When the collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Player’s Association expired at midnight last night, the owners decided to lock the players out, forcing the first work stoppage since the player’s strike of 1994. While I hate to ever see labor issues with my favorite sport, that deadline forced many team’s hands to sign big named free agents prior to the work stoppage.
Major League Baseball has officially implemented a lockout, sources tell ESPN. The ninth work stoppage in the sport’s history has begun.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) December 2, 2021
Now that the players are locked out, no teams can sign any players, which gives us essentially a pause in the process until both sides can agree on a new CBA. In the last few days, we saw a flurry of moves that changed the competitive landscape of the game. All week long, we here at TheSportsGeek are going to recap all of the action and make sure that you know how it impacts your favorite team, and more importantly, your betting action. Let’s get started!
Corey Seager – Texas Rangers – 10 Years $325 Million
Boom goes the dynamite! The Texas Rangers decided that they were going to open up their checkbook this year, and they wasted little time doing just that, as they have multiple entries on this top 5 list, and they likely aren’t done yet! To say that the Rangers roster will look different next year is quite the understatement, and all of this spending has taken Texas from a last place team in the American League West Division into a World Series contender in a hurry.
The Rangers signed infielder Corey Seager to a 10-year deal worth a whopping $325 million! It goes down as the second-biggest free agent contract ever, trailing only the Philadelphia Phillies $330 million dollar deal for Bryce Harper a couple of years back. The Bryce Harper deal seems to be working out just fine for Philly, as Harper just won his second MVP award this season, but I have my doubts about this deal for Texas.
The Rangers have a history of making big splashes in the free agent market, as they famously signed Alex Rodriguez to the biggest deal ever a generation ago when they handed A-Rod $252 million bucks. That deal backfired in a major way, though, as A-Rod played just 3 seasons in Arlington before being traded to the New York Yankees, and Texas never won more than 73 games during his stint in Texas.
— MLB (@MLB) November 29, 2021
Why do I think that this signing has a shot at going south for Texas? Well, first, Seager just isn’t that good. Don’t get me wrong, Seager is a very good baseball player, but when you look at the list of the biggest free agent signings ever, a list that Seager now sits near the top of, he doesn’t have the same resume as the rest of these guys.
What Seager has been able to do in his career pales in comparison to guys like A-Rod, Albert Pujols, Bryce Harper, and Gerrit Cole. It’s hard to blame Seager for getting overpaid, and it isn’t his fault he has to be compared to some of the all-time greats, but when you sign a deal worth over $300 million, this is the type of scrutiny that you are going to face.
Corey Seager does *not* have any opt-outs in his 10-year, $325M deal with Rangers, source says.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 29, 2021
Seager has a 162-game average stat line of a .297 batting average, 26 home runs, and 96 RBI. Those are nice stats, but they aren’t anywhere near the top performers in the game right now. If you compare that slash line to, say, Yordan Alverez of the Houston Astros, who is going to make orders of magnitude less money than Seager will this year, Yordan has a 162-game average of .290 batting average, 42 homers, and 129 RBI.
Seager has a nice glove, but it has never been golden, and while he is a solid baserunner with nice speed, he isn’t a guy that is going to steal you many bases, as he averages just 3 per season. Clearly, the Rangers are going all-in on a World Series push with all of the moves that they have made, and if they can bring a ring back home to Arlington, nobody is going to care if this deal was a great one or not. But at least on the outset of the season, I am very skeptical of this signing and feel that this contract could end up being one that Ranger’s fans regret.
Marcus Semien – Texas Rangers – 7 Years $175 Million
Speaking of the Texas Rangers, they come in here at the number two spot as well, as they inked Marcus Semien to a 7-year deal worth $175 million. In any other year, this would be a blockbuster deal for Texas, but with Seager commanding nearly double the salary, this move is getting a bit overshadowed.
Semien was a late bloomer in his Big League career, as he started out his career with the Chicago White Sox at age 22 back in 2013. At that time, Semien was no more than a platoon player that lacked power and couldn’t hit for average. Semien then went to Oakland, where he blossomed into the consistent everyday player that we all know and love today, but it took time, a lot of time.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 28, 2021
Semien was a barely above replacement level player for several years in Oakland until his breakout season in 2019 that saw him club 33 homers, drive in 92 runs, and hit .285. Semien finished 3rd in the AL MVP race in 2019, and a star was officially born. As is always the case for the Athletics, they couldn’t afford to pay Semien, so he ended up in Toronto last season and had the best season of his Big League career, with career highs in home runs (45), RBI (102) steals (15), and WAR (7.3).
On top of those stellar slash lines, Semien also took home his first-ever Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award, and again finish 3rd in the AL MVP Award voting. Semien was undeniably great last season, the question is, can he do it again?
