In a complicated off-season for Major League Baseball, a solid free-agent class has around a month to sign contracts ahead of the expected expiration of the league’s collective bargaining agreement on Dec. 1. If a lockout is imposed on Dec. 2, all transactions would be put on hold until it is resolved.
For now, we are tracking the larger free-agent signings, contract extensions and trades as they become official.
Wander Franco finalizes extension with the Rays.
Terms: 11 years, $182 million (a club option and various incentives can bring the total to 12 years and $233 million)
Announced: Nov. 27
Continuing a trend of teams locking up talent incredibly early in their careers, Tampa Bay signed up to have Franco, 20, as the team’s shortstop for the next 11 seasons despite his only having played 70 games at the major league level.
“The pace at which Wander has developed speaks to his potential,” Erik Neander, the Rays’ president of baseball operations, said in a statement. “We have seen him do special things on the field, particularly for a player that is only 20 years old. He’s an exceptionally driven, budding superstar who can contribute to our success for a long time.”
It is not hard to figure out why the Rays would be so optimistic. Signed as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2017, Franco was sensational in two and a half minor league seasons — he was named the top prospect in baseball by Baseball America, MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus — and was an immediate success in the majors, hitting .288 with an .810 on-base plus slugging percentage in 70 games. He had a streak of 43 games in which he reached base safely and he finished the season with 3.5 wins above replacement, a pace that would have given him more than 8 if he had played a full 162 games.
The long-term risk of such a long contract is fairly obvious, but like the San Diego Padres with Fernando Tatis Jr. and the Atlanta Braves with Ronald Acuña Jr., the chance to lock in a transcendent talent made a big gamble worthwhile. If anything, the Franco and Tatis deals have emphasized what a bargain Acuña was at “only” $100 million.
The Mets add three free agents on Black Friday.
Terms: Starling Marte: Four years, $78 million; Eduardo Escobar: Two years, $20 million; Mark Canha: Two years, $26.5 million
With the fourth-lowest scoring offense in the majors in 2021, the Mets needed to shake things up, and they did so in bulk on Friday, coming to terms with outfielder Starling Marte, infielder Eduardo Escobar and outfielder/first baseman Mark Canha.
Marte, 33, is coming off his best all-around season. He led the majors with 47 stolen bases and thanks to a quirk of his trade from Miami to Oakland he managed to be in the top-10 in both the National League (fifth) and the American League (tied for sixth). More important was his .841 on-base plus slugging percentage, which included a career-best on-base percentage of .383. There is little doubt that he can hit, and he is sure to be a fan favorite, but there should be at least some concern if he is a long term answer in center field. According to Sports Info Solutions, Marte has been worth 71 defensive runs saved in 593 games in left field but has been worth minus-12 in 553 games in center. That, combined with his age, makes it likely that he will be a left fielder by the end of his four-year deal.
M.L.B. Hot Stove and Off-Season Updates
Escobar and Canha are less flashy but they add offensive depth and defensive versatility. Escobar, 32, can play first, second and third base, was a first-time All-Star in 2021 and is two years removed from a season in which he had 74 extra-base hits — which helps make up for his pedestrian on-base percentages. Canha, 32, has spent time at all three outfield positions as well as first base and has a .377 on-base percentage with some power over the last three seasons.
Mariners trade for Adam Frazier.
Terms: Adam Frazier to the Mariners; pitcher Ray Kerr and outfielder Corey Rosier to the Padres
Announced: Nov. 27
Frazier, who turns 30 next month, is coming off a career-best season in which he was an All-Star for Pittsburgh ahead of a trade to San Diego. He hit .305 with a .368 on-base percentage in 155 games and played solid defense at second base with seven defensive runs saved. He should be an upgrade for the team at second base, with Abraham Toro moving into a utility role.
Kerr, 27, had a 3.18 E.R.A. over two levels of the minors in 2021 and struck out 60 batters in 39 ⅔ innings. Rosier, 22, was a 12th round selection in the 2021 draft and hit .380 in 32 minor league games split between rookie and low Class A ball.
Steven Matz signs with the Cardinals.
