Re-Grading the Biggest 2021-22 MLB Offseason Moves
The 2022 Major League Baseball season is already nearing the halfway mark. That makes this a good time to check in on how the biggest signings and trades from the 2021-22 offseason are panning out.
We've assigned fresh grades for all of the biggest transactions with a basic question in mind: Is the player (or players) at the heart of that deal living up to the hype? We naturally let numbers guide our thought process, but we also considered other factors when appropriate.
We picked out 15 deals that we think are worthy of discussion. Some address changes for specific teams. Others address players who share a common position. Others are more focused on money.
In any case, let's start in The City of Brotherly Love.
The Philadelphia Phillies' $179 Million Slugger Splurge
The Deal with Nick Castellanos: 5 years, $100 million
2022 Stats: 69 G, 290 PA, 7 HR, 2 SB, .245 AVG, .303 OBP, .389 SLG, minus-0.4 rWAR
The Phillies signed Castellanos fresh off a terrific season with the Cincinnati Reds in 2021, wherein he set career highs with a .939 OPS and 34 home runs. He initially lived up to that performance in April, putting up a respectable .849 OPS and going deep three times.
Yet nobody has ever accused Castellanos of being a consistent hitter, as the Phillies have been finding out the hard way over the last two months. In his past 47 games, he has hit only .222/.271/.351 with four home runs.
Between this slump and Castellanos' characteristically awful defense, it's no great surprise to see his rWAR sitting below replacement level. Given that further red flags include drops in his exit velocity and hard-hit rate, the Phillies have every right to be wringing their hands about what lies beyond the present.
The Deal with Kyle Schwarber: 4 years, $79 million
2022 Stats: 68 G, 297 PA, 19 HR, 3 SB, .214 AVG, .340 OBP, .488 SLG, 1.4 rWAR
Schwarber also arrived in Philadelphia with a reputation for subpar glovework. And because Bryce Harper's elbow issues have necessitated full-time duty at designated hitter, the Phillies have had to use Schwarber in the field more than they probably expected.
It's a good thing, then, that Schwarber is having an anti-Castellanos season offensively. He started slow, but he has since put up a .930 OPS and blasted 12 home runs in 38 games since May 13. Both that production and his stellar underlying metrics resemble his career-best performance with the Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox last year.
We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention just how clutch the 29-year-old has been thus far. He's hit nine of his 19 homers with men on base, and he's generally done his best hitting in medium and high leverage. So in spite of his defense, this deal is off to a fine start.
Once and Current Blue Jays Aces
Robbie Ray's Deal with the Seattle Mariners: 5 years, $115 million
2022 Stats: 14 GS, 84.2 IP, 72 H (14 HR), 91 K, 29 BB, 4.25 ERA, 0.3 rWAR
Ray was truly dominant en route to winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2021, but especially as he put up a 2.48 ERA with 188 strikeouts in 141.1 innings in 23 starts after May.
The Mariners have thus far gotten...not that guy.
It's all well and good that Ray is still showing decent control and averaging six innings per start, but he isn't overpowering hitters like he did in 2021. His strikeout percentage is down from 32.1 to 26.1, and his 1.6 mph decline in average fastball velocity raises the question of whether that decline is irreversible.
Yet because the 30-year-old's velocity decreased even as his dominance increased down the stretch of 2021, it's too early to definitively conclude that's the case. And since the Mariners have gone 7-7 on days when he starts, he's generally been more of a disappointment than a disaster to this point anyway.
Kevin Gausman's Deal with the Toronto Blue Jays: 5 years, $110 million
2022 Stats: 14 GS, 79.0 IP, 88 H (2 HR), 87 K, 13 BB, 3.19 ERA, 0.9 rWAR
Gausman's ERA is up a tick from the 2.81 figure that he posted for the San Francisco Giants last season. But he's given up three or fewer earned runs in all but one of his starts, with the lone exception being his nightmare turn against the Baltimore Orioles on June 16.
It also bears noting that rWAR doesn't reflect as well on Gausman as fWAR, which rates him as the best pitcher in baseball right now. That version of WAR runs on fielding independent pitching, which gravitates toward pitchers precisely like Gausman: ones with lots of strikeouts, few walks and even fewer home runs.
Though FIP does have a blind spot in the sense that it doesn't consider contact quality, both the 31-year-old's exit velocity and hard-hit rate are down from 2021. So all things considered, swapping Ray out for Gausman is working out very well for Toronto.
Once and Current Atlanta First Basemen
Freddie Freeman's Deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers: 6 years, $162 million
2022 Stats: 67 G, 301 PA, 7 HR, 6 SB, .302 AVG, .385 OBP, .485 SLG, 2.2 rWAR
Given that he averaged 33 home runs per 162 games between 2016 and 2021, the Dodgers had every reason to expect more power from Freeman.
