The merciful end of the Carlos Correa saga — really! It’s over! He made the leap from “agreed with” to “signed with” the Twins! — is the unofficial end of baseball’s free-agent rush. There are still plenty of unsigned players, led by backbone-testing figures in Aroldis Chapman and soon-to-be-free-agent Trevor Bauer, but all the nine-digit contracts have been signed.
Which means we have a pretty good idea about how each team will look to begin the 2023 season, and that makes now as good a time as any to evaluate whose offseasons stood out. The two greatest outliers shouldn’t be a surprise.
Most ambitious: New York
This city has won this offseason. The Yankees and Mets have combined to commit more than a billion dollars to 12 free agents, Aaron Judge ($360 million) the largest outlay among the two teams and Justin Verlander ($43.3M) receiving the most per season. While the Yankees (about $573.5 million) and Mets (about $477 million) have bought their way to at least expected contention, no other team exceeded $400 million in free-agent pacts. Six clubs have spent less than $13 million in free agency (the Diamondbacks, Reds, Rockies, Mariners, Brewers and Braves, who at least have the excuse of locking up their stars early).
The Mets did not land Correa — whom Steve Cohen viewed as the last piece and one true upgrade over the 2022 Mets — but they did retain Brandon Nimmo ($162 million), Edwin Diaz ($102M) and Adam Ottavino ($14.5M). Verlander ($86.6M) will replace Jacob deGrom, and Kodai Senga ($75M) and Jose Quintana ($26M) will step in for Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker. David Robertson ($10M) will be a new weapon in a revamped bullpen and Danny Mendick ($1M) will be a flexible infielder. The Mets, who essentially traded James McCann for Omar Narvaez, look similarly built to the club that won 101 games last season.
The turnover is smaller in The Bronx, where the Yankees held on to Judge and Anthony Rizzo ($40 million) and added Carlos Rodon ($162M) and old friend Tommy Kahnle ($11.5M). Rodon — a strikeout machine and injury worry — elevates the ceiling for a team that won 99 games last season. There probably is more work to do, though — including developing prospects such as Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza — to catch the Astros.
Most disappointing: Giants
We’re differentiating disappointing from worst (more on that later). Because the Giants did plenty! Only the Mets (eight) have signed more free agents than the Giants (seven). President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi spread out about $193 million to reshape a team that disappointed last season. If Michael Conforto and Mitch Haniger stay healthy, and if Joc Pederson grows into a star with rules preventing extreme defensive shifts, and if the Giants’ pitching minds work their magic with Sean Manaea and Ross Stripling, there is a pretty clear route to the playoffs.
But the Giants sought a star and struck out. They drew 30,650 fans per game last season, their lowest in a non-COVID-affected season since 1999. Zaidi’s belief in platoons — utilizing one lineup against lefty pitchers and another against righties, with few bats appearing in both — has proven it can work (in 2021) and proven it can be difficult to market. Fans often come to games to see stars — not to see lineup changes that result in a new cleanup hitter when the opposing team brings in a different-handed reliever.
The Giants would have loved to find a star to pencil into their lineup every day, which is precisely what they found until they found an issue in Correa’s physical. The Giants let the shortstop walk (as did the Mets), but were left without a name to build around. Maybe this offseason was productive, but it fell far short of expectations.
Worst (on paper): Red Sox
Baseball is funny and unpredictable. The Nationals lost Bryce Harper and won the World Series. The World Series-winning Astros somehow looked stronger without Correa. Offseason winners are rarely championship winners.
So maybe the Red Sox know something the rest of the baseball world doesn’t, but it is difficult to detect the plan that led to this offseason’s results.
Four-time All-Star and lifelong Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts is now in San Diego. His presumed heir, Trevor Story, had surgery on his throwing elbow and might miss the entire season. Barring a late addition, they might have to ask Kiké Hernandez, their center fielder, to be their 2023 shortstop.
J.D Martinez, a difference-making bat, is now with the Dodgers. Filling his DH spot likely is Eric Hosmer, who has hit 20 total home runs in the past two seasons.
The Red Sox’s rotation ERA of 4.49 last season was the worst in the AL East. All they have done to address the weakness is replace Nathan Eovaldi with Corey Kluber. Perhaps they are banking on a shutdown bullpen, having added Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin and former Met Joely Rodriguez, but the unit does not project to be strong enough to compensate for the other flaws across the roster.
Boston’s biggest signing, Masataka Yoshida for five years and $90 million, was a polarizing addition. Many rivals feel the Japanese batting champion is not worth the contract.
Maybe the Red Sox’s offseason has been brilliant, but it seems as if that outcome would surprise many across baseball.
The team with the highest payroll in baseball last season has dished out about $44.5 million in free agency — or, about one season of Verlander.
Clayton Kershaw is back, and the Dodgers have added a few high-upside weapons in Martinez, Noah Syndergaard and Shelby Miller. But the Dodgers, who are typically in talks with every top free agent, have mostly sat out the winter — a winter that has been costly in terms of departures.
They lost longtime third baseman Justin Turner and one of the best players in baseball in Trea Turner — replaced Wednesday at shortstop by Miguel Rojas in a trade with the Marlins. Talented if perplexing center fielder Cody Bellinger signed with the Cubs. The Dodgers’ rotation lost Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney, who both were excellent last season. And the Dodgers lost the arbitrator’s decision regarding the suspended Bauer, whom they must pay $22.5 million this season even after they cut him.
