The signature event of baseball’s offseason has concluded with the winter meetings wrapping up in San Diego, and the annual event was much more action packed than in recent years.
Teams appear much more willing to pursue high value free-agent agreements, and there are several big name players potentially available on the trade market. While many transactions were completed in San Diego, countless others promise to be consummated in the near future, thanks to groundwork laid out west. Here are the 10 most noteworthy things we learned during the winter meetings.
1. The Yankees really, really, really wanted Gerrit Cole
New York has needed an upper echelon starting pitcher for several years, the absence of which has arguably played the predominant role in its prolonged pennant drought. A pitcher of Cole’s caliber, in his prime, hits the open free-agent market just once in a blue moon, and it is easy to connect the dots on how this became an inevitable marriage. It took some convincing, as reports early this offseason indicated the righty would prefer to go home to Southern California, and while his agent Scott Boras downplayed that, it’s unclear if that was only to prevent clubs like the Yankees from bidding high. No matter the motive, it worked. Late Tuesday night Cole and New York hammered out a record shattering nine-year/$324 million agreement that includes a full no-trade clause and an opt out after five years. The deal did more than just open eyeballs due to the insane dollar amount. It proves the Yankees are ready to reclaim their reputation as the “evil empire,” are willing to do whatever possible to win, and they’ll enter 2020 as the favorites to be World Series champs.
2. The Angels were hell-bent on making a big splash
This isn’t exactly news per say, as the Halos owner, Arte Moreno always likes to swing for the fences. But there seems to be greater urgency to find Mike Trout more component help than in the past. The Angels were quite obviously very much in on Gerrit Cole until the end, but they quickly pivoted to third baseman Anthony Rendon, the other signature free agent of this year’s class. Perhaps as a prelude to future deals, on Tuesday Los Angeles made an under-the-radar move to free up some additional resources by trading veteran infielder Zack Cozart and all of his $12.167 million salary to San Francisco, a move that took a level of persuasion most teams would not have been willing to use. In two injury-plagued seasons in L.A., Cozart hit just .190, making him one of the least valuable players in the American League during that span. The Giants agreed to take on his contract only when the Angels put shortstop Will Wilson, their first-round pick from last June’s draft, on the table. This is a classic case of buying a prospect, and a very good one. For one year of a drastically overpaid Cozart, San Francisco may have landed its shortstop of the future, and had Los Angeles not secured Rendon, this trade would have blown up in its face.
3. Philadelphia is doubling down
The Phillies drastically rebuilt their roster ahead of the 2019 season, bringing in several big name additions with the intention of taking over the NL East. Unfortunately Bryce Harper, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson were not enough to fulfill that vision. Philadelphia struggled to a fourth-place finish in its division and was arguably one of the more disappointing clubs in the National League. But this team is not spending the winter licking its wounds. Last week the Phillies signed free-agent right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler away from their division rivals in New York, and they departed the San Diego meetings with a new shortstop, as former Yankee Didi Gregorius inked a free-agent agreement with the Phillies on Tuesday. And they apparently aren’t done yet, as they’ve been linked in some capacity to big name third basemen like Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson.
4. Madison Bumgarner has his eyes on a nine-figure pay day
Bumgarner is quite possibly the most accomplished postseason pitcher in the history of the sport, and it was obvious that free-agent interest in him would be high. Nonetheless, when reports from the winter meetings began circulating that the lefty is aiming for a five-year deal worth over $100 million, it was still a little stunning. The San Francisco icon is coming off probably the worst year of his impressive career, as in 2019 he worked to a 3.90 ERA while allowing 30 home runs and failing to strike out over a batter/inning for the third straight season. At 30 years old Bumgarner has a lot of mileage on his left arm, and while he should have some good years left, his contract hopes seem a tad aggressive.
5. Steve Cohen isn’t going to save the Mets…yet
When news broke last week that billionaire Steve Cohen has an agreement in place to become the controlling owner of the Mets, New York fans were ready to dance in the streets. For too long the penny-pinching Wilpon family has kept the Mets out of the expensive free-agent aisles, instead constantly looking for older players with baggage they could secure cheaply and just hope for the best. Friends of Cohen immediately insisted he would operate like a team in the media capital of the world should and will have no qualms spending more than any team in the league if it meant winning a championship. Mets fans who love the sounds of that shouldn’t get excited just yet though. General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen consistently dodged questions about the ownership situation during the San Diego meetings, and in a span of a week New York watched Zack Wheeler jump ship to Philadelphia and the crosstown Yankees ink Gerrit Cole. Meanwhile the Mets headed back east with Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello. Yikes.
