Biggest Winners and Losers from 2019 MLB Winter Meetings
After a few years of relative quiet at the MLB winter meetings, the 2019 edition was packed with exciting developments.
Stephen Strasburg inked a record seven-year, $245 million contract to stay with the Washington Nationals, and then Gerrit Cole broke that hours-old mark by signing a nine-year, $324 million deal with the New York Yankees. Anthony Rendon also agreed to a massive seven-year, $245 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.
Elation, though, is not a shared feeling. Fans of certain teams hoped for a splashy move and saw their favorite organization go down swinging in San Diego.
The winners of the week, as you'd expect, landed the big deals and star players. The losers are shifting to backup plans.
Winner: New York Yankees
In recent seasons, the New York Yankees hadn't matched their long-held reputation of being major spenders.
Gerrit Cole agreed to a nine-year contract worth $324 million, which breaks down to $36 million per season. While he has an opt-out clause after the fifth year (2024), it's safe to assume that he isn't likely to exercise it.
While he'd headline any rotation, Cole will be the much-needed ace in front of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and J.A. Happ. This signing only reinforces the "World Series or bust" mentality that surrounds the Yankees each season.
New York also kept outfielder Brett Gardner, who clubbed a career-best 28 homers last season, on a one-year, $12.5 million deal.
Loser: Texas Rangers
Heading into December and the winter meetings, the Texas Rangers had high hopes. They were consistently mentioned as a potential suitor for marquee free agents such as Rendon and Josh Donaldson, and they even popped up in the Cole discussions, too.
Then Rendon signed with the Angels. The price for Donaldson "exceeded the Rangers' comfort level," per Levi Weaver of The Athletic. Cole headed to the Yankees.
So much for a new superstar in a new stadium.
Texas still orchestrated a few moves, most notably sending Nomar Mazara to the Chicago White Sox for a good prospect in Steele Walker. The Rangers also signed left-handed reliever Joely Rodriguez to a two-year deal worth $5.5 million. Those additions may prove to have brought quality pieces to the organization.
But in a week filled with hope for Rendon or Donaldson, ending the meetings with Walker and Rodriguez is a letdown.
Winner: Stephen Strasburg
I believe it was Aristotle who wrote: "Better to hold a contract record for 33 hours than never to hold one at all."
Strasburg broke the previous mark held by Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price, who signed a seven-year contract worth $217 million in December 2015. The Nationals offered $245 million over seven seasons to retain the Most Valuable Player of the 2019 World Series.
Although he'll return to Washington without Rendon—which stopped us from labeling the Nationals a "winner" of the week—Strasburg will rejoin Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin in the rotation.
The Nats need a power bat to replace their star third baseman and truly threaten for another title, but hanging on to Strasburg keeps them safely in the conversation.
Loser: Los Angeles Dodgers
Similar to Texas, the Los Angeles Dodgers put themselves in the Rendon and Cole sweepstakes but came up empty on both. Although they're still a suitor for Donaldson, the Dodgers seem to be chasing the Nationals and Atlanta Braves in that pursuit.
Instead, their only official move is a one-year, $10 million pact for Blake Treinen, who's looking to recover from a poor 2019 season.
Winter meetings: Not great. That much is inarguable.
But let's also avoid getting carried away and proclaiming doom and gloom for the seven-time defending NL West champions.
They've continued conversations with Cleveland for Francisco Lindor, per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. And if the Colorado Rockies were to deal Nolan Arenado, Los Angeles has "longstanding interest," according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB Network. The third baseman could waive his no-trade clause if the Dodgers want him.
By the time March arrives, the Dodgers may have emerged as a winner of the offseason. But at this moment, they're on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Winner: Los Angeles Angels
Though it wasn't inevitable that the Angels would land a superstar, they were determined to sign a top player.
And with Rendon, they did exactly that.
The 29-year-old played seven seasons in Washington, earning a quartet of top-11 finishes in National League MVP voting along the way. He finished third in 2019 after setting or matching career highs in nearly every offensive category.
Los Angeles ponied up $245 million over the next seven years to slide Rendon into its lineup alongside three-time AL MVP Mike Trout.
While a salary-shedding trade of Zack Cozart to the San Francisco Giants cost the Angels a top prospect in Will Wilson, Rendon's value far outweighs the disappointment of that deal.
Loser: Houston Astros
Considering his actions and statements following the Game 7 loss in the World Series, it was readily apparent that Cole would leave the Houston Astros. But instead of departing the American League, he instead landed with the Yankees.
Rendon was never an option for the cash-strapped Astros, yet he could've found a home on the Dodgers and stayed in the NL. However, the slugger accepted the Angels' offer.
Houston lost a superstar to a rival contender and saw the best position player available join the AL West. Throw in rumors of a possible Carlos Correa trade, as Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported, and Astros-related news was consistently negative.
The Astros are still a premier team in the AL. They should win the AL West again, and they might not trade Correa anytime soon.
But it was a forgettable week for Houston nevertheless.
Winner: The Return of Drama at Winter Meetings
You mean the best players didn't wait to sign until late February? Teams and marquee players avoided turning free agency into a 90-day slog in which fans are more annoyed than interested?
How about that!
The marquee three—Cole, Strasburg and Rendon, whose new contracts are worth a combined $814 million—didn't follow the path of recent Scott Boras clients such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Rather than dealing with months of conjecture, fans will quickly turn their attention to the excitement of trade rumors and the 2020 season itself. Will any of Lindor, Arenado or Kris Bryant be traded? Perhaps not, but everyone—fans, analysts, executives—won't be waiting for a proverbial domino to fall once Donaldson signs somewhere.
December drama is a good thing for baseball. And hopefully the 2019 winter meetings have successfully reversed the trend.