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Free Agency Frenzy: Who Went Where and For How Much?

The Free Agent Storm is upon us and it’s been wild so far.

Max Scherzer by All-Pro Reels is licensed under CC BY SA-2.0

Free Agency Frenzy: Who Went Where and For How Much?

Estimated Reading Time: 17 Minutes

Hot Stove season got started early this year as free agents looked to lock in deals ahead of a potential lockout due to the upcoming CBA negotiations. And while all of us were ready for a whirlwind of a weekend, the hurricane that made landfall instead threw all of us. And while we all managed to hold on to our own weathervanes and ride out the storm, it’s time to survey the damage.

And who better to do that than out two greatest baseball minds, Terry “Sox in Six” Cudmore (TC), Katie “Gettin’ Miggy With It” Pierce (KP) and Justin “Blake Snell Denier” Colombo (JC), to give you all the insight you need. Here’s what you might have missed in the Free Agency Storm of a lifetime.

Player: Marcus Semien – Second Baseman, 31 years old

Team: Texas Rangers

Contract: Seven years / $175 million 

  • Past Career/Last Year Highlights
  • 28.7 Career WAR
  • 3rd MVP Finish in 2019 and 2021
  • 1x All-Star (2021)
  • 45 HR and .265/.334/.538 slash in 2021

Texas Rangers’ Recent History: 60-102 in 2021, 5th place in AL West

Last winning season:  2016 (95-67)

Turf Analysis – Grade = B-

Last offseason, DJ LeMahieu signed a six-year, $90 million contract to return to the Yankees. At that time, LeMahieu was coming off his two best seasons and had 25 career WAR.

Semien is a year younger than LeMahieu was and has 28.7 career WAR. He’s also coming off his 2nd best season and only All-Star appearance.

Is that worth another year and an extra $85 million in his contract? Ehhhhhhhhh.

Semien is a superior defensive player than LeMahieu (Gold Gloves notwithstanding), and his offensive stats can’t be written off because he played seven seasons in Coors Field.

It’s still A LOT of money and a LONG time to commit to a second baseman exiting his prime. Dustin Pedroia had 42 career WAR after his 30-year-old season. He only played 361 more games in his career.

Now Pedroia had an unfortunate series of injuries and Semien could be lucky enough to stay healthy for most, if not all, of this contract. He didn’t miss a game in 2019, nor in 2021. But there’s a substantial risk here for a franchise that can’t just disregard a free-agent signing disaster like the Yankees.

If this doesn’t work, the Rangers will feel the effect for the full seven years of this deal.

(Side note: Why didn’t the A’s trade Semien after 2019? He finished 3rd in MVP voting and had an 8.4 WAR season. He had one year left on his deal and was clearly not going to be resigned. I’m shocked Brad Pitt let this happen.)

Player:  Max Scherzer – Starting Pitcher, 37 years old

Team: The New York Mets

Contract:  Three years / $130 million

Past Career/Last Year Highlights:

  • 8x All-Star Selection
  • 2019 World Series Champion
  • 3x Cy Young Winner (2013, 2016, 2016)
  • 0.864 WHIP in 2021, leading MLB pitchers
  • 7-0 after being traded to the Dodgers at the 2021 Deadline
  • Future Hall of Famer

Mets Recent History: 77-85 in 2021, 3rd place in NL East

Last winning season: 2019 (86-76)

Turf Analysis – Grade = A-

You know those video game deals where you sign a guy for an astronomical amount of money that doesn’t exist in the real world just because you can? That’s this deal right here. This signing is nothing short of miraculous for both sides.

In all honesty, it just seemed like Max Scherzer hated the New York Mets, or at least he pitched against them with that malice in his heart. Lest we forget that in the year the Mets went to the World Series, Max Scherzer no-hit them at Citi Field. Max Scherzer has as many no-hitters thrown at Citi Field as the entire Mets franchise. That’s what he’s bringing to Queens.

But truthfully, this deal probably doesn’t happen unless a few other dominoes fall. It all starts with Noah Syndergaard, who seemed a lock to accept the Mets qualifying offer. Instead, Thor took his hammer and left for the Los Angeles Angeles, receiving a 1-year, $21 million deal to play for the Halos.

Shocking, to say the least. However, Syndergaard cited the team’s uncertain future as the main reason for his departure, which is fair, considering the team had no GM or Manager at the time.

So, the Mets turned their sights on another former member of the “Four Horsemen of Queens” as Steven Matz was ready to leave Toronto. And despite the Mets $44 million over four-year offer, Matz’s agent reportedly called the Cardinals and signed with them instead. This made Mets owner Steve Cohen so mad that he did a mean tweet.

