Arson Judge, Verlander-Scherzer Reunion and Other 2022 MLB Winter Meetings Takeaways

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesFeatured Columnist IVDecember 8, 2022

Arson Judge, Verlander-Scherzer Reunion and Other 2022 MLB Winter Meetings Takeaways

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    Aaron Judge is sticking with the Yankees
    AP Photo/LM Otero

    Major League Baseball's 2022 winter meetings blew through San Diego like a three-day whirlwind, sending Justin Verlander to the Mets, Trea Turner to the Phillies, Willson Contreras to the Cardinals, Kenley Jansen to the Red Sox and "Arson Judge" into the pantheon of baseball's greatest Twitter moments.

    One of our biggest takeaways from the spending spree is that the offseason has only just begun.

    There were several huge signings, but three of the four big shortstops, Brandon Nimmo, Carlos Rodón, Chris Bassitt and a bunch of other free agents likely headed for eight-figure salaries are still available. And aside from Tampa Bay sending Brooks Raley to the Mets on Wednesday, there was almost no wheeling and dealing as far as trades are concerned.

    There will be plenty more actions and transactions to digest before pitchers and catchers report in February.

    But here are the things we'll remember and our biggest observations from the winter meetings, presented in no particular order.

"Arson" Judge Heats Up the Hot Stove

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    New York Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge reacts after striking out against the Cleveland Guardians during the seventh inning of Game 2 of an American League Division baseball series, Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
    AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

    NBA free agency is all about the "Woj Bombs" on Twitter, but MLB free agency delivered one heck of a "Heyman Haymaker" at 5:20 p.m. ET on Tuesday.

    That's when Jon Heyman of the New York Post and MLB Network inadvertently tried to break the internet by tweeting "Arson Judge appears headed to Giants."

    Heyman had reported a few hours earlier that San Francisco's offer to Aaron Judge was "believed to be in the $360 million neighborhood," and this appeared to be the culmination of those negotiations.

    And while a finalized Judge-to-the-Giants agreement would have been a colossal deal in its own right, what really set Twitter ablaze was the typo.

    Immediately, the photoshop experts went to work, putting images of Judge into various states of conflagration. Baseball Reference even got in on the fun:

    Baseball Reference @baseball_ref

    Arson Judge 🔥 <a href=""></a>

    But the real burn came 420 seconds later when Heyman apologized for "jumping the gun," saying there actually wasn't a deal in place. He first deleted the typo and then walked back the report altogether.

    Giants fans had seven minutes in heaven before having it ripped away from them.

    And then they had to wake up to the news on Wednesday morning that Judge is staying with the Yankees on the nine-year, $360 million terms which they thought would bring him to San Francisco.

    But we will never, ever forget Arson Judge.

The Aaron Judge Domino Finally Falls

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    NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 18: Aaron Judge #99 of the New York Yankees hits a home run against the Cleveland Guardians during the second inning in game five of the American League Division Series at Yankee Stadium on October 18, 2022 in New York, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)
    Sarah Stier/Getty Images

    The Arson Judge moment was incredible, but the biggest news to come out of the winter meetings was Aaron Judge re-signing with the New York Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million contract.

    One month ago, I had Judge projected for eight years and $320 million, so the average salary of $40 million per year—though the highest in MLB history for a position player—is no surprise. Nor is it a surprise that he's staying in New York, despite all those San Francisco rumblings.

    It's the "nine years" part that might come as a shock, though, considering Judge turns 31 in April, considering he was oft-injured in the 2018-20 timeframe and considering the Yankees have spent the past few years with an up-close-and-personal look at how quickly an oft-injured slugger (Giancarlo Stanton) can go from home run king and MVP to an OPS liability in his early 30s.

    But nine years is clearly what it was going to take to keep Judge, since San Francisco was willing to match and San Diego was apparently willing to commit to a full decade. (More on that later.)

    And if his age 37-39 seasons end up being as painfully unproductive as Miguel Cabrera's have been in Detroit, well, New York is betting on there being multiple World Series titles and a whole lot of home runs hit during his age 31-36 seasons to make up for it.

    While Judge waiting until Dec. 7 to make a decision didn't exactly keep teams from handing out other big contracts, that breaking news did feel like a ceremonial opening of the floodgates.

    Now everything else can start to fall into place.

A Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer Reunion in Queens

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    Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) celebrates the third out during the sixth inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2022, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
    AP Photo/Eric Gay

    One year ago, Max Scherzer signed for the highest average annual value in MLB history; a three-year deal for $130 million with the New York Mets.

    That's $43.33 million per year, which is the exact same amount that Justin Verlander signed for to rejoin his former Detroit teammate in Queens. JV's deal with the Mets was two years for $86.66 million.

