The Perfect Fit for Biggest Names of 2022-23 MLB Free-Agent Class

Brandon ScottNovember 22, 2022

The Perfect Fit for Biggest Names of 2022-23 MLB Free-Agent Class

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    DYERSVILLE, IL - AUGUST 12:   Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees stands on first as José Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox plays his position during the game between the New York Yankees and the Chicago White Sox at MLB Field at Field of Dreams on Thursday, August 12, 2021 in Dyersville, Iowa. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    It's that time of year again.

    Sure, Thanksgiving is this week and Christmas is just a month away. But we're talking about MLB free agency, where some of baseball's best players could wear uniforms when we next see them play.

    This is another impressive free-agent class, even more so than last year. When you consider the players available include Aaron Judge, Justin Verlander, Jacob deGrom, Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and Xander Bogaerts, before even mentioning a former MVP like José Abreu, it's hard not to get excited about the possibilities.

    In this exercise, we look at the perfect fit for the biggest names of this class, including the ones previously mentioned.

    Spoiler alert: some of these players are better off where they are, given their combined individual and team success.

    For others, it's a good time to test the waters to see where they can continue their legacies as players.

    Let's look at ideal matches between the player priorities and what the teams' needs are this offseason.

Willson Contreras: Houston Astros

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    CINCINNATI, OHIO - OCTOBER 04: Wilson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs hits a home run in the fourth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on October 04, 2022 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    ESPN's Jeff Passan has reported there was interest in Willson Contreras from the Astros at the trade deadline this year, and there should be plenty again during the offseason.

    Houston is bringing back Martín Maldonado, who they love primarily as a defensive catcher and how he helps manage the pitching staff. But it is well understood that Maldonado offers very little offensively, which is where Contreras comes in.

    Signing Contreras would give the Astros lineup extra pop, since he could play DH when Maldonado is catching and spell Maldonado a couple of times per week with Yordan Alvarez as DH.

    Alvarez is trending toward becoming the Astros’ everyday left fielder, so Contreras could play wherever Maldonado and Alvarez are not.

    Next-best fit: St. Louis Cardinals

José Abreu: San Diego Padres

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    DETROIT, MICHIGAN - SEPTEMBER 16: Jose Abreu #79 of the Chicago White Sox hits a two run double in the eighth inning in front of Eric Haase #13 of the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on September 16, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

    The Padres are looking to add a middle-of-the-order bat, and have reportedly prioritized José Abreu.

    He could effectively replace Josh Bell, who the Padres rented from the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline but is now also a free agent.

    MLB Network's Jon Morosi reported over the weekend that Abreu had spoken with Padres officials this month and that the former NL MVP is a top priority for San Diego.

    It makes sense. The Padres ranked 20th in fWAR and 18th in wRC+ this past season. Meanwhile, Abreu ranked fifth among first baseman in fWAR and sixth in wRC+ at age 35.

    Abreu has been known as the heart and soul of the White Sox since he arrived from Cuba, debuting for Chicago with a historic rookie season in 2014.

    His leadership would be valuable on a Padres team looking to take that next step from good to great.

    Next-best fit: Houston Astros

Carlos Rodón: New York Mets

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 29: Carlos Rodon #16 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the Colorado Rockies in the top of the first inning at Oracle Park on September 29, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    The Mets are at risk of losing Jacob deGrom in free agency and should be in the market for another front-of-the-rotation arm to pair with Max Scherzer.

    Rodón is coming off a fantastic season with the Giants and is looking to cash in with a longer-term deal. The Mets are in as good a position as anyone to pay Rodón and indicated last offseason their willingness to spend.

    Rodón had the sixth-lowest ERA (2.88) and was top 10 in WHIP (1.03) among National League pitchers last season.

    The Mets' staff had the third-lowest ERA (3.57) and second-lowest WHIP in the NL.

    Pairing one of the league's best pitchers with one of its best groups, whether it's to replace or supplement deGrom, is the perfect fit.

    Next-best fit: Los Angeles Dodgers

Trea Turner: Philadelphia Phillies

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    San Diego, CA - October 15: Los Angeles Dodgers' Trea Turner swings for a pitch by San Diego Padres starting pitcher Joe Musgrove during the first inning in game 4 of the NLDS at Petco Park on Saturday, Oct. 15, 2022 in San Diego, CA. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
    Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    Turner wants to return to the East Coast, according to Jon Heyman of the New York Post. And the Phillies just happen to need a shortstop.

    He made just as much sense for the New York Yankees until they decided to bring back Isiah Kiner-Falefa on a one-year, $6 million deal a few days ago.

    But if there was a weakness for Philly in its run to the World Series, it was defense and depth in the order. Philadelphia's shortstop position was 21st in wRC+ and 15th in fWAR last season.

    Turner was third in fWAR and fourth wRC+ among qualified shortstops last season.

    Substitute the Bryson Stott-Edmundo Sosa combo with Turner and this team looks a lot different as it competes in one of baseball’s toughest divisions.

    Next-best fit: Atlanta

Justin Verlander: Houston Astros

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    HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 05:  Justin Verlander #35 of the Houston Astros celebrates on the field after the Astros defeated the Philadelphia Phillies in Game 6 of the 2022 World Series at Minute Maid Park on Saturday, November 5, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Verlander, as a three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer, is a great fit anywhere.

