You should not be surprised to be reading this. Every year, we run a list of the most surprising developments of the Hot Stove season, because every year a bunch of stuff happens that catches us off-guard.
Though there is still plenty of time for more dumbfounding developments, let’s recap the winter, to date, with this list of the eight biggest shockers of the Stove.
The Correa saga actually qualifies for the top three spots on this list.
Waking up (on Eastern Standard Time) to news of his new team was a short-lived tradition, but a tradition, no less. It actually dates back to last spring, when news came down in the middle of a March night that the Twins had shockingly swooped in to sign Correa to a short-term deal.
It happened again when the Giants pivoted to Correa after they were unable to land Aaron Judge.
Then again when the Mets pounced on Correa after a failed physical in San Francisco, with owner Steve Cohen negotiating the deal while vacationing in Hawaii.
Then we learned, late one night, that the Twins were back at the forefront of the Correa market. And sure enough, they landed him again.
All this because of a metal plate in Correa’s lower leg.
What a “steel” for the Twins!
After the 2021 season, Correa turned down a five-year $160 million offer to remain with the Astros because he understandably wanted to explore his market. When all is said and done, he will have made $172 million over the five seasons that Astros contract would have covered, with an additional two guaranteed years worth a total of about $63 million and four team option/vesting years after that.
So yes, he wound up beating that original offer from his original team. But it’s pretty safe to say all of us — including the Giants and Mets — expected him to beat it more emphatically … and with fewer agreements along the way.
2. The five minutes when “Arson” Judge was headed to the Giants.
Aaron Judge’s destination was shaping up to be the biggest story in baseball this winter and almost certainly the biggest story of a long-anticipated Winter Meetings. Every reporter in San Diego was on the case. Every fan was hanging on every morsel of information about the battle between the Giants and Yankees for Judge, while also waiting and wondering if a mystery team would swoop in last minute.
Anticipation, anxiety and attention to detail were high.
That’s when the fire broke out.
When Jon Heyman of the New York Post and MLB Network posted a tweet that said simply “Arson Judge appears headed to Giants,” he set the Winter Meetings ablaze. There was palpable buzz in the lobby, executives from the Giants and the panicked Yankees scrambled to reach Judge’s agent, and the Internet — being the Internet — had a field day both with the news and the typo.
Mere minutes later, Heyman deleted the tweet and apologized for jumping the gun. Heyman is a known news-breaker who deserves particular kudos for being all over the Correa saga this winter. The world of dealing with anonymous sources who have agendas can be difficult, and mistakes do happen. So we forgive him. But we will never forget those few frantic moments when Judge was a Giant and, apparently, a pyromaniac.
(Then Judge wound up back with the Yanks like most everybody expected all along.)
3. Xander Bogaerts to … the Padres?
We’ll get to Boston’s end of this development a little later, but, even if you’ve come to expect the unexpected from the Padres, this was still … unexpected.
Forgive us if we thought the Padres were running out of rabbits to pull out of their hat after a bevy of blockbusters in recent years that included the Manny Machado contract, the Fernando Tatis Jr. extension, the Juan Soto trade and so much more. To extend themselves even further with yet another shortstop and the 13th-largest contract in MLB history was fearless even by recent Friars’ standards. This will be their third straight season with a franchise-record payroll. Their spending increased about 80% from 2019 to the next full season in ’21, another 21% from ’21 to ’22 and is on track to go up another 18% or so this year.
Remember the days when the Padres supposedly couldn’t afford to keep Chase Headley? Just look at ’em now!
4. The size of the deals.
No, it wasn’t just the Mets splurging this winter (though Cohen’s club committed more dollars to free agents and arbitration-eligible players in a single winter than the Pirates have spent on payroll over the past 10 seasons combined).
At last count, $3.8 billion has been invested in free agents this winter, surpassing the record of $3.31 billion from last year.
Four of the 13 largest deals ever (the Judge, Trea Turner and Bogaerts free-agent contracts and the Rafael Devers extension) have been signed this winter, as have three of the top four deals in terms of average annual value (Justin Verlander, Judge and Jacob deGrom). Nine players got nine-figure deals, including — for the first time ever — a reliever (Edwin Díaz).
