Aaron Judge is staying put, Trea Turner is headed back to the National League East, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander are switching state income taxes and Willson Contreras is changing sides in a heated National League Central rivalry ... that’s just a taste of the flurry of moves.
MLB’s first in-person Winter Meetings in three years was a veritable non-stop news cycle, but it didn’t sort out the biggest question mark for the Atlanta Braves.
The future of Dansby Swanson remains unclear. The latest rumors have the Chicago Cubs showing interest, including for a reason that had this writer taking some heat on Twitter.
Pessimism is in the air this time of year, and until pen is put to paper, it’s going to permeate everything with Swanson, and the interest figures to only be heightened from teams in need of a shortstop with Turner (Philadelphia Phillies) and Xander Bogaerts (San Diego Padres) now off the board.
1. What do Bogaerts, Turner deals mean for Swanson?
It wasn’t quite to the degree of Judge — who bet on himself after rejecting a seven-year, $213.5 million deal and got nine years and $360 million after one of the greatest offensive seasons in history — but Swanson rode into free agency looking awfully attractive with a 6.4 fWAR, 116 wRC+ and .277 average, all career highs. He made the most of his walk year, joining a quartet of talented shortstops on the market with Bogaerts, Turner and Carlos Correa.
Only Correa and Swanson remain, with Turner signing an 11-year, $300-million deal, and the Padres reeling in Bogaerts for another 11-year deal, this one at $280 million. Now that the market has been set, what impact are those deals going to have on the kind of contract Swanson ends up with?
The collective thought was the Braves could be looking at a deal similar to what Javier Baez signed with the Detroit Tigers, and what the Boston Red Sox got Trevor Story for: six years, $140 million. But word came via Jon Heyman that Swanson made the Braves that offer, and they balked at it.
The Cubs are in, the Red Sox have a need, the San Francisco Giants are looking to make a splash and shortstop and the Minnesota Twins, too. Now that Bogaerts and Turner are off the board, it’s a near-certainty Swanson can get north of that $23.3 million per he wanted from Atlanta, and if those Padres and Phillies deals are any indication, than Swanson — who is a year younger than Bogaerts and Turner — could get more than six years.
The Braves have never paid a player more than $22 million on a multi-year deal, and among the recent extensions, Matt Olson and Austin Riley are tops at $21 million and $21.2 million per, respectively. Are they willing to move out of the comfort zone in terms of AAV to keep Swanson, and if they really did nix the six-year, $140 million offer, have they just found themselves priced out of keeping him?
Elvis Andrus has been brought up as a potential fit in this space if the Braves move on, and he has ties to Braves infield guru Ron Washington from their Texas Rangers days. Steamer forecasts have Andrus with a 1.9 fWAR, 1.3 less than the projection for Swanson.
Keep in mind, the Braves won a fifth straight NL East title despite a diminished Ronald Acuña Jr., whose 2.2 fWAR was half his career average. They won a fifth straight division title despite Ozzie Albies playing in just 64 games with foot and pinky finger injuries and posting career lows at every step of his .247/.294/.409 slash line when he was on the field.
If two key cogs that have combined to average nearly 8.0 fWAR return to form, the Braves could absorb a drop in production at shortstop. They’d no doubt like to keep Swanson, but this was the risk in letting things get to this point, a story the Braves saw play out last offseason.
“It’s tough,” said manager Brian Snitker. “We went through it a year ago right now, going through the same thing. And it’s tough. You do get attached to those guys.”
2. If Braves turn attention to LF/DH, what’s left?
The Braves are expected to add at least one more $20 million player for next season. That could be Swanson, or those funds could be used to boost left field, where Atlanta was tied for last with minus-0.8 fWAR, or designated hitter, where they were a middling 15th in wOBA (.321).
Among free agents, Andrew Benintendi is still on the board, as is Michael Brantley, Michael Conforto, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Nimmo. Bryan Reynolds has requested a trade from the Pittsburgh Pirates, though it doesn’t seem the team is too keen on meeting those demands.
Benintendi, who is forecasted to net $56 million over four years, provides a strong on-base percentage, but not much in the way of power; Brantley is 36 and coming off season cut short by injury and one in which he struggled; Martinez is 35 and just had his worst season since 2012 with 1.0 fWAR; and Nimmo comes with draft-pick compensation after receiving the qualifying offer from the New York Mets.
