Well, that was fun while it lasted.
Major League Baseball went into the ninth work stoppage in its history at midnight on Dec. 2, 2021, locking out its players after failing to come to terms with a new collective bargaining agreement. This has been a long time coming, as players and owners have not been on the same page on a variety of issues for a period of time.
However, before the lockout went into effect, many exciting trades and free agent signings occurred. Traditionally, December is the month in which many of the top transactions take place. But with the lockout being more inevitable by the day, teams hurried up and spent a total of $1.7 billion on free agent contracts in November alone. Here we are going to take a look at some of the big moves made in free agency ahead of the lockout and how the moves will ultimately pan out for each team.
In one of the biggest moves of the offseason, the New York Mets signed starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a three-year, $130 million contract, with an opt-out clause after the second year. As a long-suffering Mets fan, this is the most excited I have ever been about a free agent signing. Not only am I ecstatic about Scherzer teaming up with fellow All-star Jacob deGrom to form a dominating one-two punch at the top of the starting rotation, but it’s about what he brings to the table.
A 2019 World Series Champion, eight-time all-star, and three-time Cy Young Award winner, Scherzer is about as accomplished as you can expect. And not to mention that he threw two-hitters in one season, in which one was against the Mets as a member of the rival Washington Nationals. Mets fans couldn’t stand going against this guy, and now realizing the fact that he will now be a Met after being known as a so-called “Met-killer” after all those years in Washington, I am fired up that he is on my team.
Yes, he is 37, but he still posted a 2.46 ERA through 30 starts, including a 1.98 ERA through his final 11 starts with the Dodgers. The Mets also didn’t give him a long-term contract, they gave him a very reasonable three-year contract while giving him $43 million is something that I am happy about. Steve Cohen, the Mets owner who bought the team last year, is sending a signal that the Mets are going to do things differently than they had done in the past. They will always find ways to improve the team to accomplish only one goal, and that is to bring the Commissioner’s trophy back to Flushing, N.Y. If deGrom and Scherzer can continue to pitch at their elite levels, the Mets should be in a prime position to succeed next October.
Additionally, the Texas Rangers signed infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to ten-year and seven-year contracts respectively. Seager signed for $325 million, and Semien for $175 million, both of which will solidify the Rangers’ middle infield for years to come. As much as this news may be exciting to some Rangers fans, I do not believe the Rangers are in as good of a position to contend in comparison to their AL West division foes.
Even though the Houston Astros seem poised to lose Carlos Correa to free agency, they still have a talented core and will be competitive. The Seattle Mariners are on the rise, the Los Angeles Angels could make a lot of noise next season if they continue to improve their starting pitching around superstars Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout, and the Oakland Athletics always seem to find ways to be competitive with their limited budget. Seager and Semien have proven themselves to be fantastic players, with both having made the all-star game and having won Silver Slugger awards at some point in their careers, but the Rangers had one of the worst records in the league last season, finishing 60-102.
Yes, they have a lot of financial flexibility to spend this offseason, but they are in a strange place. The Rangers have not been to the playoffs since 2016, and I feel like every season they position themselves to be in a win-now spot, hoping that they can replicate the magic in the early 2010s, in which they had won back-to-back AL pennants.
Now, their solutions are Seager, Semien and Jon Gray, a former Colorado Rockies pitcher for whom they signed for $56 million for four years. If the Rangers have a solid plan in place to build the team around these players with young and fresh talent, then I do not have a problem with that. If the Rangers are making these moves to win now as they did before, I think they will be stuck in mediocrity for the foreseeable future.
Another big move saw the Detroit Tigers signing Javier Baez to a six-year, $140 million contract with an opt-out clause. This loss won’t help the Mets, whom they acquired at the trade deadline last year, but this is a huge move for the Tigers. I was a little surprised that they did not sign Carlos Correa, who once played and won a World Series with manager AJ Hinch during their time in Houston. However, this move is fantastic for the Tigers for many reasons.
First, they are coming out of a painful, full-scale rebuild, with many of their top prospects graduating to the major leagues or will do so in the short-time future. Baez also brings much-needed new leadership to the club. He is a proven player, making the all-star game twice, winning at least one gold glove and silver slugger award, and winning the 2016 World Series as a member of the Chicago Cubs. Another reason for the validity of this pickup is because the Tigers’ longest-tenured player, Miguel Cabrera, is at the twilight of his career with his contract expiring after the 2023 season. With a young team on the rise, Baez brings experience that can help younger players such as Spencer Torkleson and Jeimer Candelario develop. Shortstop was Detroit’s biggest need, both in the short-term and the long-term, and they got their man in Baez. Also, the contract is reasonable, paying him around $23 million per year, which is more adequate than other contracts signed in baseball in recent years.
The Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs improved their starting rotations before the beginning of the lockout as well, signing Robbie Ray, Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman respectively. Ray signed for five years $115 million, Gausman signed for five years and $110 million and Stroman signed for three years and $71 million. All of the contracts are signed in the $22-23 million range, with the only difference in the contracts being Stroman’s by two years.
Ray heads to Seattle to improve a Mariners rotation that could definitely use some more experience, with their top two pitchers who led the team in starts last season were Chris Flexen and Yusei Kikuchi, who remains a free agent. They also have a young wave of pitchers including Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn who will be counted on as future members of the rotation.
Gausman replaces Ray in Toronto as a member of the Blue Jays, and he is coming off of a career season with the Giants, making the all-star team for the second time and finishing with a 14-6 record and a 2.81 ERA in 192 innings pitched. He joins Hyun Jin Ryu and young pitchers such as Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson in helping a promising Blue Jays team return to the playoffs after falling just short last season.
Stroman joins the Cubs on a short-term contract, but this move, in my opinion, seems puzzling. The Cubs dismantled their core from the 2016 World Series last summer, trading stars such as Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, and Anthony Rizzo away to signal the start of a rebuild. Yes, Stroman is good, finishing with a 3.02 ERA in 179 last season, and he is a great addition to any rotation. But the problem is that the Cubs like I was saying about the Rangers earlier, do not appear to be committed to a plan moving forward.
I expect this move to be the start of the Cubs being aggressive in free agency, adding some more free agents in hopes of being competitive next season, or a move that will see Stroman being traded in one or two years to help the Cubs receive some top prospects in return. If this move is all the Cubs do all off-season, then it will put the team in an uncomfortable position.