Most offseasons, a player the caliber of Trea Turner would be the first prize of free agency.
But this isn’t a typical winter, with former Yankees masher Aaron Judge hitting the market after a historic 62-homer season that nearly saw him win the Triple Crown.
As MLB’s Winter Meetings begin this week in San Diego, Judge is unsigned along with the top four free-agent shortstops -- Turner, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson.
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We could see major activity this week in San Diego but the holdup for the rest of the class appears to be Judge, who is highly likely to sign the largest contract of the offseason. The holdup isn’t just the price tag, it’s the teams involved. The Phillies’ competition for Turner and the other shortstops will intensify once Judge signs, if he does indeed come off the board first.
The Yankees obviously want to keep the current face of their franchise. What if they can’t? Wouldn’t a logical move then be to pivot and sign a top shortstop to try to replicate some of the offense lost with Judge? It’s not as if the Yankees are settled at that spot. Their primary shortstop in 2022 was Isiah Kiner-Falefa, whose OPS was 16 percent below the league average. Their top prospect, 21-year-old Anthony Volpe, is a shortstop, but they could break him in at second base and shift D.J. LeMahieu to third in the short term if need be.
The Giants and Dodgers are viewed as the Yankees’ biggest threats to land Judge. The Giants are interested in signing a top shortstop as well to take the reins from 35-year-old Brandon Crawford, with Carlos Correa topping their list at the position, according to NBC Sports Bay Area.
Again, the Giants would become even more aggressive for one of the shortstops if they miss out on Judge. And even if their preference is Correa and the Phillies prefer Turner, the first shortstop to sign will set the market. If the Yankees re-sign Judge and the Giants respond by signing Correa to a huge deal, it could affect all other teams’ negotiations with the three other shortstops and their representatives, who would then have a firmer number and contract structure to point toward.
The Dodgers, as always, loom as a threat. There aren’t many predicting L.A. will retain Turner, whose East Coast preference has been cited often in recent weeks. But you can never rule out a team that spends nearly $300 million a year and wins 65 percent of its games.
Another NL West team, the Padres, could stymy the Phillies with Turner. They are always aggressive under president of baseball operations A.J. Preller and are as pot committed as any team in baseball with the huge swings they've taken to land Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Josh Hader, Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish and others. The Padres are reported to have interest, real interest, in Turner. They drafted him in the first round in 2014 before the maniacally active Preller traded him a year later in a complicated three-team deal that netted San Diego Wil Myers, a move that was criticized by some at the time because of Turner's promise. A team or an executive doesn't sign a player for $300 million just to correct a mistake, but that would only give Preller and the Padres more reason to try to complete a deal.
And while the Mets are set long-term at shortstop with Francisco Lindor, they are probably the team the rest of the league is monitoring with regard to the starting pitching market. Jacob deGrom is now a Ranger, while Chris Bassitt and Taijuan Walker are free agents. That massive Mets rotation advantage of 2022 is gone, for the moment. They could dictate the top of the market with arms like Carlos Rodon and Justin Verlander while also setting the pace for the mid-rotation market that includes Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, Sean Manaea, Andrew Heaney and Nate Eovaldi, among others.
The Phillies need several starting pitchers themselves after Zach Eflin signed with the Rays, Kyle Gibson went to Baltimore and Noah Syndergaard reached free agency.