Mike O’Brien ‘23
Chief Sports Editor
There’s an old saying that “money talks” and this adage holds true when it comes to baseball. Arguably the sport with the biggest cash flow around a league outside of European soccer, it’s not uncommon for stars to negotiate contracts of $100 million+ when free agency rolls around, and this is still the case even in the early window of 2021 free agency. Let’s take a look into which teams have made early splashes and which ones are lagging behind.
New York Mets — Winners
Although Mets fans may have been disappointed to miss the playoffs this past season under new owner Steve Cohen and his lofty expectations, the Amazins’ can party like it’s 1986 when it comes to their free agency signings so far. While it may have looked like their roster took a hit with SP Marcus Stroman walking in FA and Javier Baez leaving for Detroit, the Mets made big moves to their roster this past week, starting with the additions of Brewers All-Star 3B Eduardo Escobar (.268 BA and 25 RBI with the Brew Crew after batting .246 with 65 RBI with Arizona in 2021) and outfielder Starling Marte (who’s coming off a career year hitting .310 with the Athletics). These moves immediately bolster the Mets outfield and already strong infield, complimenting the likes of Francisco Lindor and Pete Alonso. The Mets have made the biggest move of the signing window so far, with the addition of generational talent Max Scherzer. Scherzer is set to make $130 million over the next three years; a deserved contract for the 2019 World Series champion who had another strong year in 2021 with the Dodgers (2.46 ERA, lower than his already low career ERA of 3.16). Paired with Jacob deGrom, these two could be the best pitching duo in the league; it’s safe to say that Uncle Stevie is committed to turning the Mets into true contenders.
Tampa Bay Rays — Winners
The Rays are notorious for their “moneyball” approach to baseball, often having one of the lowest payrolls in the league while still being competitive — making the World Series in 2020 and the ALDS in 2021. However, the Rays are finally breaking out their checkbooks to keep their phenom Wander Franco in Tampa, as the 20 year old signed a whopping 11 year, $182 million dollar contract. Although he may be young, Franco’s potential is through the roof; the shortstop reached base safely in an astounding 43 games in a row this past season. It’s clear that Tampa is centering the future of their franchise around Franco, and even with a small sample size, the Rays are certainly justified in their uncharacteristic splurge. The Rays pitching rotation, led by Tyler Glasnow, is also one of the strongest in the league, and they strengthened this rotation with the signing of Yankees pitcher Corey Kluber with a low risk, high reward one year, $8 million deal. While Kluber battled injuries with the Yankees, when healthy, he looked very strong, including tossing the sixth no-hitter of his career this past season. Baseball fans will certainly remember Kluber’s Cy Young winning form while pitching for Cleveland, and if he can return to this form, the Rays will compete for another AL Pennant.
New York Yankees — Losers (so far)
Coming off of a disappointing Wild Card loss to the rival Boston Red Sox, the Yankees made several interesting moves, including extending divisive manager Aaron Boone, firing longtime third base coach Phil Nevin, trading the speedy Tyler Wade to the Angels, designating Rougned Odor and Clint Fraizer for assignment, and having veteran Brett Gardner decline his player option, which in all likelihood means he will walk or retire later in the window. While the sum of these moves is yet to be seen as positive or negative, the Yankees have done nothing so far in free agency to make their team better. Their most beloved player Aaron Judge has yet to be given the extension that he deserves, and while it will almost be guaranteed to happen eventually, seeing other teams being so proactive in retaining their stars (such as the Twins handing Byron Buxton a nine year extension and the Astros holding onto Justin Velander for another two years) is disheartening for Yankees fans and the team with one of the biggest payrolls in the MLB. While there are still big names for the Yankees to sign such as Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, their inactivity under GM Brian Cashman has certainly been head-scratching.
Texas Rangers — Winners
While Texas has not been relevant since their back-to-back World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011, the Rangers have been changing this narrative in the offseason. Texas signed Blue Jays infielder Marcus Semien, who finished third in AL MVP voting this past season, to a seven year, $175 million contract. Playing alongside MVP runner-up Vladimir Gurrero Jr. in Toronto, while they may have narrowly missed the playoffs, Semien enjoyed the best season of his career (.265 BA with 102 RBI). As if adding one elite shortstop wasn’t enough, the Rangers continued their aggressive free agency strategy with the signing of Los Angeles Dodgers SS Corey Seager to a monster 10 year, $125 million contract. While rumors swirled around that Seager would end up on a previously contending playoff team like the Yankees, the Rangers swooped in and signed the 2020 World Series champ who’s coming off his second straight .300+ BA season with LA. It’ll certainly be intriguing to see who plays the true shortstop position and which will transition to playing elsewhere in the infield. While the Rangers have lacked an ace since Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan (seriously, when have they had an outstanding pitcher since The Ryan Express?), Texas made a solid move by signing SP Jon Gray to a 4 year, $56 million contract. Playing in Colorado during the 2021 season, Gray allowed just 76 earned runs in 149 innings pitched. The AL West has been one of the weakest divisions in baseball for the last couple of years, can the Rangers finally challenge their in-state rivals Astros’ run of dominance in this division?
Toronto Blue Jays — Losers
While the signing of San Francisco Giants ace Kevin Gausman may appear to put Toronto in the “winners” column for early free agency, the Blue Jays will be judged not by their additions, but by their departures. As mentioned earlier, the losing of Semien certainly dealt a blow to the Toronto infield, and the hurting continued as the Seattle Mariners signed 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray to a 5 year, $115 million dollar contract. The Mariners have been looking for an ace since the reign of “King” Felix Hernandez, who pitched the last perfect game in the MLB in 2012, and Ray, with 2.84 ERA in 2021, is just about as good as they come. The Jays were on the precipice of building an AL East contender for years to come, but the departures of Ray and Semien, as well as missing out on the 2021 postseason with a wealth of talent, will be a true test of character for this franchise in the upcoming season.