2023-24 MLB free agency and trade grades: Gurriel to Diamondbacks and more

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The 2023-24 MLB offseason has begun, and we have 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 all of baseball buzzing, we'll weigh in with what it all means, for next season and beyond.

Follow along as our experts evaluate each move. This article will continue to be updated, so check back in for the freshest analysis from the beginning of the hot stove season through the start of spring training.

Key links: MLB free agency tracker

Arizona keeps adding: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. signs with Snakes

The deal: Three years, $42 million (opt-out after the second season; club option in the fourth)

Grade: B+

The Arizona Diamondbacks entered the offseason as National League pennant winners, which might give too much credit to a team that was basically a .500 club: 84-78 with a minus-15 run differential. To their credit, general manager Mike Hazen and ownership recognized that, and they have worked to improve the club rather than just run it back.

They signed Eduardo Rodriguez to give them a much-needed third starter alongside Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly; and if postseason Brandon Pfaadt shows up in the regular season in 2024, that projects as a strong top four in the rotation. They acquired Eugenio Suarez from the Seattle Mariners to upgrade third base, their weakest position in 2023. Suarez wasn't great with Seattle last season, but he is durable (he played all 162 games) and should be at least a league-average performer, even with all his strikeouts.

Now, they have re-signed Gurriel, a key performer last season after coming over along with Gabriel Moreno from the Toronto Blue Jays. After an injury sapped his power in 2022, Gurriel was healthy and rebounded to the best all-around season of his career, hitting .261/.309/.463 with 24 home runs, 35 doubles and 82 RBIs, while playing the best left-field defense he ever has (plus-14 defensive runs, 75th percentile in outs above average). As a hitter, he combines excellent contact ability with dead-pull power (he pulled 23 of his 24 home runs). Entering his age-30 season, it's a combination that can continue working, and if he maintains his 2023 level of play, it's a very good deal for Arizona.

You know there was an "if" coming. Because even with all the positives in 2023, Gurriel was only a little better than average at 3.0 WAR. While he puts the ball in play, he also doesn't walk much, positing a below-average .309 OBP (although his career mark is a little higher, at .324). He had a career-worst .282 BABIP in 2023 -- it had been over .300 in each of his first five seasons -- so it's possible he regains some of his on-base skills simply hitting for a high average. He also has never been near that good in the field before, and given he has below-average speed, I'd expect some defensive regression in 2024 and thus probably more in the range 2.0 to 2.5 WAR.

Still, the contract is reasonable, and together with the contracts of Rodriguez and Suarez, the additions have pushed the Diamondbacks to a club-record payroll of around $140 million. But they might not be stopping there. Jeff Passan has reported the club could still add a designated hitter to the roster, which makes sense, as Arizona's DHs ranked 28th in the majors in OPS. With J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, Jorge Soler, Rhys Hoskins, Joc Pederson and Brandon Belt in free agency, there is no shortage of options available, and most of any such contracts shouldn't be more than $15 million in average annual value for a short-term deal. Don't forget that top prospect Jordan Lawlar will be pushing for the starting job at shortstop. If the D-backs do add a DH, the lineup will look better and deeper than it was in their playoff run. -- David Schoenfield

Royals strike again: Veteran Wacha joins K.C. rotation

The deal: Two years, $32 million, player opt-out after 2024

Grade: B

When the Royals pulled the plug on their last successful era, they moved to rebuild around young starting pitching. That plan kicked into high gear with the 2018 draft, when they drafted four college pitchers -- Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch IV and Kris Bubic -- among the first 40 picks of the draft. If the strategy had paid off, by now those college hurlers would comprise the foundation of a top-flight MLB rotation. The strategy, by and large, has not paid off.

The Royals also drafted starters in the first round in 2020 (Asa Lacy, No. 4 overall pick) and 2021 (Frank Mozzicato, No. 7). Lacy has walked more than a batter an inning as a professional, while it's still early for Mozzicato, who was taken out of high school. Of all these pitchers, as we move toward the 2024 season, only Singer can be penciled into the Royals' core-five rotation -- but even he's coming off a season that can be fairly viewed as a step back. And so the Royals, for the second straight season, have turned to free agency to paper over what they've missed in the scouting and development realm.

Last season it was Jordan Lyles and Ryan Yarbrough. The latter ended up in a swing role and was flipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the deadline. Lyles, meanwhile, soldiered through 31 starts, 17 of them losses, and a 6.28 ERA. Add in a miserable season for Zack Greinke, Singer's struggles and the inability of the other young starters to make an impact, and it's no wonder the Royals are back at it again.

The Royals can be optimistic about a Singer bounce-back season. Lyles showed enough late in the season that he should be a source of innings if you push him down into an end-of-rotation role. Cole Ragans was terrific after coming over from the Texas Rangers, and the Royals are now hoping he can replicate that over a full season. But as they continue to try to extract big league value from their current and recent pitching prospects, they have sought to raise the floor of the unit by spending. Earlier this week, it was Seth Lugo. Now it's Michael Wacha, Lugo's rotation mate in San Diego, who made himself some coin with a career resurgence over the past two seasons.

After limping to an 81 ERA+ during the last three years of his 20s, Wacha has gone 25-6 with a 127 ERA+ over 47 starts the past two seasons, the first with the Boston Red Sox and last year for the San Diego Padres. All those numbers are eye-popping, even the last one, because it tells you that a productive starter who hasn't topped more than 24 starts in a season since 2017 is not going to provide you with a surfeit of innings.

This is where the contract Wacha signed with the Royals and the role he's slotting into (No. 1 or 2 starter) don't exactly line up, but that was also the case with Lugo. Both deals are player friendly but not obscenely so, and the fact of the matter is, the Royals weren't going to land either pitcher by simply meeting what the market had yielded. They had to go above and beyond, and so they have. In his projections, ESPN Kiley McDaniel pegged Wacha at two years, $26 million, though Wacha can opt out after next season. It's an overpay, but an understandable one.

The challenge for Kansas City manager Matt Quartaro will be to remain disciplined in his use of Wacha -- whom he saw first hand with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2021 -- and Lugo, valuing per-rata efficiency over sheer bulk of innings. That won't be easy if the staff goes into collapse mode again, but Kansas City has been proactive enough in layering on veteran stability that that shouldn't happen. And besides, Quartaro has seen this handling of a staff executed time and again during his days in St. Petersburg.

The ceiling isn't tremendously high for any of the offseason signees, but they should at least keep things calm enough that Kansas City can continue trying to coax the potential of some of its ever-developing prospects. Development remains and always will be the key to the Royals going forward. There needs to be progress for the team in 2024, some sense that there is a light at the end of this long dark tunnel. They've extended themselves financially this winter to make that happen. For that much at least, you have to give them credit. -- Doolittle

Busy Royals sign RF Renfroe

The deal: Two years, $13 million plus incentives, player opt-out after 2024

Grade: C

Hunter Renfroe may well have become the best outfielder in the Kansas City Royals' organization on Friday and could play nearly every day and hit in the middle of the order next season. A contract of this size for a productive player in those roles is an absolute bargain. The grade above reflects two things: the likelihood of that "productive" adjective being realized and the fact that the Royals had to spend this money because their organizational outfield depth chart was just that empty.

Renfroe is a player with clear strengths -- pop off the bat and a huge outfield arm -- but he's also a player with glaring weaknesses -- contact rate, general mobility, plate discipline. With players like him, it's always a matter of determining whether the strengths outweigh the weaknesses. Well, Renfroe is now joining his seventh team in six years. Draw your own conclusions.

The organizational aspects of this are obviously not on Renfroe. In a better organization, you could even make an argument for him landing a regular role as a platoon right fielder who starts against lefties. The Royals can't afford to pay a guy $6 million to $7 million per year to hold down a role like that. And they shouldn't need to -- such players should come from the system, especially in a market like Kansas City.

Renfroe was a demonstrably below-average player last season, performing at replacement level for the Los Angeles Angels before being waived late in August when the Halos unfurled the white flag on their season. He was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds and endured a miserable stretch with them before being designated for assignment. That platform season just earned him a two-year pact in free agency. Baseball is good work, if you can get it.

Renfroe isn't that far removed from having a productive power bat but last season's dip came in his age-31 season and he reaches 32 shortly after the new year. He might be projected to regress in the right direction statistically, but if he does, he'll have to reverse markers that always appear as red flags once a position player passes 30. His sprint speed was down, his range metrics in the field were poor and, most importantly, he suffered dips in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. Since he's always had poor plate discipline, declines in those areas aren't something you can hide in your stat line.