Terms: Four years, $44 million
Announced: No team announcement yet, but the deal was discussed publicly by his agent and by the Mets
When the Mets traded Matz to Toronto in January it hardly seemed noteworthy. He was coming off a season in which he had a 9.68 E.R.A. in nine appearances (six starts) and his career E.R.A. of 4.35 was worse than league average once you adjusted it for his home ballpark. The change of scenery helped, however, and Matz, 30, finally realized some of the potential that had been talked about for years. He had a 3.82 E.R.A. in 29 starts and transformed from a pitcher the Mets were willing to give away with fairly little return to one they were clamoring to add back as a free agent.
A return seemed likely for the Long Island native, but he had a change of heart and signed with St. Louis instead, irking Steven Cohen, the owner of the Mets, who believed the team would be given the opportunity to match any offers. While the Mets are undoubtedly frustrated in their attempts to build a starting rotation — getting Noah Syndergaard healthy only to have him leave didn’t help — it would be worth at least a touch of skepticism that the Matz of 2021 is the real one. In the event that he’s something closer to a league-average starter, the Cardinals would probably still be happy, as he could slot into their rotation behind Adam Wainwright, the team’s ageless ace, and Jack Flaherty and soak up some innings as a decent No. 3 starter.
Anthony DeSclafani stays with the Giants
Terms: Three years, $36 million
Announced: Nov. 22
After a 107-win season, San Francisco entered this off-season with only one starting pitcher (Logan Webb) under contract for 2022. Now they have two, with DeSclafani agreeing to return after a career season that saw his stock rise considerably.
Underwhelming in his time with Cincinnati, DeSclafani, 31, had a 3.17 E.R.A. in 167 ⅔ innings for the Giants and kept runners off base to the tune of a 1.091 WHIP. He threw two shutouts and had 4.1 WAR, which is more than he had in the previous three seasons combined. The possibility certainly exists that 2021 was an aberration, but $12 million a year with a three-season commitment is not big money in this market and he would still be valuable even if he showed some regression in 2022.
Aaron Loup signs with the Angels.
Terms: Two years, $17 million
Announced: Nov. 22
Loup, who turns 34 in December, had some control problems in his time with Toronto but has ironed those out significantly. Building off a strong 2020 for Tampa Bay, he had a 0.95 E.R.A. in 56⅔ innings for the Mets, and his splits showed there is no need to limit him to being a lefty specialist as he held right-handed batters to a .211 batting average and .257 slugging percentage. The only home run he allowed in 2021 came against a left-handed batter, and considering that left-handed batter was Juan Soto of the Washington Nationals it is hard to hold that against Loup.
The statistic fielding independent pitching suggests Loup has benefited some from good fielding over the last two seasons, with a FIP of 2.87 compared to a 1.43 E.R.A. But even if he declines some — there is inherent volatility with relievers — he would still be an improvement for an Angels team that did not have a reliable left-hander in its bullpen last season.
José Berríos agrees to extension with the Blue Jays.
Announced: Nov. 18
Terms: Seven years and $131 million. He was eligible for salary arbitration and would not have reached free agency until 2023.
Acquired at the trading deadline from Minnesota, Berríos apparently delivered on expectations as Toronto locked him in for the next seven years. A two-time All-Star, Berríos is a 27-year-old right-hander who has been a reliable and durable starter since 2017. In 12 starts for the Blue Jays, he had a 3.58 E.R.A. and he struck out 78 batters in 70 and a third innings, which makes his mediocre record of 5-4 a bit misleading.
While few would quibble that Berríos is a good starter, the massive financial commitment will look a bit unusual if the team does not find a way to retain Robbie Ray, a free-agent left-hander who does not have Berríos’s track record but just won the A.L. Cy Young Award.
Justin Verlander stays with the Astros.
Terms: One Year, $25 million (with a $25 million player option for 2023)
Announced: Nov. 17, by his brother
It has been a quiet few years for Justin Verlander, a right-handed ace, as he has dealt with surgical procedures on his groin and pitching elbow that have limited him to only one appearance since 2019. But in his last full season he threw the third no-hitter of his career and won the American League’s Cy Young Award. And with a résumé that screams “Cooperstown,” there was plenty of reason for teams to be clamoring for his services.
What Houston can expect of Verlander, who turns 39 in February, is a little unclear after such a long layoff. But with multiple teams watching his workouts and a buzz developing that he had his old stuff, it was not surprising for him to get paid like an ace — and he got a pretty large vote of confidence in a player option that effectively guarantees him $50 million over two years.