In an industry that has spent the past decade or so paying much closer attention to aging curves, a 39-year-old (Verlander) scored the highest AAV of anybody in the free-agent field, two shortstops entering their age-30 seasons (Turner and Bogaerts) received 11-year commitments (and the 28-year-old Correa had a 12-year deal in hand before his physical blew it up) and a 31-year-old with an iffy health history (Judge) got the largest free-agent deal ever.
It was very much a risk-on environment.
5. The deGrom contract, specifically.
That deGrom left New York was no shock. That he wound up with the Rangers — a team widely expected to be a big spender on pitching this winter — was not a major surprise, either.
It was the contract itself that was jaw-dropping: Five years, $185 million. Yes, deGrom is one of the greatest pitchers of his generation, but there’s also that small matter of him only making 12 starts since July 7, 2021, because of elbow and scapula issues.
The total value of deGrom’s deal in five years is $3 million more than the Rays will pay shortstop Wander Franco in an 11-season span from 2022-32. It’s $5 million more than the seven-year extension Verlander signed with the Tigers a decade ago. It’s almost exactly as much as Mike Trout (who has the largest contract in MLB history) will make in the same five-season span, in his age-31-35 seasons (while deGrom is just entering his age-35 season).
It is, in short, a massive commitment to a massive talent who has missed a massive amount of time the past two years.
6. The Dodgers’ relative inaction.
With a bunch of big money off the books after 2022, the Dodgers could have put themselves at the forefront of free agency. Instead, they’ve made it clear that they are attempting to reset their luxury tax threshold penalty — something that will be difficult to do now that we know they are on the hook for the bulk of Trevor Bauer’s ’23 salary.
So instead of Verlander joining the rotation, it’s Noah Syndergaard. Instead of Turner at shortstop, it’s Miguel Rojas. Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger are all gone, and the Dodgers have conjured up memories of a 2014 Jason Heyward-for-Shelby Miller trade by signing … Jason Heyward and Shelby Miller!
These are the Dodgers, winners of nine of the past 10 NL West titles and a model of drafting, developing and smart spending. So perhaps this will all work out well. But it’s still a strange — and, yes, surprising — look for L.A.
7. The Red Sox. (That’s it. That’s the headline.)
When Kiké Hernández signed an extension with the Red Sox last September, he told reporters what convinced him to stay in Boston was a guarantee from chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom that the 2023 team would be better than the ’22 team. That’s simultaneously a low bar (given their place in the standings) and a tall order (given the complexities of their roster), but comments like that — and Boston’s penchant for vacillating back and forth between sluggish and sterling seasons — led to some intrigue over what their winter would look like.
Well, it looks … nothing like we thought it would. Bogaerts bolted, so that’s a pretty big blow to that guarantee (and Trevor Story’s elbow surgery only makes the Bogaerts hole bigger). The Red Sox shocked many in the industry with the speed and size (five years, $90 million) of their pact with outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who draws a lot of differing opinions from scouts over how he’ll perform here. They also signed Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, who will combine to make a little bit more than Mookie Betts will make with the Dodgers this season. The Red Sox did extend Devers to take the trade chatter out of the equation, but they have many of the same question marks today that they did at the end of last season … with some new questions added.
8. Sean Murphy traded to … the Braves?
It was a fait accompli that a rebuilding A’s team with a stash of catching would deal Murphy coming off a strong 2022 as he entered arbitration. But you would have been hard-pressed to guess that the Braves, who ranked third in MLB in Baseball Reference WAR from the catching spot and sent both of their backstops — Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras — to the All-Star Game in ’22, would be the ones to land him.
Even when word began to spread that the Braves were seriously involved in the Murphy discussions, they tried to throw us off the scent by refuting those rumors emphatically. Then, a week or so later, they got the three-team deal done, with Contreras shipped off to Milwaukee. Sneaky! And surprising.