The top free agents have all signed contracts, but there are still plenty of moves for contending teams to make.
It’s safe to say MLB teams did not leave their holiday shopping to the last minute this year. With the Cubs’ signing of Dansby Swanson on Saturday, the last major free agent was taken off the board with more than a week to go before Christmas Day. The top 15 players in our free-agent rankings have inked new contracts, as have 27 of the top 30. It’s a stark contrast to the last few offseasons, when marquee players were often left without a team as the winter’s ice thawed across the country.
That doesn’t mean the hot stove is set to cool down quite yet, though. Pretty much every contender has an area of weakness that could stand to be shored up, and teams will probably have to be active in the trade market to adequately address those needs at this point.
Using Baseball Trade Values’ trade simulator, I’ve constructed five deals that would hopefully help both teams involved (or in one case, all three). I tried to include mostly big leaguers, as I don’t claim to be a prospect expert … and it’s just more fun to envision players we’re already familiar with swapping jerseys.
Closing the deal for the Pinstripes
Yankees acquire RHP Liam Hendriks
White Sox acquire 2B Gleyber Torres
The Yankees were short on arms in last year’s playoffs—and it cost them dearly, as their overmatched bullpen blew leads in both Game 1 and Game 4 of their ALCS sweep at the hands of the Astros. They could use another shutdown late-inning option following the bizarre conclusion of the team’s Aroldis Chapman era.
Hendriks would be a prime target to pursue. He’s established himself as one of MLB’s best closers after appearing at the last three All-Star Games and he even has a pair of top-10 Cy Young finishes over the past three years. The 33-year-old Aussie should have little trouble handling the media pressure in New York. The White Sox, on the other hand, could let Kendall Graveman slide into the closer role in Hendriks’s absence.
Torres bounced back last season from a subpar 2021 campaign, but his first two years in the majors (’18, ’19) are still his most productive ones. He would be a massive improvement for the White Sox’ current second base configuration—Chicago ranked 29th in 2B fWAR (0.0) last year—and I think whatever the Yankees lose in going from Torres to DJ LeMahieu at second base will be made up for by the presence of Hendriks jogging in from the bullpen and cursing up a Bronx storm on the mound.
Torres is arbitration eligible for the next two seasons and estimated by Roster Resource to earn $9.8 million in 2023, while Hendriks is set to earn $14 million next year with a $15 million club option for ‘24, so the Yankees’ salary increase in paying Hendriks wouldn’t be too much, despite the luxury tax charge that would come with it.
Halos say so long to Shohei
Rangers acquire RHP/DH Shohei Ohtani
Angels acquire RHP Jack Leiter, 3B Josh Jung, C/DH Mitch Garver
Even after all their free-agency splashes, the Rangers still have roughly $50 million in payroll space before hitting the luxury tax threshold, so there’s room for Ohtani’s $30 million salary, especially if the Angels pay Garver’s $5 million salary. And based on how he’s been spending over the last year, it seems like Rangers owner Ray Davis would be willing to pay whatever it takes to keep Ohtani off the open market with an extension. Can you imagine all the whiffs from Jacob deGrom and Ohtani forming the top of the Rangers rotation for the next half decade? Eat your heart out, Nolan Ryan.
It would be tough for the Angels to let go of Ohtani, whose time with the team will be looked back upon bittersweetly by fans if it ends without a playoff appearance. And they probably won’t trade him to a division rival if they think he could sign an extension and haunt the Halos for years to come. But Ohtani is probably leaving next offseason, so it’d be a smart, albeit painful, move to capitalize on his value while they can, and the Rangers may be motivated to put together the strongest offer. Jung and Leiter are their top two prospects, and they could both be future All-Stars and key components of the Halos’ next playoff team. Garver is a short-term throw-in who could replace Ohtani at DH in 2023, plus give the Angels more cover at catcher behind youngster Logan O’Hoppe, given Max Stassi’s struggles last year.
Jays send a catcher to floundering Fish
Marlins acquire C Alejandro Kirk
Blue Jays acquire RHP Pablo López, OF Jesús Sánchez
These two teams linked up for a trade in August that sent relievers Anthony Bass and Zach Pop to Toronto while infielder Jordan Groshans landed in Miami, but the moving pieces in this one are quite a bit more significant.
Trade rumors surrounded López leading up to the trade deadline, with the Yankees reportedly coming close to agreeing on a deal for him. But the Blue Jays could use their catching surplus (Danny Jansen posted a 140 wRC+ in 248 plate appearances and the team’s No. 1 prospect, Gabriel Moreno, is knocking on the door) to complete what could be MLB’s strongest rotation if everyone pitches to their potential. López may be the No. 5 starter after Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, José Berríos and Chris Bassitt—which is absurd, as he ranked in the top 30 of pitching FanGraphs WAR last season and could technically be classified as some teams’ No. 1 starter. Sánchez gives Toronto’s righty-heavy roster a solid lefty bat and fourth outfielder on what currently looks like a pretty thin bench.