Conforto, though, is an intriguing thought. The 29-year-old sat out last season recovering from shoulder surgery and some forecasts have him signing for $14 million on a one-year deal or 2 years at $34 million.
A former All-Star, who has five seasons with an OPS of .797 or higher and has averaged 28 home runs, Conforto no longer has that draft compensation attached after declining the Mets’ qualifying offer last winter.
Welcome to Atlanta, Raisel Iglesias pic.twitter.com/n0UnhaWsSS— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) August 6, 2022
3. Raisel Iglesias’ time is now
Kenley Jansen moved on, turning his one-year, $16 million deal with the Braves last season into a two-year pact at the same rate with the Boston Red Sox.
Anthopoulos had discussed an openness to bringing Jansen back as closer in 2023, that despite having acquired Raisel Iglesias at the deadline from the Los Angeles Angels. But now, the page is turned, and the Iglesias era has officially begun, and the Braves got him some reinforcements.
The potential is tantalizing based on what Iglesias did after the deal, pitching to a 0.34 ERA with 30 strikeouts and five walks in 26 1/3 innings. Right-handers hit .192 against him, while he held lefties to a .175 average, and as he gave up just one earned run over 28 games.
Post-deadline, no reliever with a minimum of 25 innings had a better ERA, and only one other NL reliever was below 1.71, Iglesias’ teammate, A.J. Minter at 0.98. The loss of Tyler Matzek to Tommy John surgery hurts, but the Braves were able to supplement the group with Wednesday night’s trade, in which they got right-hander Joe Jimenez — whose slider netted a .182 average against and 42.4 percent whiff rate — from the Tigers for outfield prospect Justyn-Henry Malloy and lefty minor leaguer Jake Higginbotham.
Atlanta had the league’s season-best relief core last season at 7.6 fWAR, and don’t be surprised if the bullpen is even better in 2023.
Let’s switch gears and look at some big moves the Braves’ division rivals made, and more coming out of Winter Meetings ...
4. Mets have a rotation for the aged
Jacob deGrom bolted for the Texas Rangers and a five-year, $185 million deal, and how did Steve Cohen and his bottomless pockets respond? The Mets went out and signed Justin Verlander for two years at an AAV of $43.3 million, tying Max Scherzer for the record.
New York wasn’t done tweaking its rotation, next adding Jose Quintana on a two-year, $26 million deal. Add in Carlos Carrasco, and whatever happens with an expected option competition for the fifth spot, and it has the makings of a more solid rotation than the one that was fourth in rotation fWAR last season at 31.3.
Despite missing nearly two complete seasons after Tommy John surgery, Verlander has thrown just 24 1/3 fewer innings than deGrom since the start of 2019. Meanwhile, Quintana was a revelation last year, and improved after being dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals (2.01 ERA in 12 starts).
Again, it has the makings of a more solid rotation, but Verlander is going into his age-40 season, Scherzer turns 38 in 2023, Carrasco will be 36 and Quintana turns 34. Only six pitching staffs in history have had more than 100 combined starts from pitchers 34 or older, led by the 1998 Seattle Mariners with 115, and the Braves in 2000 with 109 and 2001 with 108.
No team since 2006 has hit triple digit in starts out of that age set but doing so may well be the key to the Mets’ chances in 2023.
5. Braves killer Trea Turner coming back to the division
Trea Turner has done major damage against the Braves in his career, with the former Washington National and Dodger hitting 17 home runs vs. Atlanta — the most of any opponent — while slashing .319/.363/.530 against them.
It’s not exactly a welcome sight, then, to see his returning to the division on an 11-year, $300-million deal. The contract may not age well considering how big of an element of Turner’s game speed is, but in the meantime, the reigning NL champs just got that much better and more prepared to weather Bryce Harper’s absence.
But if there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that the changes to MLB’s schedule structure means the Braves will only have to see Turner 13 times a year now instead of the 19 times they used to play teams within their division.
6. The Padres were these Winter Meetings’ surprise team
The Padres offered Turner a $342-million deal, and they came at Judge with a $400-million, 10-year pact, but both took less money to sign elsewhere ... then they kept throwing money around until they got Bogaerts for $280 million over 11 years.
Every year Winter Meetings produces a team that surprises by throwing its hat into the ring on big names, and San Diego was clearly that team this year with a move that presumably sets the stage for what’s to come next offseason.