    Mets fans were understandably dejected when Jacob deGrom signed his megadeal with the Rangers on Friday, but they didn't even need to wait 72 hours to have a tandem of multiple-time Cy Young Award winners to root for once again.

    Verlander turns 40 in February, but he is fresh off arguably the most impressive season of his career. Granted, not the highest-WAR season of his career, because he missed a few starts and ended up only logging 175 innings pitched. In terms of ERA (1.75), FIP (2.49) and walk rate (1.49), though, he has never been better.

    It got him the third Cy Young Award of his career, in unanimous fashion, no less.

    Does he have another two years of high-level, healthy pitching left in him?

    We'll see.

    But here's a fun fact: Scherzer and Verlander will make more in 2023 ($86.66 million) than the entire year-end 40-man payroll of the 2021 Detroit Tigers ($86.05 million).

    The Mets are all-in on these aging aces carrying them to their first World Series title since 1986.

The Phillies Are Going to Spend Whatever It Takes

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    New Philadelphia Phillie Trea Turner
    Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

    The Philadelphia Phillies already had one of the highest payrolls in baseball last season, checking in at over $244 million. Only the Dodgers ($271 million), Mets ($268 million) and Yankees ($253 million) spent more.

    And with the six highest-salaried players from that roster—Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, J.T. Realmuto, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber and Aaron Nola—all coming back for another expensive season, you might have thought the reigning NL champions would take it easy in free agency.

    But if you thought that, you were very, very wrong.

    The Phillies came out swinging on Monday with a staggering 11-year, $300 million deal with Trea Turner. We'll have to wait to find out if it's an evenly distributed $27.27 million per year or if it's backloaded a bit, but we're assuming the former for now.

    Then on Tuesday evening, they agreed to a four-year, $72 million contract with former Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker. Again, we'll assume that's a straight $18 million in each year.

    With those two additions ($45.27 million) and the money they already had committed to the previously mentioned six players ($131.91 million), we're talking $177.2 million in 2023.

    For eight players.

    By the time they fill out the rest of the 26-man roster—even if they have a bunch of pre-arbitration guys on league-minimum, $720,000 figures—they're going to rival the Mets for the title of highest Opening Day payroll.

    The Phillies weren't some Cinderella story in the 2022 World Series, and they certainly won't be if they get there again in 2023.

The Padres Finally Landed a Big Fish

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    New San Diego Padres Xander Bogaerts
    AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

    The winter meetings took place in San Diego, but there certainly wasn't any sort of hometown discount or advantage for the Padres, who struck out left and right on the biggest free agents.

    Per USA Today's Bob Nightengale, the Padres offered Aaron Judge a 10-year, $400 million contract, but he opted to stay with the Yankees for $360 million. (No word on what San Diego was willing to pay Arson Judge, though.)

    The Padres were also very much interested in Trea Turner, extending the former Dodgers shortstop a $342 million offer, according to MLB Network's Jon Heyman. But Turner—who insiders insisted throughout this process wanted to move back to the East Coast—instead went to Philadelphia for $300 million.

    And let's not forget that José Abreu was a "top priority" for the Padres in mid-November, per MLB Network's Jon Morosi, but he signed with the Astros instead.

    When the Rule 5 draft concluded Wednesday afternoon, signaling the unofficial end of the winter meetings, it looked like the Padres were going to leave empty-handed.

    But general manager A.J. Preller hit one heck of a grand slam in extra innings, if you will, inking former Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts to an 11-year, $280 million deal late Wednesday night.

    Kind of a wild move for a team that already has a shortstop (Fernando Tatis Jr.) signed through 2034, though The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal had previously reported the Padres inquired about Bogaerts' willingness to possibly play first base or second base if they were to sign him.

    There's also the possibility of Tatis relocating to the outfield or designated hitter, since he wasn't exactly an elite shortstop to begin with and a move to a less physically demanding position might help keep him from getting injured so darn often.

    However they decide to make it work on defense, though, a lineup featuring Bogaerts, Tatis (once he's eligible to return from suspension), Manny Machado and Juan Soto for the foreseeable future should be all sorts of fun.

Outfield Help Ain't Cheap

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    New Chicago Cub Cody Bellinger
    Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

    Because of the scarcity of quality outfielders available in this year's free-agency cycle, we expected the likes of Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, Michael Conforto and certainly Aaron Judge to make a lot of money.

    But Cody Bellinger getting a one-year, $17.5 million deal with the Cubs when the Dodgers non-tendered him—aka straight up kicked him to the curb with a year of arbitration eligibility remaining—after three consecutive disappointing seasons?

    Mitch Haniger getting a three-year, $43.5 million contract ($14.5 million per year) with the Giants after yet another injury-plagued season? (Guess the Giants just love injury-plagued guys and needed to replace Evan Longoria and Brandon Belt in that department?)

