MLB free agency and trade grades: Grading the veteran trade between the Mariners, Brewers

The 2022-23 MLB offseason is underway, and we’ve got you covered with grades and analysis for every major signing and trade this winter.

Whether it’s a nine-figure free agent deal that changes the course of your team’s future or a blockbuster trade that has the whole league buzzing, we’ll weigh in with what the deal means for all involved for 2023 and beyond.

Follow along as our experts evaluate and grade each move, with the most recent grades at the top. This piece will continue to be updated, so turn back for the freshest analysis from the beginning of the hot stove season through the start of spring training.

Seattle Mariners get: 2B Kolten Wong
Milwaukee Brewers get: OF/DH Jesse Winker, IF Abraham Toro

Mariners grade: B-
Brewers grade: C+

Most trades these days involve prospects for major leaguers, so it’s fun to see one of those rare deals with just veteran players. The Mariners had stated their desire to acquire a left-handed hitting second baseman and got one in Wong. The Brewers needed a DH and wanted to trade Wong and his $10 million salary to clear second base for rookie Brice Turang, and they accomplished those goals. Win-win? Perhaps.

Wong projects as a clear upgrade at second base over what the Mariners received in 2022 from Adam Frazier and friends. Baseball Reference estimated the combined WAR at 0.4 — 25th in the majors — as that group hit a woeful .224/.289/.319. Wong, meanwhile, hit .251/.339/.430 with 15 home runs in 430 at-bats and fits into the Mariners’ mantra of “control the zone,” as he’s a disciplined hitter with a low chase rate and an above-average walk rate. Wong was worth 3.1 WAR in 2022, so if he plays at the same level, this looks like at least a two-win upgrade for the Mariners at second base (Wong would likely platoon with right-handed Dylan Moore).

Mariners fans wanted the club to go after one of the free agent shortstops, but that was never in the books as president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto has insisted all along that J.P. Crawford would remain the team’s shortstop. Indeed, the up-the-middle defense looks like an interesting issue for the Mariners: Crawford and Wong both won Gold Gloves as recently as 2020 but had subpar defensive metrics in 2022. Wong rated in the third percentile in Statcast’s outs above average, while Crawford ranked in the second percentile. Both also rated a little below average in defensive runs saved. One-year defensive metrics can be a little wonky, and the Mariners’ internal belief in Crawford certainly differs from the public metrics, but it’s something to watch, especially with the new shift rules taking place.

The Mariners will also be happy to get rid of Winker as reports surfaced after the season that he wasn’t exactly the most liked teammate in the clubhouse. It didn’t help that his OPS fell from .949 with the Reds in 2021 to .688. He did maintain his elite plate discipline (84 walks), but his hard-hit rate plummeted from the 90th and 81st percentiles in 2020 and ’21 to just the 19th percentile. Winker isn’t an athletic player (he’s slow and a mind-bogglingly terrible outfielder), so it’s hard to know if this is just somebody who lost his bat speed overnight or played through an injury that sapped his strength. Winker did miss the postseason with a neck injury, and he also underwent knee surgery after the season.

The Brewers will hope Winker finds his 2021 form — if so, that gives them a middle-of-the-order hitter for a lineup that needs one, especially after trading Hunter Renfroe to the Los Angeles Angels. Their DHs hit .226/.303/.390, so at the minimum Winker will provide a nice on-base boost. It feels like a worthy gamble for the Brewers since Turang projects as a capable replacement for Wong after hitting .286/.360/.412 at Triple-A with 13 home runs and 34 stolen bases.

Toro is one of those guys who looks like he should hit but simply hasn’t, falling to .185 last season. He just doesn’t hit the ball hard often enough — although he did somehow hit 10 home runs in a part-time role. He’s OK at second or third base, but isn’t the best fit as a utility player since he lacks the range for shortstop (although Luis Urias can back up Willy Adames). The money exchange is basically even — $10 million for Wong, $9.65 million for Winker and Toro (and both Wong and Winker are free agents after 2023).

