So! Remember when everyone was hopeful about maybe getting a little free-agent movement once the Winter Meetings started? Consider those hopes fulfilled! By the time the second afternoon World Cup game was over, two of the biggest names in baseball had agreed to huge deals, with the Mets coming to terms with right-hander Justin Verlander on a two-year deal worth $86 million (with a third-year vesting option), according to a source. Not to be outdone, their division rivals in Philadelphia turned right around and agreed to a deal with shortstop Trea Turner that will be worth a whopping $300 million over 11 years … with a no-trade clause, a source told MLB.com.
Your heads are spinning. Our heads are spinning. And this is just Day 1! Here are 11 takeaways from a wild, wild start to the Winter Meetings.
1. Phillies fans have their next decade pretty locked up!
In 2031, my fifth grade son will be a junior in college. We will have already had two presidential elections and we’ll be preparing for a third. That’s more than two men’s World Cups from now -- we don’t even know where that 2030 World Cup will be. The Los Angeles Olympics will already be three years in our rearview mirror. And one more thing: We know that Bryce Harper and Turner both will be nearing 40, and (barring them waiving their no-trade clauses) will be playing for the Philadelphia Phillies. It’s fair to say that you can comfortably invest in a jersey, though you might not be able to fit in it anymore by the time either player leaves.
2. Carlos Rodón is probably smiling.
Well, the top two pitchers (Jacob deGrom and Verlander) are off the market, so if you’re a team desperate for a top-shelf starter, then Rodón is the last guy sitting at the bar. The New York Post’s Jon Heyman recently reported that Rodón was seeking a six-year deal at $30 million per year, and that was before Verlander signed for $43 million a year. Rodón isn’t the pitcher Verlander or deGrom are, and he has only thrown more than 140 innings twice in his career, but he’s got the best stuff left on the market, which means his price, almost certainly, just went up.
3. Those shortstops are probably smiling even more.
The general assumption was that the other three top-shelf shortstops on the market -- Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson -- would wait to see what Turner got before they got super serious about their own negotiations. After all, why not wait to see what the market will bear? Well, now we know: It can bear a lot! $300 million over 11 years is quite a figure, in dollars obviously but especially in years -- Turner does turn 30 in June, after all. Of those shortstops, only Bogaerts is older than Turner, which has to have all three of them feeling pretty good.
4. Max Scherzer has a more logical running mate … and maybe a new contract target.
As great as the deGrom/Scherzer combo was, it was a little bit of a tonal disconnect: deGrom is incredible, and throws hard like Scherzer, but he’s never been especially durable, not to mention face-meltingly intimidating and competitive, the way that Scherzer is. You know who is, though? Verlander. Having these two back to back over a weekend series feels like an unofficial and perpetual who’s-getting-more-K's-tonight battle waiting to happen. Not for nothing, by the way, but Scherzer does have an opt-out after the 2023 season, if he wants to take it. Could he get more than the $43.3 million he’s scheduled to make? Now that this deal exists, maybe!
5. The Braves have to be sweating a little bit.
The Braves and Mets, you might remember, had a rather spirited pennant race in 2022, one the Braves barely won, thanks to a series sweep in the season’s final week. The two teams ended up tied with 101 wins, and, well, it’s fair to wonder if the Mets might have been able to make up that game if they would have had Verlander on their team. (He would have pitched more than deGrom, at least.) The Braves may be losing their shortstop but are otherwise still pretty stacked. But if it comes down to one series again in '23 … are they going to be able to beat Verlander and Scherzer? Oh, and now they’re getting it from both directions, because those third-place (and NL pennant-winning) Phillies just went out and got the best shortstop on the market. Put it this way: The NL East sure looks like the division with the traditional arms race, not the AL East, as it usually is.
6. Shohei Ohtani may have lost a suitor, either at the Trade Deadline or next year.
The Angels have said they’re not trading him, and it’s probably prudent to believe them: They still could be a playoff team, after all. But when we all wrote our “potential Ohtani suitors” pieces this offseason, the Mets were always near the top of that list. But as much as the Mets have shown a willingness to run a big payroll, do they really have the stomach to trade everything it would require to get Ohtani in addition to trying to sign him to an extension, while spending top dollar on Scherzer and Verlander?
7. Buck Showalter will never have a better shot.
With the Astros winning the World Series, Dusty Baker ended his reign as the winningest active manager never to win a World Series. Guess who’s next on that list? That’s right, it’s Showalter, who is 19th on the all-time wins list and has the third-most wins of any active manager, behind Baker and Terry Francona (who, you may remember, did win himself a couple of World Series). Showalter won his fourth Manager of the Year Award in 2022, but he would of course trade all of them for that elusive World Series ring. He may never have a better shot than he does in '23.
8. Francisco Álvarez, the spotlight is yours.
Hey, kid, we know you’re an incredible hitting prospect who is still figuring out catching in the big leagues. Guess what? You’re about to be the batterymate of two of the fiercest competitors in baseball history. You will end up learning so much … if they don’t stare several holes in you before the season is over.
9. Who owns the Big Apple?
Maybe the Yankees are going to sign Aaron Judge and maybe they’re not. But even if they do, there’s no question that the days of the Yankees having the city to themselves are over. The Yankees are the team that’s supposed to be grabbing the big-name free agents because they will do whatever it takes to win. But that’s been more the Mets’ MO the last couple of winters. That’s fine if the Yankees keep getting further in the playoffs than the Mets do, like they did this past season. But even with the Yankees’ AL East title, they won fewer games than the Mets did in 2022. Most projection systems predict the same in '23. Who does run this city, anyway?
10. The Astros’ young starters are going to have to step up.
It certainly isn’t a surprise that Verlander left the Astros: This was a widely discussed subplot during the World Series, after all. But no matter how well you’ve constructed your roster, no team likes to lose a Cy Young winner. The Astros are stacked with pitching talent, of course, but asking any of those pitchers (even Framber Valdez, the team’s new ace) to be Verlander is asking quite a bit.
11. The market is moving!
Maybe it’s the pandemic receding, maybe it’s a return to normalcy, maybe it’s the new labor deal, but one thing is clear: At the top of the market, teams are competing for top talent in free agency. Turner is a speed player who is going to be making $27 million when he is 40. That seems like quite a risk, to say the least. But another risk is not having Turner on your team, and if you wanted Turner on your team, like the Phillies did, this is what you had to pay. It’s safe to assume the markets for Judge, Correa and others will be similarly robust.