    Put him at the top of the rotation and you’re immediately better overall as a team. That’s going to appeal to a lot of contenders, but none more so than the defending World Series champions with an owner who adores Verlander.

    When you win a pair of World Series and Cy Youngs with a team, the fit is clear and obvious. From a practicality standpoint, a short-term deal for the 40-year-old Verlander would be right up the Astros' alley.

    The only hang-up here is that the Astros have a deep crop of young starters who cost much less and the idea that money for Verlander would be better spent on adding a couple of bats to the lineup.

    Astros owner Jim Crane told MLB.com's Brian McTaggart that Verlander is seeking a deal similar to Max Scherzer, who got $130 million over three years from the Mets prior to the 2022 season. That could give Crane some pause.

    Next-best fit: Toronto Blue Jays

Dansby Swanson: Atlanta

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    PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 15:   Dansby Swanson #7 of the Atlanta Braves fields a ground ball in the eighth inning during the game between the Atlanta Braves and the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday, October 15, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Drew Hallowell/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Just like a year ago with Freddie Freeman, another one of Atlanta’s homegrown stars fits best where he is.

    Swanson has won a World Series there, and Atlanta’s young talent is poised to contend for the foreseeable future, especially with Swanson.

    Just three months ago, Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported extension talks had taken place between Swanson and Atlanta. Heyman noted Swanson is represented by the same agency as Freeman but that "there's been less whispered negativity about these talks."

    Swanson, an Atlanta-area native, was a first-time All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner entering his prime age-29 season.

    He was also a key reason they won the World Series against the Houston Astros in 2021, showing his ability to hit in clutch moments with a pair of home runs.

    Next-best fit: San Francisco Giants

Jacob deGrom: New York Mets

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    NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 08: Jacob deGrom #48 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning during the Wild Card Series game between the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets at Citi Field on Saturday, October 8, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
    Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images

    Like Verlander, deGrom is an excellent fit wherever he goes, and the New York Post's Mike Puma has reported the Mets believe deGrom wants to be a Met for life.

    This, along with the Mets’ willingness to spend big on great players, could be enough to keep deGrom in Queens.

    Why it’s a perfect fit is pretty straightforward for both sides. DeGrom remains one of the top pitchers in baseball, and the Mets, coming off a 101-win season, are back to relevance.

    They only have Max Scherzer and Carlos Corrasco from the 2022 starting rotation under contract for next year. Chris Bassitt, who they acquired from the Oakland Athletics in March and was their most consistent starter last season, elected for free agency.

    So even if they don’t re-sign deGrom, the Mets will be looking to replace him anyway.

    Next-best fit: Los Angeles Dodgers

Xander Bogaerts: Boston Red Sox

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    BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 5: Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox salutes the fans as he exits the game during the seventh inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 5, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    If you’re sensing a theme that stars who won a World Series with their most recent squads are better off staying put, then you're exactly right.

    Bogaerts will be in high demand this offseason as he looks for a pay raise from the $20 million he would’ve been owed if not for the opt-out. But there is mutual interest in him returning to Boston on a deal more in line with one of the top shortstops in the game.

    Bogaerts was second among qualified shortstops in wRC+. So while it is another impressive free-agent shortstop class, it's not like Bogaerts is easy to replace.

    The Red Sox traded Mookie Betts two years ago with him in line for a big contract, and they could soon be in a similar situation with Rafael Devers. Re-signing Bogaerts solidifies Boston’s middle infield and keeps home a fan favorite who they should be able to afford.

    Next-best fit: Philadelphia Phillies

Carlos Correa: San Francisco Giants

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    Minnesota Twins' Carlos Correa watches his two-run home run during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers, Friday, Sept. 30, 2022, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
    AP Photo/Carlos Osorio

    All signs point to Correa going to the highest bidder. He had that interesting quote in the Minnesota Twins’ clubhouse toward the end of the season analogizing his free agency to shopping at Dior.

    Well, the Giants have been open about being in the star free-agent shortstop market. They will, in effect, be shopping at Dior this offseason.

    Aaron Judge is in town for a visit as a potential outfield addition. San Francisco's shortstop position was bottom-third in baseball in creating runs, too.

    Correa was tops in wRC+ among qualified shortstops last season.

    If they address these spots, the Giants could find themselves right back in the mix like two years ago, when they won a franchise-record 107 games.

    Next-best fit: Chicago Cubs

Aaron Judge: New York Yankees

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 23: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees flies out in the first inning in game four of the American League Championship Series against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium on October 23, 2022 in the Bronx borough of New York City. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The Bronx is where Aaron Judge won AL Rookie of the Year, broke the AL home run record and put up multiple MVP-caliber seasons.

    The Yankees have also been competitive with Judge, twice appearing in the ALCS and consistently competing for an AL East title. Other than not actually appearing in the World Series, everything about the Judge experience in New York has been a success.

    Judge was filmed Monday in San Francisco ahead of a meeting with the Giants this week, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi. Beyond being the Northern California native's childhood team, Judge fits there from a baseball perspective, too.

    But for Judge, there isn’t a bigger brand in baseball or better place to hit bombs than with the Yankees. And for the team, Judge is the embodiment of a brand ambassador.

    He’s also just excellent at baseball, an above-average right fielder and good enough to carry the Yankees at the plate, as he did at times in 2022.

    Next-best fit: San Francisco Giants

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