This should still leave the Mariners with plenty of payroll room to make another addition in the outfield if they want to keep the DH spot as more of a revolving door — although given the Mariners’ recent history of poor DH production, they would be wise to find a more permanent fixture there. As for the Brewers, they must now decide whether to make a bigger deal: Will they trade Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes? — David Schoenfield

The deal: Two years, $17.5 million

Grade: B

Martin’s story is certainly one of perseverance. Drafted way back in 2005, he returned to junior college, tore his labrum and didn’t begin his professional career in the independent leagues until 2010. He didn’t reach the majors until he was 28, went to Japan for a couple years and just had his best season at age 36 (3.05 ERA, 74 strikeouts and five walks in 56 innings). Despite his age, he was one of the best relievers available, and the Red Sox are betting he can do it again — perhaps as the closer. They certainly need help in the bullpen. The Red Sox were 26th in the majors with a 4.59 bullpen ERA and Garrett Whitlock, their best reliever the past two seasons, is earmarked for the rotation in 2023.

Since returning from Japan in 2018, Martin has moved from the Texas Rangers to the Atlanta Braves and then to the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2022. The one thing he consistently does is pound the strike zone, and he really hit that stride after the deadline trade to the Dodgers, finishing with a 34-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 24⅔ innings with them. The one issue is he has been a little homer-prone at times (with the Braves in 2020, he served up the pennant-losing home run to Cody Bellinger in the NLCS). He curbed that issue with the Dodgers, at least temporarily, allowing just one home run with them after serving up five in 31⅓ innings with the Cubs.

What really makes the 6-foot-6 right-hander unique for a reliever isn’t just the exceptional command, but that he throws six different pitches: four-seam fastball (that averaged 95.3 mph), sinker, slider, cutter, curveball and splitter. Most of that is four-seamer (42.5% of the time) and cutter (31.7%), but it’s certainly an unusual arsenal for a reliever.

The Red Sox didn’t have a reliever with more than eight saves, so Martin could end up as the closer. Matt Barnes is still around but struggled in 2022. Tanner Houck could be another option, although his stuff also works in a multi-inning role. My guess is the opportunity to close is a reason Martin went with the Red Sox. Obviously, 36-year-old relievers can collapse at any time, but his ability to throw strikes with a variety of pitches suggests a pitcher who can remain effective in his late 30s. You also don’t want to overrate what he did in two months with the Dodgers, since that was a much higher level than he had ever pitched at before, but maybe the Dodgers’ pitching lab taught him a couple new things. He should be a good reliever, if not quite elite, the next two seasons. And $17.5 million for two years is pretty much the going rate for this kind of reliever in free agency. — Schoenfield

The deal: Three years, $40 million

Grade: C+

The Tampa Bay Rays were apparently serious about spending some money this offseason, agreeing to a three-year, $40 million contract with right-handed starter Zach Eflin. How big of a payout is that for the Rays? It’s the biggest free agent contract in franchise history, topping the $35 million deal Wilson Alvarez signed way back in 1998.

Eflin is a curious pitcher to bet on given his career mark with the Phillies was 36-45 with a 4.49 ERA. He also has missed significant time each of the past two seasons with injuries, pitching just 75.2 innings in 2022 after missing nearly three months with right knee soreness (diagnosed as a bone bruise). He also made just 18 starts in 2021, missing the final two-plus months after surgery for a torn patellar tendon on that right knee. He had surgery for the same injury in 2016 as well.

With the Rays involved, however, you know somebody in the analytics department believes they can get a lot more out of him. Eflin’s fastball isn’t elite, averaging 92.7 mph, but due to his size (6-foot-6) and elite extension, the velocity plays up. For the most part, he throws a sinker over his four-seamer (39.9% of the time in 2022 compared to 15.5% with the four-seamer), so he isn’t one of the pitchers teams crave today because of an ability to throw the fastball up in the zone. Certainly, having a better defense than the Phillies deployed behind him could be a big help. His hard-hit rate was in the 94th percentile, so he allowed a lot of soft contact. Eflin has also become an elite strike thrower: Among pitchers with at least 150 innings over the past two seasons, only Jacob deGrom has a lower walk rate.

Some teams saw Eflin as a potential reliever after his fastball played up when he pitched out of the bullpen late in the season and in the playoffs, but the Rays clearly view him as a starter with this kind of money. With Corey Kluber in free agency and Shane Baz out for the season with Tommy John surgery, they needed another starter to join Shane McClanahan, Tyler Glasnow, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs. That’s an excellent rotation, especially if Rasmussen and Springs (both with sub-3.00 ERAs in 2022) are the real deal.