As for the team jumping, Royals manager Matt Quatraro was the bench coach in Tampa Bay when, in 2020, Renfroe was at his nadir, posting a .156 average and 79 OPS+ during the shortened season. He did make the Rays' postseason roster that year and even hit a home run in the World Series. Teams seem to keep finding reasons to let Renfroe go, but there is at least one key member of the Royals organization who has some insight on how he will fit.

So while it's hard to get overly excited for the Royals after a signing like this, it at least fits with their aggressive offseason pursuit of second- and third-tier free agents in hopes of stabilizing the roster so less of a burden falls on their younger, upside players like Bobby Witt Jr. While it's a reasonable strategy, eventually you can sign so many such players that all of a sudden you have a core roster of players who are, in reality, second- and third-tier free agents.

Until such players are filling out a Kansas City roster rather than propping it up, the Royals will remain a second-division fixture. -- Doolittle

Dodgers get their ace, nab Tyler Glasnow

The deal: Los Angeles Dodgers acquire RHP Tyler Glasnow and OF Manuel Margot from the Tampa Bay Rays for RHP Ryan Pepiot and OF Jonny Deluca

Dodgers grade: B+
Rays grade: B-

The Dodgers needed a starting pitcher. The Rays needed to trim payroll. It's no surprise then that the two clubs matched up on a deal for Glasnow, with the Dodgers acquiring one of the most talented and intriguing pitchers in the game -- and his $25 million salary for 2024 -- and the Rays getting a projectable young pitcher in return. How'd each team make out? Read full analysis of the Glasnow deal here.

Flaherty joins Tigers on one-year deal

The deal: One year, $14 million plus incentives

Grade: B-

One of the priorities this offseason for the Detroit Tigers has been to replace the veteran presence and production of lefty Eduardo Rodriguez, who opted out of his deal when the 2023 season ended and ended up signing a rather pricey, four-year contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rather than replacing Rodriguez with a comparable starter in terms of recent track record and price point, the Tigers have targeted and successfully landed two next-tier righties in Kenta Maeda and, now, Jack Flaherty.

While you could suggest that Maeda and Flaherty were comparable in terms of free agent tiers, they are joining the Tigers at very different places in their careers. Maeda is trying to work back up to a full workload after missing all of 2022. He might be capped in terms of innings at this point of his career but at least, on a per inning basis, he is better than league average.

Flaherty seems to be built up enough to provide innings, but he just hasn't pitched well enough the past two years to justify a mid- or top-of-the-rotation slot, a place he once seemed destined to reside in for years to come.

At some point, we have to let go of our image of Flaherty circa 2019, when he had a 0.93 ERA over his final 16 starts, a .419 OPS allowed and 11 strikeouts per nine innings. He looked like a talented, touted front-line pitcher who had come into his own. As can happen with any pitcher at any time, injuries intervened. He had multiple injured-list visits for oblique and shoulder maladies, never seeming to find his footing. Flaherty's 2019 breakout remains the only season in which he's qualified for an ERA title.

In addition to availability, command has been an issue. His velocities haven't varied much, and his spin rates have actually improved in some ways. Just to cite one example: In that great 2019 season, Flaherty's slider averaged 84.8 mph with a 2381 spin rate, per Statcast. Last season the velo was down to 84.2, not a tragic drop, especially when you consider the spin was a career-best 2464. But in 2019, his slider produced a whiff rate of 49.5%, while in 2023, that figure was 26.6.

Flaherty typified the Cardinals' staff traits, albeit with better strikeout rates, in that his walks were plentiful as he worked the edges of the plate, but at least his homer rate was solid with that approach. However, when he moved to Baltimore, his strikeout rate went up, his walks declined and his homers spiked -- a mix of which translated to a 7.01 ERA as an Oriole. He did not make Baltimore's postseason rotation.

That was not at all the kind of platform season that Flaherty hoped for. This is where the Tigers come in. Detroit acquires a prominent pitcher whose stuff still appears to be largely intact but who has lost himself over the past two years. This is what you call a make-good contract, with a $14 million guarantee that can expand by as much as $1 million if he can get to 30 starts.

If that happens, it'll be because the Tigers have helped Flaherty rediscover himself, which would make this deal a steal and reinvigorate his career. It would also be a nice hat tip for the Tigers' pitching program as it has evolved under the leadership of AJ Hinch, GM Scott Harris and pitching coach Chris Fetter. The Tigers have a clean payroll forecast and at just one year, this isn't an investment that will stand in the way of other objectives

You can look at this as a signing with little downside for Detroit, which has good depth in its rotation in terms of young hurlers. The Tigers are likely going to want to protect a lot of those hurlers, and that list includes the veteran Maeda. So they need Flaherty to come through with innings, but it's not going to break their bank if he does not. The question is: How much does Flaherty really have at this point?

It's an open question, not one posed to suggest that he's totally washed up. But nevertheless, this will be the pivotal season in Flaherty's career, one that determines if he's going to land another multiyear contract or if he's going to become an end-of-the-roster filler from here on. If he becomes that former player, then the Tigers will have someone who could help boost them closer to the .500 level. In the American League Central, that's when playoff pursuits come into play. -- Doolittle

Rangers ink veteran Mahle to deepen rotation

The deal: Two years, $22 million plus incentives

Grade: B

First of all, let's do our best to remember where Tyler Mahle was before he was injured. He was someone who had risen to the status of a solid, midrotation starter. His ERA+ going back to the start of the 2020 season was 117, and he had struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings during that time. His market at the 2022 trade deadline was robust enough that the Minnesota Twins were willing to cough up multiple quality prospects to the Cincinnati Reds for the final 1½ years of team control Mahle had left before reaching free agency. Those prospects (Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand) turned out to be really good for the Reds.

And, as the story too often goes, Mahle then hurt his arm, making just five starts for the Twins last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery.

Mahle had his surgery in late May of last year, which means he could be available for the Texas Rangers by Memorial Day, or at least sometime during the first half of next season. He will join a historically talented staff of rehabbing starters in Texas. He'll be working his way back along with two Cy Young winners in Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, whose recent back surgery was just reported on Friday. If deGrom returns next season, it's not likely to be until late in the campaign, while initial reports claim Scherzer is out until June or July.

Rangers GM Chris Young seems to have taken a lot of the lessons from the franchise's first-ever title to heart in the way he has approached this offseason. While the Rangers were mentioned as likely leading suitors for Shohei Ohtani, Texas dropped out of the running relatively quickly. The Rangers have instead gone about layering in quality veterans to their pitching staff.

This is the approach they took last offseason in building what became their title rotation, and that continued to be their approach even when key pitchers were injured during the season. This is the lesson that Young, more than anything, seems to have learned: No matter how you sketch it on paper, when it comes to your pitching staff you don't have enough of it. Things are going to happen.

With the acquisition of Mahle, Texas appears to already be proactive in planning for the unknown, two months before we even get to spring training. On paper, the Rangers have a core rotation already in place and it's a pretty good one, with Nathan Eovaldi, Jon Gray, Andrew Heaney and Dane Dunning. But it's not as good as the group Texas will have on its season-opening injured list.

The Rangers still need to add a little bit in terms of depth just because of the uncertainty that comes with rehabbing pitchers and because they very much need innings to get them through the first half of the season. But we almost don't even have to mention that because Young has proved that he is going to keep acquiring pitchers. He is not going to reach a quota and declare he is finished.

The Rangers also made an under-the-radar addition to their bullpen this offseason, adding one-time dominant closer Kirby Yates, who is now a couple of years removed from serious injury problems and was outstanding last season in Atlanta.

While some (OK, me) thought that Texas seemed like the ideal destination for star closer Josh Hader, it seems that the Rangers are fully convinced that the Jose Leclerc that we saw in October -- a pretty dead-on impression of the one-time unhittable Leclerc -- is the guy who can hold down the back of the bullpen in the way that I envisioned Hader could. When you have that guy, slotting in roles for the rest of the bullpen becomes a more straightforward proposition, even if you know that you are going to have to keep layering in options.

If Mahle's recovery stays on track, Scherzer's procedure fixes a back that limited him severely late in the postseason, and deGrom rejoins the crew, the Rangers are setting themselves up for the possibility of having a very star-laden playoff pitching staff. That extends to a bullpen that could zero in on Yates and Josh Sborz setting up Leclerc when it matters most.

The weird thing about winning a championship, especially for a young GM like Young, is that you quickly learn that there is really no time to enjoy the accomplishment. You spend the entire year and lose countless nights of sleep in trying to accomplish that one goal. Every year there is one lead executive whose team actually reaches that finish line. Then the very next day players reach free agency. The work of the winning front office, one trying to repeat what you literally have just done, begins right away. You haven't even had a chance yet to enjoy your own victory parade.

