MLB free agency superlatives: How Phillies, Yankees come out looking like kings after Carlos Correa drama

We’re still waiting for the final bell to ring, for the game of summer to begin, but MLB’s 2022-23 free agency class has mostly been decided. As Carlos Correa agrees to a shorter-term deal with the Minnesota Twins, the impact players should be (knock on wood, or the metal plate in Correa’s ankle, apparently) off the board.

And so it’s time to assess the takeaways from a whirlwind hot stove market that essentially wrapped up a full month ahead of spring training.

What better way than with those timeless yearbook classics? Let's dive into some free-agent superlatives.

Most likely to succeed: Philadelphia Phillies

Specifically, the Phillies’ agenda-setting deal with Trea Turner.

The ever-aggressive Dave Dombrowski agreed to terms with Turner early in the winter meetings, and the rest of the league spent the offseason calling or raising his bet. But the Phillies got their man at a smart, if expensive, price and avoided the acid reflux of the Correa derby.

Turner, a dynamic shortstop who leveled up his power the past three seasons, is a perfect addition to the Phillies’ existing, pennant-winning core. He solves what had been a festering middle-infield quandary by taking over shortstop for at least the next half-decade and allowing Bryson Stott to cover second base for the foreseeable future. He also gives manager Rob Thomson the game’s preeminent baserunning threat to work with at the top of the order alongside Kyle Schwarber’s patience and power, J.T. Realmuto’s all-around excellence and Bryce Harper’s MVP-caliber thump.

Turner was the clear best fit for a Phillies team with its chips already pushed to the middle for the next three to five years. And Dombrowski snapped him up with an 11-year, $300 million deal before a bidding war could truly break out. The contract is long, yes, but the $27.3 million average annual value is flat-out reasonable for a player of Turner’s caliber and provides for a lower tax burden in the peak competitive window.

The Phillies’ other major signings — pitchers Taijuan Walker and Craig Kimbrel — are, uh, riskier. But it’s difficult to find a more winning signing than the Turner addition. The Phillies still might not win the NL East, but their World Series run won’t be a mirage.

Runners-up: The Toronto Blue Jays. Adding another reliable arm to their rotation in Chris Bassitt and taking a flier on Kevin Kiermaier as a center-field defensive specialist, the Blue Jays prepared themselves for another run at AL East supremacy.

Most dramatic: New York Mets

They would have taken this crown even if they just lost Jacob deGrom to the Texas Rangers and replaced him with nearly-40-year-old reigning Cy Young winner Justin Verlander on a two-year, $86.6 million deal. That deal, by the way, ties the MLB record for annual value … which the Mets set last offseason in signing co-ace and fellow living legend Max Scherzer.

But no, the Mets and swashbuckling billionaire Steve Cohen added to their winter headlines — which included re-signing closer Edwin Diaz and center fielder Brandon Nimmoby appearing to poach Correa from the San Francisco Giants in the middle of the night, then tumbling into the same limbo when they also had questions about Correa’s physical and eventually allowing the Minnesota Twins to step in and re-sign their 2022 shortstop.

The Mets, for the record, look like one of baseball’s best teams with or without Correa. And they are certainly among the most interesting. Signing a player to big money for 12 seasons does require taking detailed inventory of his trajectory — and if both the Giants and Mets got squeamish, maybe there was good reason to pause on Correa. If Cohen is really as unconcerned about the competitive balance tax as it appears, it’s curious the Mets wouldn’t beat the Twins for a six- or seven-year guaranteed deal, which will likely include Correa’s most impactful seasons anyway.

But this team — already reliant on two aces over the age of 38 — could perhaps benefit from leaving some air for youthful contributors such as third-base prospect Brett Baty to step up.

Biggest procrastinator: Minnesota Twins

Good things don’t usually come to those who wait this long on the hot stove, but … apparently it works if your superstar target happens to have a red flag in his physical. The Twins look like they will wind up re-signing Correa, their surprise 2022 addition, to a six-year deal that could span longer with vesting options, thanks to the Giants and Mets reportedly balking at Correa’s surgically repaired broken leg from 2014.