The 2020 National League MVP's offensive production is nonetheless well above water, and he's been at his best when the pressure is on. Like Schwarber, Freeman is excelling with men on base (1.144 OPS) and in high leverage (1.186 OPS).
Because he's also been good with the glove and useful on the bases, the Dodgers are getting most of the typical Freddie Freeman experience even without his best power. And because his exit velocity and sweet spot and hard-hit rates are all looking good, the 32-year-old will likely turn on the power eventually.
Atlanta's Trade for Matt Olson: CF Cristian Pache, C Shea Langeliers, RHPs Ryan Cusick and Joey Estes to the Oakland Athletics
Contract Extension: 8 years, $168 million
2022 Stats: 70 G, 310 PA, 10 HR, 0 SB, .251 AVG, .352 OBP, .468 SLG, 1.2 rWAR
Though Langeliers is having a fine season down in the minors, none of the other players whom Atlanta gave up for Olson have broken through yet for Oakland. So at least to this extent, the former has no reason to be feeling buyer's remorse.
Olson himself has been more of a mixed bag. Nobody could get him out in the first few weeks of the season, but he's been hitting at .213/.307/.422 since April 19. Not quite what he was doing when he went off for a .911 OPS and 39 home runs last season with the A's.
In the short-term, though, Atlanta can attach its hopes to the generally quite good metrics underlying Olson's production. And since the 28-year-old is Freeman's junior by nearly five years, Atlanta can likewise still hope that going all-in on Olson will pay off in the long term.
Grade for Atlanta: B
Grade for Oakland: D
The $140 Million Shortstops
Javier Baez's Deal with the Detroit Tigers: 6 years, $140 million
2022 Stats: 57 G, 232 PA, 6 HR, 3 SB, .216 AVG, .259 OBP, .367 SLG, 0.7 rWAR
Baez went into free agency with a hot hand, having finished with a .981 OPS and 11 extra-base hits for the New York Mets in the final month of the 2021 season. He hasn't been able to keep it up for the Tigers, though, and there are specific red flags aplenty.
The 29-year-old's chase rate has never been higher, and his exit velocity and hard-hit rate are well below his career norms. It's even hard to find positive readings on his typically electric defense, with ultimate zone rating grading him especially harshly.
The problems that the Tigers are having this season go well beyond Baez. It nonetheless looks like they've gotten the version of him who was a lesser shortstop for over a year between July 2020 and August 2021, which is certainly not the version they wanted.
Trevor Story's Deal with the Boston Red Sox: 6 years, $140 million
2022 Stats: 63 G, 274 PA, 11 HR, 9 SB, .223 AVG, .303 OBP, .421 SLG, 1.7 rWAR
The Red Sox's initial returns on their investment in Story don't include much consistency. He slumped with a .545 OPS from April 8 to May 8, and again with a .552 OPS from May 27 to June 18.
To give credit where it's due, though, Story leads Boston with both eight stolen bases and 48 RBI. The latter is a testament for his knack for big hits, as he's hit eight home runs with men on base and put up a .945 OPS in high-leverage situations.
Meanwhile, the 29-year-old's transition from shortstop to second base has gone as well or even better than anyone could have hoped. He hasn't been perfect, but he's nonetheless at plus-seven for defensive runs saved and plus-six for outs above average.
In time, Story should be as good a double-play partner for Marcelo Mayer as he has been for Xander Bogaerts.
3 Star Third Basemen Change Places
Kris Bryant's Deal with the Colorado Rockies: 7 years, $182 million
2022 Stats: 17 G, 73 PA, 0 HR, 0 SB, .270 AVG, .342 OBP, .333 SLG, minus-0.2 rWAR
You're forgiven if you had forgotten that Bryant was even on the Rockies. He's barely been seen over the last two months, having played in only two games since April 25 because of two stints on the injured list with a bad back.
As for what the 2016 NL MVP has done for the Rockies when healthy...well, it was nothing special. Only four of his 17 hits this season have been for extra bases.
The early returns can't be what the Rockies were hoping for from the largest free-agent signing in their history. And while the 30-year-old Bryant does still have six-and-a-half seasons to redeem his deal, it doesn't bode well that this partnership has so quickly gone from looking like a bad idea to an even worse idea.
The Toronto Blue Jays' Trade for Matt Chapman: INF Kevin Smith, LHPs Zach Logue and Kirby Snead, RHP Gunnar Hogland to the Oakland Athletics
2022 Stats: 64 G, 253 PA, 9 HR, 0 SB, .214 AVG, .300 OBP, .384 SLG, 1.2 rWAR
Chapman has been more or less as advertised in the field at third base, thus far accounting for four defensive runs saved. The Blue Jays got zero DRS from the position in 2021, so the 29-year-old's arrival has been a net positive for them in at least one aspect.
