It’ll be almost nine months before anybody knows who won the 2023 MLB season.
But a week ahead of pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training we have a pretty good idea who won the offseason — and who lost it.
Who knew that re-signing Kevin Gausman and adding Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani and Jake McGee on short-term deals worth a mere $14 million combined would help lead the San Francisco Giants to 107 wins in 2021?
These days, Giants president Farhan Zaidi waved around mega bucks all winter and didn’t get either of his big targets, for reasons ranging from the emotional (Aaron Judge) to the physical (Carlos Correa).
Maybe he knew more than he was given credit when he said at the outset, “We just don’t see it as a let’s-go-win-the-offseason situation.”
So take these evaluations for what they are — snapshots of the hope and promise of spring.
And keep in mind the likes of the 2020-21 Padres, who went big after the 2020 pandemic season, acquiring a Cy Young winner (Blake Snell), Cy Young runner-up (Yu Darvish), All-Star closer (Mark Melancon) and the Pirates’ Opening Day starter (Joe Musgrove) — only to face plant into third place with a losing season.
As Cubs president Jed Hoyer likes to say, “We’re not looking to win the offseason, which I think can be a real negative.”
Hoyer also spent more than $300 million on new faces this winter, making the Cubs one of the more emblematic teams of the industry’s biggest-spending free agent market ever.
And that wasn’t even as much as the Yankees spent on Judge — barely as much as the Phillies spent on Trea Turner.
Was that enough to put the Cubs among the biggest winners of the MLB offseason?
Keep reading to find out.
Imagine the offseason like its own tournament with, say, a pair of wild cards and three division winners, in which case the field of winners went something like this:
MLB offseason winners
Wild-card #2: New York Mets fans
Losing Jacob deGrom and Chris Bassitt certainly doesn’t make the 101-win Mets better. And just when you thought they landed a second generational shortstop to pair with Francisco Lindor on the left side of the infield, Correa failed another physical (maybe for the best for the Mets?).
But what baseball fan wouldn’t want their team owned by Steve Cohen, who kept center fielder Brandon Nimmo ($162 million) and popular closer Edwin Diaz ($102 million), added three-time Cy Young winner Justin Verlander ($86.7 million) and Japanese free agent Koudai Senga ($75 million), projects to spend a record $335 million-plus on payroll this year and just told ESPN, “I’m going to do it my way”?
Wild-card #1: Minnesota Twins
Until incumbent shortstop Correa failed physicals with the Giants (who offered 13 years, $350 million) and Mets (12/$315 million), the Twins’ top move was adding well regarded catcher Christian Vazquez on a three-year deal.
They never disconnected from their coveted shortstop through the winter, which put the team that arguably knows best how much to trust the old leg injury that derailed those physicals in position to eventually bring back Correa on a six-year, $200 million deal.
It makes them at least a team to watch in an uninspiring AL Central.
Division champ #3: Scott Boras
Talk about perennial dominance. Boras didn’t rep either player who eventually got a $300 million deal in this market, but the most prolific agent in the history of the business landed more than $1 billion in contracts for his clients — including the aforementioned $200 million for a guy who failed two physicals.
Other nine-figure Boras deals this winter included Xander Bogaerts’ 11-year, $280 million deal with the Padres and a pair of $162 million contracts for Nimmo and Carlos Rodon (six years with the Yankees).
In fact, Boras Corp. negotiated more than $1.75 billion (with a freaking ‘B’) in contracts if you count all three Correa deals.
Division champ #2: Philadelphia Phillies
The upstart NL Champs added to their stable of superstars with a $300 million signing of shortstop Trea Turner — the fastest player in the game — just in time for rules changes that ban extreme infield shifts and that incentivize running (bigger bases, pitcher step-off/pickoff-throw limits).
Top baseball exec Dave Dombrowski, who has gone big and won everywhere he’s gone, also added Mets free agent pitcher Taijuan Walker (four years, $72 million) and potential Hall of Fame closer Craig Kimbrel on a one-year deal.
2022-23 top seed and MLB offseason champ: Aaron Judge
Nobody lived a dream offseason like Aaron Judge, who followed a Yankees-record 62 home runs and MVP season with several teams lining up to pay him hundreds of millions of dollars for the rest of his career.
In the end, he chose a place in Monument Park, a record $360 million deal for nine years to remain a Yankee for Life, over a $300-million-plus offer to play for his hometown Giants.
Just missing the field: Yankees, Padres, Willson Contreras, Cubs.
Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.