The Top 25 MLB Free Agents of Loaded 2022-23 Class

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVSeptember 8, 2022

The Top 25 MLB Free Agents of Loaded 2022-23 Class

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 05:  Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees follows through on his sixth inning two run home run against the Minnesota Twins at Yankee Stadium on September 05, 2022 in New York City. The Yankees defeated the Twins 5-2. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    New York's Aaron Judge (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    For all of the talk over the past six months about Aaron Judge's upcoming contract situation, he is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg when it comes to the sheer volume of MLB talent hitting free agency this November.

    We're only doing a top 25 here, but just for fun, I put together a top 50 and still didn't have enough room for the likes of Evan Longoria, Wil Myers, Michael Brantley, Michael Wacha or Zach Eflin, any of whom could be considered a difference-making pickup this offseason.

    About one-third of the players on this list have player options for next season, but with one exception in Minnesota that we'll get to shortly, it's likely that they'll all opt for free agency and more money.

    Rankings are mostly based on how well the player is performing this season or has performed over the past few seasons, with a little bit of "How excited would I be if my favorite team signed him at market value?" sprinkled into the equation. To that end, position scarcity plays somewhat of a factor.

    Honorable Mentions: Tyler Anderson, Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Drury, Mitch Haniger, Kenley Jansen, Craig Kimbrel, Charlie Morton*, Jurickson Profar, Luis Severino*

    *Morton and Severino would have ranked somewhere in the Nos. 18-25 range if they didn't have club options for 2023. Because there's no guarantee that either one will be granted free agency and because they wouldn't have landed in the top 10 anyway, it was decided to keep them out of the top 25.

Nos. 25-23: Adam Wainwright, Brandon Nimmo and Nathan Eovaldi

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    CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 23: Adam Wainwright #50 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws a pitch during the fourth inning of Game One of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 23, 2022 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
    St. Louis' Adam Wainwright (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)

    25. Adam Wainwright, RHP, St. Louis Cardinals ($17.5 million)
    10-9, 3.21 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.9 K/BB

    Wainwright recently turned 41 and may have another year left in the tank. If he does run it back, you've got to assume he would do so with St. Louis, where he has spent the entirety of his career.

    But if he happens to hit the open market, there's bound to be a lot of interest in this durable veteran who has a 3.13 ERA since the beginning of 2020, as well as a career postseason ERA of 2.83 in 114.1 innings.

    24. Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets ($7 million)
    .266/.352/.424, 13 HR, 81 R, 48 RBI

    He doesn't get anywhere near the attention that Francisco Lindor or Pete Alonso does, but Nimmo is having himself another rock-solid season as the leadoff hitter for one of the best teams in the bigs.

    Dating back to the start of 2020, Nimmo has been a .277 hitter. He doesn't smack many homers and rarely steals bases, but he sees a lot of pitches, makes good contact and is pretty much flawless in center field with no errors committed in more than 1,000 innings of work this season.

    23. Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Boston Red Sox ($17 million)
    5-3, 4.15 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 5.3 K/BB

    One year removed from flirting with an AL Cy Young Award, Eovaldi has had a rough run through 2022. He's currently on the IL for the second time this season, and his ERA is a bit elevated thanks to two atrocious starts against Houston (1.2 IP, 6 ER, 5 HR) and Toronto (2.2 IP, 9 ER).

    Take out those two brutal outings, though, and he has a 2.93 ERA. Moreover, the 32-year-old has averaged 5.7 strikeouts per walk since the beginning of 2020 and been mighty effective when able to keep the ball in the yard. A repeat of the four-year, $68 million contract he signed in December 2018 could be on the table here, though something more in the two-year, $40 million range is more likely.

Nos. 22-20: Andrew Heaney, Martín Pérez and Noah Syndergaard

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    HOUSTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 05: Martin Perez #54 of the Texas Rangers delivers during the second inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 05, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
    Texas' Martin Perez (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

    22. Andrew Heaney, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers ($8.5 million)
    2-2, 2.94 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 13.5 K/9, 6.0 K/BB

    2021 was Heaney's first go at a contract year, and, well, it could have gone a lot better. He had a 5.27 ERA in 18 starts with the Los Angeles Angels, got traded to the Yankees and got even worse.