It’s tough to reset our brains after seeing Turner and others secure stretched deals spanning 10 years or more, but the Twins’ Correa deal would pay him $33.33 million per season, which is almost exactly what FanGraphs’ crowdsourced projections expected ($32 million), while guaranteeing six years instead of the expected eight. It’s undeniably a boon for Minnesota if it manages to scoop up one of the best free agents of the offseason — and a player the Twins already fell in love with — for only $200 million in guaranteed money.

The downside of waiting on Correa? The Twins are suddenly looking very similar to last season’s squad, which faded down the stretch and finished third. They need to make moves for reinforcements — quickly.

Aaron Judge was greeted by Yankees legend Derek Jeter as he formally re-signed with the famed club in December. (Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images)

Most popular: New York Yankees

We know who won homecoming king in this class. By re-signing Aaron Judge and dubbing him the new Yankees captain, GM Brian Cashman checked off the biggest baseball to-do list box ... ever?

Understandably not content to stop there as the franchise seeks its first World Series since 2009, Cashman reeled in another ace in Carlos Rodón — at least five years younger and $10 million per year cheaper than deGrom or Verlander. All told, Rodón looks like one of the sharpest signings of the winter, a great blend of proven recent upside and room to grow.

The Yankees made the right headlines, which is important when one of those headliners powered the offense basically by himself from July onward. And therein lies the doubt keeping this team from an unqualified triumph: The Yankees are going to need some steady substance behind the flashing lights, with DJ LeMahieu and Giancarlo Stanton unlikely to suddenly become healthier and Judge unlikely to totally repeat his mammoth season. Maybe they get a step forward from Gleyber Torres, or maybe top shortstop prospect Anthony Volpe immediately lives up to the hype. Either way, the big moves this winter were great and necessary, but the team’s fortunes could still be tanked more easily than fans would like.

Class clown: Chicago White Sox

This easily could have have gone to the other Sox — the Boston Red Sox — but we will give them a respite and instead scrutinize a team taking similarly frustrating half-measures in a far more winnable division. Heavily favored to win the AL Central in 2022, the injury-plagued, mismanaged White Sox stumbled to a .500 record and second place. They moved on from manager Tony La Russa and hired former Royals bench coach Pedro Grifol but haven’t patched the uneven, paper-thin roster.

Their biggest splash came late, as they inked contact-focused outfielder Andrew Benintendi to a five-year, $75 million deal, which is somehow the largest free-agent deal in team history. Benintendi is a solid role player, but he’s not an impact bat. If the Sox were going to hand out what apparently counts as a large deal for them, why did they fill only one of the three gaping lineup holes?

Having let team leader Jose Abreu walk and sign with the Houston Astros, the White Sox are likely sliding Eloy Jimenez to designated hitter, which makes sense. But even after signing Benintendi to play left field, they don’t have another player capable of manning right field every day. Andrew Vaughn will take over first base. Gavin Sheets, a promising lefty bat, can theoretically stand in right, but he rates as one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball. Not to mention, the Sox don’t have any sort of answer at second base.

They also dished out a one-year, $12 million deal to starting pitcher Mike Clevinger following a rough and worrisome year that never saw him regain the velocity he had prior to Tommy John surgery. A number of other more reliable arms — including 2022 White Sox success story Johnny Cueto — signed for less.

Most competitive: San Diego Padres

It was reasonable to think the Padres might chill out a little after weathering the Fernando Tatis Jr. motorcycle-accident-and-PED-suspension saga, trading for Juan Soto and rallying to a National League Championship Series appearance in 2022. A.J. Preller’s response: Ha! Yeah, right.

MLB’s most hyperactive president of baseball operations made serious runs at Turner and Judge, then struck out of nowhere to land steady shortstop Xander Bogaerts on an eye-popping, 11-year, $280 million deal. With one year left before Manny Machado can opt out of his deal and two years before Juan Soto can reach free agency, the Padres are on a mission.

And at least for now, they finally look better than the Dodgers on paper.

Best dressed: Chicago Cubs

The Cubs really understood what was in this offseason. Big deals for shortstops! Shockingly big deals for mid-rotation starters! One-year, buy-low deals on former stars! It was a veritable fashion show on the North Side, with Dansby Swanson, Jameson Taillon and Cody Bellinger joining up to supplement a fledgling young core. It just might not look as cool as they expect in two or three years.