Some cutthroat stuff right there. So the Mets moved on to their next target: Kevin Gausman. To keep this story short and get back to Mad Max, Gausman took less money to not play for the Mets, instead opting for a 5-year deal worth $110 million to pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.

With Syndergaard out the door, Matz stiffing the Mets, and Gausman opting to take a pay cut not to wear orange and blue, one has to imagine that the Mets threw up their hands and said, “Screw it. Give Max all the money we were going to give Syndergaard, Matz, and Gausman.” That’s what this deal is.

Here’s a scientific fact: Max Scherzer is one of the best pitchers on the planet. It also happens that Max Scherzer is 37 years old and signed a three-year deal worth $130 million, the highest average annual value for a contract in baseball history. And you know what? He’s worth it. The Los Angeles Dodgers gave up half of their farm system for half a season of Scherzer, and the Nationals backed up the Brinks truck to bring him to Washington back in 2015.

Max Scherzer is the three-time Cy Young winner and almost won his fourth in 2021. There’s a lot left in Max, and frankly, it’s the fight he brings to the mound in each of his starts that the Mets need. Too long have the Mets trotted out a lineup of apathetic hustle. When things were good in Queens, the Mets had grinders, true gamers who were foaming at the mouth to get on the diamond.

Matt Harvey demanding to pitch the ninth inning of Game 5 in the 2015 World Series? Scherzer does that in June. Brining Scherse to Queens is a generational signing. It puts the Mets back in the conversation of the NL East divisional crown and possibly even in the hunt to win it all. This signing is a gamechanger for the New York Mets. Full stop. – JC

Player: Javy Báez – Shortstop, 29 years old

Team: Detroit Tigers

Contract: 6 years/ $140 Million

Past Career/Last Year Highlights

  • #9 overall pick in 2011 MLB Draft by the Cubs
  • 2016 World Series winner and NLCS MVP
  • 2X All-Star
  • 31 HR’s, 80 Runs, 87 RBI, .813 OPS in 2021 (with Mets)

Detroit Tigers Recent History: 77-85 in 2021, 3rd place in AL Central

Last Post-Season Appearance: 2014

Turf Analysis – Grade – B +

Ok Tigers Twitter, you can finally exhale. Your long-suffering saga of which free-agent shortstop will Chris Ilitch fork over $300 million dollars for, has finally ended. You may not have eaten enough Hot’n’Readys or Crazy Calzones for Chris to feel like he could break the bank to get Carlos Correa, but your efforts were not completely unnoticed. And that money went to a good cause, because the Tigers are signing Javy Báez to a 6-year/140 million dollar deal.

After a season that surprised both Tigers fans and most everyone else in terms of what they were able to achieve. Albeit a sub .500 record in a sub-par AL Central isn’t awful, there was one glaring weak spot and that was right up the gap. So sure, you can feel disappointed that there won’t be an AJ Hinch/Correa re-coupling in Detroit, but it’s not like the market wasn’t saturated with above-average middle infielders. Or at least the quality of player needed to fix what was Detroit’s weakest position defensively. And that’s putting it mildly.

In a year where the Tigers had a platoon of Zack Short, Niko Goodrum, and the dueling Castros (Harold and Willi) they had MLB’s 3rd-worst defensive runs saved at -16. On the other end of the spectrum, in his career, Javy Báez has 44 Defensive Runs Saved, good enough for ninth all-time. So yeah, I’d say it’s an improvement.

The position is rarely known for its offensive prowess, but Javy has previously won a Silver Slugger award in 2018, in addition to appearing in the Home Run Derby that same year. It will be harder for him to put up big home run numbers like the 31 he had last year with the Mets and Cubs, when he comes to the “unfriendly” hitters conditions at Comerica Park. But as long as he avoids dead center he should be ok. The other thing he hopefully avoids is a high strike-out rate that seems to plague him.

As far as defensively, you can’t want for much more than Báez. A Gold Glove winner in 2020, Javy is really a steal for what Chris Ilitch and the Tiger’s front office were willing to shell out, considering both the length and value of his contract. The flashiest shortstop the Tigers have had in the last decade was Jose Iglesias, and Báez will bring some of that leather flash back to Detroit’s infield. After a few incredible plays, it’s likely that Tigers fans won’t be soured too long about not going after Correa. Not to mention, Báez can fill in at 2B when Jonathan Schoop covers first for Miguel Cabrera. At 29, he is the first piece of a steady and dynamic duo up the middle that Detroit hasn’t seen since the likes of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. – KP

Player: Corey Seager – Shortstop, 27 years old

Team: Texas Rangers

Contract: 10 years / $325 million 

Past Career/Last Year Highlights

  • #18 overall pick in 2012 MLB Draft
  • 21.3 Career WAR
  • 2016 Rookie of the Year
  • 2020 World Series & NCLS MVP
  • 2x All-Star
  • 16 HR and .306/.394/.521 slash in 2021 (95 games)

Texas Rangers’ Recent History: 60-102 in 2021, 5th place in AL West

Last winning season: 2016 (95-67)

Turf Analysis – Grade = C

Corey Seager is a very good baseball player (when he is on the field) and he should agree to whatever contract he feels is the best situation for him.