Still, Eflin has topped 130 innings just once and has never quite put it all together over a full season, so the durability concerns limit the grade on this signing. Of course, the Rays have a way of getting the most out of their pitchers, so there’s a good chance if Eflin’s knee holds up that this turns into a solid investment for the usually thrifty Rays. — Schoenfield

Jose Abreu signs three-year deal with the Astros

The deal: Three years reportedly for $58.5 million

Grade: B+

After nine seasons with the White Sox — a terrific run that included six 100-RBI seasons and the 2020 American League MVP Award — Abreu is signing with the Astros. It’s a move that seemed a strong possibility given the White Sox had indicated they wanted to play Andrew Vaughn at first base and the Astros needed a first baseman with Yuli Gurriel being a free agent who is coming off a bad season. Still, it’s a painful loss for the White Sox, as Abreu was a reliable run producer and durable presence in the lineup, playing 150-plus games in six of his eight full seasons (and playing every game in COVID-19-shortened 2020).

That durability and good health is one reason Abreu has continued to age well, hitting .304/.378/.446 with the White Sox in 2022 in his age-35 season, good for a 137 wRC+, ranking fifth among qualified first basemen. It was a different sort of production from Abreu, however, as he hit just 15 home runs, a career low, as was his .446 slugging percentage. Abreu’s exit velocity remained elite with a hard-hit rate in the 97th percentile, but his average launch angle dipped a couple of degrees, leading to more line drives and fewer fly balls that cleared the fence. Abreu has always been a hitter with power as opposed to a true power hitter (his launch angles have always been less than ideal compared to the best home run sluggers), but given a career-low strikeout rate in 2022 of 16.2%, there did seem to be some real changes in his approach that emphasized average over power.

It worked last season, but there’s also a scenario in which he hits .261 (like he did in 2021) with 15 home runs (like 2022), and then you’re looking at a league-average-type first baseman rather than the 4.2-WAR player Abreu was in 2022. Indeed, with a three-year deal, Abreu’s age is a big factor in how this contract plays out. Over the past 10 seasons, only two first basemen/DHs have produced a 4.0-WAR season at age 36 or older — David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz both did it twice. Only three others have produced a 3-WAR season at 36 or older: Ortiz again, plus Gurriel and Joey Votto, both in 2021.

Still, at least for 2023, this projects as a sizable improvement for the Astros, as their first basemen were worth minus-0.4 bWAR. Abreu does ground into a lot of double plays, so I like him more in the sixth spot in the lineup rather than third or fourth, assuming Dusty Baker sticks with the Jose AltuveJeremy PenaYordan AlvarezAlex BregmanKyle Tucker order that he used throughout the postseason. There is a downgrade on defense, but the Astros do have interest in bringing Gurriel back. You could certainly see a scenario where he plays some first base while Abreu DHs.

One final thought: With Abreu coming in at $19.5 million, it will be interesting to see what this means for Justin Verlander‘s future in Houston. The payroll is now at $197 million, via FanGraphs data. The Astros have gone higher — including what would have been about $224 million in 2020 — but with Verlander expected to receive something in the range of two years and $72 million (or higher), a $36 million average annual value would push the Astros over the luxury tax threshold of $233 million. They have the rotation depth to absorb losing Verlander, but this does make it more likely he’s pitching somewhere else in 2023. — Schoenfield

Mike Clevinger signs one-year deal with White Sox

The deal: One year, reportedly for more than $8 million

Grade: B-

After a 2022 performance that marked the Chicago White Sox as one of baseball’s most disappointing clubs, they have embarked on an offseason initiative to improve on the margins, banking on an overall improvement at the team level driven by a cluster of bounce-back seasons from underachieving core players.

Given the lack of prospect flow from the system and an apparent lack of interest in the top-end free agent market, it’s really the only logical path for the White Sox — besides trading off those core players and embarking on another deep rebuild, of course, but that would be like throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

Chicago GM Rick Hahn told reporters that the White Sox’s most impactful hot stove transactions would be more likely to come in the trade market than in free agency. But that’s different than saying the White Sox won’t sign any free agents at all — hence Sunday’s agreement with Clevinger, a former nemesis during his rise with division rival Cleveland. The move isn’t contrary to Hahn’s suggested offseason approach but very much in step with it.

The White Sox needed a veteran starter to round out a prospective five-man rotation for next season. They already have a Cy Young-level star in Dylan Cease, a potential breakout in Michael Kopech and two other veterans in Lucas Giolito and Lance Lynn, who were elite starters in the recent past and, after subpar 2022 showings, are part of that aforementioned bounce-back crew.