It is unlikely that Verlander has enough time left in his career to get the 74 victories he needs to reach 300, but helping Houston through another deep playoff run would add a feather to his cap in a career that already includes a Rookie of the Year Award, a Most Valuable Player Award, a pitching triple crown, two Cy Young Awards and seven other top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting. He also won a World Series ring in the Astros’ tainted 2017 season after going to Houston in a trade from Detroit.
Brandon Belt accepts San Francisco’s qualifying offer.
Terms: One year, $18.4 million
Announced: Nov. 17
Fourteen players were offered the $18.4 million qualifying offer by their teams — which attaches draft-pick compensation if the player signs with another team — and only Belt accepted it. A leader on and off the field, Belt, 33, could still be negotiating a long-term deal, but he will assuredly be with the Giants in 2022, which very likely comes as a relief for the team’s fans, many of whom are probably wondering what the playoffs would have looked like if Belt had not been sidelined by a fractured thumb.
Belt has had some injury issues over the years, but there is no denying he can hit. Over the past two seasons, his on-base plus slugging percentage is .988, which is fourth in the majors among batters with at least 500 plate appearances. The only players ahead of him make for impressive company: Juan Soto of the Nationals (1.042), Bryce Harper of the Phillies (1.021) and Ronald Acuña Jr. of the Braves (.989). That Belt has put up numbers like that in a park that favors pitchers is doubly impressive.
San Francisco has plenty of players who had what might be considered career seasons last year, meaning the 107-win team could be in for some regression to the mean. But Belt is a safe bet to produce — provided he can keep himself on the field.
Eduardo Rodriguez signs with the Tigers.
Terms: Five years, $77 million
Announced: Nov. 16
Detroit is banking on Rodriguez, 28, as a front-end starter, which he was at times for the Boston Red Sox. In 2019, he was Boston’s best starter by a fairly wide margin and finished sixth in the American League Cy Young Award voting (he had more wins above replacement than three of the pitchers who finished ahead of him). He missed the entire 2020 season after he developed myocarditis after having tested positive for the coronavirus, but he recovered to be Boston’s No. 2 starter in 2021. While his record and E.R.A. declined from 2019, he showed improvement in strikeouts per nine innings and walks per nine innings.
In Detroit, Rodriguez should slot in as a reliable left-handed complement to the promising Casey Mize at the top of the Tigers’ rotation, and he should benefit a great deal from the shift from hitter-friendly Fenway Park to pitcher-friendly Comerica Park. To lure him, however, was pricey: Rodriguez is not only guaranteed $77 million, but the Tigers will forfeit their third-round draft pick to Boston as compensation since the Red Sox extended a qualifying offer to Rodriguez.
Noah Syndergaard signs with the Angels.
Terms: One year, $21 million
Announced: Nov. 16
Syndergaard, 29, will give the Angels the pitcher with the highest upside in this year’s free-agent class, but one who also comes with a great deal of risk. While the commitment is for only one year, Los Angeles, which is desperately in need of starting pitching, paid a steep price, guaranteeing the hard-throwing Syndergaard $21 million and sacrificing a compensatory draft pick to the Mets, who had extended a qualifying offer that would have paid Syndergaard $18.4 million.
At his best, Syndergaard could be the ace the Angels have lacked. He has a 3.32 E.R.A. over six seasons and has averaged 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. As a rookie in 2015, he was pitching in the World Series. In 2016, he was an All-Star. But things have been far rockier since. Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 because of a torn right latissimus muscle. And after uneven efforts in 2018 and 2019, he missed all of 2020 after having Tommy John surgery. Once he did return, he made only two token appearances in the final week of the 2021 season because of inflammation in his pitching elbow.
Andrew Heaney signs with the Dodgers.
Terms: One year, $8.5 million
Announced: Nov. 10
After a fairly disastrous 2021 season, Heaney, who split the year between the Angels and the Yankees, will head back to Southern California in hopes of proving that his 5.83 E.R.A. (7.32 in 12 appearances for the Yankees) was misleading.
“I know that I’m much better than my numbers say I was last year,” Heaney said in a video conference.
The Dodgers have some reason to believe Heaney when he says that. A 30-year-old left-hander, he struck out 150 batters in 129⅔ innings in 2021 and had a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.66. Many of his underlying indicators show a pitcher who could be league-average or better, which would make Heaney a bargain at $8.5 million. He said in his introductory news conference that he had already gone over some potential tweaks with Manager Dave Roberts and Mark Prior, the Dodgers’ pitching coach, in hopes of unlocking his potential.
Apsny News English