But if Rangers fans were worried that the first title would lead to a passive offseason approach, that clearly is not the case. Indeed, even as Rangers fans are basking in the aftermath of that title, their team is very much in the process of trying to do it all over again. -- Doolittle

Giants land KBO bat-control wizard Lee

The deal: 6 years, $113 million (Lee can opt out after four seasons)
Grade: B+

Maybe the Giants had just grown as weary with their own free agent follies as the rest of us have. That as much as anything might explain why San Francisco just blew away free agent projections to land Jung Hoo Lee, a 25-year-old bat-control wizard out of the KBO. In a nutshell, I love the player, don't love the deal in an actuarial sense -- but I like it just fine because it's the Giants, and dig the fit.

Let's dig a little deeper on all that. The Giants have been so close on the market's top free agents over the past few years with players like Aaron Judge and Carlos Correa. They operate at a revenue status that ought to put them in the running for every marquee free agent -- including Shohei Ohtani -- but every offseason seem to come away without a star.

This signing doesn't change that. I mean, I don't see Lee as a likely MVP candidate. But he was a much-sought-after player in this year's free agency, and the Giants got him. It's a win.

As for the money, ESPN's Kiley McDaniel projected a five-year, $63 million pact for Lee ($12.5 million average annual value) while suggesting an enterprising team might tack on a year to get a deal done. The prediction from MLB Trade Rumors was even more conservative, landing at five years, $50 million. The Giants, at $18.8 million in AAV over six years, blew those projections away.

I really don't care about that. The Giants can afford to extend themselves on a deal like this. Tacking Lee on to their CBT projection at Cot's Contracts, the Giants still look to be $50 million under the tax threshold. This is a franchise that ought to be flirting with that threshold each and every season. The Giants have plenty of room to add more from here.

San Francisco's eagerness to win a free agent pursuit might have been a factor in the scale of this contract, but under Farhan Zaidi, the Giants have been disciplined in their pursuits to a sometimes maddening degree. Even if the strategy this winter was to be more aggressive, it's hard to imagine Zaidi simply chucking his surplus-value model into San Francisco Bay just to land a contact-heavy outfielder who has never played in MLB.

More likely, Lee's decision to come over was perfectly timed. This year's free agent roster for impact hitters is light, and he arrives at a time when a number of clubs have cited the desire to balance their lineups with more bat-on-ball ability. His market might have simply blown up, and the Giants decided they would not be outbid.

Last spring, I was tasked with writing up a brief preview for several clubs in the WBC, which required a bit of research as I stake no claim to being an expert on international baseball. When studying Korea, Lee's profile leaped out at me and I ended up writing, "Jung Hoo Lee is the reigning KBO MVP. He's like a Korean Wade Boggs, having hit .342 so far in his career as a lefty with ridiculous bat control and contact skills. And his power has been developing as well."

This is before he had a down season in 2023 in the KBO, one cut short by an ankle injury. But he still hit .318/.406/.455 over 86 games. In 2022, he was at .349/.421/.575 with a career-high 23 homers. He leaves Korea, for now, with a career .340 average over seven seasons -- he broke in at age 18 -- with 383 walks and just 304 strikeouts.

How will those numbers translate? The Giants, and other teams, clearly believe they will translate nicely, thank you very much. A $113 million contract plus around $19 million in posting fees are a strong vote in favor of that prognostication.

According to Clay Davenport, a longtime analytics guru, Lee's projected 2024 line in the majors translates to .305/.386/.484 over 572 at-bats with 14 homers, 70 walks and 58 strikeouts. The Giants would take that in a heartbeat.

Baseball America graded Lee with a 60 hit tool, 45 power, 55 speed and 50 defense. The last figure might be the most important as the higher up on the defensive spectrum Lee can play, the more valuable he will be to the Giants. In the KBO, Lee played center field most often but spent plenty of time on the outfield corners as well.

The Giants already have a good mix of corner types -- Mike Yastrzemski, Michael Conforto, Austin Slater and Mitch Haniger -- so it sure seems like they are planning to install Lee in center field and watch him go.

More than anything, Lee gives the Giants the kind of contact ability they needed. Last season, only six teams struck out more often than San Francisco and only two teams posted a worst collective batting average (.235). This kind of offense is becoming less alluring in the majors, and Lee jump starts the Giants' project to move away from that.

Lee would have provided the same kind of salve for other teams that need it and are hunting for it in free agency, like the Mariners, Mets and Padres. But the Giants got him, racking up a much-needed free agent win less than 24 hours after San Francisco watched its arch rival officially announce the acquisition of the biggest star in the sport.

Now, the Giants need to keep going because there is plenty of money left to spend. -- Doolittle

Pirates sign Rowdy Tellez

The deal: One year, $3.2 million
Grade: C-

Needless to say, the Pittsburgh Pirates aren't exactly fishing for Moby Dick here in free agency. Although, you know, they could add $70 million to the payroll -- say, Shohei Ohtani on a non-deferred contract -- and still be at just $128 million, which would have been just a little more than the Brewers and Diamondbacks spent last season. Don't believe your local owner when he says he can't spend more money.

Anyway, Tellez mashed 35 home runs for the Brewers in 2022 -- but even then he wasn't that valuable because he hit .219 with a .306 OBP, putting up just 0.8 WAR. Still, power is power and teams are always looking for it. Trouble is, that power evaporated somewhat last season for Tellez, as he hit .215/.291/.376 with 13 home runs in 311 at-bats. Those numbers don't work for a first baseman/DH. The Pirates, however, don't really have a first baseman on the roster, or a DH for that matter, so Tellez might actually get 500 at-bats to see if he hit 35 home runs again.

I've always thought there was more potential here. Even last season, Tellez ranked in the 69th percentile in swing-and-miss rate and 77th percentile in chase rate, both positive figures, but way down in the 33rd percentile in strikeout rate. Overall, he was very passive compared to 2022. If the Pirates can help him with better swing decisions, maybe the power returns and even the batting average might go up. But he's also almost 2000 plate appearances into his career, so a big improvement at age 29 is unlikely. -- Schoenfield

Spendy Royals nab righty Lugo for rotation

The deal: Three years, $45 million

Grade: C+

The Shohei Ohtani signing became official Monday night, with the Los Angeles Dodgers sending out a news release announcing it at just past 9 p.m. ET. With Ohtani off the table, the Kansas City Royals pivoted quickly, landing Seth Lugo on a three-year pact, with the righty reportedly getting an opt-out clause after the second year. Snarky? Perhaps, but it just underscores the reality that while the Dodgers and Royals wear similar-looking uniforms, their front offices have very different conversations. Just saying.

Kansas City's valuation of Lugo's deal was a little higher than we would have anticipated before the hot stove season began. But the duration is about right and if the Royals overpaid by a million or two in AAV, then maybe that's just the premium they needed to pay to get a legit rotation veteran to join a team that lost 106 games in 2023.

The signing comes one day after they picked up veteran lefty reliever Will Smith (one year, $5 million) and just before another bullpen pickup -- righty Chris Stratton (one year, $3.5 million plus a player option for 2025 worth $4.5 million) -- was reported by MLB.com. Last week, GM J.J. Picollo told reporters that K.C. had "at least $30 million" to spend in free agency, or to put it another way, almost half of one year of Ohtani, if you ignore the deferrals.

If we take all this at face value, the Royals have now committed $23.5 million in free agent salary for 2024, so Picollo's funds are dwindling. Unless the "at least'' equivocation in his statement has a lot of wiggle room behind it, that probably takes the Royals out of the running for the second tier of free agent starters.

Lugo is in the third tier, along with Lucas Giolito, Michael Wacha and Jack Flaherty. Maybe they can still land one of those hurlers on a short-duration deal, or perhaps they have just enough to entice Zack Greinke back for another year. However you look at it though, Lugo is probably Kansas City's big offseason splash.

The deal is fine if Lugo, 34, repeats what he did in San Diego last year, when he posted a 3.57 ERA and 3.83 FIP over a career-high 146⅓ innings. He's swung between the rotation and the bullpen throughout his career and if things go awry, he at least can fill multiple roles if needed.

On this Royals depth chart, he's probably being looked at as a No. 3, at least aspirationally. For that to become reality, Cole Ragans would have to prove his second-half breakout is for real and Brady Singer would need to have a bounce-back season. Neither scenario is far-fetched. If Lugo's performance justifies a midrotation role for 145 to 165 innings, the $15 million in AAV is not a problem. It's also a tradeable salary commitment if Lugo does well and the team does not.

You do have to worry about the performance, however. Lugo's expected ERA in the Statcast framework was 4.42. He allowed career-worst barrel rates and average exit velocities. If we look at that 4.42 xERA as the "real" Lugo, that takes him to the wrong side of league average -- and a bad trend for an older pitcher. Still, the Royals needed someone to take their money and if Lugo was willing to do it, they could have done worse.