The problem? In the cases of Swanson and Taillon, the Cubs might've gone shopping for the bargain-brand versions inspired by the actual runway-ready designs. Swanson — who, for the record, was such a runaway for the Best Hair superlative that no voting was required — didn’t sign for much more than expected, despite the spiraling prices of big shortstops. So it’s less about his seven-year, $177 million deal in a vacuum than it is the Cubs' choice to go for him instead of ponying up for Turner, Correa or Bogaerts. The addition screams Anchor when he likely doesn’t carry a bat big enough to hold down that responsibility. This could be remedied — maybe the Cubs go hard after Machado if he opts out after 2023 — but for now, it looks a bit questionable.

Taillon is a perfectly serviceable pitcher, but a forward-looking club without any apparent aces likely could've served its purposes better by seeking more upside or more flexibility, rather than locking in a No. 3 (at best) for four years. If you were expecting the Jon Lester move of the previous Cubs buildup, this was not it.

Cutest couple: Los Angeles Dodgers and J.D. Martinez

The designated hitter who helped the Red Sox defeat the Dodgers in the World Series once upon a time, Martinez has tallied four 35-plus-homer seasons since he reworked his swing prior to 2014 with a forward-thinking coach named Robert Van Scoyoc.

Fast-forward, and Van Scoyoc is the Dodgers’ hitting coach. Martinez’s transformation became one of the models the Dodgers successfully recreated with Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and others. Now 34, Martinez is leaking power and consistency, but if there’s any place where he might rediscover his world-beating form for a year or two, it seems like it’s Chavez Ravine.

Most likely to fall down the stairs: San Francisco Giants

Their deal-scuttling alarm over Correa’s physical looks more understandable now that the Mets have experienced similar consternation. Still, fans might have some legitimate questions about how much of a priority health was with outfielders Mitch Haniger and Michael Conforto headlining the team's offseason haul.

Both players are worthy additions to a very thin offense, but Haniger missed more than 100 games in 2022, the entire 2020 season and 99 games in 2019. Conforto missed the entire 2022 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. In what was supposed to be a course-setting winter, the Giants wound up taking on plenty of the same risk they balked at in the Correa negotiations. They just didn’t shell out for the same upside.

Runners-up: Texas Rangers. You can’t accuse GM Chris Young — architect of a new rotation including deGrom, Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney — of being a pessimist.

Most likely to cure the common cold: Los Angeles Angels

A … smart Angels offseason? I am as surprised as you are, but GM Perry Minasian — in a tough spot as Arte Moreno prepares to sell the team — made several quietly promising moves that might help this team finally solve the persistent problem of missing the playoffs.

Chief among those moves: The Angels got an early-bird-special price on left-handed starter Tyler Anderson, agreeing to a deal with the 2022 breakout on the day Anderson was due to decide on a qualifying offer from the Dodgers. As it turns out, Anderson likely would have bested his three-year, $39 million deal if he had waited and compared himself to Taillon or Walker. A shorter track record of productivity and reliance on secondary pitches likely would've scared some teams, but even if Anderson’s overall numbers regress (that 2.57 ERA in 2022 is sparkly), he’s likely to absorb 160-plus solid innings for an Angels team that could really use a firmer foundation behind Shohei Ohtani and some promising young arms.

The Angels also dove into the bargain bin for utility player Brandon Drury and relief pitcher Carlos Estévez, giving each two-year deals at low annual values ($8.5 million for Drury, $6.75 million for Estévez). Drury is coming off a power surge and can at least fake it at five defensive positions, while the 6-foot-6 Estévez throws 98 mph and managed above-average run prevention as a member of the Rockies. It’s not crazy to think he might be a full-on great reliever closer to sea level.

Biggest case of senioritis: Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates are undeniably rebuilding. They don’t even seem to have a 2022 Orioles-esque path to fun, late-season relevance. So signing first baseman Carlos Santana and soon-to-be-43-year-old Rich Hill isn’t about competing right now. But it’s a delightful deal for both parties.

Here’s why: An exceedingly green team will get to pick the brains of two grizzled, respected veterans — Hill was picked in an MLB draft (though he didn’t sign) before likely rotation-mate Roansy Contreras was born — for at least a few months. Meanwhile, Santana and Hill, still in search of World Series rings, get a path to playing time and virtually guarantee that they will be traded to contenders in July if they keep performing. They almost certainly won’t play for the next good Pirates team, but they could help shape it.