The checks have begun to fly at the MLB Winter Meetings, which means insanity is the order of the week. Well, that and a brand of wine that could not be more appropriate for the majority of Red Sox fans.
With so many moves in the works as I write this, amid the risk of any heavy opinions I may have about them being rendered obsolete by ten other signings that could happen any second, I’m just going to speak my mind on three the four biggest deals that have happened so far. I’ll leave the bulk of the Aaron Judge signing for John to write about Friday.
Jacob deGrom – Texas Rangers (5 years/$185 million)
Unsurprisingly, Jacob deGrom was the first big name to come off the board. What was surprising, at least to me, was the team that acquired him.
Derrik tells me that the Texas Rangers have a very good farm system, which feels weird to me because Ardolis Garcia is the only home-grown impact player they have. They seem to be building their team backwards. I feel like the best way to construct a MLB team is by raising a foundation of good, or at least decent, players from your own system and supplementing them with stars in the positions you can’t fill from within.
The Rangers seem to be subscribing to the bizarro world theory of team building. Spend out the ass for some of the highest paid free agents of all time, then ride it out with them until the minor leaguers are ready to come up. They have now committed $741 million to deGrom, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, and Jon Gray over the past two offseasons. They are buying up players as if they are in win now mode, all the while completely ignoring the fact that they don’t have the bullpen or offense to actually win now. They were 19th in MLB in offense last season, and that’s with Semien and Seager combining for 59 HRs and 166 RBI. They finished the year at 68-94, miles and miles off the paces set by the Astros and Mariners.
DeGrom is supposed to help narrow the gap between the Rangers and the true competitors in the AL West, but how can you rely on him to pitch a full season? He’s pitched about 200 innings in the past three seasons combined. Hard throwers with injury histories generally just lead to injury futures (Hi, Chris Sale). In fact, all of the big-money players the Rangers have acquired in the last two offseasons have gigantic red flags.
Seager (10 years/$325 million) and Semien (7 years/$175 million) are both thought of around the league as very good players that will never move the needle the way a Manny Machado, Bryce Harper, or Aaron Judge would. Gray (4 years/$56 million) has a career ERA of 4.51. And deGrom is competing with Chris Sale for most brittle rich starting pitcher in baseball.
deGrom is an outstanding pitcher, probably the best in the league when he is healthy. The problem is that he is very rarely healthy. After adding deGrom, his team still has a nothing bullpen and weak offense. With the Rangers still so far away from contending for a title, how can the contract they jut issued to Jacob deGrom possibly be worth what they paid?
Trea Turner – Philadelphia Phillies (11 years/$300 million)
The numbers involved with this contract are far more surprising than deGrom’s, but in this case, the deal makes so much sense because of the team that handed it out. No, wait … scratch that. This deal makes so much sense because of the man who is running the team that handed it out.
Any Red Sox fan understands that Dave Dombrowski will not think twice about throwing a Scrooge McDuck-sized vault at any player he values, whether they are worth it or not. Not that I’m lumping in Trea Turner with David Price or post-2018 Chris Sale. Trea Turner is a great player that is going to bring a lot to the Philadelphia Phillies. He’s a great hitter that will sit at the top of the order in front of Kyle Schwarber and Bryce Harper and they will devour NL pitching together for the next several years. I went on record saying that I hoped the Red Sox would bring Trea Turner to Boston rather than bringing back Xander Bogaerts. Turner is a five-tool player, and perhaps the best all-around shortstop in MLB.
The problem with the contract is the problem Dave Dombrowski always has with contracts. He pays no attention whatsoever to the number of years he’ll commit to a player. He became my enemy for life by dishing out indefensible contracts to Red Sox starting pitchers, to the extent where their only chance to even fill out the roster for the next few years was to trade Mookie Betts. He also screwed up the Tigers’ long-term future by extending Miguel Cabrera (8 years/$145 million) back in 2014 when Cabrera still had two years left on his existing deal. Cabrera began his career freefall in 2017, a year after his original Detroit contract was set to expire. He just retired this past season, following six years of painful mediocrity.
It won’t happen until several years from now, but Phillies fans will eventually despise Dave Dombrowski as much as sensible Tigers and Red Sox fans do. Not only did he just issue an 11-year contract to a guy that will turn 30 in the first half of the first season of the contract, he also gave Turner a full no-trade clause.
Right now, Turner’s AAV ($27.5 million) is very reasonable … cheap, quite frankly, in comparison to other players of his ilk. But that $27.5 million will become a bit harder to stomach at age 34 when he can no longer play shortstop the way he used to. It will be even harder to stomach at age 36 when he can’t get around on 96-mph fastballs anymore. And by the time he’s 38 –. right around the time he begins embarrassing himself to 2014 Derek Jeter levels — a lot of casual Phillies fans will ask why they didn’t trade this highly paid decrepit old man a couple years prior. And some 40-year-old curmudgeon like me will remind them that a certain guy in baseball ops — a guy who had bailed town two years after the contract was signed — thought it would be a good idea to give Turner a full no-trade clause for 11 years, a benefit never even fathomed in the past.
And that’s my big issue with Dave Dombrowski. He’s a grifter in the tradition of Anna Sorokin and Lyle Langley. He’ll pitch you on a bright and shiny art center or monorail that will make you hand your money over to him and burst into song as you daydream about all the grandiose possibilities it will bring you. But by the time you wake up in the morning to see that the credit cards are being rejected, the tracks are beginning to crumble, and the UCLs are starting to snap, he’ll be long gone, sipping champagne in seat 3F, laughing at the devastation he has caused.
Ultimately, I see this deal as a problem for the Red Sox. While the Phillies are off the board as a potential destination for Xander Bogaerts, which is a good thing, my top shortstop (Turner) is off the board for Boston. Also, Dombrowski just set the top of the shortstop market at $27.5 million (not bad) and 11 years with a full no-trade clause (incredibly awful). Bogaerts is my now top shortstop left on the board, and if Chaim Bloom is not willing to meet his price, which likely just went way up, he’s gonna have an angry mob of bitter Red Sox fans outside his office wielding torches and pitchforks.
Justin Verlander – New York Mets (2 years/$86.7 million)
So this one makes sense from one perspective, but doesn’t make sense at all from another.
The Mets needed to replace Jacob deGrom, so they pounced on the best arm left on the market. Justin Verlander was the unanimous 2022 Cy Young Award winner, his third time claiming the award. He kicked ass last year to the tune of 18-4 with a 1.75 ERA and 185 Ks.
However, he is 39 years old and less than two years removed from Tommy John surgery. True, most pitchers’ arms are even stronger when they return from Tommy John surgery. However, a handful of pitchers have had to get the surgery again not long after the first operation. Personally, it would be a tough decision for me to commit $43 million plus per year to a guy that will be 40 next season and has just recently had his pitching arm hacked open. However, Steve Cohen seems to give just as few f***s as Dombrowski, a trait that I have no choice but to begrudgingly respect.
The tandem of Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer is terrifying. However, I’m not sure if it’s more terrifying for fans of the Mets or fans of every other team in the National League. The stats tell you that they are a beastly duo. The ages, however, tell you that they are a colossal train wreck waiting to happen. Steve Cohen may have to hold off on buying that third Ferrari this year so he can afford to pay his insurance premiums.
As far as Aaron Judge goes, I’m not looking forward to watching the Red Sox play against him for the next four years. I am, however, ecstatically looking forward to watching him drag down the Yankee payroll for the following five years. Future Yankee fans can thank Dave Dombrowski for popularizing the full no-trade clause to long-term, huge-money free agents right before Judge signed.