    But the Dodgers took a one-year, $8.5 million flier on a lefty who has always had good strikeout stuff. Despite multiple trips to the IL, it has worked out pretty well. He has yet to pitch into the seventh inning of a start, as the Dodgers have been limiting his pitch count, but he has been solid in his limited capacity.

    Has the No. 9 overall pick in the 2012 MLB draft finally hit his stride, or has this season just been a small-sample-sized flash in the pan? It only takes one team to believe the former, and Heaney could be headed for a huge salary boost.

    21. Martín Pérez, LHP, Texas Rangers ($4 million)
    10-6, 2.82 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 2.7 K/BB

    From 2012 to 2021, Pérez had a 4.71 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, and he has yet to earn a salary north of $6 million. But that's about to change in a big way, as he has recorded a quality start in 19 of 27 appearances in a breakthrough 2022 campaign.

    What he gets in free agency won't match the deal that Carlos Rodón signed this past offseason—$21.5 million, with a $22.5 million player option for next season—because he was worse than Rodón and for longer before finally becoming an All-Star. But expect to see something with a similar structure for a guy who needs to prove these past few months were no fluke.

    20. Noah Syndergaard, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies ($21 million)
    8-9, 4.07 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 6.7 K/9, 3.0 K/BB

    Thor is nowhere near the strikeout artist he was prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery and missing all but two innings of the previous two seasons. His fastball is sitting about four miles per hour below where it used to be, so no wonder he's having a harder time missing bats.

    But this season was all about proving he could stay healthy and pitch effectively, which Syndergaard has done.

    He just turned 30 in August, and it will be interesting to see if anyone is willing to put together a long-term offer for him. My guess is Syndergaard will get something similar to what Marcus Stroman got from the Chicago Cubs this past offseason: two years for $50 million, plus a $21 million player option for a third year.

Nos. 19-17: Trey Mancini, J.D. Martinez and Chris Bassitt

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    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 31: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox bats against the Minnesota Twins on August 31, 2022 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
    Boston's J.D. Martinez (Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)

    19. Trey Mancini, 1B/OF, Houston Astros ($7.75 million)
    .253/.329/.408, 16 HR, 51 R, 58 RBI

    Mancini has a $10 million mutual option for 2023, and this could be a rare case in which a mutual option actually gets exercised. But Mancini will likely turn it down in search of a five- or six-year deal worth nine figures.

    Whether he gets that wish may hinge on his play down the stretch and in the postseason.

    He started hot after getting traded to Houston at last month's deadline, hitting three home runs in his first eight trips to the plate. In the month since, however, he's batting .185 with just six extra-base hits. If he puts up similar numbers the rest of the way, his value on the open market might not be as high as we thought it would when he was batting north of .300 two months into the year.

    18. J.D. Martinez, DH, Boston Red Sox ($19.35 million)
    .273/.341/.429, 11 HR, 63 R, 51 RBI

    At the end of May, Martinez looked to be well on his way to both a batting title and a mighty-fine payday via free agency. Not a long-term deal, mind you, as we're talking about a designated hitter who recently turned 35. But through 50 team games, he was hitting .363. And had he finished the year in the .320 range, surely some team would have put together a three-year, $80 million type of offer.

    Since then, however, he's hitting .224 and has a slugging percentage (.355) worse than what he was batting earlier in the year. From June 15 through August 27, Martinez—who clubbed 45 home runs in 2017 and 43 more in 2018—hit one homer in 243 trips to the plate.

    There's still going to be a robust market for his services, but suitors need to consider the likelihood that Martinez's best days are behind him.

    17. Chris Bassitt, RHP, New York Mets ($8.65 million)
    12-7, 3.32 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.6 K/BB

    Bassitt and the Mets have a $19 million mutual option for 2023, but it would be quite a surprise if he agrees to that instead of electing free agency. He's going to turn 34 in February, so this might be his last chance to sign a deal in the five-year, $100 million range.

    And given the way he has pitched over the past five years, he might get it.

    Bassitt has logged 566.1 innings since the beginning of 2018 with a 3.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 8.6 K/9. Those aren't exactly Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer or Justin Verlander numbers, but let's just say it's no mistake that he finished top-10 in the AL Cy Young vote in both 2020 and 2021. He'll fetch a pretty penny in free agency.