The Royals' offseason strategy has been to target these midlevel vets to stabilize a pitching staff that was one of baseball's worst in 2023. There's not much upside in these signings but if the vets can raise the floor, then the Royals can cross their fingers that the youth on their roster can progress as a group to pull them in the right direction toward .500, though even that mark is a long way from 56-106.

In the end though, you have to at least give the Royals credit for doing ... something. It feels meek in the wake of the Ohtani quake, but it's still better than nothing. -- Doolittle

Boston nabs O'Neill for outfield

The deal: Boston Red Sox acquire OF Tyler O'Neill from the St. Louis Cardinals for RHP Nick Robertson and RHP Victor Santos

Red Sox grade: C
Cardinals grade: C+

O'Neill is an incredible athlete. His dad was a professional bodybuilder -- once named Mr. Canada -- and O'Neill has one of the more impressive physiques in MLB. He's also a plus runner (80th percentile in top sprint speed in 2023) with a strong throwing arm (89th percentile). Originally drafted by Seattle, he reached the majors with St. Louis in 2018, but it's all come together for him in only one season -- 2021, when he hit .286/.352/.560 with 34 home runs and won a Gold Glove. He actually finished eighth in the MVP voting, which ties him with Ozzie Smith for career top-10 MVP finishes.

As they say, if you did it once, you can do it again, although I wouldn't bet on it. O'Neill has battled injuries and so-so performances the past two seasons -- and, mostly, he's battled the strike zone. Even in his monster season in 2021, he struck out 168 times compared to just 38 walks. His strikeout-to-walk ratio has improved since then, but the quality of his contact hasn't, as he's failed to come close to the top-level hard-hit rate and exit velocity he produced in 2021. Still, if you're the Red Sox, why not take a chance? O'Neill is a pull hitter, and so he could be a perfect fit for Fenway. He could also earn a full-time job in the outfield if he's healthy -- or at the minimum, provide a platoon option against left-handed batters.

For the Cardinals, this was mostly about clearing the logjam in the outfield and moving O'Neill's projected $5.5 million salary. Sometimes, too many options creates a problem, and manager Oliver Marmol was never able to properly sort through everyone last season. Now, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak has indicated it will be more of a stable trio with Tommy Edman, Lars Nootbaar and Jordan Walker, with Dylan Carlson serving as the fourth outfielder. Walker was a mess in right field last season, but maybe he simply ends up at first base in a year after Paul Goldschmidt's contract expires after 2024. With Edman in the outfield, that locks Nolan Gorman into second base and Brendan Donovan into a utility role. Still, there's a lot of flexibility there with players rotating through the DH role.

Robertson made his MLB debut last year. He throws 95 with a changeup and slider. He's a big dude at 6-6, 265 pounds, and throws enough strikes to fit into the back of the Cardinals bullpen, although he didn't fool too many hitters in his short sample size in the majors, allowing 30 hits in 22⅓ innings. Santos is more of an organizational arm and missed all of 2023 due to injury. -- Schoenfield

Ohtani to the Dodgers -- for $700 million!

The deal: 10 years, $700 million

Grade: A

There has never been a player like Shohei Ohtani. There has never been a contract like this -- $700 million!?!?. He's a franchise-altering unicorn, a one-of-a-kind miracle. He was so good in 2023 that he won his second unanimous MVP Award -- becoming the first player ever to do that twice -- even though he appeared in just three games in September.

How can we give this anything but an A grade -- even at that almost unimaginable total dollar amount? Read full analysis of Ohtani's deal here

Reds add to loaded infield with Candelario

The deal: Three years, $45 million

Grade: C

This is a weird one. The Cincinnati Reds rarely spend money in free agency -- they did it once, back in the 2019-20 offseason, when they signed both Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos -- so now they finally do it and add another infielder in Jeimer Candelario to a roster already loaded with quality infielders. And in doing so, they hand out the fourth-biggest free agent deal in team history, behind only Moustakas, Castellanos and the $46 million for reliever Francisco Cordero way back in 2008.

Not that Candelario can't help. He's a switch-hitter who has produced above-average offensive numbers in three of the past four seasons, but he also has already turned 30 years old -- which is a red flag. He hit .251/.336/.471 with the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs in 2023, with 39 doubles and 22 home runs and similar numbers from both sides of the plate. He's fine at third base and can fill in at first, and he could get some DH time as well. The money comes just above the three-year, $39 million projection, so not a big overpay.

This certainly pushes Spencer Steer to left field -- which isn't the worst thing. Steer was pretty awful in the infield and does possess above-average speed and a decent arm, so he has the athleticism to transition to the outfield. He hadn't played there in college or the pros until the Reds shoehorned him into left field for 36 starts this past season. He wasn't good there either, according to Statcast metrics, but the Reds do need outfielders, especially one who hits right-handed, so Steer will share time with TJ Friedl, Jake Fraley and Will Benson, three lefty swingers.

That still leaves six infielders and probably commits the Reds to Elly De La Cruz at shortstop, Matt McLain at second and Christian Encarnacion-Strand at first, with Jonathan India and Noelvi Marte in DH/backup roles. Too much depth isn't the worst problem to have, and deploying India as more or less a full-time DH is an idea that makes sense given his lack of range at second.

Indeed, that's the biggest issue with this signing. The Reds didn't need Candelario nearly as much as they need a veteran arm for the rotation. The Reds were 28th in the majors in rotation ERA (26th on the road, so don't blame Great American Ball Park) and Graham Ashcraft led the team with just 145 innings (and he missed the final month with a toe injury). They did add swingman Nick Martinez on a one-year deal (with a player option for 2025) and reliever Emilio Pagan.

Maybe there's room to do more. The current payroll is an estimated $86 million, right about where the Reds were last season. The number of pre-arbitration players on the roster means there should be a little more flexibility here (they've gone as high as $126 million in 2019 and would have been higher in 2020). Maybe Marte or India become trade bait: The Tampa Bay Rays don't need infielders so Tyler Glasnow may not work, but maybe there's a match with the Chicago White Sox for Dylan Cease, with one of the young starting pitchers or an infield prospect such as Edwin Arroyo or Cam Collier going back as well. The Reds are interesting and improving.

If Candelario is the prelude to another move, I like it even more than the C grade I'm giving it for now. -- Schoenfield

Yankees land Soto in blockbuster trade with Padres

The deal: New York Yankees acquire OFs Juan Soto and Trent Grisham from the San Diego Padres for RHPs Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and C Kyle Higashioka.

Yankees grade: B
Padres grade: A-

After a stagnant winter meetings, the biggest trade of the offseason so far has arrived -- as the Yankees add an All-Star slugger to a lineup already featuring Aaron Judge. Read full analysis of the Soto trade here.

Diamondbacks solidify rotation with veteran lefty Rodriguez

The deal: Four years, $80 million

Grade: B+

A few months after Eduardo Rodriguez blocked a deadline deal that would have sent him to the contending Los Angeles Dodgers, he lands with one of L.A.'s prime challengers in the NL West. Just as Rodriguez did when he inked a deal a couple of years ago with the Detroit Tigers, he has selected an up-and-comer. The big difference this time around is that E-Rod is joining a team that has already made the leap, rather than one that he thought (mistakenly, in hindsight) was about to do so.

The addition of the Rodriguez gives the Arizona Diamondbacks a fantastic veteran trio to provide stability and a high floor for Torey Lovullo's rotation, as he joins Merrill Kelly and Zac Gallen. Rodriguez will slot into the rotation right after that duo and right before second-year righty Brandon Pfaadt, who played such a big role during the Diamondbacks' postseason run.

The addition of another productive veteran gives Arizona the ability to work through a number of enticing possibilities to fill out the rotation while using that depth to keep the staff from being overtaxed. Arizona can still look to propel the development of young hurlers like Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry forward -- and can do so knowing that the success of the group won't live or die with the development of those young pitchers.

Rodriguez was terrific for Detroit last season -- only a midseason finger injury kept him from earning some Cy Young support. True, he doesn't throw quite as hard as he used to and his strikeout rate has fallen off from earlier levels. He has qualified for an ERA title just once in his career. There is a little more variance in performance and durability than you'd ideally see in a pitcher getting this kind of commitment.

But Rodriguez's multiyear baseline is solidly above average. He's moving to a good team with an upbeat culture that's on the ascent and joining a rotation in which he's not viewed as the ace. The conditions are favorable for him to flourish.

And this kind of targeted free agent splash is the right strategy for a team in position to put the finishing touches on a well-constructed roster. There could be one or more additions in this vein -- a power-hitting DH type would be a perfect fit -- but the Diamondbacks' offseason is already looking good with this signing.