Clevinger fits right into that mix. In his first season after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Clevinger made 22 starts for the Padres last season, going 7-7 with a 4.33 ERA and 4.97 FIP over 114 1/3 innings.

That’s a far cry from the starter the White Sox faced from 2017 to 2020, when he posted annual ERAs about 50 percent better than the AL average, but this is a low-risk move for the White Sox and a chance for Clevinger to build back some market value after another year removed from surgery. Even if he doesn’t quite do that, he should be a reliable source of competitive innings from the bottom half of the Chicago rotation. If that’s the floor for this deal, then it’s still a nifty pickup for Chicago, especially considering the upside that would accompany a Clevinger revival.

Clevinger has always relied on a high strikeout rate to succeed, but his strikeouts-per-9 last season (7.2) were a career low, a big reason his overall line was well below his accustomed level. It really fell off a table during the second half of the season, tumbling from 9.3 to 5.7. During the first half, when that figure was still strong for Clevinger, so was his overall run prevention. Then he lost a little zip on his four-seamer and went heavy on sinkers, an adjustment that didn’t work all that well. The White Sox have gambled that Clevinger can recapture and maintain his strikeout stuff — and that there’s a higher upside there than in re-signing Johnny Cueto, who served this role for the White Sox last year. It’s not a bad gamble.

The White Sox now have a base rotation full of big names and a good amount of variability. It should be a competent group at the minimum. The maximum? Well, it’s not farfetched to think that Chicago could feature one of the AL’s best rotations. There are a lot of hurdles to get from here to there, and that’s as true for Clevinger as it is for anyone in the group. But the possibility of what the White Sox’s starting pitching might look like in 2023 with Clevinger on the roster made this a modest investment worth making. — Bradford Doolittle

Pirates agree to deal with 1B/DH Carlos Santana

The deal: One-year, $6.725 million

Grade: C-

On the surface, this deal makes little sense — in no small part because this is the biggest contract the Pittsburgh Pirates have given a free agent since signing Daniel Hudson (two years, $11 million) and Ivan Nova (three years, $26 million) before the 2017 season. So why would the Pirates make a rare venture into free agency for a first baseman who has hit .207 over the past three seasons and been worth a scant 2.1 WAR?

Well, for starters, Pirates first basemen and DHs hit a combined .211/.287/.352 in 2022; only the A’s received a lower OPS from those two positions. The Pirates acquired Ji-Man Choi from the Rays, claimed Lewin Diaz off waivers from the Marlins and now sign Santana. No, none of these guys are exactly Willie Stargell, but this group should be a small step up from Michael Chavis and Yoshi Tsutsugo. (And looking at the recent history of Pirates’ first basemen … holy cow, has it been ugly. Other than Josh Bell‘s 2.8 WAR in 2019, the last regular Pittsburgh first baseman with a two-WAR season was Kevin Young in 1999.

Santana was essentially a league-average hitter in 2022, hitting .202/.316/.376 with 19 home runs between the Royals and Mariners (two tough hitters’ parks, so his production was a little more valuable than it looks). He still draws his walks as one of the most disciplined hitters in the majors, but his last good season was 2019, so at 37 it’s not realistic to expect him to bounce back to anything much more than a replacement-level first baseman/DH.

I suspect the Pirates view Santana more as a mentor for some of the younger players on the team — and Oneil Cruz in particular. Perhaps some of Santana’s plate discipline will rub off on Cruz. Then if the Pirates are lucky, Santana hits well enough that they can flip him at the trade deadline for a prospect, just as the Royals did last year (although the Royals were only about to get a middling major league reliever and another low-level pitcher in return). — Schoenfield

Los Angeles Angels get: OF Hunter Renfroe
Milwaukee Brewers get: RHP Elvis Peguero, RHP Janson Junk, LHP Adam Seminaris

Angels grade: B+
Brewers grade: C

Poor Renfroe. Good ballplayer, but not so good that anyone wants to keep him — or at least not at the projected $11.2 million he’ll make in 2023. Remarkably, Renfroe moves to his fifth team in five seasons, going from the San Diego Padres to the Tampa Bay Rays to the Boston Red Sox to the Brewers and now to the Angels. Along the way, he has produced four slightly above-average seasons in the past five. Ignoring 2020, when he struggled in the COVID-19 season with Tampa Bay, he has averaged 30 home runs and 2.5 WAR since 2018.

