Highlights from MLB Winter Meetings

Over the past three days, representatives from all 30 teams networked at the 2023 Major League Baseball (MLB) winter meetings, shaping their franchises for the 2024 season and beyond.

Team officials negotiated trades with other teams and contracts with free-agent players to bolster their 2024 rosters. Every team also learned their fate for the 2024 draft in Tuesday’s Draft Lottery and had the opportunity to draft a player in Wednesday morning’s Rule 5 Draft. Unlike previous meetings, this year’s conference only resulted in a few blockbuster transactions but laid the groundwork for more to come. Finally, two baseball lifers learned exciting news from the Hall of Fame. 

Highlights from the 2023 MLB Winter Meetings

New York Yankees Look for 2024 Resurgence

This past season, the Yankees finished 82-80, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and ending up with their worst record since 1992.

The team had solid pitching led by American League (AL) Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole. However, their offense finished 25th in the Majors in runs scored as multiple hitters failed to live up to expectations, and superstar outfielder Aaron Judge missed many games with a toe injury.

Given the team’s need for offensive help, especially left-handed hitting outfielders, the rumors connecting them to free-agent Cody Bellinger and trade target Juan Soto are unsurprising.

However, the Yankees started by completing only their eighth trade with the rival Boston Red Sox since 1969, acquiring left-handed hitting outfielder Alex Verdugo in exchange for right-handed pitchers Richard Fitts, Greg Weissert, and Nicholas Judice. Verdugo started for Boston the past four seasons, hitting .264 with 13 home runs and 54 RBIs in 2023. Weissert is the only pitcher with Major League experience, while Fitts is a promising minor league pitching prospect. 

If Verdugo is the appetizer, Soto is the entree for the Yankees. The team successfully traded for him on Wednesday from the San Diego Padres to join Verdugo and Judge in their new-look outfield. The swap sent outfielders Soto and Trent Grisham to New York in exchange for MLB catcher Kyle Higashioka and pitchers Michael King and Jhony Brito, as well as top Yankee pitching prospects Drew Thorpe and Randy Vásquez.

The Yankees left the conference without agreeing on the trade, but was completed once San Diego reviewed the medicals and information.

Atlanta Braves and Seattle Mariners swing an intriguing deal 

The Braves improved their offense even further, filling their left field opening with the acquisition of 23-year-old outfielder Jarred Kelenic from the Seattle Mariners. Freeing up payroll, the Mariners sent Kelenic, minor-league first baseman Evan White, and veteran left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales to Atlanta in exchange for young pitchers Jackson Kowar and Cole Phillips.

While the Mariners could develop Phillips as they did with Bryce Miller and Bryan Woo, they once saw Kelenic as one of their rising stars. He is the second starter the club has traded away this offseason.

The Braves, who promptly rerouted Gonzales to Pittsburgh, will look to get the best out of Kelenic, whose 2023 season was the one-time top prospect’s best yet in his young Major League career.

Now, Atlanta can turn their attention to boosting their pitching staff that, except for ace Spencer Strider, did not do well down the stretch or in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Mariners have not done anything, yet with the increased payroll flexibility in the free-agent or trade market. They need to give superstar outfielder Julio Rodriguez more offensive help if the club wants to stay in contention in a division that features the two most recent World Series winners.

Draft Lottery Impact 

The Oakland A’s, Kansas City Royals, and Colorado Rockies entered Tuesday’s 2024 MLB Draft lottery with the best odds to get the first pick because they had the three worst records in 2023.

Unfortunately, none of them got the first pick as the Royals tumbled down to the sixth spot, the A’s to fourth, and the Rockies to third. It especially hurts for the unlucky A’s, who fell out of the top three for the second straight year. No matter how the ownership-induced rebuilding team fares next year, they will pick no higher than tenth in 2025 due to an anti-tanking rule prohibiting a team from obtaining a top-six pick in three straight drafts.

The team did rebound the next day, taking Yankee minor league pitcher Mitch Spence with the first pick of the 2023 Rule 5 Draft. Spence should have ample opportunity to make and stick on the A’s roster because Rule 5 picks must be offered to their former team if released during the season.

The Washington Nationals won the first selection in year two of this new draft lottery but will pick tenth because they can’t pick in the lottery two straight years due to being a revenue-sharing club. Thus, the Cleveland Guardians, who entered the drawing with a 2% chance, lucked out and will pick first overall for the first time in franchise history. Their Ohio neighbors, the Cincinnati Reds, also lucked out, drawing the second pick. These two teams tried to make the playoffs in 2023 and now get the chance to add elite talents to their talented farm systems.

Newest Hall of Fame Electees

On December 3rd, the contemporary era committee for managers, executives, and umpires voted former manager Jim Leyland (78) into the MLB Hall of Fame. The highly successful manager, who never made it past the minor leagues as a player, received 15 of 16 votes and will become the 23rd skipper in Cooperstown.

Fellow former manager Lou Pinella fell one vote short for the second time.

From 1986-2013, Leyland managed the Pittsburgh Pirates (1986-1996), Miami Marlins (1997-1998), Colorado Rockies (1999), and lastly Detroit Tigers (2006-2013). The man who became known for his love of cigarettes won 1,769 regular-season games and guided the Marlins to their first World Series title in 1997. Then, the three-time Manager of the Year Award winner managed a Tigers squad that won the 2006 American League (AL) pennant, becoming only the seventh manager to win a pennant in both leagues. Leyland capped off his stellar managerial career by leading the US baseball team to victory in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

In addition, the Hall of Fame named longtime Boston Red Sox radio broadcaster Joe Castiglione the 48th recipient of the Ford.C. Frick Award, an annual honor awarded to someone for excellence in baseball broadcasting. Castiglione, who has been the radio voice of the Red Sox for 41 years, earned the most points in the Hall of Fame’s 15-member Frick Award Committee’s vote.

He placed ahead of nine other finalists, most notably the San Francisco Giants’ television duo Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow, longtime Oakland Athletics’ radio announcer Ken Korach, New York Mets’ broadcaster Gary Cohen, and well-known sportscaster Joe Buck.

Stay tuned for more news from the final day of the Winter Meetings. Meanwhile, Shohei Ohtani will likely decide sometime in the next few days, giving one organization something to celebrate and potentially igniting a run of transactions with Spring Training just a couple of months away.

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