Nos. 16-14: Anthony Rizzo, José Abreu and Josh Bell

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    SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 06: Josh Bell #24 of the San Diego Padres reacts after hitting a solo homerum during the seventh inning of a game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at PETCO Park on September 06, 2022 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
    San Diego's Josh Bell (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

    16. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, New York Yankees ($16 million)
    .225/.339/.493, 30 HR, 71 R, 71 RBI

    It'd be a bit of a surprise if Rizzo were to leave New York this offseason. Maybe the 33-year-old first baseman declines his one-year, $16 million player option and re-ups on a longer-term deal, but that short porch in right field is clearly good for the lefty.

    Rizzo's batting average and on-base percentage leave much to be desired compared to his career marks, but he's homering like never before. His career high in home runs is 32, but he is hitting round-trippers at a 162-game pace of 42 this year.

    15. Jose Abréu, 1B, Chicago White Sox ($19.7 million)
    .309/.384/.453, 14 HR, 73 R, 63 RBI

    Abréu will turn 36 before the start of next season, and the late-career power outage appears to have already begun. The first baseman, who homered at a 162-game pace of 33 from 2014 to 2021, is unlikely to even reach 20 dingers this year. So, maybe don't expect anything more than a two-year deal for Abréu this offseason.

    But the man can clearly still hit, even if he's not the slugger he used to be. With Luis Arraez fading fast over the past few weeks, Abréu still has a good shot at the AL batting title. Even if he ultimately falls short of first place in the league, ending the year north of .300 would be a nice feather in the cap that he wears into free agency.

    14. Josh Bell, 1B, San Diego Padres ($10 million)
    .276/.369/.451, 17 HR, 71 R, 67 RBI

    Between Mancini, Rizzo, Abréu and Bell, the market for free-agent first basemen is almost overcrowded.

    But at least until a month ago, Bell looked like the cream of that strong crop.

    The switch hitter batted .301 during the Washington Nationals portion of his 2022 campaign, recently turned 30 and is just three years removed from racking up 37 home runs and 116 RBI with the 2019 Pittsburgh Pirates. He could be a candidate for a five-year, $100 million type of deal if he bounces back from what has been a rough first few weeks in San Diego.

Nos. 13-11: Andrew Benintendi, Clayton Kershaw and Willson Contreras

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 28: New York Yankees left fielder Andrew Benintendi (18) waits for the pitch during a game between the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics on August 28, 2022, at RingCentral Coliseum in Oakland, CA. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
    New York's Andrew Benintendi (Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

    13. Andrew Benintendi, OF, New York Yankees
    .304/.373/.399, 5 HR, 54 R, 51 RBI, 8 SB

    Five years ago, Benintendi hit 20 home runs and stole 20 bases while almost winning AL Rookie of the Year. This year, he might not get to 10 in either category.

    But he does have a better batting average than ever before, is still a solid left fielder (no errors this season) and just turned 28 in July.

    He's bound to be a hot commodity in what is—aside from Aaron Judge, of course—a weak class of free-agent outfielders. Similar to how the trade deadline played out, the teams that don't get Benintendi will be more or less left to fight over Joey Gallo, Tommy Pham and Robbie Grossman.

    12. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers
    7-3, 2.59 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 5.2 K/BB

    Kershaw is still only 34 years old. Compared to the likes of Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander, he's a youngster who would be worthy of a lucrative multiyear deal were it not for the seemingly constant rash of minor injuries over the past seven seasons.

    When he's healthy, there's no question Kershaw is still one of the best in the business. His current season marks are on par with his career ERA of 2.49 and WHIP of 1.00, and there have been four instances this season in which he pitched at least seven shutout innings, twice making it through seven full innings with a perfect game intact.

    But given his age and injury history, will he get the four-year, $125 million contract his talent deserves? If he does leave Los Angeles, perhaps the Chicago Cubs, Yankees or (sick of facing him) San Francisco Giants could find the money to make that happen.

    11. Willson Contreras, C, Chicago Cubs ($9.625 million)
    .246/.351/.471, 21 HR, 63 R, 54 RBI

    Will the Cubs be able to re-sign Contreras after not parting with what sure seemed like one of the top candidates to be moved at this year's trade deadline? Or will they have to settle for a compensatory draft pick when he signs elsewhere?

    There are a bunch of intriguing catchers on the free agent market this offseason—Omar Narvaez, Gary Sanchez, Christian Vazquez and Mike Zunino, in particular—but Contreras is the only three-time All-Star in the bunch. He also has the best 2022 slugging percentage of that group by a country mile.

