The Winter Meetings start Sunday at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego. After being canceled by the pandemic in 2020 and by the lockout in 2021, the meetings could be eventful given the talented class of free agents and number of teams with legitimate postseason hopes for 2023.
Here are some of the people who will be in the spotlight:
▪ Aaron Judge: The Yankees have eight years and $300 million on the table for Judge. Will the Giants top that? Or might the Dodgers do a shorter-term deal at $40 million-plus a year?
Judge’s decision will drive the rest of the market. If he leaves New York, the Yankees could use their resources on a shortstop or one of the ace pitchers.
The Giants won’t sit it out if they miss on Judge. They also need a shortstop with Brandon Crawford heading into his final season and are looking to improve in other spots.
▪ Xander Bogaerts: What has become evident in recent weeks is just how poorly the Red Sox played their hand with Bogaerts by offering him an extension of only one year and $30 million in March. That would have given him a four-year deal worth $90 million from 2023-26 and he’s clearly worth much more.
Bogaerts’s day-to-day reliability, performance in a big market, leadership, and no-drama personality are appealing qualities for teams such as the Dodgers, Phillies, and Cubs, and perhaps even the Yankees if they fail to retain Judge.
In October, most teams believed the Sox would step up and retain Bogaerts. Now it’s December and the Sox have yet to act. This is not an exact repeat of the Jon Lester debacle in 2014 because Bogaerts was not traded in season. But it’s getting there.
▪ Chaim Bloom: The pressure was on once the season ended for Bloom to show the Red Sox would act like one of the cornerstone teams in baseball and build a contender after taking such a big step back last season.
It’s true the free agent market has been slow to coalesce. But given the long list of needs — shortstop, rotation, bullpen, outfield, DH — it’s hard to understand why the Sox haven’t been more aggressive. Bloom has a lot to prove.
▪ The other shortstops: Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, and Trea Turner have been on the market for close to a month now with only rumors to come from it.
The Twins were impressed with Correa’s leadership last season and want to put together a long-term deal. The Dodgers will need a shortstop, if Turner returns to the East Coast. Every 2017 Astros player has been vilified in Los Angeles, but Correa is talented enough to win over the fan base in time.
Turner feels like a good fit for the Phillies, who remain all-in for a championship. Swanson isn’t at the same level as the others but is coming off an All-Star season that saw him start 162 games. The Braves could well retain him.
Once one of the Big Four makes his decision, that will likely spur quick action with the others.
▪ Carlos Rodon: With Jacob deGrom landing a five-year, $185 million deal with the Rangers, Rodon is set up for a huge contract of his own. He was arguably the best starter available even before deGrom signed, and he’s more durable.
With deGrom off to Texas, the Mets have the payroll space to pivot to Rodon and make a quick deal to fortify their rotation.
▪ Justin Verlander: Clayton Kershaw made a deal to stay with the Dodgers. Might Verlander follow?
Verlander is going into his age-40 season after being a unanimous winner of the American League Cy Young Award. He had a 1.75 ERA in 28 starts and gave the Astros 175 innings.
Verlander has no intention of retiring any time soon and is working with a rebuilt arm after having Tommy John surgery in 2020. The Astros, who are deep in pitching, seem unlikely to meet his price. But the Dodgers could while also offering a platform to win another ring.
▪ Dave Dombrowski/John Middleton: The Phillies boosted their payroll last season and went to the World Series. Middleton, Philadelphia’s principal owner, was in the clubhouse after Game 6 and vowed he’d do what it took to get back to the Series and win.
Dombrowski seems sure to make some notable moves this winter and traditionally he doesn’t waste time once he draws up a plan.
▪ Billy Eppler: Mets owner Steve Cohen has spoken of his desire to hire a president of baseball operations. For now, Eppler is in charge.
This is his opportunity to show Cohen that his team is in good hands.
DeGrom and fellow free agents Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker accounted for 43 percent of the team’s starts last season. The Mets also have extensive work to do with their bullpen.
If Eppler can ably replace deGrom and build another powerhouse team, he shows he’s the boss.
