MLB

MLB free agency winners and losers: Which teams were productive ahead of baseball’s lockout?

Shortly after midnight on Thursday, MLB owners locked out the players. Baseball’s ninth-ever work stoppage means that hot stove activity will come to a halt. The lockout led to a very — very — busy few days though, particularly in free agency. At the moment 25 of the top 50 free agents have signed, including five of the top eight.

With that in mind, let’s declare some winners and losers for the pre-lockout free agent rush, shall we?

Winners

The Mets. Steve Cohen’s team completely flipped the narrative on their offseason in the span of 72 hours or so. The conversation the last few weeks centered around their inability to get qualified candidates to interview for their president of baseball operations job. Now we’re all talking about a huge free agent spending spree that added Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar, and Starling Marte to the lineup, and paired Jacob deGrom with Max Scherzer. The Mets aren’t done (they still need bullpen help and a back-end depth starter), though over the last few days, they’re a clear winner.

Max Scherzer. Three years and $130 million. That’s quite the contract. At $43.3 million, Scherzer obliterated Gerrit Cole’s $36 million average annual value record (among all players, not just pitchers), and keep in mind Scherzer is a high-ranking board member in the MLB Players Association. He just moved the salary bar up for everyone else. That’s a win for the union and surely a point of pride for Scherzer. Bottom line, sign a contract that pays you $130 million across three years, and you’re a winner.

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The Rangers. Are they good enough to make the postseason in 2022? Probably not with that pitching staff, but the Rangers took steps — massive steps — to improve. They overhauled their middle infield with Marcus Semien and Corey Seager, and added the talented Jon Gray to the rotation. Texas has a recent track record of helping veteran pitchers level up (Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, Mike Minor, etc.) and I’m curious to see what they do with Gray. Why sign Semien and Seager now when you’re not ready to contend? Because they won’t be available next year, that’s why. The Rangers lost 102 games in 2021 and haven’t been to the postseason since 2016. It’s time to stop being a pushover and started taking those steps this past weekend.

Robbie Ray: A year ago Ray led baseball in walks (45 in 51 2/3 innings!) and had a 6.62 ERA, and had to settle for a one-year, $8 million “prove yourself” contract. Prove himself he did. Ray won the AL Cy Young award this season despite calling three different ballparks home and pitching in a division with three other 90-win teams, and he was rewarded with a five-year, $115 million contract with the ascendant Mariners. Shoutout to Semien here too. Like Ray, he signed a one-year “prove yourself” contract with the Blue Jays, had a monster season, and cashed in with an enormous contract. If these two aren’t winners, I don’t know who is.

Fans. Speaking as a fan, the last few days were the most exciting, most energizing free agent period in quite some time. There was a notable signing seemingly every hour, and much of the spending was done by teams that missed the postseason in 2021 (Mariners, Mets, Rangers, etc.). It wasn’t the usual suspects buying up all the top players. It was teams trying to get over the hump and be more competitive. I think an annual free agent signing deadline would be a terrible idea overall, but the artificial deadline set by the collective bargaining agreement’s imminent expiration made for a fun few days on the hot stove circuit.

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Losers

The Dodgers. Monday was very bad day for the Dodgers. Seager signed with the Rangers, Scherzer signed with the Mets, and oh by the way Max Muncy revealed he has a torn elbow ligament that isn’t healing as quickly as he hoped. A triple whammy of bad news. The good news is the Dodgers are still very, very good, and have plenty of time to upgrade their roster before spring training. The bad news is they just lost arguably their best hitter and pitcher, and one of their top remaining hitters has a questionable elbow. Tough few days for Los Angeles, for sure.

The Yankees. Anyone awake in the Bronx? With all due respect to the perfectly cromulent Joely Rodríguez, the Yankees haven’t added to their roster at all this offseason. They don’t have a shortstop, don’t have a No. 2 starter, and have questions at catcher and in center field. Yet the Yankees sat on the sidelines and not only watched most of the top free agents come off the board, but also watched the crosstown rival Mets make most of the headlines. One phone call and Carlos Correa is a Yankee and their offseason starts to look a lot better, but right now, woof. New York’s offseason has been indifferent, bordering on negligent.

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Other teams that sat out. Looking at you Astros, Giants, Red Sox, and White Sox. These teams are all contenders and yet they did made nothing more than minor additions (Houston signed Héctor Neris, the Giants added Alex Cobb, etc.) while the free agent market was as active as we’ve ever seen it. Other clubs deserve to be called out here as well (what are you doing, Phillies?), but contending teams should be held to a higher standard. At best, those clubs have maintained the status quo. In some cases they’ve actively gotten worse.


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