Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's 2021 Offseason Free-Agent Frenzy so Far

Brandon Scott@@brandonkscottFeatured Columnist IDecember 1, 2021

Biggest Winners and Losers of MLB's 2021 Offseason Free-Agent Frenzy so Far

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Free agency moved at a breakneck pace leading up to the anticipated Dec. 1 work stoppage. There were players and teams who clearly wanted to deal before this deadline hit, and others were content to allow labor negotiations to play out.     

    Uncertainty about the next collective bargaining agreement won't keep top free agents from getting paid, but it will slow down this element of the offseason news cycle. 

    So with that in mind, let's take a look at the biggest winners and losers of the free-agency frenzy so far. 

    For this exercise, we look at what was gained and lost by teams with moves they made, with proper consideration to the fact that this process is not done. 

Winners: Javier Baez, Detroit Tigers

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    And we thought it would be Carlos Correa. The connection seemed obvious. Tigers manager A.J. Hinch spent five seasons with Correa in Houston, culminating in a 2017 World Series title and two pennants in three seasons. 

    There was a clear need at shortstop in Detroit, and this was the time to make a franchise-altering signing. Only it is not the star shortstop most were thinking of, rather former Chicago Cubs and New York Mets infielder Javier Baez. 

    His six-year, $140 million deal is just a fraction of what Correa could cost. It's even less than what the Astros offered Correa after the World Series, which was widely considered a lowball offer. 

    Correa is in line to exceed the Seager deal. While Baez is not the player Correa is, the two-time All-Star in Chicago was NL MVP runner-up in 2018 and showed signs of still being that kind of player after he was traded to the Mets. 

    Baez hit .299/.371/.515 with nine home runs and 22 RBI in 47 games for the Mets, who mostly played him at second base. 

    The Tigers at shortstop ranked 28th in the majors with minus-0.5 rWAR, so they will welcome Baez returning to his natural position.   

Losers: Toronto Blue Jays

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    Jed Jacobsohn/Associated Press

    The Blue Jays settled for Kevin Gausman on a five-year, $110 million contract, rather than retaining Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray, who is headed to Seattle for the same number of years and just $5 million more.

    If that is all it was going to cost to keep Ray, then it seems like that was the obvious play. Instead, Toronto went with Gausman, which is more of a consolation prize.     

    Losing Marcus Semien was expected but also disappointing considering the Blue Jays have not replaced him with another impact player. 

    One of their needs this offseason is adding a reliable left-handed bat into their right-handed-dominated lineup. Corey Seager never seemed to be in play for Toronto, especially at the figure he commanded. But watching him go to Texas has to make Blue Jays feel like they should have been in the mix. 

    At best, a team trying to get from good to great has stayed in place. 

Winners: Noah Syndergaard, Los Angeles Angels

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    Ben Margot/Associated Press

    The Angels' top priority this winter was addressing their starting pitching, which was among the worst in Major League Baseball last season. 

    Syndergaard has only pitched two innings since 2019 due to Tommy John surgery. This one-year, $21 million deal is a chance to see how close he can get to previous form. 

    The Angels won in a market that included the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees showing the most interest in Syndergaard, ESPN's Jeff Passan reported. 

    They can certainly use him in Los Angeles, where no pitcher besides Shohei Ohtani exceeded 100 innings in 2021. 

    The Angels are also in agreement on a one-year, $6.8 million deal with Michael Lorenzen, who figures to compete for a spot in the rotation and at least provide some quality pitching depth. Lorenzen had a 4.07 ERA across 473.1 innings over seven seasons as both a starter and reliever with the Reds.

    They also agreed to a four-year deal with closer Raisel Iglesias, who posted a 2.57 ERA with 34 saves in 65 appearances last season. 

Losers: Philadelphia Phillies

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Don't count the Phillies out for any of the remaining big-name free agents. They have been linked to Kris Bryant, Chris Taylor, Nick Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber.    

    There has not been a ton of buzz between the Phillies and Carlos Correa, but it would make a lot of sense for Philly to want to upgrade from Didi Gregorius. 

    That so many others, such as the Mets, Rangers and Mariners, beat the Phillies to the punch makes them an early loser, but there is still time to gain ground. 

    There is already a lot of money tied up in Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto, but Harper could use help in the outfield. 

    Landing Bryant, Taylor, Castellanos or any combination of the three would take the Phillies from losers to winners in the free-agent frenzy.

Winners: Robbie Ray, Seattle Mariners

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said the plan was to significantly increase payroll this offseason. 

    And that's what they've done, as they have an agreement with reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray for five years and $115 million.    

    The Mariners also traded for second baseman Adam Frazier, a first-time All-Star last year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who traded him to the San Diego Padres before the deadline. 

    Frazier's numbers dipped from Pittsburgh to San Diego last season, but he still finished with a solid .305/.368/.411 slash line. He's only making $7.5 million, so it is fair to wonder if Seattle is in the market for another big-name free agent like Kris Bryant or Trevor Story.