▪ Brandon Nimmo: Once you get past Judge, Nimmo is the best outfielder available. His .388 OBP the last five seasons is a big part of that. Scouts also feel that Nimmo still has room to improve entering his age-30 season. He’s potentially a good value.
MAKING A PITCH
Ortiz: Sox need to sign Bogaerts
David Ortiz twice became a free agent during his tenure with the Red Sox, in 2011 and again in 2012. Both times, agent Fernando Cuza hammered out a deal with the team.
The Sox understood Ortiz’s value to the franchise went beyond statistics.
That the team has since traded Mookie Betts and appears to be slipping in the pursuit to sign Xander Bogaerts bothers Ortiz.
“I expect them to come through and get this done,” he said. “We don’t want another situation like Mookie. A guy like that, such a good player who goes about everything like a professional in a place like Boston, he’s a keeper.”
Bogaerts broke in in 2013 and played four seasons with Ortiz.
“You always know what to expect from him. He goes about his business in the right way and he’s never somebody the fan base has to worry about,” Ortiz said. “That’s special, man. You want to keep a guy like that.”
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Ortiz’s annual charity golf outing this weekend in Marco Island, Fla., drew an array of former Sox players. The guests included Johnny Damon, Carl Everett, Brock Holt, Dustin Pedroia, Rick Porcello, Jim Rice, Tim Wakefield, and Kevin Youkilis.
Yes, Carl Everett.
Matt Barnes was the only current member of the team to attend. If Bogaerts bolts Boston, Barnes will be the only player remaining who played with Ortiz.
▪ D’Angelo Ortiz, David’s son, is a freshman infielder at Miami Dade College and is lined up to play for Brewster in the Cape Cod League next summer.
▪ Baseball America identified righthanded reliever Ryan Fernandez as a potential loss for the Red Sox in the Rule 5 Draft, which will be held Wednesday.
Fernandez, 24, was a 23rd-round pick in 2018. He averaged 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings with Greenville and Portland last season with a fastball that climbed to 99 miles per hour. He also throws a slider and a cutter and profiles as a pitcher a rebuilding team would select.
The Sox also seem to be taking a chance leaving righthander Thaddeus Ward unprotected.
▪ In case you missed it, the Marlins promoted Jody Reed from minor league infield and base running coordinator to third base coach under new manager Skip Schumaker.
For Reed, 60, this will be his first time on a major league coaching staff.
▪ Garrett Whitlock has No. 22 again. Maybe this time he will keep it.
Whitlock picked 22 before the start of last season as a tribute to Porcello, one of his favorite pitchers. Then he gave it up and went back to 72 after the Sox signed veteran reliever Derek Holland and he wanted 22.
(Holland had never worn 22 in his career. But veteran players get to pick their numbers.)
Holland started the season in Triple A and was released in May. At that point, Whitlock was stuck with 72.
Now he has 22 again.
▪ Nate Tellier, a former Division 3 center fielder the Sox are trying to turn into pitcher, is playing for Ponce in the Puerto Rico Winter League.
Tellier, 24, was signed by the Sox as an undrafted free agent in 2020. The Attleboro native was an all-league outfielder and closer for UMass-Dartmouth.
Tellier had a 7.07 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 26 minor league games last season but did punch out 54 over 35⅔ innings.
▪ Think you know baseball? MLB is seeking candidates to become official scorers in Boston, Cincinnati, Miami, and Toronto. You must demonstrate “exceptional knowledge” of the Official Baseball Rules, especially the 40 pages of Section 9 that pertain to scoring.
Previous experience in professional or amateur baseball is “strongly preferred.” Go to mlb.com/careers for more information.
Big decisions are on deck
When the Hall of Fame’s Contemporary Baseball Player Era committee meets Sunday in San Diego, it will be settling all family business much like Michael Corleone in “The Godfather.”
The Hall has dealt with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Curt Schilling for what is now 11 years and countless debates about their worthiness. Once the vote is conducted Sunday, that will decide the matter.
True, any candidate passed over Sunday will be eligible for the Class of 2026, but at that point they would have been rejected 10 times by the BBWAA and at least once by one of the era committees. The Hall at that point could move on to other players without much blowback.
Sunday essentially serves as a referendum for how the Hall will treat suspected PED users. Along with Bonds and Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro also is on the ballot. He tested positive in 2005.
