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The free agent market always throws up some oddities. Consider this 2022 comparison of two right-handed hitters who recently reached changed teams as if they were traded for each other.

Player A: Age 38, 13 HRs, 116 OPS+, 532 PAs

Player B: Age 35, 16 HRs, 117 OPS+, 596 PAs

Player A is Justin Turner, who has agreed to a two-year, $21.7 million contract with the Red Sox. Player B is JD Martinez, who has agreed to terms with the Dodgers on a one-year deal worth $10 million.

How is it possible for Turner to be signed for more than twice as much as Martinez, given that both offer minimal defensive value at this stage of their respective careers?

Martinez’s agent, Scott Boras, pointed to the pitchers’ relationship with his former Red Sox teammate Mookie Betts and Dodgers hitting instructor Robert Van Scoyock, who helped Martinez revamp his swing after the 2013 season.

Martinez bought out not only less than Turner, but also Josh Bell (two years, $33 million), Michael Brantley (one year, $12 million) and Joey Gallo (one year, $11 million).

“(Dodgers president of baseball operations) Andrew Friedman and Mookie were like college coaches looking for a big recruit,” Boras said. “JD was fully aware of the recent signings and took $6-7 million below his value.

“He wanted to win and he wanted to (optimize his ability). He felt the Dodgers were the best team to help him achieve those goals. He made it clear to them that he has every intention of playing well and looking for his true value in the coming seasons.”

Race, Jace was on Brantley

On the day the Rays announced their signing of right-hander Zach Eflin, president of baseball operations Eric Neander, however, signaled interest in free agent Michael Brantley.

“I think for us, if we add one more player, it’s a comeback candidate or a breakout candidate, I don’t know how attractive it is to someone who has a lot more consistency to them and a recent record of success,” said Neander.

“Because I think that’s what this group probably needs the most, somebody who’s shown that and, frankly, for the younger players, can take the focus and the expectations off of them.”

As it turns out, the Rays were indeed chasing Brantley, who turns 36 on May 15 and is hitting .296 in 54 career postseason games. So did the Blue Jays, who also targeted Brantley the last time he was a free agent two years ago.

Brantley returned to the Astros that winter on a two-year, $32 million deal. This time, he agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with $4 million in incentives. The Astros are believed to be confident Brantley will pass his physical. In August, he underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder and missed the rest of the season.

Where are the trades?

Over the past few years, I have been among those complaining that too many teams are rebuilding, damaging the competitive integrity of the sport. Well, we can finally report progress on that front. In recent days, three baseball operations executives attributed the sluggish trade market to the number of clubs shying away from deals for veteran prospects as they try to build contending rosters.

“It’s the biggest dynamic in the game,” one executive said. “We cannot use our prospects to get players. With a couple of teams we could, but it is not enough. You need enough teams that have major league players. It’s definitely hanging things up, definitely.”

The new collective bargaining agreement introduced a draft lottery, but otherwise did not seem to go far enough to promote competition. However, one aspect of the CBA, the expansion of the postseason from 10 to 12 teams, gave clubs more incentive than expected. Two winning teams of the 90s, the Phillies and the Padres, reached the National League Championship Series.

The Reds, Pirates and A’s are the only teams truly in rebuilding mode, according to one executive. According to him, the nationalists do not behave like that. The trade market is so quiet that even Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto, one of the game’s leading dealmakers, couldn’t generate activity in the Winter Meetings. Dipoto said the Mariners made several calls to check on potential matches and received feedback from one club, but outside of those teams appeared to be focused on free agents.

The trade market will likely accelerate as the free agent pool dwindles. The biggest deal so far was the three-team, nine-player splurge that sent Sean Murphy from the A’s to the Braves and William Contreras from the Braves to the Braves.


Jorge Mateo (Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports)

Is Mateo of the Orioles moving?

