MLB insider Robert Murray breaks down three under-the-radar free agent contracts signed for the 2023 season that could have a big impact.
This MLB offseason, teams have spent roughly $3.8 billion on free agents. The market has had elite talent — Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Jacob deGrom, among others — as well as a blend of second and third-tier players that have produced contracts that exceeded most baseball people’s expectations.
Judge stayed with the New York Yankees despite receiving significant interest from the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. Correa agreed to two $300+ million contracts and eventually settled on a $200 million contract after failing physicals with the Giants and Mets. Bogaerts signed a $280 million contract that blew away other offers, including from his former team the Boston Red Sox. And deGrom signed a five-year, $185 million contract with the Texas Rangers while most people in the industry believed he would sign a three-year contract similar to what Max Scherzer had signed a year before.
But what about the deals that didn’t steal headlines? Here are four of the best contracts that flew under the radar during the 2022-2023 MLB offseason.
3 MLB free agent contracts flying too far under the radar for 2023
Brandon Drury, Los Angeles Angels
The Cincinnati Reds signing Drury to a minor-league deal proved to be arguably the best value signing of last offseason. He hit .263/.320/.492 with 28 home runs, 31 doubles and 87 RBI. He played every infield position and even spent some time in right field. At the trade deadline, he was traded to the Padres in exchange for Victor Acosta, a top-10 prospect in San Diego’s organization.
Signing Drury to a two-year, $17 million contract was a strong deal for the Angels. Yet it garnered little, if any attention.
Drury will help the Angels against left-handed pitching — he hit .299 with 12 home runs and a .955 OPS against southpaws last season — and help them all over the field defensively. He had more lucrative offers elsewhere, but signed in Los Angeles because 1. he grew up an Angels fan and 2. it was an opportunity to compete for a playoff spot.
And while Drury’s signing garnered little buzz on a national level, he should help put the Angels in position to return to the postseason after a down 2022 season.
Nelson Cruz, San Diego Padres
Normally Nelson Cruz wouldn’t fly under the radar. But he’s coming off arguably his worst season offensively, prompting some observers to write off the 42-year-old who has a strong case for the Hall of Fame.
But Cruz can still be a useful player, both on the field (459 career home runs) and in the clubhouse, and the San Diego Padres signing him for one year, $1 million was the steal of the offseason.
Cruz had more lucrative offers elsewhere, according to sources, but elected to sign in San Diego because he wanted a chance to compete for a World Series ring. He has relationships with Juan Soto and Manny Machado. The Padres have long sought Cruz and coveted his leadership in the clubhouse, something that should have a positive impact on Fernando Tatis Jr. and other young players in the organization.
Tyler Anderson, Los Angeles Angels
Anderson signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on a one-year contract last offseason and it was mostly an afterthought. Anderson then turned it into a three-year, $39 million contract with the Angels this offseason.
And it feels like a steal.
Just look at the free-agent starting pitching market. deGrom got $185 million over five seasons. Carlos Rodon got $162 million over six seasons. Taijuan Walker got $72 million over four seasons. Zach Eflin got $40 million over three seasons. And Chris Bassitt and Nathan Eovaldi, two other starting pitchers who got the qualifying offer, both got annual average values well above what Anderson got (Bassitt: $63 million over three seasons; Eovaldi: $34 million over two years with an option for a third season).
At the time of the signing, some baseball executives and agents thought that Anderson left money on the table. It turns out that he did. And the Angels got a rare strong value in what was the most lucrative offseason for free-agent starting pitchers in recent memory.