Pre-Lockout MLB Free Agency Recap

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The MLB owners and MLBPA had until 11:59 PM on December 1 to come to terms on a new CBA to avoid a work stoppage, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. The work stoppage has seemed imminent for years, as we’ve seen the conflicting interests of the MLB and MLBPA result in a 60-game 2020 season with a different set of rules.

Once the lockout begins, there is likely going to be a freeze on transactions, so many players and teams are looking to make deals while they still can. The new CBA could change the structure of free agency, so some players want to capitalize on the current system while they can. So far, top free agents like Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, and Marcus Semien have all accepted massive contracts. All in all, over $1.5 billion has already been spent on free agents this offseason.

Rangers Headline Free Agency Early

The Texas Rangers went into the offseason with an intent to buy, despite winning just 60 games and finishing in last place in the AL West in 2021. They shocked much of the baseball world by signing former Blue Jays second baseman Marcus Semien to a seven-year deal worth $175 million on November 28th. Reports surfaced that they were still interested in shortstop Trevor Story, but they went even bigger than that, signing Corey Seager to a 10-year, $325 million deal on November 29th.

Their new middle infield is worth half-a-billion dollars, but they now have two stalwarts that will be in the lineup every day for the better part of the 2020s. Their moves have been met with criticism as they’re just entering their rebuild, but many of their prospects should be MLB ready by 2023 when Semien and Seager will be just 32 and 29, respectively.

The Rangers also added Jon Gray to their pitching staff, which consists of young arms like Dane Dunning and Spencer Howard. They still have an opportunity to add more starting pitching, whether through a trade for Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray or signing Carlos Rodon or Clayton Kershaw. Their second overall pick Jack Leiter should make his debut within the next two years as well, while top prospects Sam Huff, Cole Winn, and Josh Jung should all be up next season.

Mets Make a Splash

The New York Mets entered their first full offseason with Steve Cohen as owner, and he surely held up his promise to spend on his team. After trading for and extending Francisco Lindor last offseason, the Mets spent willingly in the early phases of 2021-22 free agency.

Although they let Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman go, they replaced them with Max Scherzer, another top-5 pitcher in baseball to pair with Jacob deGrom. Scherzer’s deal set the record for the highest AAV (average annual value) of all time, coming in at 43.3M a year for the next three seasons. The overall value of his contract is $130 million and takes him through his age-39 season. Since 2013, Scherzer has put up a 2.82 ERA, 2.85 FIP, and 2.90 SIERA in 1732.0, while being an all-star every year and finishing top-5 in Cy Young voting eight times and winning three times.

Their other massive splash made by New York was to bring in all-star center fielder Starling Marte. Marte had the best season of his career in 2021, as he put up career highs in wRC+ (134), BsR (12.3), wOBA (.364), xwOBA (.347), OBP (.383), fWAR (5.5), and tying his career-high with 47 SB. The contract guarantees him $78 million over the next four seasons, which has been met with some criticism due to his age. Though Marte relies on his speed, he’s making under $20M a year and will still be one of the best baserunners in baseball over the next couple of years, while locking down one of the top two spots in the lineup with his .383 OBP.

The Mets also signed Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar to two-year contracts to fill in the gaps in their starting lineup, though they’re both slight downgrades from Michael Conforto and Javier Baez. Canha doesn’t slug much anymore, but still got on base at a .358 clip in 2021 and finished the year with a 115 wRC+ and 2 OAA. Eduardo Escobar was an all-star in 2021, putting up a 107 wRC+ while slugging .472 and hitting 28 homers.

Starting Pitchers Sign Big Deals

The Toronto Blue Jays brought in Kevin Gausman on a five-year, $110 million deal while letting Cy Young Award winner walk. Ray won the Cy Young, but Gausman actually had a better overall season in 2021, throwing 192.0 innings with a 2.81 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, and 3.42 SIERA. The 30-year-old former Giant Gausman joins a rotation that includes Jose Berrios, who the Jays recently extended for seven years, Alek Manoah, and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Gausman is a slight upgrade from Ray who projects slightly better and costs ever-so-slightly less, making this a great move for Toronto.

The aforementioned Robbie Ray joined the Seattle Mariners on a five-year, $115 million deal on November 30th. Ray will immediately become the ace of a rotation that includes Logan Gilbert, Marco Gonzales, and Chris Flexen in the AL West, which profiles as a very competitive division in 2022. Ray had the best season of his career in 2021, putting up a 2.84 ERA, 3.69 FIP, and 3.21 SIERA. Ray’s issue his whole career has been his walks, but he lowered his walk rate from 17.9% in 2021 to 6.7% this year. If Ray can continue to limit the free passes, he should remain among the best pitchers in baseball. At just $23M a year, he could be a bargain for Seattle.

The last big free agent signing before the lockout was made by the rebuilding Chicago Cubs, who signed Marcus Stroman to a 3-year, $71 million contract. Stroman’s deal will pay him $25M a year for the first two seasons, then he has a player option worth $21M for 2024. Though the deal seems to be designed for him to be traded to a contender, Stroman fits well with the Cubs’ strong defensive infield. Stroman added a splitter in 2021, and had the best year of his career, finishing with a 3.02 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and 3.95 SIERA.

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Tigers Get Their Shortstop

The Tigers were in on Carlos Correa but settled for former Cubs and Mets shortstop Javier Baez on a six-year, 140 million dollar contract. Baez, who was traded at the deadline, put up a 116 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR in 2021. In 47 games for New York, he had a 143 wRC+ and 1.7 fWAR. He may not be the player he was when he was an MVP candidate for the Cubs in 2018, but he’s still one of the most electrifying players in baseball who joins a young team in the later stages of their rebuild. It’s a great fit for Baez and the Tigers, who will be in Detroit through his age-34 season.

Giants Run it Back

The San Francisco Giants won 107 games and the NL West division title in 2021, and have made it a priority to bring their guys back for 2022. Even with their star catcher Buster Posey retiring, the Giants look very similar to their 2021 form after bringing back Brandon Belt, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Wood. They also brought in Alex Cobb as a cheaper replacement for Kevin Gausman, who has been their ace for the last two years. Last year for Anaheim, Cobb had a 3.76 ERA, 2.92 FIP, 3.83 SIERA, and 24.9% K% in 93.1 innings. Kris Bryant likely won’t be back, but the Giants have plenty of money to spend and will almost surely bolster their roster after the CBA is agreed upon.

Marlins Make Moves

The Miami Marlins shocked the world by making it to the NLDS in 2020 but struggled to back up their great season in 2021. New general manager Kim Ng has been very active in the first few months of her tenure, dealing for Jacob Stallings, extending Sandy Alcantara, and signing Avisail Garica. Stallings is one of the best defensive catchers in the league and will help guide their young pitching staff, while Garcia adds an impact bat to their lineup. As for Alcantara, his 5-year, $56M extension is one of the best moves of the offseason, as Miami locks up their ace until 2026 (with a 2027 club option).

Remaining Free Agents

Despite all of the free-agent frenzy so far, there’s still plenty of talent still available. Most of the starting pitching market has dried up, but lefties Carlos Rodon, Clayton Kershaw, and Yusei Kikuchi and still out there. For teams in need of infield help, Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, and Trevor Story are all still free agents. The outfield market was never as impressive, but Nick Castellanos and Michael Conforto could be impact bats for any team.

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