The Orioles began receiving inquiries about Jorge Mateo almost immediately after the Cubs reached an agreement with Dansby Swanson, the last of the Big Four free agents at the position, according to major league sources.

The Twins, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers all lost positions on the open market. Mateo, entering his age-28 season, could be affordable and potentially attractive to interested clubs, a player whose value as an athletic outfielder and stolen base threat should only increase as the league imposes rotation restrictions, larger bases and options in 2023. rules: .

The Orioles like the idea of ​​pairing their right-handed hitting infielders, Mateo and Ramon Urias, with their left-handed hitting options in Gunnar Henderson and Adam Frazier. The extra depth at second, short and third will allow them to not only mix and match, but also give each player enough rest. Then the O’s will also have three middle infield prospects in Triple A in Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby. The team is bound to move some of its in-town players eventually.

Mateo, then, would seem expendable in the right deal. He ranked among the top five defenders in both runs defensed and batting average last short season, and is projected to make a relatively paltry $1.8 million over the first three years of his arbitration. The negative side. His adjusted OPS was 19 percent below league average last season, even though he led the American League with 35 stolen bases (in 44 attempts) and 13 home runs a pop.

Last in Conforto

Some teams looking at free agent quarterback Michael Conforto are concerned about his ability to throw at full strength, citing right shoulder surgery he underwent last April. If Conforto needs time at designated hitter, he could be less attractive to clubs looking to be more of a regular player.

Boras, however, said Conforto throws 150 feet, ahead of players who have just started preseason. The Rangers, who are looking to hit left field, are among the teams interested, along with the Mets and Blue Jays, according to major league sources.

Another left-handed option for those clubs. David Peralta, who at 35 is more than 5 1/2 years older than Conforto, but remains an above-average hitter with a reputation as a hitter.

In general, left-handed hitters are in less supply than in the past. Outside of Juan Soto, Peralta and Andrew Benintendi were the best to be traded at the deadline. One executive speculated that shortfall contributed to the Red Sox paying Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida $90 million.

Around the horn

• Padres general manager AJ Preller admitted he has received trade inquiries about infielder Kim Ha-Syong and center fielder Trent Grisham since the team added free agent Xander Bogaerts. Preller, however, doesn’t seem inclined to make any moves.

“With the signing of Bogaertner, our intention is to play together in this position group,” Preller said. “We like the flexibility and versatility it gives our team.”

• The Rangers, like the Orioles, boast a surplus of outfield prospects, giving them an opportunity to trade for veteran help at the deadline, if not sooner.

Ezequiel Duran, one of the infielders they acquired from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade, has been pitching well in the Dominican Winter League. Josh Smith, another player in the Gallo trade, could turn into a super-utility type, the Rangers’ version of Chris Taylor.

Also in the system. Second baseman Justin Foscue, 23, the 14th pick in the 2020 draft out of Mississippi State, and Luisangel Acuna, 20, the younger brother of Ronald Acuna Jr. According to MLB.com, Foscu and Luisangel Acuña are the team’s No. 5 and No. 7 prospects, respectively.

• The Brewers sent outfielder Esther Ruiz to the A’s so they could sign William Contreras from the Braves in a three-team Murphy trade. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see them move another young outfield player to step up.

Four of the Brewers’ top five in the MLB.com rankings are outfielders. Heading the list is 18-year-old Jackson Churio from Venezuela, who is virtually untouchable. Right behind him is Sal Frelick, the 15th pick in the 2021 draft and another player the Brewers are unlikely to move.

Interested teams may be better off going for the Brewers’ Nos. 3 and 5: Joey Wimmer, a 2020 fourth-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati, or Garrett Mitchell, the 20th pick that year.

• And finally, the Diamondbacks are looking for a right-handed hitter in trade discussions involving their left-handed hitting center fielder. They’ve also been involved in free agent running back Brandon Drury who fits their desired profile.

As always, one phone call can change everything. But no trade is expected until the new year.

(JD Martinez top photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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