Rodriguez surely had plenty of suitors in this tight free agent market, and the fact that he has landed at Phoenix might be at least partially related to his emphasis on comfort level. In Arizona, Rodriguez will be reconvening with some familiar faces from his Boston days. D-backs GM Mike Hazen worked in the Red Sox office when Rodriguez joined the organization via a straight-up trade with the Orioles for reliever Andrew Miller, and manager Lovullo was the bench coach during Rodriguez's first few years in the majors.

The deal, four years with a $20 million average annual value, is a little richer than anticipated, but it's not far off, and Arizona has a pristine long-term payroll outlook. The Diamondbacks need Rodriguez to justify his salary, sure, but it's not a make-or-break proposition financially, even if it hinders their flexibility if Rodriguez flops.

But the Diamondbacks needed to be bold to land an impact free agent, and so they were. Veteran starting pitchers can't be signed cheaply. Sonny Gray got $25 million in AAV from the Cardinals, while Aaron Nola got just under that from Philadelphia and on a seven-year commitment. Rodriguez's deal is pretty much the going rate for a veteran one, two or three starter, or at least where the going rate has been headed.

The deal feels like a good match for player, team and situation. Rodriguez did well for himself, justifying his decision to exercise an opt-out of his deal in Detroit. Arizona has solidified its rotation as a contention-worthy unit. There is risk here, as there is with any free agent pitcher, but in this case it feels worth it. -- Doolittle

Verdugo to New York in rare Yankees-Red Sox trade

The deal: New York Yankees acquire OF Alex Verdugo from the Boston Red Sox for right-handed pitchers Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert and Nicholas Judice.

Yankees grade: C
Red Sox grade: C

A Yankees-Red Sox trade? Yes, it happens ... if rarely. This is just the eighth trade between the AL East rivals since the division era began in 1969, and during the peak period of hate they didn't make a single deal between 1997 and 2014. This is hardly a blockbuster but probably ranks as the biggest between the two clubs since they exchanged DHs Don Baylor and Mike Easler late in spring training in 1986.

The Yankees' desire to add a left-handed-hitting outfielder was about the most obvious need for any contending team this offseason, and they get one in Verdugo, who hit .264/.324/.421 last season for a league-average 100 OPS+ that is right in line with what he did the previous two seasons. Last season, Yankees left-handed batters ranked 27th in the majors in OPS (.673), 29th in batting average (.219) and last in OBP (.295). Yankees outfielders, even with Aaron Judge, ranked just 26th in the majors in OPS (.691), sandwiched between the Nationals and Royals.

So, Verdugo will help, especially when you isolate his numbers against right-handed pitchers. Over the past three seasons he hit .294/.347/.459 against righties while struggling to a .238/.301/.314 line against lefties. That makes him more of a platoon bat even though the Red Sox continued to start him against southpaws (he had over 600 plate appearances each of the past three seasons). He lacks power and exit velocity, so his slugging depends largely on hitting doubles the other way -- which worked great at Fenway Park, where he hit 24 of his 37 doubles in 2023, but might not translate quite as well to Yankee Stadium. He does possess premium contact ability, another skill the Yankees were looking to add.

Verdugo played right field in 2023, but his arm is better suited for left, and while he has played center field some in the past, those days appear behind him as he hasn't appeared there since 2021. He's under team control for just one more season, so this is just a short-term addition -- although I wouldn't view this deal as any kind of roadblock to signing Cody Bellinger or acquiring Juan Soto in a trade. The only issue is an outfield of Soto, Verdugo and Judge would push Judge to center field -- or one of Verdugo/Soto to DH with somebody else handling center.

For the Red Sox, let's not use any safe words here: They wanted to get rid of Verdugo -- thus the willingness to trade him even to the Yankees. Alex Cora benched him last June for lack of hustle and then again in August for reportedly showing up two hours before a game instead of the team-mandated four hours. The Red Sox have other corner outfield options in Masataka Yoshida plus rookies Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu, who debuted late in the season and showed potential.

Plus, Verdugo's tenure in Boston was never quite what the Red Sox hoped when he came over in the Mookie Betts trade. Verdugo had a 3.0-bWAR season with the Dodgers in 2019 in a part-time role, and the hope was he could turn into a 4- or 5-win player. Instead, his 2.6 WAR in 2023 was his best season.

The Red Sox do get three pitching prospects in return, although none would be classified as top 10 in the Yankees system. Fitts, a sixth-round pick out of Auburn in 2021, is the one to watch after posting a 3.48 ERA in Double-A with 163 strikeouts and 43 walks in 152⅔ innings. He's a fastball/slider guy who needs to improve his changeup to remain a starter, but he did show nice durability at Double-A and is probably at least a good bullpen arm if he doesn't make it as a starter. Weissert has 31 innings in the majors in 2022 and '23 with a 4.60 ERA, with a 94 mph sinker that he throws from a low slot. He has had plenty of success in Triple-A (2.16 ERA across 125 innings) and could compete for a back-end bullpen job. Judice is an eighth-round pick in 2023 out of Louisiana-Monroe who has yet to make his pro debut.

All in all, the Red Sox got a couple of potential depth pieces for a guy they didn't really want. The Yankees get a left-handed hitter -- just not the one the fans want. -- Schoenfield

White Sox ink righty Fedde

The deal: Two years, $15 million

Grade: B-

If you have been mulling possible strategies to land that much-needed pay raise, here's some advice: Go to Korea for one year, do the same job you've been doing, then come back to the states and watch the marketplace fall over itself to give you multiples of what you were earning before.

Erick Fedde is a right-handed pitcher, 30 years old (but 31 before Opening Day 2024), who has logged six seasons in the majors. During that time, he went 21-33 with a 5.41 ERA and 77 ERA+. He had a two-year stretch in which his MLB ERA translated to roughly league average (2019 and 2020), but his component numbers didn't really support that level of performance.

And so Fedde found himself shopping his services overseas last winter and latched on with the NC Dinos of the KBO. It's a good league, and he flourished in it, going 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA while striking out 10.4 batters per nine innings.

So who is the real Erick Fedde? The guy who spent more than a half decade performing in a decidedly unhelpful way for the Washington Nationals, at least in the aggregate, or the guy who pitched like Walter Johnson for one season in the South Pacific?

Clearly the Chicago White Sox have decided on the latter, but they were not alone in making an aggressive push for Fedde, at least if you want to buy what his agent, Scott Boras, was selling at last month's GM meetings.

And so if you believe in the wisdom of the marketplace, you have to give the White Sox passing grades for this signing. Only in free agency would we use the phrase "well, everyone else wanted him, too" as a rationale for such an evaluation, but here we are.

But ... how is this possible? How can a pitcher pitch himself out of the major leagues and, just one year later, land a $15 million commitment? (What kind of magic is Boras actually practicing?) Clearly Fedde changed some things. The KBO isn't quite MLB caliber, but it's awfully good and you don't just go over and dominate it simply because you were a big leaguer. In a profile in the Washington Post, Fedde cited a full makeover -- better health (he'd had shoulder trouble), better pitch design, the whole works. The results speak for themselves.

Also, the performance of players from overseas is better measured than ever before, cutting down on the uncertainty that surrounds standouts who, in the States, only the most ardent have every heard about. If the performance tracking metrics are there, then teams are willing to dive head first into the deep end of the pool.

And that's what the White Sox did on Tuesday, with a pitcher who, over the course of less than a calendar year, has left his long, unsightly big league performance record in the dust. It kind of makes you wonder why teams just don't hire away the pitching coaches from overseas, but that's a different topic.

The baseline talent is there, even if it had gone long unrealized. Fedde was a first-round pick out of UNLV by Washington back in 2014 and spent multiple years touted as a top-100 prospect, including a No. 52 ranking by Baseball American in 2017. Now, if Fedde can turn his 2023 KBO performance into a similar MLB impact, this deal will be a steal for the White Sox and will score one for those who believe in the idea of the rapid reinvention. And if he's the five-plus ERA guy at heart, well, it's only money. -- Doolittle

Braves acquire Mariners' Kelenic in five-player swap

The deal: Seattle Mariners trade OF Jarred Kelenic, LHP Marco Gonzales, 1B Evan White and cash to the Atlanta Braves for RHPs Cole Phillips and Jackson Kowar.

Braves grade: A-
Mariners grade: C?

The grade "C?" might seem a little inscrutable, so here's an explanation for it: It's hard to say exactly what this is from the Mariners' standpoint.

Phillips is a 20-year-old righty whom the Braves took in the second round of the 2022 draft. A triple-digit fireballer as a prep star in Texas, Phillips underwent Tommy John surgery before he turned professional, and reports since then portray him still searching for the old high-octane stuff. MLB Pipeline compared him to a possible Nathan Eovaldi type (in terms of narrative path, it seems), but as of now, Phillips has no professional stats and is a long way off from the majors.