Renfroe is a solid right fielder with a plus throwing arm, so he presumably bumps Taylor Ward over to left, giving the Angels one of the best outfields in the majors with Ward, Mike Trout and Renfroe. The trade leaves Jo Adell without a starting job, but the former top prospect simply hasn’t hit in the majors, with a career line now of .215/.259/.373 over 557 plate appearances, including a woeful 79 OPS+ in 2022. Renfroe has just one season left until free agency, so I don’t think the Angels necessarily trade Adell, but he looks like a fourth outfielder for 2023.

For the Brewers, this is mostly about dumping Renfroe’s salary since the team payroll was already bumping up against what it was in 2022 — and they still have holes to fill in the bullpen. It’s possible Kolten Wong (making $10 million) is next to go. In Renfroe’s case, the Brewers are loaded with outfield prospects ready to contribute at the major league level. Garrett Mitchell hit .311 in 61 at-bats with the Brewers (and went 8-for-8 in stealing bases) and might get first crack. Despite his size (6-3, 215 pounds), he hasn’t hit for much power, either at UCLA or in the minors. Sal Frelick (he hit .331 at three levels, including .365 in 46 games at Triple-A) and Joey Wiemer (21 HRs, 31 SB between Double-A and Triple-A) are also ready, with Frelick the best bet of the three to hit and Wiemer the best power source. Milwaukee also has Esteury Ruiz, who came over in the Josh Hader trade and hit .332 with 16 home runs and 85 stolen bases between Double-A and Triple-A.

The Brewers traded from a strength, but it’s questionable if they got much back from the Angels. Peguero is the one most likely to contribute in 2023, a 6-foot-5 reliever with a 96 mph sinker. He didn’t fare well in a cameo with the Angels, allowing 23 hits and four home runs in 17⅓ innings, but he did have a 2.84 ERA at Triple-A. Junk is an up-and-down starter type without big stuff, mostly a deep depth option for the rotation. Seminaris is a lefty starter who reached Triple-A in 2022 after starting the season in the minors, but he struggled at the upper levels.

The Angels have acted quickly this offseason, adding Renfroe, Gio Urshela and Tyler Anderson, three nice depth additions. They have one big hole to fill at shortstop. Let’s see if they go after one of the big free agents. — Schoenfield

Seattle Mariners get: OF Teoscar Hernandez
Toronto Blue Jays get: RHP Erik Swanson, SP Adam Macko

Mariners grade: B
Blue Jays grade: C

With Friday’s deadline to offer 2023 contracts to arbitration-eligible players approaching, there had been reports that Hernandez was a non-tender candidate since he’s due to make an estimated $14.1 million (and eligible for free agency after the 2023 season). That seemed a little strange for a player who was an All-Star in 2021 and ranks 15th in the majors with 73 home runs over the past three seasons — including 25 homers in 131 games in 2022 — but the Blue Jays were, indeed, looking to move Hernandez’s salary.

The Mariners acquire a slugger with one of the best hard-hit rates in baseball. Over the past three seasons, Hernandez has ranked in the 96th, 88th and 98th percentile in hard-hit rate (the percentage of balls hit at 95 mph or higher). He also ranked in the 84th percentile in sprint speed and 86th percentile in arm strength. Despite those attributes, however, Hernandez is a flawed player. He’s a below-average defender limited to a corner outfield spot, has a lot of swing-and-miss in his game, and while he hit .267/.316/.491 in 2022, he does much of his damage against lefties — .325/.366/.686 over the past three seasons, a 1.053 OPS that ranks second only to Paul Goldschmidt against southpaws.

With Mitch Haniger a free agent and Jarred Kelenic still a major question, the Mariners needed at least one corner outfielder and Hernandez will slot into either left field or right field. The Mariners received just 33 home runs combined from those positions in 2022, so Hernandez projects as a significant power upgrade. Plus, Jerry Dipoto is just getting going on his offseason and will still look to add another outfielder and a second baseman. At the minimum, they just got a couple games closer to the Astros.

As for the Blue Jays’ side of the deal: Swanson had a wonderful 2022 season with a 1.68 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 53⅔ innings. He adds some much-needed depth to the Toronto bullpen and could fit in as the top setup reliever to closer Jordan Romano. He’s very good at locating his four-seam fastball at the top of the zone and then getting hitters to chase either a splitter or slider.