The Rangers aren't done. Even though they got Marcus Semien, they're still in the Trevor Story sweepstakes. They went into this winter with money to spend, they got a whole lot better with Semien and now they're targeting more offense as well as starting pitching.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) November 28, 2021
Semien will be 31 this year and should still have several prime seasons left, but I am sure he enjoyed all the good pitches he got to see last season hitting in that stacked Blue Jays lineup, surrounded by studs like Vladimir Guererro Jr, Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio. The Rangers are clearly trying to build a juggernaut lineup this season, but they are still a long way off from being able to offer Semien the kind of lineup protection that he saw north of the border last season.
On the surface, I like this deal quite a bit better than the Seager deal for Texas, as they got a much better price, and I think that Semien has the higher ceiling. But you can’t deny that the Rangers clearly overpaid.
Kudos to Semien for having a huge year when it mattered and for cashing in on it in free agency, but it is fairly rare that you see a deal of this magnitude for a guy that has such a long history of being mediocre in the Major Leagues. If a 162-game average of .256 batting average, 25 home runs, and 77 RBI feels a bit light to you for a 9-figure deal, just know that you are not alone.
Robbie Ray – Seattle Mariners – 5 Years $115 Million
Signing ace starting pitchers to mega deals has become a routine occurrence in baseball, as you just can’t win a World Series title if you don’t have strong pitching at the top of your rotation. Some of these huge deals work out, I am looking at you Gerrit Cole, Clayton Kershaw, and Stephen Strasburg, while others don’t, most notably guys like David Price, Masahiro Tanaka, and Kerry Wood.
The Seattle Mariners made a rare free agent splash this week, signing reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray to a 5-year deal worth $115 million. Of all of the deals we are going to discuss today, this one is the one that I am most on the fence about. The Rangers clearly overpaid for Semien and Seager, but if Robbie Ray can be the guy that he was last season, this deal would end up being a bargain for Seattle.
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 30, 2021
That being said, that is a mighty big if, as Ray has gone back and forth in his career from being elite to being awful. Last year, Ray was the best pitcher in the American League, and in reality, it wasn’t even very close, as he led the league in nearly every major statistical category and took home the Cy Young Award honors for his troubles. But just one year before, in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season, you could argue that Ray was the worst starting pitcher in the game.
Ray’s struggles come down to one thing, his ability to throw strikes. In that 2020 season, Ray had an embarrassingly bad W/9 ratio of 7.8. Last season, he dropped that all of the way down to just 2.4. Ray has always had elite swing and miss stuff, and he has shown that if the ball can find the plate, that batters can’t hit it very often.
I am leaning towards this being a good signing for Seattle, as they are emerging from a multi-year rebuild and are ready to contend for the AL West Division title and a spot in the playoffs. Seattle hasn’t made the postseason since 2001, the longest active streak in North American major sports, and if they want to get over the hump, they have to go out and acquire talented guys like Robbie Ray.
And if you pull out that awful 2020 season, and with the season shortened and so many weird COVID-19 related rules in place, you can safely throw out all of that season, Ray has mostly been very good in his career. Ray is good for double-digit wins, over 200 Ks, and a career ERA below 4 runs. Ray has seemingly been around forever, but this year will only be his age 30 season, so he should be able to remain in his prime through to the end of this 5-year deal.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 17, 2021
The AL West is looking like it is going to be the most improved division in all of baseball with the Rangers going berserk, the Mariners spending money and making trades to add talent, and the Angels signing Noah Syndergaard to bolster their rotation, to go along with an Astros team that makes the World Series with regularity. On the surface, this move alone isn’t going to be enough to make the Mariners an elite team, but Mariner’s GM Jerry Dipoto isn’t done yet, as the M’s have their sites set on at least one more big named free agent before spring training.
Will Ray follow in the footsteps of other legendary starters in Seattle like Randy Johnson or King Felix Hernandez? Or will this blow up in their face like the signing of Cliff Lee and Jeff Weaver? Only time will tell how this move works out for Seattle, but this could end up going down as the best signing of this free agent class, as Ray comes to Seattle at the top of his game and gives the Mariners an ace that they haven’t had since King Felix’s prime several seasons ago.
Max Scherzer – New York Mets – 3 Years $130 Million
When I first heard this deal get announced, my initial reaction was, wow, a 1-2 punch of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer is going to be absolutely filthy and applauded the Mets for spending the cash that it took to acquire what I see as the best pitcher of his generation. But after the initial shock of the staggering annual salary wore off, I started to realize that this might be the most New York Mets deal of all time. And no, I don’t mean that in a good way.