Manny Machado has six more years at $30 million left on his deal, but he can opt out after the 2023 season, and grabbing Bogaerts seems like an indication that the Padres expect Machado to do exactly that. But does this also mean they’re punting on the long-term future of Juan Soto? Fernando Tatis Jr. has 12 years remaining on his 14-year, $340-million pact, and it’s probably going to take more than that to keep Soto, who turned down $440 million from the Nationals before they traded him, and has two years of control left.
It’s all clearly not sustainable for a small-market team that keeps operating like it has major-market money to burn, and the eventual fall back to their market-size spending is going to be tragic. But in the meantime, few lineups are going to be as stacked when Tatis returns from his injury, giving San Diego four players all of whom have a 140 wRC+ season on their resumes.
#BatteryPowerATL: If you thought it was tough on the likes of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens getting into Cooperstown via the writers ... the Era Committee just took it to another level.— Battery Power (@BatteryPowerSBN) December 5, 2022
️ @grantmcauley & @coryjmccartney
▶️ https://t.co/h9ANq7MnI9 pic.twitter.com/nIBmAYlrYP
7. Fred McGriff, welcome to immortality
The Winter Meetings kicked off with a statement made in the Baseball Hall of Fame Era Committee vote, a statement both in how the body voted, and how they didn’t.
Unanimously electing Fred McGriff was making up for a misstep for the writers, who capped the five-time All-Star at 39.8 percent in his time on the ballot.
It was about time for a player who was seven home runs shy of 500, only because he was robbed of at-bats due to the 1994-95 strike. A group of his peers, those who played against him and with him, and who lived through that strike understood that.
But also on that ballot were two lightning rod candidates in Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, who received fewer than four votes each. The last time they were on the ballot, Bonds was at 66 percent and Clemens 65.2 percent.
Granted, both just fell off the writers’ ballot, but this left like a strong indication that the players themselves aren’t just going to open the door for guys who sullied the game.
If anything, Bonds and Clemens and the likes feel further away from Cooperstown than they did on the writers’ ballot.
#BatteryPowerATL: Fred McGriff is a Hall of Famer.— Battery Power (@BatteryPowerSBN) December 5, 2022
It spoke volumes as the five-time All-Star was a unanimous pick, but meawhile, the wait continues for Dale Murphy. #Braves
️ @grantmcauley & @coryjmccartney
▶️ https://t.co/h9ANq83Z6J pic.twitter.com/TnNnV5lfcX
8. Dale Murphy’s wait continues
While the Braves’ section of the HOF grew with McGriff, the wait continues for Dale Murphy, who was in front of the Era Committee for the third time.
The hope was that the controversy surrounding other candidates — like the aforementioned Bonds and Clemens, along with Albert Belle and Rafael Palmiero — would only cast Murphy and his good-guy image in a brighter light. But the overwhelming support of McGriff may have ended up impacting Murphy’s chances.
The 16 voters were allowed to vote for a maximum of three players each (48 votes in all), and with all of them voting for McGriff, that accounted for 33.3 percent of the vote. This breakdown by FanGraph’s Jay Jaffe explains a simulation set on an eight-candidate model that produced an average of 0.989 inductees per year with an 81.5 percent shutout rate.
Basically, it’s hard enough to get in via this route, and when one player wipes out a third of the ballots, everyone else’s odds get astronomical.
But on a positive note, Murphy got six votes, which was double what he got the last time he was on the ballot in 2020.
9. Today in Braves History: Dealing a “future superstar”
We wrap up with a deal that had a lot of Braves Country in their feelings in 2005, when Atlanta dealt Andy Marte — you know, the guy Baseball Prospectus called “the best prospect in baseball and a future superstar” — to the Red Sox for a struggling Edgar Renteria.
Marte was coming off a year in which he hit .275/.372/.506 in Triple-A at age 21, while Renteria had just committed an MLB-high 30 errors, while hitting 10 percent below league average with a 1.8 fWAR. Boston had just signed him the year before to a four-year, $40 million deal and was already parting ways with the 28-year-old.
All the Braves did was get a combined 7.6 fWAR out of Renteria over the next two seasons, before flipping him to the Detroit Tigers in landing Jair Jurrjens. Marte, meanwhile, never even suited up for the Red Sox. They traded him to Cleveland a month after acquiring him for in a four-player package that netted Boston three players, including Coco Crisp.
Across seven seasons, Marte hit just 21 home runs with a .634 OPS, never hitting better than 12 percent below league average.
He died in a car accident in 2017.