Macko is the prospect who could turn this deal into a big win for the Jays down the road. He is a left-hander who was born in Slovakia, then grew up in Ireland and graduated from high school in Alberta. He was a seventh-round pick in 2019 but has added nearly 10 mph of velocity since being drafted and now tops out at 97. He’s had trouble staying healthy, however, pitching just 33 innings in 2021 before an elbow strain and knee injury limited him to 38 innings in 2022 — although he struck out 60 batters in High-A. After being out since May, he did pitch in the Arizona Fall League, sitting 92-96, although his control was shaky (13 walks in 13⅓ innings).

The Blue Jays’ outfield now features George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Whit Merrifield. Their lineup was already very right-handed, so let’s see if trading Hernandez is just the first step in clearing payroll to eventually add a left-handed hitter — free agent Brandon Nimmo would make a nice fit in center field with Springer moving over to right. — Schoenfield

The deal: Three years, $51 million (the third year is a club option worth $17 million and has a $6 million buyout, bringing the guaranteed value of the contract to $40 million)

Grade: B

Through the 2019 season, Rizzo was a .273 hitter. Since then, he’s hit .234. There are few lefty pull hitters in the majors who are happier to see extreme shifts consigned to baseball’s past than Rizzo.

None of this is really the source of the solid grade given to the Yankees for this deal. Re-signing your own player can often be looked at as a treading-water move, or even worse than that because Rizzo is 33 years old.

However, because of the ban of the shift, it seems highly likely the Yankees will get more production from Rizzo than they’ve gotten since acquiring him from the Cubs in 2021.

In his first full season with the Yankees, Rizzo hit 19 homers at home with a .270 isolated power percentage. Not bad but at this point, it’s kind of what the Yankees can hope for. However, it’s Rizzo’s .216 BABIP that should get a considerable boost from the rule change.

Some of that is still on Rizzo, who was more fly-ball and pull-heavy than ever in 2022. If he is able to return to more of a pre-2020 swing plane, maybe he could see a late-career spike. Or maybe his leap in strikeout rate from 14% in 2021 to 18.4% last season was the product of a slowing bat. That’s the risk.

Either way, the Yankees needed Rizzo back. They need left-handed power, and they need a regular first baseman. Rizzo was the one guy on the market to fit that bill. Because of the rule change, it feels like there’s a little more upside to the deal than you’d typically look for in a post-30 hitter of this type. — Doolittle

Tyler Anderson departs Dodgers, stays in L.A. with Angels

The deal: Three years, approximately $39 million

Grade: C+

Anderson, 33, is a serviceable starter who raises the floor in an Angels rotation that is looking less hopeless than years past.

In 2022, L.A. used a six-man rotation to accommodate the incomparable Shohei Ohtani, though the two-way wonder still ended up throwing 17 1/3 more innings than any other Angels starter. Still, in Reid Detmers, Jose Suarez and Patrick Sandoval, L.A. has an interesting young rotation core that will hopefully get Griffin Canning back in the mix after he missed last season.

The Angels might have gone a year too long on this contract for Anderson, so that’s one reason for the tepid grade. Another reason is Anderson flourished last season for the Dodgers, but he now he has to replicate that performance without that behemoth’s unmatched infrastructure behind him.

There is also a conditional aspect to the grade: What else are the Angels going to do with their rotation? There is a dire need to build up depth but it could also use another impact power pitcher to augment Ohtani atop the rotation. Anderson is excellent at getting chases and limiting hard contract, but he isn’t a power pitcher.

One other mild strike against the signing is Anderson was burdened with a qualifying offer from the Dodgers, so he will cost the Angels a second-round draft pick.

If the Angels plan to splurge on a strikeout starter like Justin Verlander or Carlos Rodon, then maybe bump this up to a B- or even a B. But if this is the Angels’ rotation splash, then opportunity cost comes into play and it was too high. — Doolittle

Rafael Montero returns to Astros with 3-year deal

The deal: Three years, $34.5 million (with bonuses that could push the value of the deal to $36.75 million)

Grade: C-

Ordinarily, you’d give the Astros the benefit of the doubt with a signing like this, simply because you’d figure they know way more than you do. But the current decision tree in the Houston front office looks disheveled right now and the report this week that the Montero signing might have been ownership driven … well, that’s always a bad sign.