    Goodness gracious.

    There were just six outfielders who signed for at least $14 million per year last offseason: 2021 All-Stars Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Chris Taylor and Nick Castellanos, Starling Marte—who wasn't an All-Star because he missed 35 games early in the season, but who batted .310 and led the majors in stolen bases in 2021—and Nippon Professional Baseball star Seiya Suzuki.

    But, evidently, it's going to cost over $14 million per year this offseason to sign guys who produced 1.2 bWAR (Bellinger) and 1.3 bWAR (Haniger) in 2022.

    These are two unique cases, of course. Bellinger was the NL MVP in 2019. And, when healthy, Haniger received AL MVP votes in both 2018 and 2021, clubbing 39 home runs in the latter season. The Cubs and Giants are betting big on them re-harnessing their pre-2022 form.

    Still, it's wild that those were the price points for the first two free-agent outfielders off the board.

    Sure bodes well for the bank accounts of guys like Jurickson Profar, Joey Gallo and Wil Myers.

The Rangers Got the Memo About Their Starting Rotation

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    New Texas Ranger Jacob deGrom
    AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File

    Technically, the five-year, $185 million Jacob deGrom signing happened a couple days before the beginning of winter meetings. Likewise, Martín Pérez accepted that $19.65 million qualifying offer long before the proceedings began in San Diego this week.

    But because the Texas Rangers added yet another eight-figure salary to their starting rotation on Tuesday—a $12.5 million deal with Andrew Heaney which includes a $12.5 million player option for 2024—let's talk about how much the emphasis on that starting rotation has changed overnight.

    The Rangers invested $500 million in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien last offseason, but aside from bringing in Jon Gray from Colorado on a four-year, $56 million deal, they pretty much ignored pitching. Pérez was a $4 million flyer after eight straight seasons with an ERA north of 4.30. And Dane Dunning, Glenn Otto and Taylor Hearn each made double-digit starts on what basically amounted to league-minimum salaries.

    All told, their five primary starters made a combined $21.6 million, nearly 70 percent of which went to Gray.

    As things currently stand, though, their 2023 rotation of deGrom, Pérez, Gray, Heaney and Jake Odorizzi—who came over from Atlanta with $10 million in exchange for pitching prospect Kolby Allard—will make a combined $89.65 million.

    That's an increase of 315 percent. Plus, you know, over $60 million in 2023 to Seager and Semien. And you get the sense they're going to make at least one more somewhat significant acquisition, probably in the outfield.

    The Rangers are clearly committed to winning in 2023. But so are the Angels, who refuse to trade Shohei Ohtani. So are the Mariners, who have already traded for Teoscar Hernández and Kolten Wong this offseason in addition to the extensions they signed with Julio Rodríguez and Luis Castillo during the season. And so are the Astros, who just won it all a little over a month ago.

    The AL West is going to be fun. Unless you're Oakland. Woof.

And the Award for Biggest 'WTF?' Move of the Winter Meetings Goes To...

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    New Oakland Athletic Aledmys Díaz
    Tom Pennington/Getty Images

    The Chicago Cubs spending $17.5 million for one year of Cody Bellinger and $68 million for four years of Jameson Taillon was head-scratching, in so much as it's hard to tell what they're actually trying to accomplish these days.

    They now have $57 million in 2023 tied up in a trio of starting pitchers (Taillon, Marcus Stroman and Kyle Hendricks) who are in their early 30s and who would be the No. 3 starter, at best, for the legitimate World Series contenders.

    The Cubs could have swung big this offseason for an Aaron Judge or a Jacob deGrom, but they were never rumored in either of those markets. Seems like they're trying to do the bare minimum to contend for a playoff spot in a division where the Pirates and Reds look like dead weight. And if that's the goal, OK, Bellinger and Taillon could be helpful.

    But maybe the Cubs' early free-agency moves—including not re-signing Willson Contreras, who will now be in St. Louis for the next half-decade—will make more sense once their full offseason plan comes into focus.

    What will never make sense, however, is the Oakland A's signing Jace Peterson to a two-year deal (amount not yet known, but his Spotrac market value was two years for $13 million) and Aledmys Díaz to a two-year, $14.5 million deal.

    Yes, you want some veteran leadership on the roster, even in what we will generously call a rebuilding state. But when the Astros perfected the tank job in 2013, they didn't have a single Opening Day salary north of $3 million, nor a single multiyear deal on the books.

    It just feels like Oakland went through all the trouble of either trading away or outright cutting everyone making more than six figures, only to arrive in San Diego and impulsively pay a premium for two years' worth of a pair of 32-year-old utility journeymen.