Offensively, on the other hand, he isn't quite replicating the 45 home runs that Marcus Semien blasted for Toronto last season. There's perhaps some bad luck at play in this arena, but it's also a variation on a theme for Chapman. He's been struggling to produce ever since he developed that hip injury in 2020, hitting just .215/.305./.419 over the last three seasons.
Like with Atlanta's trade for Matt Olson, none of the players Toronto gave up for Chapman have hit any kind of stride in Oakland. Hoglund is probably the Athletics' best hope for a star, but he first has to finish his recovery from Tommy John surgery.
Grade for Toronto: C
Grade for Oakland: F
The New York Yankees' Trade for Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ben Rortvedt: C Gary Sanchez and 3B Gio Urshela to the Minnesota Twins
2022 Stats: 52 G, 220 PA, 6 HR, 1 SB, .233 AVG, .327 OBP, .386 SLG, 1.6 rWAR
There was a lot going on in this trade, but Donaldson was the clear headliner for the Yankees. And the 2015 AL MVP has thus far been solid for them, particularly while racking up seven defensive runs saved in only 286.1 innings at the hot corner.
Whether the Yankees have gotten the better end of this trade is nonetheless debatable. Kiner-Falefa has exactly 0 DRS to his credit, and he and Donaldson have been no better offensively than Sanchez and Urshela. The latter duo has a combined 102 wRC+, compared to a 96 wRC+ for the former.
There are also the stories that the numbers can't tell. For the Twins, there's a good one about how the Donaldson trade opened up payroll space for Carlos Correa. For the Yankees, there's the less good one about Donaldson's confrontation with Tim Anderson.
Grade for New York: C
Grade for Minnesota: B
The AAV Standouts
Max Scherzer's Deal with the New York Mets: 3 years, $130 million
2022 Stats: 8 GS, 49.2 IP, 36 H (5 HR), 59 K, 11 BB, 2.54 ERA, 1.7 rWAR
At $43.3 million, Scherzer's pact with the Mets is worth more per year than any other active contract in MLB. Gerrit Cole's $36 million average annual value is the next-closest.
Scherzer looked worth just about every penny through his first eight outings. The three-time Cy Young Award winner was basically his usual self in every regard, averaging six innings per start and allowing more than three earned runs in only one of them.
However, an oblique strain landed him on the injured list on May 19 and has kept him off the mound ever since. Between that and the decline in his average fastball velocity, the 37-year-old remains a high-risk, high-reward investment for the Mets.
Carlos Correa's Deal with the Minnesota Twins: 3 years, $105.3 million
2022 Stats: 47 G, 209 PA, 7 HR, 0 SB, .293 AVG, .354 OBP, .466 SLG, 1.7 rWAR
Of all the surprising things that happened this past winter, Correa signing with the Twins was a big one unto itself. It was made even bigger by the fact that he inked only a three-year contract as opposed to a long-term megadeal.
It hasn't all been smooth sailing for the 27-year-old in the Twin Cities. He got off to a slow start in April, and he's since spent time on the regular injured list with a finger injury and on the COVID injured list as well.
On the whole, though, things are good. Correa's defense may not be as reliable as the Twins could have expected, yet his bat has come alive to the tune of a .351 average and .966 OPS since April 28.
This is all the more reason to buy the notion that he's going to opt out of his deal this winter, but the Twins will gladly take what he's giving them in the meantime.
The Texas Rangers' $500 Million Middle Infield
The Deal with Corey Seager: 10 years, $325 million
2022 Stats: 66 G, 290 PA, 15 HR, 3 SB, .235 AVG, .307 OBP, .442 SLG, 1.5 rWAR
When you spend $325 million on a guy, you typically want said guy to be more than just a middling producer in a middling lineup.
While we're making Seager look bad, we might as well also point out that the numbers he has put up don't derive from clutch situations. He's hit 13 of his home runs with nobody on base, and he's been better in low leverage than in medium or high leverage to boot.
Yet it's only fair to also highlight that the 28-year-old might be the most unlucky hitter in baseball right now. If his numbers eventually get to where they should be based on both the quantity and quality of his contact, the only thing left to gripe about will be his typically unspectacular defense.
The Deal with Marcus Semien: 7 years, $175 million
2022 Stats: 66 G, 292 PA, 7 HR, 12 SB, .231 AVG, .295 OBP, .360 SLG, 1.1 rWAR
There's also no downplaying just how bad the 31-year-old was out of the gate for the Rangers this season. He didn't hit his first home run until May 28, and he hit only .193/.246/.252 up until that point. Per his 44 wRC+, he was the worst everyday hitter in baseball.
Semien's .903 OPS and seven homers in a 24-game span since then is a nice bit of redemption. But it doesn't fully make up for his earlier struggles, nor does it distract from the uncomfortable reality that he's been alternating between good and bad seasons over the last four years.