While Miami’s stockpile of pitchers has been whittled down a bit through injuries (Sixto Sánchez, Max Meyer), trades (Elieser Hernández) and a few prospects inevitably falling short of expectations, Miami can still afford to deal one of its most valuable trade chips to upgrade its anemic offense with Kirk, a first-time All-Star and Silver Slugger winner this year who’s under team control through 2026. He’d take over behind the plate for Jacob Stallings, who had a supremely disappointing first season in Miami, ranking 28th in fWAR out of 29 catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. But the 2021 Gold Glove winner is a better defender than Kirk, who could take some at bats at DH if the Marlins value Stallings’s defensive capabilities or can’t find a taker for the former Pirate.
Dodgers find center field solution
Dodgers acquire OF Bryan Reynolds
Pirates acquire IF Michael Busch, OF Andy Pages, RHP Ryan Pepiot
The Pirates have reportedly been holding out for a “Juan Soto–type” haul on Reynolds, who issued a trade demand earlier this month. That’s a pretty absurd ask by Pittsburgh (and an entirely reasonable ask by Reynolds), but this return wouldn’t be too far off. This deal would land the Buccos three of the Dodgers’ top six prospects, per MLB.com. Los Angeles would hang onto its top three prospects, though, and get the premier center fielder thought to be on the block.
The Dodgers have far more lineup holes than usual after losing Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger and Joey Gallo while adding J.D. Martinez and … Jason Heyward? They need a new center fielder to replace Bellinger and could also benefit from another big bat to combat the talent exodus that’s taken place so far this offseason while holding off the Padres and Giants in the NL West. Reynolds will turn 28 in January and is still under team control for three more seasons. He took a step back last year in comparison to his breakout 2021 campaign, when he slashed .302/.390/.522 with 24 home runs and started the All-Star Game, and yet he still hit a career high 27 home runs. In fact, since Reynolds debuted in ’19, he has been among the most productive and durable players in baseball. He’s one of only six hitters to play in 130 or more games and post an OPS+ of at least 125 (meaning he was at least 25% better than league average) in each of the last three full seasons. The other five players? Pete Alonso, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Freddie Freeman and Soto.
The Pirates would get three future major leaguers who could be a part of their next playoff team, even if that’s still a few years down the road. Pages is the youngest of the trio at 22, while the other two are 25 and should be able to help as soon as next season. Pepiot’s changeup was called “the best in the minors” ahead of last season by MLB.com, and though he exhibited some command issues in his first few stints in the majors in 2022 (27 walks in 36 ⅓ innings), he also flashed the swing-and-miss stuff that could make him a top-end starter. MLB.com says Busch’s profile is similar to that of Max Muncy, as he’s seen time at first base, second base and left field while showing a promising mix of power and patience from the left side of the plate (32 homers, 74 walks in 142 games across Double A and Triple A last season). Pages hit 57 homers at Advanced A and Double A over the past two years and possesses a cannon arm fit for either of the outfield corners, which makes him a good fit for a Pirates system bereft of impact outfielders.
Braves, Giants deal displaced veterans in three-team trade
Braves acquire SS Brandon Crawford, RHP Germán Márquez, cash
Giants acquire C Travis d’Arnaud, RHP Dinelson Lamet
Rockies acquire C Joey Bart, RHP Mike Soroka, OF Eddie Rosario
Could Alex Anthopoulos have another three-teamer up his sleeve? Atlanta catcher d’Arnaud and San Francisco shortstop Crawford had their starting jobs stolen by Sean Murphy and Carlos Correa, respectively, in recent swing-for-the-fence moves by their teams. They could feasibly get more plate appearances at other positions (d’Arnaud at DH, Crawford at third base), but they may still be more valuable on each other’s teams.
The Braves could use a stopgap shortstop after the departure of Dansby Swanson. Currently, Vaughn Grissom is projected to start there after impressing at second base for the injured Ozzie Albies last season. However, MLB.com’s Braves reporter, Mark Bowman, thinks it’s unlikely that Grissom, whose 41 MLB games last year represent his only experience above Double A and who lost playing time to Orlando Arcía down the stretch, will be trusted with that job in 2023 (despite working with infield coach Ron Washington this offseason to better learn the ropes there). Crawford could be an ideal short-term solution.
In d’Arnaud, the Giants would get a more established catcher and move on from Bart, who has still yet to find his footing in the majors and could perhaps use a change of scenery where he’ll be allowed to play through his mistakes. They’d also get a reclamation project in Lamet, who finished fourth in NL Cy Young voting in 2020 and could have a nice second act as a reliever after experiencing arm troubles over the past two years.
The Rockies would nab a couple of former first-round picks with post-hype breakout potential in Bart and Soroka while taking on Rosario’s $9 million salary for 2023 to even out some money. They’ll still come out ahead on the books after shipping Márquez and his $15 million salary (with a $16 million club option for 2024) to Atlanta, who could use a more dependable fifth starter than the oft-injured Soroka and sophomore-slump-stricken Ian Anderson. The Giants would send a couple million bucks to the Braves, who are currently about $3 million below the luxury tax threshold but would be set to pay roughly $15 million more in player salary in this deal before the tax costs. Braves ownership has said it would be willing to pay the luxury tax, yet it hasn’t acted that way this offseason by letting Swanson walk and asking for cash from Detroit while acquiring reliever Joe Jiménez to stay beneath the tax threshold. This deal would let the Braves put their money where their mouth is.