Justin Verlander – New York Mets – 2yrs – $43.3M Per Year
Justin Verlander turns 40 in February and commands the largest annual contract of any free agent switching teams this offseason at over $43 million per each year of his 2-year deal.
$43 million in a season is the most the future Hall of Famer has earned in his entire career. JV made about $25 million per season across a 7-year deal in Detroit spanning 2013-2019 and then signed a $33 million per year deal in Houston from 2019-2021.
The Mets lock Verlander up through his age-41 season with a vesting option for the 2025 MLB season (Verlander will be 42). This makes Verlander an unrestricted free agent in 2026. He’ll be 43.
Nobody believes Verlander will still be pitching at a high level in 2026, but let’s face it – very few thought he’d be earning a top-tier contract at age 40. Verlander went under the knife in 2020 and missed the entire 2021 season to recover from his Tommy John.
A 39-year-old pitcher coming back from major surgery? Hard pass. Few believed Verlander would bounce back and be anything more than a middle-of-the-rotation innings filler for Houston last year. Then he goes out and wins his 3rd Cy Young.
2011 has to be considered Verlander’s best year ever, but 2022 was close. Recall that Verlander took home both the Cy Young and the American League MVP in 2011 by winning the league’s pitching Triple Crown with a record of 24-5, 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts in 251 innings. He led baseball in WHIP that year, too, at 0.92.
Verlander nearly repeated for the Triple Crown but couldn’t get the strikeouts with “only” 185. His 18 wins and 1.75 ERA did lead the league, though.
This 2022 effort from Verlander ranks among the all-time best seasons for a starting pitcher in the history of the game. Only 7 other pitchers have recorded 18 wins with a K/9 north of 9 and an ERA below 2.00 for an entire season.
From most recent to oldest, these are Blake Snell (2018), Jake Arrieta (2015), Clayton Kershaw (2014), Pedro Martinez (2000), Tom Seaver (1971), Luis Tiant (1968) and Sandy Koufax (1964).
Guess who many of these dudes were in their late 30s when they did this? None. In fact, none of them were in their 30s at all. Each of the previous 7 pitchers to accomplish were between 25-29, their athletic primes. Justin Verlander is the only pitcher in baseball history with an 18 win, sub-2 ERA, 9+ K/9 season at age 30 or later, and he did it at age 39!
The Mets are definitely buying high on Verlander. The going rate for pitchers fresh off a Cy Young performance is exorbitant, and GM Billy Eppler decided to bite the bullet to chase the pennant.
Verlander’s 6.1 WAR last year in 28 starts was the highest of any American League pitcher (and 3rd in the MLB). This means the Mets are paying a price of $7.1 million per win that Verlander adds to their roster. This is a huge amount and is not a value-laden move.
Of course, signing a 40-year-old to a massive deal is a move wrought with risk. 28 starts for JV last year was a little bit lower than the other, younger star pitchers in the league. Verlander completed 0 games in 2022 for the first time since 2017.
He’s not the indestructible workhorse he once was, but Verlander’s pitching prowess right now is arguably as good as ever.
Jacob deGrom – Texas Rangers – 5yrs – $37M Per Year
Another high-risk move was the Rangers’ signing of oft-injured right-handed starter Jacob deGrom. deGrom commanded the 2nd-largest free agent contract of the offseason from Texas GM Chris Young – $37 million per year – as he desperately tries to buy the Rangers back into the postseason.
$37 million is a lot for a guy who has thrown just 224.1 innings total over the last 3 years with a high of 92 innings in that span. deGrom hasn’t notched any 200 inning seasons since 2019 – his last MVP season.
Forearm, elbow and shoulder injuries have plagued the 34-year-old who displays obvious top-tier talent when healthy. Even as a youngster, deGrom struggled with arm health – needing Tommy John surgery back in 2010 before ever throwing a Major League pitch.
The innings have been limited of late for the Florida native, but Texas loves what they’ve seen in those innings. 14.1 K/9 over the last 3 years blows his previous career mark of 10.3 out of the water. The guy can still spin it.
deGrom’s ERA and strikeout numbers have always been excellent. His career ERA is a sterling 2.52 while his career K/9 mark is now up to 10.9. He’s never won many games, though, being stuck on some horrible Mets teams for the entirety of his 9-year career.
New York finally began winning some ball games the last couple of years, and deGrom’s record reflected that. He posted a 7-2 record in limited action in 2021 and was 5-4 last year.
The plight of being an ace for a perennial loser is you don’t win much. 15 wins in 2017 is the career-high mark for deGrom. On the bright side, he’s only posted 1 losing season in 9 years, when he was 7-8 in 2016 despite an impressive 3.04 ERA across 24 starts.