Bonds and Clemens never tested positive but are widely assumed to have turned to drugs to extend their careers. Bonds had a 1.045 OPS over 126 games in his age-42 season and Clemens was an above-average starter at 44.
Schilling is a more nuanced case. Statistically he is not an automatic choice. Three of the pitchers he best compares with — Kevin Brown, Bob Welch, and Tim Hudson — are not Hall of Famers.
I’ve always voted for Schilling based on his 2.23 ERA in 19 postseason starts, his 3,116 strikeouts during a period of inflated offensive statistics, and a 4.38 strikeout-to-walk ratio that is 10th all time.
His assorted vile comments don’t have anything to do with baseball. The Hall of Fame isn’t a church; it’s a museum.
“I know some people have personal issues with him. For me, he was a complete package as a teammate,” David Ortiz said. “I don’t think we win [in 2004] without him. He pitched in some huge games for us.”
That Schilling was an anti-PED zealot as a player also might help him Sunday.
Albert Belle, Don Mattingly, Fred McGriff, and Dale Murphy are the other players who will be considered. To be inducted, a candidate needs at least 12 votes from the 16-person panel.
Hall of Fame cognoscenti view McGriff as being positioned best for induction. I see Mattingly as a greater omission than McGriff, even if the former Yankees first baseman never received more than 28.2 of the BBWAA votes in his 15 years on the ballot.
The question Sunday is whether another candidate will emerge with McGriff. It could well be Schilling.
The Astros have won 201 games the last two seasons and were 20-9 in the postseason, twice winning the American League pennant and the latest World Series. It seems pretty evident they know what they’re doing. But Jeff Bagwell thinks it can be better. The Hall of Famer suggested to the Houston Chronicle that he felt the Astros were too reliant on analytics under general manager James Click, who was essentially fired after winning the Series. “There are certain things that go on that the numbers can’t explain. This game is played by humans, man. It’s not played by computers,” Bagwell said. Bagwell is not interested in becoming GM, but it’s clear he has the ear of owner Jim Crane. “I talk to Jim a lot and the new assistant GMs and so forth just to give my opinion on some of the things I see and how I see it [from] a player’s perspective and, I guess, a front office perspective and how that all mixes together,” Bagwell said. “You have to have a mix of both. You can’t just be one way.” The rest of the AL can only hope Houston turns away from what has worked so well, although Bagwell did say he believes analytics is “great for pitching.” . . . Pope Francis met with, among others, Hal Steinbrenner on Thursday at the Vatican. The Yankees are seemingly leaving no stone unturned to keep Aaron Judge . . . The Blue Jays made a smart move adding Mattingly as bench coach. His 1,839 games of managerial experience will be an excellent resource for manager John Schneider, who took over 88 games into last season. Mattingly also will have instant credibility with the players . . . Disney recently paid Major League Baseball $900 million to purchase the final 15 percent of BAMTech, a streaming services company that had its origins with the formation of MLB.com in 2000. The 30 ownership groups agreed to pay $1 million a year over four years to fund the new company. In the end, it sold for $3.8 billion. For essentially the cost of a middling player, teams received a nine-figure profit. The next windfall will be expansion once the Athletics and Rays settle their ballpark issues . . . Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry, who died Thursday at 84, was 11-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 18 starts at Fenway Park. Perry also was a notoriously bad hitter, leading Giants manager Alvin Dark to crack in the early 1960s that man would land on the moon before Perry homered. He was right. Man landed on the moon July 20, 1969, and Perry hit his first career homer a few hours later off Claude Osteen at Candlestick Park . . . Happy birthday to Lee Arthur Smith, who is 65. The Hall of Famer appeared in 139 games for the Red Sox from 1988-90 and had 58 of his 478 saves with the Sox. After signing Jeff Reardon before the 1990 season, Lou Gorman traded Smith to the Cardinals four weeks into the season and got back outfielder Tom Brunansky. Matt Fox is 40. The righthander pitched in three games for the Sox, the last on Sept. 28, 2010, against the White Sox. What proved to be the last pitch of his major league career resulted in a walkoff single by Dayán Viciedo.
Peter Abraham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.