    The Mariners are reportedly among the teams interested in Bryant, who had not been expected to sign before the Dec. 1 work stoppage, according to Robert Murray at FanSided.

    At the very least, the Mariners have an ace to a rotation that ranked 25th in strikeouts per nine innings.

Losers: Houston Astros

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    It's not as much the Astros losing as it is the rest of the AL West making some serious moves to get better. Well, except the Oakland A's.   

    The Rangers added Corey Seager, while the Astros could still lose Carlos Correa. The Angels addressed their rotation issues by snagging Noah Syndergaard. The Mariners signed Robbie Ray. 

    The best thing the Astros have done is keep Justin Verlander on a one-year, $25 million deal. But their biggest weakness last year before the trade deadline was the bullpen, which they addressed by trading for Kendall Graveman, Yimi Garcia and Phil Maton. 

    Graveman is signing with the Chicago White Sox, and Garcia is joining the Blue Jays. The Astros agreed to a two-year, $17 million deal with longtime Phillies reliever Hector Neris. 

    But Correa's impending departure is still looming, since they only offered him a five-year, $160 million contract. And their best free-agent option to upgrade in center field was Starling Marte, who is going to the New York Mets.   

Winners: Corey Seager, Texas Rangers

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    First, of course, is shortstop Corey Seager, who agreed to a 10-year, $325 million contract. There is a healthy debate about whether it is wise for teams to dish out such lengthy, lucrative deals, regardless of the player. 

    But what it does is show a commitment to at least trying to compete. For the Rangers, who spent the last five seasons below .500 and out of the playoffs, the appearance of effort goes a long way. 

    Seager's deal comes right after Texas landed star infielder Marcus Semien, who will likely play second base for the Rangers with Seager at shortstop. They also added outfielder Kole Calhoun. 

    With his success and experience, Seager brings instant credibility. Pairing him with Semien, who ranked fifth in outs above average among second basemen with at least 250 attempts, forms arguably the game's best middle infield. 

    Time will tell if these moves take Texas from AL West bottom-feeder to contender, or if this is ultimately empty spending.

    If the goal was to build excitement and intrigue through splash signings, the Rangers are on the right track. 

    Jon Gray addresses some of the issues in their starting rotation, which produced the third-lowest rWAR (-0.1) in baseball.

    "Even if Gray's 1.6 rWAR would have helped the Rangers in 2021, they're surely hoping he'll tap into the upside that made him a No. 3 overall pick in 2013," B/R's Zachary Rymer wrote. 

    So the Gray signing is no sure thing. But their two other major additions should be immediately impactful. 

Losers: Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    So far, all that matters is the Dodgers losing Max Scherzer and Corey Seager. The deal Scherzer is getting from the Mets is historic for someone his age. Losing out on him is understandable.

    But the Dodgers were interested in keeping Seager and watched him slip away to the Rangers. Meanwhile, the expectation is that Chris Taylor will also sign elsewhere. It's one thing not to sign any of your own high-profile free agents, but it's another to be a big spender like the Dodgers and remain mostly quiet in a fast-moving market.

    One way to turn heads would be to sign Carlos Correa, who is hated by the Dodgers fanbase because of the 2017 World Series and its subsequent fallout. But they would likely embrace the one who had 7.2 rWAR last season, even if it means looking the other way.

    The Dodgers have also been linked to Marcus Stroman and Freddie Freeman and could still bring back Taylor after losing Seager and Scherzer. Until this happens, they are losers in the frenzy.

Winners: Max Scherzer, New York Mets

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    Mets owner Steve Cohen made it clear he was willing to go get difference-makers in free agency when he introduced Billy Eppler as general manager. The Mets have done exactly that, reaching deals with Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar, before a three-year, $130 million deal with Max Scherzer.     

    Marte heads to Queens on a four-year, $78 million deal; Canha for two years, $26.5 million; and Escobar for two years, $20 million. 

    The Mets spent the past two years looking for a center fielder and reportedly discussed a trade for Marte after the 2019 season. So they finally get their guy.

    At age 37, Scherzer will be the oldest player to sign a contract worth more than $100 million. It seems risky from that standpoint, but to land the best free-agent pitcher on the market after losing Noah Syndergaard can only be viewed as a success. 

    Though he was burned out by the postseason, Scherzer finished the 2021 regular season with the lowest WHIP (0.86) and second-lowest ERA (2.46) in baseball.   

Losers: New York Yankees

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    Gregory Bull/Associated Press

    Even if the Yankees landed one of the remaining star free-agent shortstops, like Correa or Trevor Story, it's a loss for now because they did not land Corey Seager. 

    The former Dodger and soon-to-be Ranger would have addressed the Yankees' need at shortstop and for another impactful left-handed bat. They still have a chance to land arguably the better player in Correa, but absent of that, this is a total loss. 

    As Matthew Roberson wrote for the New York Daily News, "The Texas Rangers showed the type of aggressive spending habits that used to define the Yankees."

    If you were to guess which team in New York was more likely to throw $130 million over three years to Max Scherzer, you would probably go with the Yankees over the Mets. But alas.