Aaron Judge’s decision to remain with the Yankees and Carlos Correa’s prolonged free-agency saga got most of the hot-stove ink, but seasons are often won and lost with winter transactions that don’t grab much attention.
For instance: Many would’ve argued that the Astros lost the premier player from the previous free-agent class when Correa signed with Minnesota the first time, but the Twins ended up finishing below .500 while Hector Neris, an effective but not exceedingly famous reliever, signed with Houston that winter and had three scoreless appearances during the World Series.
Which moves that slid unnoticed through the transactions page could have similar effects in 2023? We asked The Athletic’s baseball staff to shine some light on the top roster additions that didn’t lead to press conferences and jersey sales.
I like the Cole Irvin trade with the Oakland A’s. The Orioles needed a lefty and someone to eat innings toward the top of their rotation and Irvin fits that mold. It didn’t cost the Orioles much (infield prospect Darell Hernaiz, who was blocked in the system), and Irvin can be under team control for four more seasons. He’s not the ace they need, but he is a solid, big-league pitcher who may have upside pitching in front of the pushed-back wall in left field.
Boston Red Sox
You could argue all of Boston’s moves this winter have been under the radar compared to their competitors, but since we have to choose, Justin Turner seems like a good one. While he’s a well-known player in the league, he wasn’t among the top options for designated-hitter types this winter. Meanwhile, his addition carries the caveat that he’s replacing J.D. Martinez’s valuable bat. But despite being three years older than Martinez, Turner (116 OPS+) actually produced remarkably similar numbers to Martinez (117 OPS+) last year and was among the best hitters in baseball in the second half. Couple that with his leadership qualities in a clubhouse that’s seen a lot of turnover and he might be the biggest boost for this club.
New York Yankees
Re-signing a guy with three All-Star appearances, four Gold Gloves and a World Series ring qualifies as under the radar? In an offseason dominated by Aaron Judge and Carlos Rodón, you bet. The Yankees’ reunion with Anthony Rizzo could loom large. Restricting the shift should allow more hits to fall for the pull-heavy Rizzo, whose 82.6 percent shift rate last year was third on the Yankees behind Aaron Hicks and Matt Carpenter. Rizzo, who will continue aiming for the right field short porch, also brings leadership to the Yankees’ clubhouse. All he needs to do is make sure that his balky lower back isn’t a problem.
Tampa Bay Rays
Because their offseason was mostly about one big move (Zack Eflin) and signing their current core, let’s cheat a little and look back at a move the Rays made during the season last year when they reacquired righty Shawn Armstrong after his release by the Marlins. Armstrong scores well by Stuff+, and the Rays always rank at the top of that statistic — which looks only at the physical characteristics of a pitch — so they saw something the Marlins didn’t there. The Rays also noticed that he threw his worst pitch (the slider) too often, and had him basically turf that pitch. And now he’s just another one of the great relievers they found for free.
Toronto Blue Jays
It’s the one-year, $9.3 million deal for Brandon Belt. The 34-year-old is coming off a down season, but he’s hopeful for a rebound after knee surgery. He’ll mostly be a designated hitter with some first base mixed in, but he could bring the power and patience from the left side the team was missing last season. New outfield dimensions at the Rogers Centre might help his offence, too, and will certainly be friendlier than Oracle Park. Plus, he brings championship experience to the clubhouse. All around, if Belt can get back to his old self, he could make a big impact and prove he was a wise one-year bet.