It’s a shame that such a talented pitcher has registered only 31 innings of postseason baseball. He’s been great in those 5 October starts, though, winning 4 of them with a 2.90 ERA.
What deGrom lacks in postseason experience he makes up for with hardware. The lanky righty won back-to-back National League Cy Young awards in 2018 and 2019. There was an uproar from baseball purists who were furious that records of 10-9 and 11-8 were able to take it down.
The new-school thinkers retorted that his respective ERAs of 1.70 and 2.43 with a K/9 in the 11s both years were more than worthy of the Cy Young and that deGrom shouldn’t be penalized for being on a last-place team.
deGrom is certainly being paid like a pitcher fresh off back-to-back Cy Youngs, but it has been 3 years since he’s even thrown 100 innings. His average WAR over the last 3 seasons is 3.2.
If the Rangers get last-3-years production from deGrom, they will wind up paying $11.6 million per win – an insanely high price. Texas is obviously hoping to get 2018 or 2019 production from their new ace. He averaged an 8.0 WAR these 2 seasons which would equate to a “mere” $4.6 million per win – a great value.
Trea Turner – Philadelphia Phillies – 11yrs – $27.3M Per Year
The most expensive position player changing cities before the 2023 season is the new Phillies shortstop Trea Turner. Turner inks an 11-year $300 million deal that locks him up through his age-40 season. He turns 30 this June.
Turns out $27.3 million per year is the going rate to roster one of the league’s best shortstops throughout his entire 30s. By “one of the best,” we might actually mean the best.
Turner’s cumulative Off of 157.4 since he became a regular player in 2016 leads all shortstops. 157.4 is better than Xander Bogaerts (who is also on this list), Carlos Correa (who was a big free agent signing last year) and Marcus Semien (also a big one last year).
Turner is definitely not a defensive wizard up the middle but does hold his own. Francisco Lindor takes the cake as the best all-around shortstop in baseball with a 38.0 WAR since 2016, but Turner is unequivocally the best offensive shortstop and has a 31.6 WAR himself, not shabby.
Turner cut his teeth in Washington but was moved to Los Angeles as part of a blockbuster 2021 deadline deal. Turner enjoyed his entire 2022 season as a member of the Dodgers and posted the 2nd-best WAR of his 8-year career – 6.3. This was on the heels of his best-ever 2021 season in which he accumulated 6.8 wins of value.
If the Phillies get “prime Trea Turner,” owner John Middleton will pay about $4.2 million per win that the shortstop adds to the roster. This is looking like a steal right now as neither of the star pitchers above Turner on this list (Verlander or deGrom) provide that much value to their new clubs.
Carlos Rodon – New York Yankees – 6yrs – $27M Per Year
This wouldn’t be an authentic MLB free agent article without reporting a major transaction by the New York Yankees.
The Pinstripers felt threatened that they no longer could boast the biggest payroll in the MLB. They had to do something. Their crosstown rivals one-upped them with the Verlander signing, however, to retain their title of “League’s Largest Payroll.” The Yankees are 2nd.
For the record. San Diego is 3rd as they’ve now taken on Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts (as you’ll read about below).
The Yankees wanted another pitcher and decided to bring the Giants’ Carlos Rodon back over to the American League after a 1-year trial run out in San Francisco. Rodon spent 2015-2021 with the Chicago White Sox.
The 1 season for Rodon in the National League was an excellent one. Rodon finished with a record of 14-8, a 2.88 ERA and 237 strikeouts in 178 innings – the 2nd-most Ks in baseball.
This was enough for a 6th-place finish in the NL Cy Young voting – the highest Rodon has ever finished in his 8-year. He turned 30 in December and now returns to the American League seeking continued success.
Rodon’s 6.2 WAR in 2022 was more wins added to his team than in his previous 3 seasons combined. The Yankees ace – Gerrit Cole – is being paid far more than the $27 million per year that Rodon was signed for and yet has never produced a 6-WAR season for the Pinstripers.
Last year, Cole was 13-8 with a 3.50 ERA. The MVP voters indicated they thought that Cole wasn’t even the best pitcher on his team – giving Nestor Cortes more Cy Young love when it came time to vote. Cortes finished 8th in the AL voting. Cole was 9th, receiving one-third the votes Cortes did.
The Rodon signing will be a very valuable one for New York should the lefty maintain his dominant 2022 form. Another 6.2 WAR season for Rodon would mean the Yankees are spending $4.4 million per win he adds.
A more safe assumption is that Rodon will be somewhere in between his 2021 and 2022 levels of production. 2021 was Rodon’s last season in the American League with Chicago. He posted a 13-5 record with a 2.37 ERA for a WAR of 4.9.
This makes Rodon’s 2-year WAR average 5.55 and would put his $/win at about $4.9 million. Considering what the Mets paid for Verlander and what the Rangers dished out for deGrom, the Yankees are getting incredible value here. What? The Yankees buying at a good price? When was the last time we said this?