Kowar has spent parts of three seasons in the majors, but in those stints, he has failed to live up the potential the Kansas City Royals saw when they took him 33rd in the 2018 draft. He has put up a 9.12 ERA over 74 MLB innings, and even if you try to take some of the bloat out of that number based on underlying measures, he still has not been playable. Kowar turned 27 right after last season and was shipped to Atlanta a few weeks later for Kyle Wright. Now Kowar is on the move again.

So for the Mariners, this is yet another trade that on the surface is more about what they are subtracting than what they're adding. Kelenic is the key player in this deal -- for both sides -- as Seattle's Jerry Dipoto continues to shed high-strikeout players, with Teoscar Hernandez and Eugenio Suarez both now ex-Mariners, as well.

Kelenic was the sixth pick of the 2018 draft by the Mets and was sent to Seattle in the Edwin Diaz trade. Kelenic reached the majors with the M's as a lauded prospect then spent two seasons establishing himself as a flop, hitting .168 over 558 plate appearances with off-the-bat power that was almost irrelevant given how infrequently he made contact. Last season was a lot better, though: He leveled out his swing, producing more line drives and fewer long outs. His average climbed to .253 and his OPS+ to 109, though Kelenic's season was undermined by a broken foot suffered when he kicked a water cooler in frustration, knocking him out of action for several weeks.

Kelenic still has major holes in his game, such as incessant struggles against breaking pitches. But he is only 24 years old and has shown a recent penchant for improvement. For the Braves, he slots right in as the heavy side of a left-field platoon, where his production will be looked at as much more of a bonus than as the necessity it was in Seattle.

Also headed back to Atlanta is Gonzales, who when healthy enjoyed a nice run as a league-average-or-better lefty rotation stalwart for Seattle. But he is slated to earn over $12 million next season, and with the Mariners rich in rotation options, he had become somewhat superfluous. The Braves needed end-of-rotation innings, which makes Gonzales more than a throw-in, though folding in most of his salary was surely a must-ask on the part of Dipoto. And there is White, a slick-fielding first baseman who had enough promise to earn an early extension from Dipoto but simply has never developed as a hitter. He has had terrible injury luck on top of that. His career composite slash is .165/.235/.308 over 590 plate appearances.

Because of that extension, White is on the books for $15 million over the next two years. The Braves are more than set at first base, with Matt Olson on board for a long time to come, so this is less a case of the Braves needing White and more that they needed to take him in order to land Kelenic and Gonzalez. Still, this is another first-round talent whom the Braves can try to coax to his potential, so White could either be moved again or at least serve as organizational depth should Olson get hurt. (Note: The Mariners are sending Atlanta "cash considerations" in the deal, though initially the amount was unspecified.)

When you go through the full list of players in this trade, it is almost like Dipoto and his cohort on the deal, Atlanta's Alex Anthopoulos, sought to sweep clean their respective boulevards of broken dreams.

The Mariners save some money and slice their strikeouts a little more; but the uncertainty over what Dipoto plans to do with these roster openings and the payroll flexibility keeps this grade in the realm of uncertainty.

The Braves, on the other hand, landed two regulars who can help them right away, one a mashing young hitter who has flashed the talent that made him such a lofty pick and could blossom in the strong Atlanta attack. Either way, there is almost no downside to this deal for the Braves and a whole lot of upside. -- Doolittle

Mets bet on a Severino bounce-back

The deal: One year, $13 million

Grade: B

Last spring, Luis Severino was a significant factor in why the Yankees figured to have one of baseball's best top-to-bottom rotations. He was also a significant factor in why that did not turn out to be the case once the season began.

Now, of all things, Severino is a Met. This is a value play on the part of new Mets baseball chief David Stearns, a chance to make a short-term commitment to a two-time All-Star at the nadir of his performance arc. And it's a make-good shot for Severino, who doesn't turn 30 until February and could land a much larger and a bit longer deal next offseason if things work out.

The Mets entered the offseason with filling out their rotation depth chart at the top of their hot stove to-do list. With New York paying massive sums to Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer to pitch for other teams -- money that counts against the Mets' CBT calculation -- you have to figure New York's ability to make major splashes in this area is limited. The Mets would surely still spring for Yoshinobu Yamamoto if the opportunity arose, but aside from that, expect to see more moves along the lines of this signing.

For now, the Mets' rotation stacks up as Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana, Severino and Tylor Megill, with more to come. Joey Lucchesi might be a part of the group as well, but Stearns figures to crowdsource this thing. (The joke here goes you can take the exec out of Milwaukee, but you can't take Milwaukee out of the exec.) How you view this group as it stands entirely depends on how you view Severino.

The righty could hardly have had a worse platform season. He missed the first six weeks of the season because of a lat strain and never really found his footing. Start after start he floundered, with the Yankees even making one ill-fated attempt to jump-start his season by using him after an opener. Poor first innings defined Severino's season, as he posted an 11.50 ERA in those frames and allowed a Bondsian 1.145 OPS.

Mercifully, Severino went down with an oblique strain in early September, ending a season to forget. He finished 4-8 with a 6.65 ERA and 1.65 WHIP over 89⅓ innings, numbers that translated to minus-1.5 bWAR.

And yet ... I like this signing better than the other midlevel rotation signings so far this winter, such as St. Louis acquiring Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, and Detroit landing Kenta Maeda. Perhaps the 2023 version of Severino showed us that his range of outcomes is much wider than those of the others, but going arm in arm with that assessment is the reality that he also has more upside.

Severino's underlying metrics -- velocity, spin, etc. -- have been consistent over the past couple of years, though they aren't what they were before his 2020 Tommy John surgery. His strikeout rates aren't close to what they were before the injury and hit a career low last season. Nothing went right -- fewer whiffs, more walks and a lot more hard contact.

According to TruMedia, when Severino served up a middle-middle pitch in 2022, he still limited opponents to a .588 OPS. Last season, that number was .952, on roughly the same number of meatball offerings. With the velocity and spin categories still playable, it feels like Severino can still be salvaged with the right tweaks.

Are the Mets the team to do that? That's hard to answer because the new regime just took over. In Milwaukee, the Brewers work wonders with other teams' castoffs, a strength that began under Stearns' leadership. But that kind of process overhaul takes time, and with Severino on a one-year deal, the time to fix him is limited.

This signing will be an early litmus test of the new Stearns-led operation. If Severino comes out dealing, things could get a lot better a lot sooner than most observers figured after last season's debacle. And after a disastrous walk year in 2023, New York has surely landed an attentive pupil motivated to put the other team in New York behind him. -- Doolittle

Cards grab Gray, adding yet another arm to rotation

The deal: Three years, $75 million

Grade: A-

The Cardinals continued their execution of what is for them a rare strategy -- filling out the depth chart via free agent spending -- with their splashiest signing yet. St. Louis landed Sonny Gray, an American League Cy Young Award finalist last season, on a deal that turbocharges an already aggressive approach to the winter. After the uninspired signings last week of veteran journeymen Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson, this is not only much more of a needle-moving deal but, by pushing Lynn and Gibson farther down the rotation pecking order, those moves are in part -- but not entirely -- redeemed.

Gray is a fantastic get for St. Louis in that he's not only a true front-of-the-rotation starter, but he adds what the Cardinals need (strikeouts) while fitting right in with what the staff already does well (limiting homers). In today's game, there are essentially three primary markers you look for in a top starter: innings, whiffs, meatballs. If you can combine lots of the first two with not very many of the third, you've got an All-Star pitcher.

That sounds obvious, but it's hard to find the combination of traits Gray employs. Over the past five years, Gray ranks seventh among pitchers with 17.7 bWAR. Among the 35 pitchers with at least 10 bWAR during that time, he's 11th with a 138 ERA+ and third in home runs per nine innings, yielding just 0.8. While Gray has been plagued by walks periodically during his career, he has refined his command over time, a process that culminated in last season's second-place finish in the Cy Young race. He led the AL in FIP last season.

Gray isn't a true workhorse. He has had injuries over the years and has qualified for the ERA title just five times during his 11 big league seasons. The 184 innings he posted last season marked his most in eight seasons, dating to when he posted back-to-back 200-innings-plus campaigns for Oakland early in his career. As someone who slides right into the top spot in the rotation, it will be interesting to see if the Cardinals allow Gray to work a little deeper more often than he did in Minnesota, where quick hooks are a way of life.

The Twins allowed Gray to go to 100 pitches or more just five times last season, fewer than teammates Joe Ryan and Pablo Lopez. But while the third-time-through-the-order penalty is a real thing, over the course of his career, Gray's splits show little degradation when he faces hitters multiple times, and that was especially true last season. Now that Gray is on top of his game and into his mid-30s, you'd like to see if he can get back to those 200-inning days.

