LAS VEGAS — The General Managers’ Meetings weren’t notable for transactions per se, but in the end when we look back at the 2022-23 offseason, much of the activity could look like a chain that begins with one particular transaction: The contract. of Aaron Judge.
The slugger is not only the best free agent available this offseason, but he’s also the spark that will ignite the rest of the market. Until Judge signs, the other high-profile alternatives could be waiting because Judge’s decision would determine what happens to the rest of the top free agents. Clubs that don’t get the slugger’s services will be forced to turn their attention to other players.
“If he stays with the Yankees, will the Giants, Dodgers and Cubs focus on shortstops?” an industry source wondered. “And if he signs with one of those teams, how will the Yankees respond? Judge’s next destination will determine what happens to a host of players and clubs.”
We know the Bronx Bombers are hopeful of keeping their slugger, but Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi caught the attention of New York — and anyone else interested — by saying that “from the standpoint of financially, there is no one who is beyond our reach depending on the kind of contract you are looking for.”
“None of the outfielders on the market represent Plan B for the squads that want Judge and won’t get him signed,” a source said. “It is possible that those teams will enter the shortstop market or go another direction to add to [Justin] Verlander or [Jacob] deGrom. And if he leaves the Yankees, who knows what they’ll do. They will have to do something of great impact”.
There’s one team that could be favored if Judge’s situation takes time to resolve: The Phillies.
Some anticipate the Philadelphia club not looking to add Judge this offseason, focusing more on the shortstop group. There has been speculation that Turner is the Phillies’ main focus, giving the club a chance to jump right into negotiations with the infielder at the same time other teams that would be interested wait to see what Judge will decide.
“Teams that aren’t looking for Judge can move forward with their plans,” an NL executive said. “The Phillies can tell Turner or whoever they’re targeting that it’s not Plan B, that it’s top of the list. Players love to hear that.”
As the baseball world waits to see how the Judge market will play out — something few expect to happen before the Winter Meetings next month — the trade market could catch fire early.
Because of the sheer number of hot free agents — Judge, all four shortstops, deGrom, Verlander and Carlos Rodon are considered the top eight — teams unwilling to pay the price for those figures might be inclined to look at the trade market to find impact players.
“I think you’re going to see free agents impact the trade picture,” said an American League general manager. “Especially with the pitching. If you don’t invest in the stars, you’ll have to look at the other 29 rosters to find high-caliber pitching.”
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington thinks the trade market would take time to get going because this week’s meetings came just days after the World Series concluded.
Before leaving meetings in Las Vegas on Thursday, managers got a better idea of what would be available in the foreign exchange market. Thursday also marked the end of the “quiet moment.” Agents met with teams this week to gauge their interests and priorities, but now they can talk numbers to try to nail down whether it all makes sense financially and how any of the nearly 150 free agents would fit in.
“We hold these meetings in order to communicate with everyone,” explained Mets general manager Billy Eppler. “To get a sense of who’s available on a trade and put those together with those who are free agents, to get a big picture before we focus on any particular aspect.”
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A particular name would determine the entire market