We always hear rumors about which teams might be favorites to sign a certain star in free agency. And that’s very good. And the teams that could come out of nowhere and surprise us with an impact signature?
We have had several examples in recent years. Last spring, the Rockies wowed everyone by signing Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million deal, while the Twins followed suit when they agreed to a three-year, $105 million deal with Carlos Correa (who is back in free agency after opting out of that contract).
We asked some of our writers to come up with a few free agent signings that are perhaps unlikely, but plausible. After all, there’s always “that team” out there that can rock the world, right? These are the ideas they shared:RELATED
LHP Carlos Rodón to the Padres
Why they’re not favorites: Because they already have enough quality starting pitching and need to see if they can land Juan José Soto a long-term contract.
Why it makes sense: Because nobody likes to acquire starting pitching more than AJ Preller, although he usually does so via trades. The point is that he should never be ruled out of any interesting move. For all the talent San Diego has in their rotation, there are some questions to answer because Yu Darvish and Blake Snell are only signed through the end of 2023. Joe Musgrove is signed through 2027, of course, so Preller could add Rodón, relax and watch his 2023 rotation succeed.
But there’s another possibility here: Signing Rodon would allow Preller to trade Snell to a team desperate for starting pitching, like Minnesota or Texas.
RHP Jacob deGrom to the Angels
Why they’re underdogs: The Angels haven’t signed a top-line starter in free agency since signing Shohei Ohtani, settling for riskier (and less expensive) options like Noah Syndergaard, Julio Tehran, Matt Harvey and Colombian Jose Quintana. As for deGrom, the Californians aren’t even favorites in their own division, as it’s the Rangers who have been linked to the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
Why it makes sense: Ohtani will be a free agent after next season, so this could be the Angels’ last chance to reach the postseason with the best two players in the world on their roster. Mike Trout has been to the postseason only once, where he hasn’t won a game, in his fantastic 12-year career. Ohtani has never played in the playoffs. Now, after those turnaround-seeking pitching projects haven’t panned out in recent years, the Angels need a real ace to pair with Ohtani.
Of course, deGrom comes with its risks, having pitched just 156.1 innings over the past two seasons, but taking that risk might be worth it for an arm with so much potential.
C Willson Contreras to the Guardians
*_Why they’re underdogs: *_Bo Naylor, the Guardians’ No. 5 prospect, is the organization’s catcher of the future and could be ready to take over the position as early as 2023. Plus, Contreras will cost more than $20 million a year and Cleveland hasn’t been a long-term signing team on the open market.
Why it makes sense: The Guardians could re-sign Austin Hedges and maybe they should. Compared to Contreras, also 30, Hedges is better on defense. However, it’s no secret that Cleveland needs to improve his offensive production, especially behind the plate. The Guardians’ players lasted the 2022 season in batting average (.180) and slugging percentage (.267) and ranked 29th in wRC+ (56). Hedges, in particular, hit .163/.241/.248.
Contreras, for his part, is coming off a great year in the batting box. His wRC+ of 132 was his career high and he hit at least 20 home runs for the third straight season. Since the 2019 season began, he has the fourth-most homers (74) and third-best OPS (.816) among qualified catchers. He’s the kind of presence the Guardians needed this past postseason.
If Cleveland isn’t comfortable with Contreras managing their pitching staff, they could try him out at first base, where he played sporadically during his early years in Chicago. Contreras probably isn’t much of a defender at first base, but the Guardians’ defense is good enough to make up for that. And Contreras has the kind of power at the plate that Cleveland’s lineup sorely needs.
INF Xander Bogaerts to the White Sox
Why they’re underdogs: They already have a starting shortstop in Tim Anderson, who will be contractually controlled through the end of 2024 via a $14 million club option, and the Palelegs haven’t yet been linked to any agent shortstop free.