The Mets are known for their ability to mess just about anything up, and when you realize that New York is paying Mad Max an absolutely absurd $43 million per year and that he is going to be 40 year’s old when this contract runs out, this is absolutely one of the riskiest deals I have ever seen signed. That is no disrespect at all to Scherzer, the guy is an absolute monster and shows no signs of slowing down, but even the best pitchers ever see a drop in production after age 35.
— New York Post (@nypost) November 29, 2021
That isn’t to say that pitchers can’t still be really good after 35, Rogers Clemens and Randy Johnsons are great examples of guys that were still elite late in their careers, but those guys never got $43 million a year. When you are talking about the highest annual salary ever, if Max is anything less than the best pitcher in baseball in each year of this contract, the Mets aren’t going to get their money’s worth. Heck, even if Mad Max is the best pitcher in the game for those 3 seasons, you can argue that they aren’t going to be able to get $43 million in value from one player.
Now that I have made my concerns about this spend crystal clear, we can start to imagine how well this could potentially work out for New York. And at the end of the day, the Mets have a billionaire owner that loves to spend cash, and as long as he is signing the checks, and this deal doesn’t negatively affect the signing of other players, this is a very exciting time in New York.
— SNY Mets (@SNY_Mets) November 29, 2021
Close your eyes and start to think of a 5-game series where you could potentially have to face both deGrom and Scherzer twice each. That would be a daunting task for any team, and we saw what Mad Max was able to do with his sidekick Stephen Strasburg in Washington when the Nationals rode that 2-headed monster to a World Series title in 2019.
I am a little bit concerned about the Mets losing both Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman from their rotation, as even with as great as Scherzer can be, he is only one guy, and he isn’t going to be able to fill that gap all by himself. New York is going to need another big year out of Taijuan Walker and a bounce-back year from Carlos Carrasco if they want to truly compete for the NL pennant, and as expensive and risky as this deal might be, I am sure that the Mets are better with Scherzer than they are without him, and with money seemingly not an issue for owner Steve Cohen, this could work out really well for the Mets.
Kevin Gausman – Toronto Blue Jays – 5 Years $110 Million
When the Baltimore Orioles drafted Kevin Gausman out of LSU with the 4th overall pick back in 2012, many people saw him as the savior of the franchise. And while he did have a couple of decent seasons for the Orioles, he never managed to have a winning record in any season, and he failed to live up to his ample hype.
Gausman was traded to the Atlanta Braves mid-season in 2018 and pitched great for Atlanta down the stretch, but after a rocky start to the season in 2019, he left Atlanta to join Cincinnati, again as a mid-season trade. Gausman continued to bounce around the National League, eventually settling with the San Francisco Giants in 2020.
— FOX Sports: MLB (@MLBONFOX) November 29, 2021
In his stint with the Giants, Gausman finally started to live up to his potential, and in 43 starts, he posted a 17-9 record with a 3.00 ERA, and a K/9 ratio of nearly 11. Gausman helped lead the Giants to the best record in the NL last year, and he was rewarded in the offseason with a big payday, cashing in on a 5-year deal worth upwards of $110 million.
It will be interesting to see what the switch in leagues will do for his production, as in his 10-year career, he has been significantly better in the NL than he has been in the AL. The NL West was really tough in the last couple of seasons, but you can argue that the AL East is the best division in baseball, and pitching in Toronto is going to be much tougher than pitching in San Francisco. Very few pitchers are able to go from the NL to the AL and have increased production, so a dip is nearly certain for Gausman.
Gausman will take over for Robbie Ray, who bolted Toronto for Seattle, as the Blue Jays ace, and it is hard to see him being able to fill those shoes on day one. Ray was fantastic last season for the Blue Jays, taking home the Cy Young Award, and even if Gausman is great, and I absolutely think that he will be, he isn’t going to match his 2.81 ERA from a year ago, in Toronto.
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) March 25, 2021
It is very rare that we see pitchers turn the corner like Gausman did last year at age 30, after 10 years in the Big Leagues. Regression is real, and I see that coming for Gausman in Toronto. But that doesn’t mean that this deal is a bad one, it just means statistically, he won’t be as good next year as he was last year. And that is OK for a guy pitching in the AL East.
If Gausman can slot in with Hyun-jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, and up-and-coming youngster Alek Manoah near the top of this Blue Jays rotation and come anywhere close to his production from last season, the Blue Jays are going to have a sneaky good starting five. I would like to see Toronto go out and acquire one more starter before the season officially kicks off, but this move was one that keeps the Blue Jays as legit AL pennant contenders.
There you have it, folks, my opinions on the top-5 biggest free agent contracts so far this year! With the labor stoppage, we aren’t going to see many more moves in the near-term future, but with guys like Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, and Freddie Freeman still on the market, the spending isn’t done yet! Thanks for reading, and make sure you stay tuned to TheSportsGeek’s MLB page, where we cover all of the offseason activity that you need to know to make money betting on Big League Baseball!