    Even teams who are set at catcher and just want an upgrade at DH will be very interested in acquiring Contreras.

Nos. 10-8: Dansby Swanson, Carlos Rodón and Carlos Correa

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    PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 23:  Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves in action during the game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on August 23, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
    Atlanta's Dansby Swanson (Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

    10. Dansby Swanson, SS, Atlanta Braves ($10 million)
    .283/.339/.439, 17 HR, 17 SB, 88 R, 79 RBI

    If this is the end for Swanson in Atlanta, the team sure did get its money's worth for him. The Braves traded Shelby Miller and Gabe Speier for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft, as well as Ender Inciarte and Aaron Blair. And for the price of barely $25 million in career earnings, he was a reliable, everyday shortstop for the past six-plus years.

    But with Vaughn Grissom thriving and Swanson's contract up, the 28-year-old will likely head elsewhere for 2023 and beyond.

    That lucky new team is getting a shortstop with a plus-glove, solid baserunning and a good bat. Dansby won't fetch as much money as Trea Turner, but for the teams that don't get the Dodgers shortstop (or Xander Bogaerts or Carlos Correa if those shortstops decline their player options and reach free agency), Swanson would be an excellent consolation prize.

    9. Carlos Rodón, LHP, San Francisco Giants ($21.5 million)
    12-7, 2.92 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, 4.3 K/BB

    Rodón does have a $22.5 million player option for 2023, but it's a foregone conclusion that he will be exiting stage left for a longer-term deal.

    The 2022 campaign was all about proving that he could be as effective as he was in 2021 while staying healthy, and Rodón has passed that test with flying colors. He hasn't missed a single turn through the rotation, he's leading the NL in strikeouts, and he seems to be getting better as the season progresses, boasting a 2.18 ERA over his last seven starts.

    The lefty turns 30 in December, and he figures to be celebrating that milestone shortly after signing a massive contract. We're talking four years, $115 million at least.

    8. Carlos Correa, SS, Minnesota Twins
    .270/.353/.433, 16 HR, 57 R, 47 RBI

    There's no way Correa is going to turn down his $35.1 million player option for next season, right? Not with fellow shortstops Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson and Xander Bogaerts all possibly hitting free agency and diluting the market this offseason.

    Well, we'll put him on the list, just in case, even though the soon-to-be 28-year-old would figure to be better off sticking in Minnesota for one more year before becoming the marquee middle infielder of the 2024 class.

    If he does leave the Twins, though, he might mess around and get a 10-year, $325 million deal on par with what Corey Seager got from the Rangers this past offseason. Per FanGraphs, Correa has been the fourth-most valuable shortstop dating back to 2015, despite playing in significantly fewer games than No. 1 or No. 2 on that list. And he's just now hitting his prime.

Nos. 7-5: Edwin Díaz, Justin Verlander and Nolan Arenado

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 01:  Edwin Diaz #39 of the New York Mets reacts after the eighth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on September 01, 2022 in New York City. The Mets defeated the Dodgers 5-3. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    New York's Edwin Diaz (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    7. Edwin Díaz, RHP, New York Mets ($10.2 million)
    1.52 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 17.0 K/9, 5.9 K/BB, 29 SV

    Should a closer really be this high on the list? Well, when the closer ranks second in the majors in saves since the beginning of 2016, has a career K/9 rate of 14.7, is only 28 years old, is hitting free agency for the first time and has one of the most electric entrance songs of all-time, yeah.

    Díaz has this weird thing going on where he is incredible in even-numbered years and nothing special in the odds. That inconsistency might scare away a few suitors.

    But with the Dodgers, Cubs, Yankees, Mets (assuming Díaz reaches free agency) and others all in the market for a closer this offseason, this bidding war could be wild.

    6. Justin Verlander, RHP, Houston Astros ($25 million)
    16-3, 1.84 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 5.9 K/BB

    For as great as he was in Detroit for 12-plus seasons, Verlander's run in Houston has been ridiculous. He has a 2.30 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP with the Astros dating back to that waiver deadline trade in late August 2017.

    But will the soon-to-be 40-year-old Cy Young candidate stay in Houston on a $25 million player option for next season, or will he cash in on this incredible comeback season by trying to get Max Scherzer money (three years, $130 million) elsewhere?