While this kind of free agent activity is unusual for St. Louis, it is possible the Cardinals have been guided by the strategy that undergirded the Texas Rangers' run to the championship this year, which was to target name-brand starting pitchers at every opportunity, and there was no limit to how many the roster could accommodate. You might argue that the Cardinals should have targeted Lynn or Gibson, but not both, because forgoing one might have freed up funds to make a second impact move after landing Gray.

But what if the Cardinals aren't done? It seems like they've pinned down a core-five rotation, with Gray followed by Miles Mikolas, Gibson, Lynn and Steven Matz. That's not enough. One more starter, someone who slots in between Gray and Mikolas, or even pushes Gray down to No. 2, well, then we're getting somewhere. Keep going, Cardinals.

Gray's deal is perfectly valued, if perhaps at the high end of his range. At $25 million per season, he's at the same average annual value Aaron Nola got from the Phillies. The three-year duration is four years shorter than Nola's pact but Gray is four years older.

The big difference is durability: Gray's innings have been up and down over his career, while Nola is one of the most consistent quantity pitchers in baseball. Still, the value comparison works because on a per-inning basis, Gray has been better. Since the start of 2019, Gray has thrown fewer innings (670⅓ to 853), but has a 3.22 ERA and 138 ERA+, while Nola is at 3.97 and 107. Tally it up in WAR, and Gray's 17.7 edges the 16.9 for Nola.

Of course, one of the things that made Nola's deal workable for the Phillies was that he wasn't looked at as their No. 1, even as he's capable of providing ace-like production from time to time. Gray is seen much the same way, which is another reason the Cardinals need to parlay this early success in free agency into a true slam-dunk offseason, whether it's the pricey signing of someone such as former Redbird Jordan Montgomery or prized Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto, or an impact trade.

After a miserable 2023, the Cardinals have already shown they aren't taking a passive approach to mending their broken wings. That's encouraging. Now keep going. -- Doolittle

Maeda swaps Central squads, joins Tigers

The deal: Two years, $24 million

Grade: C

There are always several prisms through which to view a free agent signing. You can fixate on the duration and total value -- the pay/performance lens. You can view it through the prism of roster need -- the depth chart lens. You also can look at it with the question of opportunity cost, and that's when you puzzle over what moves a team might now not be able to make.

With Kenta Maeda, this move checks out from the pay/performance point of view: There is no real surprise in contract terms, with two years, $22 million to $24 million in total value the expectation heading into the offseason marketplace. And after all, Reynaldo Lopez received $30 million from the Atlanta Braves earlier this month.

So this tepid grade has more to do with roster need and opportunity cost considerations for Detroit. The Tigers will surely target another starter, but now it seems more unlikely that they'd aim for the upper part of the market. Mostly that's for a good reason, as the Tigers have a young group of starters in the upper reaches of their organization that they don't want to block.

What Detroit was lacking was a veteran presence in the starting group, a void that opened up when Eduardo Rodriguez opted out of his contract and entered free agency. The tangible aspect of "presence" -- as it's used here -- has to do with eating innings at a league-average or better rate to give cover to a lot of young arms that they won't want to overextend. At this point of his career, Maeda doesn't seem to be a likely candidate to log more than 100 to 110 innings, and his composite performance since the beginning of the 2021 season has been below league average.

It's possible the Tigers see Maeda as a candidate for a bump up in both innings and performance now that he is further removed from the Tommy John surgery that cost him the entire 2022 season. They better hope so, because Maeda will turn 36 shortly after Opening Day, and a number of his metrics were trending in the wrong direction in 2023.

Maeda still posted a very good strikeout rate, and his swing-and-miss splitter is still whiff-inducing. But when he allows contact, increasingly it's hard contact, as he landed in the bottom quartile in Statcast-based ratings like exit velocity and hard-hit rate, posted a rock-bottom groundball rate and was well below average in barrels allowed.

Even still, with a different team, this would be a perfectly fine signing. As a No. 5 or No. 6 starter whom you can give plenty of rest and not sweat a low innings total, Maeda still offers you plenty to work with. But Detroit needs someone to carry more of a workload. Targeting someone like Lucas Giolito or Jack Flaherty or even making a run at bringing back Rodriguez might have been a better notion.

Considering the price of Maeda's contract, Detroit could have another move in mind, especially with a payroll outlook that is more or less wide open. If a real rotation splash is still coming, Maeda will look less like what he appears to be at the moment, which is a projected No. 2 starter with a 105-inning, league-average-ish projection. If you view this as a Rodriguez-for-Maeda roster swap, the Tigers are weaker at this slot, and it feels like there were more impactful moves that could have been made with this money.

Even if that yet-to-come splash doesn't happen, the larger outlook for the rotation doesn't change that much. As it was before this signing, hope for the rotation to become contention-worthy is tied to the further development of Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Reese Olson, Casey Mize, Wilmer Flores, Sawyer Gipson-Long, Ty Madden, Jackson Jobe and others. Maeda's role is to facilitate that process with veteran stability, displayed over as many innings as possible. If he is able to do that, the Tigers will be satisfied. -- Doolittle

D-backs, Mariners make swap

The deal: Arizona Diamondbacks acquire 3B Eugenio Suarez from the Seattle Mariners for RHP Carlos Vargas and C Seby Zavala.

Diamondbacks grade: B
Mariners grade: C

Coming off their surprising run to the World Series, the Diamondbacks entered the offseason with two major holes to fill: starting pitching depth and third base. Their third basemen -- mostly a mixture of Emmanuel Rivera, Evan Longoria and Josh Rojas -- ranked 27th in the majors in OPS, hitting .234 with 10 home runs. Longoria almost exclusively held the position in the postseason and he hit just .167 with a .456 OPS. Arizona was never going to be in on free agent Matt Chapman to play third base, so it obtains a potential two-year stopgap in Suarez, who will make $11 million in 2024 and has a $15 million club option for 2025.

Suarez brings power, durability (he played all 162 games in 2023), some walks and adequate defense ... and a ton of strikeouts. He's led the American League in that category each of the past two seasons, including 214 whiffs in 2023. Despite the contract issues, he projects as a league-average starter at 32 years old -- and in 2022, when he hit 31 home runs, he was better than that, with a 3.9 WAR season. That year stands out as an aberration out of the last four, however, so the safe guess is something along the lines of 2.0 WAR. There is a chance that he regresses back to where he was with the Reds in 2020 and 2021, when he hit .199 and was essentially a replacement-level player, but if he can hit .230, he's useful. That's an upgrade for the Diamondbacks and they didn't spend any significant resources to get him.

For the Mariners, their early moves of the offseason have been all about eliminating the strikeouts. They struck out the second-most times in the majors with Suarez ranking second and Teoscar Hernandez ranking third. Hernandez was a free agent and they didn't extend him a qualifying offer, concerned that he might accept it, and now Suarez is gone as well. They had earlier acquired Luis Urias from the Red Sox and while he had a miserable injury-plagued 2023, he was a 3-win player with the Brewers in 2021-22. Urias presumably takes over at third with Rojas and Dylan Moore remaining in a platoon at second base.

The return isn't nothing, as Vargas is a 24-year-old reliever who throws 99 mph -- though Zavala is a backup catcher at best. Vargas was awful at Triple-A Reno with a 7.02 ERA in 2023, and while Reno is an impossible place to pitch, a 36-to-32 strikeout-to-walk ratio suggests he has a lot of work to do. The Mariners have excelled in recent seasons in getting good work from previously no-name relievers, so you can see why they are willing to take a chance on Vargas' power arm. The bigger question: Since they're saving about $6 million in salary between Suarez and Urias, are they clearing some payroll space to do something bigger? A Juan Soto trade? A free agent pitcher? For now, this looks like president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto simply reshuffling the deck without really making the team any better ... but we have a long ways to go in the offseason. -- Schoenfield

Cardinals reunite with Lance Lynn

The deal: One-year, $10 million guaranteed

Grade: C+

Cardinals fans can buy into a full-circle acquisition now and again, as they did with Albert Pujols' memorable return/finale with the club two years ago. The return of Lance Lynn, 36, to the team that drafted him way back in 2008 is not going to succeed or fail on that basis. While baseball-related sentiment perhaps holds more sway in St. Louis than elsewhere, fans there are in no mood to be distracted by sentiment, even if Lynn did pitch for them into two long-ago World Series. Not after last season.

