Winter Meetings Day 3: Rule 5 draft, Judge returns to Yankees (Nats select Ward)

It’s hard to believe, but we’re already at the last full day of the Winter Meetings. The Rule 5 draft is the last event of the week and marks the end of baseball’s biggest offseason gathering.

In years past, the Rule 5 draft has been held on the Thursday morning of the Winter Meetings. But they bumped it up to Wednesday afternoon this year, meaning there probably won’t be a whole lot of commotion tomorrow morning before everyone leaves for the airport.

The Nationals are expected to make their first pick in the Rule 5 draft in 12 years with the No. 1 overall pick later today. Thanks to a decade of success, they didn’t feel the need to use a spot on their active roster on a fringe major league player.

Mark Zuckerman had a preview of the Rule 5 draft this morning and check back for the selection later today.

Elsewhere in the baseball world, the big news earlier this morning was Aaron Judge agreeing to return to the Yankees on a nine-year, $360 million deal, multiple outlets confirmed.

The reigning American League MVP was thought to be close to a deal with San Francisco, and it was reported that his final decision came down to the Giants, Padres and Yankees. He reportedly flew into San Diego to make his decision and chose the Yankees after they bumped their offer at the last minute.

Judge bet on himself this year, and after hitting an AL-record 62 home runs, he won by receiving the largest free agent contract in major league history, topping Bryce Harper’s $330 million record. The $40 million average annual value is also a new record among position players, trailing only the $43.33 million AAVs of Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander — both of whom are on short-term deals — for the largest in big league history.

After weeks of speculation, Judge returns to the Pinstripes, where he is expected to also be named the team’s first captain since Derek Jeter.

In other free agency news late last night, Judge’s former Yankees teammate Jameson Taillon agreed to a four-year, $68 million deal with the Cubs. And the Phillies were at it again, finalizing a two-year, $15 million contract with lefty reliever Matt Strahm.

The National League East news carried over into this morning as left-handed starter José Quintana reached an agreement with the Mets on a two-year, $26 million contract.

And moments ago, it was reported that right-handed reliever Kenley Jansen is in agreement on a two-year, $32 million contract with the Red Sox.

Check back with this post throughout the day for more updates as news continues to trickle out of the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego.

Update: The Cardinals are close to sealing a five-year, $87.5 million deal with catcher Willson Contreras. The longtime Cubs backstop will stay in the NL Central and play for their rivals.

The 30-year-old was projected to land a four-year, $84 million deal by MLB Trade Rumors. The Athletic was first to report the two sides are close.

Contreras would be the Cardinals’ long-term replacement for future Hall of Famer Yadier Molina, who retired after a 19-year major league career in St. Louis.

Infielder Aledmys Díaz is reportedly in agreement on a two-year deal with the Athletics in the $14 million range. The 32-year-old is coming off a World Series title with the Astros.

The New York Post was the first to report the deal.

Update II: The Nats selected right-hander Thad Ward from the Red Sox with the No. 1 overall pick in the Rule 5 draft. The 25-year-old is Boston's 15th ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline.

Ward will be 26 next month. He was a 2018 fifth-round pick out of Central Florida and was Boston's minor league pitcher of the year in 2019.
 
He had Tommy John surgery in 2021 and was able to make 13 starts this season across four affiliates for a collective 2.28 ERA.
 
The Nationals passed in the second round of the Rule 5 draft and did not lose any unprotected players.
 
They did lose Josh Palacios to the Pirates in the second round of the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.

The Nats claimed Palacios from the Blue Jays in April. He appeared in 29 games and hit .219 with two doubles, two RBIs and one stolen base. He was outrighted to Harrisburg last week.

Nats take flyer on Red Sox righty Ward in Rule 5 d...
Nats poised to make first Rule 5 draft pick in 12 ...
 

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