Why it makes sense: After a disappointing 81-81 season in 2022, Chicago’s South side could feel convinced they already have what it takes to be a contender again in 2023, looking for rebounds from Lucas Giolito and the Cuban Yoán Moncada, along with better health from the also Cuban Luis Robert, the Dominican Eloy Jiménez and Lance Lynn, plus a revelation from Andrew Vaughn. In a weak AL Central, the White Sox could be right. But to be a true contender, they’ll need more. Even if the above goes to Chicago’s favor, the team still has huge holes in the lineup, especially with Jose Abreu in free agency.
Bogaerts appears to be a great alternative, considering he had almost identical output to Abreu this year — Abreu hit .304 with 15 home runs, 40 doubles and a 133 OPS+ in 157 games with the Palelegs, while Bogaerts averaged .307 with 15 homers, 38 doubles and a 131 OPS+ in 150 games with the Red Sox. The difference between the two is that Bogaerts is almost six years underage and provides more value on defense.
The White Sox could turn their attention to lower-profile alternatives at second base, but this is the kind of move they should make if they’re serious about going deep in October (assuming they can convince Bogaerts or Anderson to move to second base). .
P Justin Verlander to the Orioles
Why they’re not favorites: Baltimore’s rise in 2022 excited many, and for some it was very unexpected. A team speculated to be several years away from a World Series title — even if a postseason berth seems realistic in 2023 — probably wouldn’t be very active in the search for a free-agent starter who turns 40 next year. Opening Day.
Why it makes sense: But this isn’t just any 40-year-old starter…we’re talking Justin Verlander, who just picked up the Cy Young Award – the fourth-oldest winner in the history of the award and the first of any age in win him over after missing out on the entire previous year. He has shown no signs of slowing down on him. So why not add his arm and leadership?
The Orioles are looking to bolster their starting pitching after ranking 21st in ERA in their rotation in 2022, and it’s intriguing to think whether the Verlander effect could make an impact on the likes of John Means and others on the big team, plus Grayson Rodriguez ( ranked by MLB Pipeline as the No. 4 prospect in baseball) and DL Hall (No. 87) — plus the production Verlander himself can provide.
SS Trea Turner to the Yankees
Why they’re not favorites: If the early offseason rumors are to be believed, the Bombers have indicated they won’t be looking at any shortstops on the open market. Aaron Judge is the top priority, New York passed up another group of star shortstops last winter and now two hot prospects, Anthony Volpe and Oswald Peraza, are theoretically ready to take on the middle of the infield.
Why it makes sense: What does it matter what the rumors say. The Yankees need a high-caliber shortstop. You just saw what happened when they had to settle for less, as evidenced by the huge hole Isiah Kiner-Falefa created at that position during the postseason. They could have signed Corey Seager. Now they could sign Turner. Who knows what results the prospects will give? Volpe and Peraza may be great, but they may not.
Having a star in the middle of the infield is the biggest missing piece for any contending team in 2022. Landing Turner’s services could make an impact on a contending 2023 roster.
RF Aaron Judge to the Braves
Why they’re not favorites: With Atlanta investing nearly $500 million in extensions last season — securing Matt Olson, Michael Harris II (NL Rookie of the Year), Spencer Strider and Austin Riley for multiple years — Atlanta now he’ll set his sights on doing the same with All-Star shortstop Dansby Swanson. With all those investments and another possible one in Swanson, the Braves will likely enter luxury tax territory if they sign Judge. Although the team’s owners have made it clear that they aim to have one of the top five payrolls in the majors, increasing it above $230 million would not be a possibility.
Why it makes sense: Imagine a super outfield with Judge, Harris II, and Ronald Acuna Jr. That would be a high-value outfield. But also the best in MLB. It would probably be what would give Atlanta the extra power they need to get back to the World Series after they were eliminated by the Phillies in the Division Series.
Judge’s signing would make Marcell Ozuna a trade chip, helping Atlanta get a boost, possibly to the bullpen. With an improved bullpen, plus the long-awaited return of Mike Soroka to a rotation that already features Strider, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, this could be a team some would consider the best in the Old Circuit.