The 2023 season can fairly be described as a collapse by the Cardinals as a franchise, one of the sport's most stable entities. The tumble from a division title to a 71-91 finish was startling for the team and its rabid fans alike. St. Louis finished under .500 for the first time in 16 years and landed in the cellar for the first time in more than three decades. If there is one position group most responsible for the crash, it had to be a starting rotation that was one of MLB's worst.

St. Louis offloaded at the deadline, trading away prospective free agent starters in Jordan Montgomery and Jack Flaherty. While there are some promising arms in the minors who eventually should help, the farm system is not exactly brimming with ready-right-now rotation options. Thus, lead exec John Mozeliak embarked on the same quest as every other lead exec in the majors this offseason, which is to add starting pitching. In the Cardinals' case, given their desire to jump right back into contention and a thin rotation depth chart, some offseason aggression should be anticipated.

This signing is not exactly that. This is a depth signing, given Lynn's age and recent track record. If Lynn pitches well enough to hold down a spot in the back of the St. Louis rotation, this is a deft move and the money -- a single year for $10 million guaranteed -- is a nonfactor. If Lynn were to actually regress toward his career peak, then it's a steal, and the Cardinals could capitalize by exercising the team option in the deal.

That latter scenario isn't impossible, but Lynn's struggles have gone on long enough that the more realistic hope is for a healthier version of Lynn's 2022 season. He was a league-average pitcher on a pro-rata basis in that season, but managed just 21 starts and 121⅔ innings. That now looks like the start of a decline rather than a blip, as Lynn was healthy enough last season to make 32 starts between Chicago and Los Angeles. The problem was that he was largely abysmal in too many of those outings.

Lynn's 44 homers allowed were the most in the majors, as he pitched to a 5.73 ERA over 183⅔ outings. Lynn was bitten time and again by slow starts, as he posted a 7.31 first-inning ERA, tied with Washington's Patrick Corbin for the worst in the majors. While Lynn did fare better overall after being dealt to the Dodgers, the long-ball/early-game woes never really got better. He allowed four third-inning homers against Arizona in Game 3 of the NLDS, the game that ended the Dodgers' season.

It has only been two years since Lynn finished third in the AL Cy Young balloting for the White Sox, though. His strikeout rate last season in the Chicago portion of his campaign was the highest it's ever been. That rate crashed after his move to the Dodgers, so it's hard to tell what the status of Lynn's stuff might be.

Still, you cut 15 to 20 long balls off Lynn's season and it looks a whole lot different. And if there is one thing Cardinals pitchers have done right in recent seasons, it has been keeping the ball in the park. Only the Giants have allowed fewer homers over the past three seasons. And while Busch Stadium III is a below-average homer park, St. Louis also ranks second in fewest road homers allowed. Maybe some of that will rub off on Lynn, though the Cardinals likely targeted him to help with their anemic strikeout rate.

The real grade for this signing is incomplete. The Cardinals pledged to aggressively add to their rotation, so you have to assume more moves like this are on the way. They have to be. If Lynn ends up being the fifth or sixth rotation option in a group that includes a couple of front-line yet-to-come acquisitions, holdovers Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz, and younger hurlers Matthew Liberatore and Zack Thompson, then we're getting somewhere.

For now, Lynn slots right into the middle of this rotation depth chart, and for a fan base hoping for a worst-to-first leap, that's not going to cut it. It's up to the Redbirds' brass to make the context of this signing better, and if they make a real dent this winter, perhaps the loyal folks in St. Louis will be willing to indulge in a little Lynn reunion nostalgia after all. -- Doolittle

Braves recruit Reynaldo Lopez

The deal: Three years, $30 million

Grade: C

When the Braves traded seven players and non-tendered seven others to clear $14 million in expected payroll, it looked like they had some big plan in place to sign a starting pitcher. They reportedly made a run for Aaron Nola, but that didn't happen, so Reynaldo Lopez looks like the backup plan, as the Braves will apparently give him a chance to start after he has spent the past two seasons as a solid reliever (3.02 ERA).

Lopez last started regularly with the White Sox from 2018 to 2020, but he struggled with home runs, and even as a reliever hasn't shown the control needed to make it as a starter. It's a worthy experiment to add potential rotation depth, but Lopez is probably more of a sixth or seventh option in a good rotation. Still, at the minimum the Braves have added to their bullpen, where Lopez has been a durable workhorse. The bigger question: Does this preclude the Braves from still going after one of the top starters, such as Sonny Gray or Marcus Stroman? -- Schoenfield

Phillies re-sign Aaron Nola

The deal: Seven years, $172 million

Grade: B

There has been a lot more smoke than fire in the new offseason, with most of the early moves falling under the umbrella of CBA-motivated fine print. On Sunday the first real domino of the free agent landscape fell, and while the Philadelphia Phillies stepping up to retain rotation stalwart Aaron Nola doesn't do much to change the competitive landscape, it keeps the Phillies on the heels of the Braves in the NL East (and since Atlanta was the main competition for Nola's signing, that's no small feat). More importantly, now that Dave Dombrowski doesn't have to worry about plugging a key rotation hole, he can shift his attention to perfecting the roster of a team trying to take that last step or two toward a championship.

Only Gerrit Cole has thrown more innings since the start of the 2018 season. As Nola progresses into his 30s, that's a comforting level of durability. Indeed, over that time the Phillies have always been able to count on Nola taking his turn in the rotation, week after week, season after season. If there were obvious signs of wear and tear and heightened injury risk due to the heavy-ish usage, the Phillies would know better than anyone. That Dombrowski was willing to pony up seven years for Nola suggests they are confident he's going to keep showing up for his 32-33 starts per annum. In today's pitching landscape, that's worth a lot.

In this case, about $24.5 million a year. That average annual value is roughly in line with consensus projections -- really, the only mildly surprising thing about the terms of Nola's deal was its length. Conventional wisdom suggested that Nola, 30, was looking at five or six years. If Nola keeps churning out seasons averaging 3-4 WAR or so, the valuation is solid enough for a few years. You do wonder about the back end of the deal -- but when has Dombrowski ever blanched at the prospect of an upside down contract years down the line?

And there's a lot about his arsenal to like in terms of aging gracefully. He has never relied on top-end velocity and his curveball has been the standout of what has become a five-pitch repertoire thanks to the addition of a cutter a couple of years ago. Nola still gets an elite rate of chases even though his fastball generally sits in the 92-93 mph range. There has been little movement in his velocity or spin rates over the years and what there has been has generally been to the positive. The stuff and pitch mix are more than good enough.

That said, Nola has been more of a quantity pitcher than a per-inning ace in two of the three most recent seasons. In 2022, he posted a 123 ERA+ while finishing fourth in NL Cy Young balloting. But sandwiched around that great campaign were seasons of 90 ERA+ (2021) and 96 (2023). Nola's win-loss record since the beginning of the 2020 season is just 37-36 and while that's no reason to sign him or not sign him, it illustrates the tendency of his performance to vacillate, especially early in games. That game-to-game inconsistency is why he's a No. 2 -- Nola posted a 47% quality start rate in 2023, compared with the 66% rate of Philly ace Zack Wheeler.

Wavering command is the difference between Nola when he's dominant and Nola when he's scuffling, with the valley behind those two modes a little larger than most hurlers of his caliber. Nola led the NL with a 1.3 BB/9 in 2022 and allowed just 0.8 homers per nine innings. In 2023, that walk rate rose to 2.1 and his homers jumped to 1.5. He gave up 11 homers on middle-middle pitches last season, only two off the MLB-high total, per TruMedia. Because his strikeout rate has declined a little each season, it's going to become essential that Nola becomes more consistent with his command.

But for the next few seasons, the Phillies have every reason to believe that the Nola they've seen is the Nola they'll get, a pitcher who at the very least gives you 32 or 33 starts, works deep into games and has a league-average-ish floor. In his better seasons, he is a top of the rotation guy who draws Cy Young support. He's also the kind of pitcher who, if he remains healthy, could get better as the experience piles up under him.

Nola was drafted by the Phillies in 2014 and so he hasn't thrown a pitch for any other organization. He now has a chance to be a career Phillie, embedding himself in team lore alongside the best in club history. He's already seventh in career bWAR among Phillies pitchers, just ahead of Jim Bunning. If he goes on a mid-career run, he could end up slotting in behind the legendary Philly trio of Robin Roberts, Steve Carlton and Grover Alexander. His legacy in the city would be considerable, especially if he helps this edition of the Phillies get over the World Series hump.

Now we'll see if Nola's signing gets the free agent market moving. This year's class is strong in rotation options -- a good thing because, during the recent GM meetings, it felt like all 30 lead execs uttered some form of the statement, "We're looking to add starting pitching this winter." If the length of Nola's deal is any indication, those pitching-hungry GMs are going to have to extend themselves a bit to get the most coveted arms out there. -- Doolittle