Ok, that’s out of the way? Great.

Texas, what are we doing here? I saw this movie before in 2000 and the ending was worse for Rangers fans than how “The Sixth Sense” worked out for Bruce Willis.

The big difference there was Texas overextended themselves financially for a once-in-a-generation type talent in Alex Rodriguez. A-Rod signed with the Rangers as a 25-year-old 4-time All-Star with 38.1 career WAR.

Seager is three years older and has nearly 17 fewer career WAR, and has 85 fewer career HR than A-Rod had before he got to Arlington. And Seager signed for a deal that’s nearly in-line with A-Rod’s even with the 20+ years of inflation!

Defense is also a factor as Seager is largely an average defender at a premium defensive position. You want to splurge on a player who is an offensive force that handles a cornerstone spot? Go for it! You want to pay an above-average offensive player who is adequate at SS like he’s an MVP player? I have concerns.

A-Rod also was largely healthy for his pre-Texas run while Seager missed almost all of 2018 and needed Tommy John surgery. Seager also missed nearly half of last season with an injury as well.

Again, Seager should get every single dollar offered to him. But the Rangers should know doing the same thing again and expecting different results is not a best practice.

Player: Starling Marte – Outfield, 32 years old

Contract: Four years / $78 million

Past Career/Last Year Highlights:

  • 2016 NL All-Star Selection
  • 2x Gold Glove Winner
  • 2021 MLB Stolen Base Leader
  • Hit .310 in 2021, staying above .300 with the Marlins and the Athletics

Mets Recent History: 77-85 in 2021, 3rd place in NL East

Last winning season: 2019 (86-76)

Turf Analysis – Grade = B

The Mets had an outfield problem. With Michael Conforto in right, a very fragile Brandon Nimmo in center, and a left-field carousel of warm bodies with gloves, as the Mets cobbled together an outfield. It wasn’t pretty. What once held the promise of being a stellar outfield of Cespedes, Nimmo, and Conforto quickly shifted to McNeil, Almora Jr, and Johneshwy Fargas. With Cespedes ghosting the team in 2020 and Conforto declining his qualifying offer this offseason, the Mets had the chance to rebuild, and they did just that.

Signing Mark Canha solidified left field and signaled an end to the Dom Smith/Jeff McNeill experiment. Canha’s a solid left fielder who brings a solid bat and decent speed to Queens. But his arrival didn’t signal a solution to the Mets issues. If Conforto signs elsewhere, the Mets still had a hole in right field.

Well, not if they sign a centerfielder.

Starling Marte has been one of the premier outfielders in the majors for the last half-decade. However, you might not have known it, considering who Marte played for previously. Being stuck on the Pirates, Diamondbacks and Marlins can slow other players down, but not Marte. In his career, Marte has only hit below .280 in two seasons, and in 2021 he finished with a .310 average. But his best asset in the last season was his ability to steal bases with ease. While leading the entire league with 47 stolen bases, Marte’s true mastery shines through his caught stealing numbers, as he was only caught five times.

And while Marte has split time evenly throughout his career in center and left, there’s no denying he has all the tools to hold down center for the Mets. And now the Mets outfield has solidified, and despite all the odds, they’ve been able to upgrade in two significant ways.

Now the only downside to this deal is the length. The Mets have locked up Marte for his mid-30s, which could see his speed and ability to play centerfield diminish over time. This is still a bit of a long-term gamble for the Metropolitans, but after years of gambles like Jason Vargas and Robinson Cano, this one feels smaller.

Player: Kevin Gausman – Starting Pitcher, 31 years old

Team: Toronto Blue Jays

Contract: Five years / $110 million 

Past Career/Last Year Highlights

  • #4 overall pick in 2012 MLB Draft
  • 17.1 Career WAR
  • 6th Cy Young Finish in 2021
  • 1x All-Star (2021)
  • 14-6, 2.81 ERA and 227 K in 2021

Toronto Blue Jays’ Recent History: 91-71 in 2021, 4th place in AL East

Only made postseason once in last five seasons (2020)

Turf Analysis – Grade = B

This is simply the cost of doing business. If you need to fill holes at the top of your rotation in free agency then you need to spend top dollar to do it. The Blue Jays rose to the occasion here to secure Gausman pitching every fifth day for them.