    My guess is that he'll get two years for $75 million as opposed to a three-year deal, but even that would be both a 50 percent raise and a 100 percent increase in years on the deal compared to the player option. Perhaps he signs that deal with Houston, but the man with just under $300 million in career earnings could be headed for one more big payday.

    5. Nolan Arenado, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals ($35 million)
    .301/.364/.555, 28 HR, 66 R, 89 RBI

    Arenado has an opt-out available this offseason, in which he basically needs to decide whether he wants to stick with the Cardinals on a five-year, $144 million contract through 2027 or try to get more money elsewhere.

    Considering he's only 31, well on his way to another top-five finish for NL MVP as well as yet another Gold Glove at third base, he likely could get something in the six-year, $200 million range and figures to go that route.

Nos. 4-3: Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner

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    NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 31: Trea Turner #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers slides into second for a stolen base before the tag by Francisco Lindor #12 of the New York Mets in the first inning during the game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Los Angeles' Trea Turner (Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    4. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox ($20 million)
    .315/.382/.466, 12 HR, 77 R, 63 RBI, 8 SB

    Like Nolan Arenado in St. Louis, Bogaerts has a big player option decision to make. He can either sign up for another four years in Boston at $20 million per year, or he can choose free agency and probably upgrade to something more like six years for $180 million or even nine years for $280 million, considering he's still a few weeks away from turning 30.

    Pretty easy decision, yeah?

    Bogaerts has earned some share of the AL MVP vote in each of the past four years, and the current league leader in batting average is well on his way to a fifth consecutive season of that ilk. From Aug. 28-Sep. 5, he had a nine-game streak with multiple hits, going 20-for-37 (.541) at the dish during that hot stretch.

    3. Trea Turner, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers ($21 million)
    .305/.349/.479, 19 HR, 84 R, 90 RBI, 23 SB

    Come for the smooth slides. Stay for the uncommon and often underappreciated dominance.

    As far as FanGraphs is concerned, Turner has been the third-most valuable hitter in the majors since the beginning of 2020, trailing only Aaron Judge and Jose Ramirez by a slim margin. He has hit .320 during that time with 59 home runs and 67 stolen bases—he's the only player with at least 52 of each—and an MLB-best 440 hits.

    Turner just turned 29 in June, so there's no reason to assume he'll be slowing down any time soon. He should get a deal somewhere in the Corey Seager and Francisco Lindor range of 10 years for $325-341 million, perhaps even a little bit higher.

Nos. 2-1: Jacob deGrom and Aaron Judge

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - AUGUST 31:  Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches during the third inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field on August 31, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    New York's Jacob deGrom (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    2. Jacob deGrom, RHP, New York Mets ($36 million)
    4-1, 1.98 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 13.6 K/9, 18.3 K/BB

    DeGrom has a $30.5 million player option for 2023, which would be followed by a $32.5 million club option for 2024 if he takes the player option. But he won't.

    If Max Scherzer is worth $43.3 million per year to the Mets, deGrom is surely worth more than $30.5 million. Probably at least $40 million, if not $45 million. Accepting what would amount to a two-year, $63 million deal would mean throwing away a ton of money.

    It might have been worth considering had he been unable to return to the mound this season. But for him to come back nearly four months into the campaign and mow down everything in his path is just further proof that deGrom is the best in the business when healthy.

    He's 34 and he does have some injury concerns between this season and last, so he might not get anything longer than a three-year deal. But it may well be three years for $125 million.

    1. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees ($19 million)
    .302/.403/.682, 54 HR, 109 R, 117 RBI, 15 SB

    We've been talking about Judge's free agency since before the season even began, and he's having one of the best seasons in MLB history. Who else would be No. 1?

    Judge is currently on pace for 64.5 home runs. But whether he gets to 62 and breaks the American League's all-time single-season record or not, he's going to make an absurd amount of money this offseason as long as he avoids a major injury between now and then.

    It has never been a question of talent with Judge. He almost won AL MVP as a rookie in 2017 and finished top five in that vote last year. So long as he stays healthy, he will put up impressive numbers.

    Questions about his health caused the Yankees to offer him only a seven-year, $213.5 million deal this past offseason. Because he has been both healthy and dominant for a second straight year, it's plausible he'll get a seven-year contract worth north of $300 million.


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