Xander Bogaerts – San Diego Padres – 11yrs – $25.5M Per Year
For the first time in history, the Padres are out there spending like the big boys – boasting a bigger payroll heading into 2023 than the Los Angeles Dodgers.
San Diego inked Manny Machado to a huge deal in free agency prior to the 2019 season. The third baseman is earning $30 million this season. The Padres feel like they’re getting their money’s worth from Machado as the 6-time All-Star and 2-time Gold Glove winner finished 2nd in the National League’s MVP voting last year after posting a line of .298/32/102.
Machado is hardly the only high-priced player on the Padres roster. The club decided to extend the contract of their star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. – giving the 24-year-old $24.3 million a year now through 2034.
Of course, San Diego then went and pulled off one of the largest trades in baseball history last July, selling the farm for Juan Soto and his $23 million per year contract. By the way, this contract expires soon and will need to be re-upped (and he’s not going to demand less money).
Oh yeah, pitchers Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove are also each making over $20 million per year, but that’s hardly even noteworthy on this star-studded team. Realize that there are 8 MLB teams whose highest-paid player doesn’t get $20 million. Let that soak in.
Five big-time contracts wasn’t enough. San Diego needed another. Ignoring the fact that they already had a superstar shortstop, the Padres went out and signed the best one on the market – Boston’s Xander Bogaerts.
San Diego locked the 30-year-old up for 11 seasons – giving him about $25.5 million per year. At his peak in Boston, Bogaerts was getting a cool $20 million per season.
With that $5.5 million raise comes the added pressure of needing to win a championship this year. The Padres have both mortgaged their future and maxed out their payroll in an effort to win in 2023. Heads may begin to roll if 2023 doesn’t result in a championship.
It was disappointing enough in 2022 when the Padres were routed in 5 games in the NLCS (by Philly) after picking up Juan Soto at the deadline.
Let’s assume that Bogaerts produces in 2023 at around the same level he produced for Boston in 2022. That would be a .307 average with 15 bombs, 73 RBIs, 84 runs scored and good defense. This equates to a WAR of 6.1 – which would make Bogaerts’ $/win added this season $4.2 million – a very competitive number.
Don’t forget the potential downsides of bringing in another shortstop, though. Fernando Tatis Jr. was supposed to be the face of the Padres franchise. San Diego changed this when they traded for Juan Soto last year. Soto is now “the guy.” This Bogaerts addition is worse.
Bogaerts plays shortstop and is a better defender than Tatis. All indications from the club are that Tatis will bump out to left field while Bogaerts will remain at his natural position. We don’t know how the volatile Tatis will react to this move.
If he takes it in stride and produces like an All-Star, then this signing will prove very valuable for the Padres. If Tatis flys off the handle and the Padres lose him because of this move, it will go down as a terrible decision. The Padres would essentially pay $25.5 million to swap one great shortstop with another.
Owner Peter Seidler and GM AJ Preller have gone all-in on this season and are “running it once.” There is sure to be blood.
Dansby Swanson – Chicago Cubs – 7yrs – $25.3M Per Year
The third shortstop on this list, former Brave Dansby Swanson finally gets a long-term deal after running it back on 3 consecutive 1-year deals in Atlanta totaling a tick over $19 million combined.
Swanson signs up to play with the Lovable Losers in 2023 and make more money in 1 season then he has in his entire 7-year career with the Braves.
Money was obviously the driving force behind this decision as Atlanta is definitely in a better position to win in the short term. Swanson was sick of playing on 1-year deals and wanted to go somewhere where he could guarantee himself big money. Chicago stepped up and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Swanson turns 29 in February and will be locked up on the Northside through his age-35 season. Swanson becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2030.
Dansby Swanson first became a regular player with Atlanta in 2017 and was an all defense, no offense type guy at first. He’s added a little bit of pop in his bat here of late.
Swanson has hit above .270 in 2 of his last 3 seasons and has knocked 25 balls over the fence now 2-straight years. In 2022, Swanson scored 99 runs, drove in 96 of his teammates and stole 18 bases – all of which were career highs.
2022 was only the 3rd season out of 6 as a regular player in which Swanson sported a positive Off. The result was a career-best 6.4 WAR – the 2nd-highest of any MLB shortstop behind Francisco Lindor.
Swanson is commanding maximum value for a guy who has only had 2 good offensive seasons in his entire career. Sure, his 6.4 WAR in 2022 is good, but his 3-year average from his last 3 full seasons is a shade under 4.
The Cubs will be getting a terrific value of $4.0 million per win added on Swanson if he continues his newfound slugging ways of 2022, but will be overpaying at $7.4 million per win added if Swanson regresses back to his 2021 numbers.
Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.
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