The consistent juggernauts, who have averaged 103.8 wins in the past five full seasons (and won the World Series in the shortened 2020 campaign), might finally be mortal. But they also have rare unclaimed positions that could be won by some of the best prospects — seven of MLB Pipeline’s top 100 to end last season — in the game.
Under the radar: Blue Jays, Rangers
Neither team is a sure bet for the postseason, but both have considerably raised their ceilings.
The Blue Jays have improved through swaps and signings. They added Daulton Varsho, a strong hitter, outfielder and catcher, in a win-now trade with the Diamondbacks, who got Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and top prospect Gabriel Moreno. Few teams can match Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman at the top of the rotation, and Toronto added one of MLB’s best No. 3 starters in former Met Chris Bassitt. Longtime Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, picked up this week, had an injury-plagued 2022, but posted a .975 OPS as recently as 2021.
The Mets’ deafening free-agent splurges have taken away attention from clubs such as the Rangers, who won the deGrom sweepstakes. DeGrom is injury-prone, but that likely played a role in the Rangers deepening their rotation, which will follow with Heaney, Jon Gray, Eovaldi and the re-signed Martin Perez, with Jake Odorizzi in the wings. If their previous free-agent signings in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien can carry the offense and their pitching lives up to expectations, the Rangers can be a force in the AL West.
Today’s back page
🏀 Knicks survive Pacers’ furious comeback bid to avoid brutal choke … O’CONNOR: The Knicks are Jalen Brunson’s team now
🏈 SERBY: Legendary Giants running backs: It’s time to feed Saquon Barkley
⚾ Mets eye Andrew McCutchen for outfield depth
Wanted: new Jets offensive coordinator
When a team that looks destined for the postseason drops its final six games, fans usually demand a pound of flesh. Teams search for the weak link. Changes get made.
The Jets’ offense, which scored zero touchdowns in its final three games, was the clear weak link, and Mike LaFleur was its leader.
On Thursday, the Jets and their offensive coordinator parted ways, which was only somewhat surprising in its terminology. “Parted ways” is usually a euphemism for “fired,” but not always.
The Post’s Ryan Dunleavy reported, citing a source, that weeks of speculation about LaFleur’s job security led to other teams reaching out to the brother of the Packers head coach. Internal discussions followed, and the Jets decided to allow LaFleur to seek other opportunities.
The Jets, who have failed to develop Zach Wilson and have been a mess on offense for LaFleur’s two seasons, cannot be blamed much if they pulled the plug. Wilson has been the worst quarterback in football since he arrived. The Jets need to find someone who can help the 23-year-old grow, and it has not happened under LaFleur.
If LaFleur pulled the plug, it’s hard to place blame on him either. He was a rising young star in San Francisco before Robert Saleh recruited him to New York, where he was tasked with developing a prospect in Wilson who clearly needed more time than the Jets anticipated. If LaFleur, who is not the hot head-coaching candidate he probably wants to be, stayed for another season, he would be on shaky ground with a shaky young quarterback and a win-now team.
Regardless of who did the plug-pulling, the Jets need to find a new offensive coordinator who can quickly cure the offense — while likely inheriting a huge question mark at the sport’s most important position — and work within a regime that won’t last long without better immediate results. Good luck.
There’s no place like home
Damar Hamlin is going home.
The Bills safety, whose health has been the country’s concern since he went into cardiac arrest mid-game and had to be resuscitated on the field Jan. 2, has been discharged from a Buffalo hospital, the team announced.
“We have completed a series of tests and evaluations, and in consultation with the team physicians, we are confident that Damar can be safely discharged to continue his rehabilitation at home and with the Bills,” said Jamie Nadler, a critical care physician at Buffalo General Medical Center.
Hamlin, already the nation’s darling, could become the darling of the postseason. If in a few weeks, he shows up on the Bills’ sideline, Buffalo crowds would explode and hearts would be warmed.
Of course, the Bills would have to beat the Dolphins first — the same Dolphins who, on Wednesday, ruled out quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for Sunday’s wild-card game. Tagovailoa is believed to have suffered three concussions in 13 games this season, including a terrifying September incident in which his hands and fingers appeared to lock up in front of his face, a neurological response to the head injury.
Great news on Hamlin, but every football player is risking his health every time he steps on the field.
Ben there, need to do that
The Nets will play their first game since Kevin Durant went down when they host the Celtics Thursday night. The focus probably will be on Kyrie Irving — playing his former team and needing to pick up the scoring slack — but this should be Ben Simmons’ time to step up.
After an understandably rough start to his season after sitting all of last season, Simmons has come along, played excellent defense and filled gaps on offense. He still will not shoot outside the lane, but he hasn’t needed to. Teams with Durant and Irving don’t need a ton of scoring help.
But now the Nets do. As recently as 2019-20, Simmons averaged 11.9 drives per game, which was just behind the speedy Markelle Fultz (12.0) and just ahead of Eric Bledsoe (11.8), who always could get to the hoop.
This season, Simmons is averaging 3.2 drives per game, equal with 7-foot Kristaps Porzingis and narrowly edging out the Knicks’ Evan Fournier (3.1), who barely dribbles.
The Nets will not be asking Simmons to score 30 points per game, but they should be asking him to create more than he has all year.
Leave A Comment