Montero, 32, had a great season. There is no doubt about that. He appeared in a career-high 71 games, posted a 2.37 ERA with a 2.64 FIP and recorded 14 saves, nearly doubling his previous career total. In his first full season with Houston, Montero added velocity and became more fastball-reliant, while getting much better results from his changeup, which allowed him to better attack lefty hitters.

Still, if we ding the Padres for locking onto Suarez despite the lack of a major league track record, we have to point out a paradox with Montero. He has a track record in the majors dating back to 2014. The problem is that prior to 2022, it wasn’t very good: His career ERA+ through 2021 was 80.

The aggressive reliever signings has been the early story of the free agent season and so maybe the deal for Montero will settle into the it-was-just-the-market category when everything settles down. But $34 million-plus for a 32-year-old reliever with 0.4 career bWAR over eight seasons?

No thanks. — Doolittle

Clayton Kershaw staying with Dodgers on 1-year deal

The deal: One year, approximately $17 million

Grade: B+

Moving quickly to keep Kershaw in the fold preempts a lot of potential headaches for the Los Angeles Dodgers in terms of media inquiry. With Kershaw’s hometown Texas Rangers in the market to spend and again looking to solidify their rotation, there would have been plenty of speculation — but the notion of Kershaw donning anything but a Dodgers uniform has always seemed kind of unthinkable.

That’s not why the Dodgers get good marks, however. They get good marks because even if they are treading water with this slot on their roster, they are doing so in the most fashionable way possible, retaining one of the best left-handed pitchers who ever lived. Kershaw can’t be counted on for big innings at this point, but on a per-frame basis, he hasn’t lost a beat, posting a 2.28 ERA with a 2.57 FIP in 2022, going 12-3 over 22 starts and 126⅓ innings.

The price tag — believed to be in the range of the $17 million that Kershaw earned in 2022 — is less than the cost of an accepted qualifying offer. It’s a bargain for a pitcher who has averaged 2.9 bWAR over the past two seasons even with his late-career lack of durability, and because you just aren’t going to find a one-year rotation option of Kershaw’s caliber on the open market, the opportunity cost is nil.

For all of the hullabaloo about Kershaw’s velocity drop several years ago, the reinvented Kershaw has proved to be remarkably steady in terms of his stuff. The underlying metrics on his arsenal in terms of velocity and spin rate just haven’t changed much over the past few years. And until they do, there’s no reason to think that the 2.28-ERA Kershaw that we saw in 2022 won’t be back, dealing at the same level next season.

These one-year deals for Kershaw are becoming like an annual rite, and they are a nice little gift to baseball fans, even those who don’t bleed Dodger blue. Even Rangers fans and those who root for the Dodgers’ chief rivals have to agree: When No. 22 takes the hill at Dodger Stadium, all feels right in the world. — Doolittle

Padres agree to deal with reliever Robert Suarez

The deal: Five years, $46 million (Suarez can reportedly opt out after three years)

Grade: C-

Under lead exec A.J. Preller, the San Diego Padres have long had a penchant for the bold maneuver. Signing Suarez to a five-year contract at more than $9 million per season certainly qualifies as that.

Since Suarez didn’t reach the open market for more than a few minutes, we don’t really know if these numbers mirror what he might have gotten if he had shopped his services. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel projected that Suarez would get two years, $17 million. So it’s not the average annual value that gives pause — it’s the length of the contract.

First off, this signing screams, “Recency bias!” Suarez was smoking hot down the stretch, making 13 appearances after Labor Day without giving up a single run. He carried that torrid pitching into the playoffs, teaming with Josh Hader to give the Padres a devastating one-two punch out of the bullpen. He tacked on five more scoreless appearances in the playoffs before getting touched up for a solo homer by Philadelphia’s Rhys Hoskins in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

That was, in fact, the first run Suarez gave up at Petco Park all season. Then Suarez gave up Bryce Harper‘s stunning go-ahead, pennant-winning, two-run homer in Game 5 at Philadelphia.

The reason this signing seems somewhat bonkers isn’t because Suarez faltered at the end after so much dominance. That would be recency bias. We drop in bonkers as a descriptor because, entering this season, Suarez was a 31-year-old rookie with no big league track record. His journey from the Mexican League to the Pacific Rim to the minors to the NLCS is inspiring, to be sure. But inspiration isn’t worth five years, $46 million, especially for a team that is going to be side-stepping luxury tax landmines for years to come.