6. The White Sox plan to contend
Chicago struck early in the offseason, nabbing free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal and bringing back first baseman Jose Abreu before the calendar even hit Thanksgiving. At the winter meetings, the White Sox made another high-profile addition, trading for Rangers left-handed-hitting outfielder Nomar Mazara. Already entering his fifth big league season, Mazara is still only 24 years old, and while he’s yet to fully break out, he’s been a productive offensive player every season. The Dominican Republic native is a career .261 hitter and has hit 79 homers in four years. The White Sox think his best baseball is ahead of him, and if they’re right they may have landed themselves a steal — and one who can help lead them back into relevance in the American League.
7. The Astros are willing to listen on Carlos Correa
Houston has been easily the most successful team in the American League in recent memory, but changes are coming. Gerrit Cole has already jumped ship to join the Astros’ biggest competitor on the junior circuit in New York, and shortstop Carlos Correa could be following him out the door. Owner Jim Crane recently expressed a desire to get under the luxury tax threshold, a goal that will be almost impossible to obtain without making a high-profile trade. To that end they’re reportedly willing to listen on their All-Star shortstop, and Wednesday alone brought reports that linked him to the Reds and Mets. It’s unclear if a trade will actually come to fruition, but this situation bears watching over the next few weeks.
8. Boston is serious about shedding payroll
The Red Sox have been dishing out vibes that while they don’t absolutely have to get under the $208 million competitive balance tax threshold, they would certainly like to. To that end first-year GM Chaim Bloom has been busy working on the phones, and rivals are saying several big name players on the Boston roster are available. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. may be one of the most dynamic defensive players in the sport, but he’s all but certain to be playing home games somewhere other than Fenway in 2020. Mookie Betts could go in the right deal, but that would be an awfully risky move for a rookie GM. Instead, perhaps somewhat surprising to some, the Red Sox are actively engaging other clubs on southpaw David Price. Jettisoning Price would leave a massive hole in Boston’s rotation, but the veteran is owed $96 million over the next three years, and shedding that financial commitment would give Bloom a chance to reallocate funds in a way he sees fit. A team like the White Sox, which, as mentioned above, are serious about competing for the first time in a while, makes sense for Price, as they need pitching and can absorb a contract of that magnitude. Stay tuned.
9. Josh Hader is very much available
This is kind of stunning, as the Brewers are not in any way rebuilding, and fully intend to make another run at a National League Central crown. Hader has won back-to-back Trevor Hoffman Awards as the NL Reliever of the Year, and he has arguably been the most dominant relief pitcher in the sport for two years running. So why is Milwaukee even picking up the phone? It’s not a secret Hader comes with a fair share of controversy as his troubling tweets as a teen will follow him for a long time. He’s also thrown the second-most relief innings in baseball since the start of 2018, so perhaps fear of an arm injury could be playing a role. Another key component at play is his Super Two status, as he’s set to make significantly more in arbitration the next few years than most players with similar service time. It goes without saying that a trade is not guaranteed to transpire, but there’s been too much smoke here to think there isn’t a fire in the distance.
10. The Rangers left San Diego as the biggest losers
Texas is getting absolutely hammered by its fans and local media right now, and for good reason. The Rangers desperately need offense and have a particular hole at third base. Making a serious push for Anthony Rendon, a native Texan, seemed like a no-brainer, and the Rangers were interested — at their price only. Texas made it clear it wasn’t willing to go beyond five years, a curious stance to say the least considering it was common knowledge Rendon had spurned a seven-year/$210 million offer to stay in D.C. Instead the Rangers were willing to let him take his talents to Anaheim, where they’ll get an up-close and personal look at him 19 times per year. They then pivoted toward Josh Donaldson, who would also bring a competent middle-of-the-order bat to the hot corner. But those rumors fizzled almost as quickly as they emerged, as reports have surfaced that Texas is likely out of the bidding because they don’t want to go to four years. The natives are getting restless, and it will take something of magnitude to restore some goodwill.