingly-under-market $27 million per year is truly impressive.
He instantly makes that team better -- at the plate, on the basepaths and in the field -- and he gets to play alongside Bryce Harper for the next decade. They also added Taijuan Walker on a four-year deal to fortify their rotation. The cost ($72 million in total) is notable, but Walker did not receive a qualifying offer, so he won’t cost the Phillies any Draft picks.
The Phillies’ World Series run this year reminded us all of what this franchise and this fanbase is capable of. They clearly want to keep the party going … for the next decade.