Hader will be a free agent after the 2023 season, and the presumption has to be that Suarez will be able to slot in as Hader’s replacement as closer, doing so at a price tag friendlier than it would take to re-sign Hader. If that’s the thinking and that’s how it plays out and Suarez proves to be a contention-worthy closer for at least two or three years, the Padres will come out all roses on this deal.

Teams do give five-year deals to star-level closers, but those pitchers tend to have names like Kenley Jansen and Aroldis Chapman, who have the track record to match the name recognition. For anyone else, if teams give a favorite reliever that many seasons, it tends to be for a much lower annual value.

A good comparison is the extension the Guardians gave closer Emmanuel Clase in April, which was five years, $20 million, with two team options tacked on at the end. Clase entered the season with a short track record (still longer and more dominant than that of Suarez, though he’s about seven years younger). Over the life of their respective deals, Suarez will be making $25 million more than Clase. This is just a lot to give to such an unproven player of that age.

For context, consider that Suarez this season posted a 2.27 ERA over 47⅔ innings. That’s his career track record. To compare those numbers, forget five years ago, just consider three years ago.

In 2019, there were 11 relievers who threw at least that many innings with an ERA at least that low. (A 12th, Julio Urias of the Dodgers, is now a starter and a Cy Young finalist.) Four of those 11 were out of baseball by last season. Five more combined to throw an average of 14⅔ innings this season while combining for a 3.67 ERA. The two success stories are Liam Hendriks and Adam Ottavino, who are both still rolling, but they had considerably longer track records by 2019 than what Suarez has right now.

That was just three years ago. That’s just the nature of relief pitching. The turnover is constant. Pitchers who seem unhittable today are gone tomorrow. And the shorter the track record, the bigger the question because so few relievers are able to display any kind of lasting sustainability. That’s what makes this signing such a risk, but that’s kind of what the Padres are all about, right?

San Diego knows Suarez better than anyone and they have seen enough to think he’s the right reliever to buck the frightening scale of volatility endemic to big league relief pitching. It’s a bold assessment, to say the least. — Doolittle

RHP Edwin Diaz re-signs with the Mets

The deal: Five years, $102 million

Grade: B

No doubt the trumpets were blaring around Queens when the New York Mets signed Diaz in the exclusive five-day window before he became a free agent. Not that any team was going to beat that offer. The deal includes a team option that could turn into a six-year, $122 million deal, and Diaz becomes the first reliever to break the $20 million barrier in annual average value, topping Liam Hendriks‘ $18 million he received in his three-year deal with the Chicago White Sox. The deal does include $5.5 million in deferred money per season, so Diaz’s tax number is calculated at a mere $18.6 million per season (he also gets an opt out after 2025).

Diaz is coming off a ridiculously dominant season, going 3-1 with a 1.31 ERA and 32 saves, but it’s the strikeout rate that stands out: 118 in 62 innings. He struck out just over half the batters he faced at 50.2.%, a total topped only by Chapman in 2014 and matched by Craig Kimbrel in 2012. Obviously, the Mets needed Diaz back, especially since relievers Seth Lugo, Adam Ottavino and Trevor May are all free agents.

So why not an A? Well, that’s still a lot of money for a reliever and the Mets still have a lot of holes to fill in the bullpen — not that owner Steve Cohen doesn’t have money to sign a couple of more key relievers. As good as Diaz was in 2022, he’s also been inconsistent in his Mets tenure, especially that horrid 2019 season when he had a 5.59 ERA. OK, that’s three seasons in the rearview mirror, but even in 2021 he had a 3.45 ERA, a more modest 34% strikeout rate and six blown saves, so he’s only one season removed from being a middle-of-the-pack closer.

Aside from that, there is the general volatility of all closers — even great ones. Hader has been up and down. Kimbrel went overnight from the most dominant closer in the game to a guy you couldn’t always trust. Chapman was lights out — until he wasn’t. Diaz has never had the run of consistent success that Kimbrel had from 2011 to 2018 or that Chapman had for a long period of time as well. At his best, like this past season or with the Seattle Mariners in 2018, he’s at that elite level as one of the top guys in the game. We’ll see how many seasons in the next five are at that level. — Schoenfield

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