Gausman has the pedigree (#4 pick) and recent success in 2021 to make Toronto feel like they’re buying high on a pitcher who has finally figured it out. And to be fair, it can take pitchers much longer than their positional brethren to reach their full potential.

Here’s the thing though, he’s 18-20 in his career vs. the Red Sox/Yankees/Rays with an ERA over 4.00. Sure, he’s 6-3 all-time vs. Toronto but he now pitches for the Blue Jays.

The Gausman signing will also forever be compared to Robbie Ray’s 5-year, $115 million deal with the Seattle Marines. Ray won the Cy Young in 2021 with the Blue Jays and the Toronto front office felt Gausman was the safer play moving forward.

A key harbinger for the two pitchers’ future success could be their walk rate. Ray has walked 3.9 batters per 9 innings in his career, while Gausman has only walked 2.6. There’s no guarantee this will translate into who is the better long-term investment, but it’s always good to have pitchers who minimize free baserunners.

Robbie Ray – Starting Pitcher, 30 years old

Team: Seattle Mariners

Contract: 5 years, $115 million

Past Career/Last Year Highlights

  • 2017 NL All-Star Selection
  • 2021 AL Cy Young Winner
  • 2021 MLB Strikeout Leader (248 Ks)
  • All-time MLB Leader for K/9

Seattle Mariners’ Recent History: 90-72, 2nd in the AL West.

Last postseason appearance was 2001. That’s over two decades ago. Not great.

Turf Analysis – Grade = B

Robbie Ray has been a solid arm in every rotation he’s pitched in, but 2021 was something else. After resigning with the Blue Jays for another season after 2020, Ray turned on the jets and pitched his way to a well-deserved Cy Young award. The timing seemed perfect for him to score a big contract.

And yet, Robbie Ray signed with the Seattle Mariners for 5-years and $115 million, the same deal that the Blue Jays gave to Kevin Gausman hours before. That’s a bit shocking, considering the year he’s coming off. And it’s also interesting considering that statistically, no one has ever struck out more hitters per nine innings than Robbie Ray.

There’s also the fact that Ray just turned 30 and probably could’ve gotten a longer deal. So why settle for Seattle? In a word: opportunity.

Seattle is smack dab in the middle of a generational shift. Coming out of the rebuild that followed the Felix Hernandez years, the Mariners should be two to three years out from being competitive. And yet, with a young roster of talent, and more on the way from their farm system, the Mariners made a valid push for the second AL Wild Card and could’ve possibly grabbed the AL West crown from the Astros.

Yes, they’re very much was a piece of their postseason push that felt otherworldly and magical, but you cannot deny that this team is stacked with talent. And yet, we haven’t even scratched the surface, especially with Seattle’s pitching staff. That’s where Ray’s perfect fit is, as the young ace of a youthful rotation.

This is a fantastic signing for Seattle. It doesn’t break the bank, and it doesn’t detract from their rebuild plan. This team is ready for the next chapter of Pacific Northwest weirdness, and Robbie Ray is prepared to captain their ship. But will he be able to replicate the success he had in 2021? Only time will tell.

Player: Justin Verlander – Starting Pitcher, 39 years old

Team: Houston Astros

Contract: One year / $25 million (w/ a $25 million player option for 2023)

Past Career/Last Year Highlights

  • #2 overall pick in 2004 MLB Draft
  • 72.2 Career WAR
  • 2006 Rookie of the Year
  • 2011 MVP
  • 2017 ALCS MVP
  • 2x Cy Young winner (2011 & 2019)
  • 8x All-Star
  • 21-6, 2.58 ERA and 300 K in 2019
  • Only made 1 start in 2020 and missed all of 2021

Houston Astros’ Recent History: 95-67 in 2021, lost World Series to Atlanta Braves (4-2)

Made postseason five straight seasons

Won World Series in 2017 (ASTERISK!!!!!)

Turf Analysis – Grade = B

This would be an A+ without the player option for 2023 but it’s clear that was needed to bring Verlander back to Houston. Are the Astros paying for past success a bit with this deal? Undoubtedly.

Houston is coming off a World Series loss and is likely to lose star shortstop Carlos Correa during this offseason. A Verlander reunion strangely might be the most fiscally responsible decision they can make to offset any fan disappointment.

There’s also the potential for Verlander’s final season with Houston to have some historic moments. He needs 359 strikeouts to pass Greg Maddux for 10th all-time, 21 wins to pass Bartolo Colon for 50th all-time, and 269 innings pitched to pass Kevin Brown for 100th all-time.

I’m not one for spectacle, but if this could be in the same game then it’s only fitting the opposing team signs Colon for the game so he can bat vs. Verlander.

The Astros made it to the World Series last season without a true ace and saw great performances from a core of young/ascending starters. Adding Verlander back into that mix should keep this team in contention for at least two more seasons.

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