Grades for MLB's Most Impactful Free-Agent Signings of the Last Week

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterMarch 22, 2022

Grades for MLB's Most Impactful Free-Agent Signings of the Last Week

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    Kris Bryant is now a Colorado Rockie. For some reason.
    Kris Bryant is now a Colorado Rockie. For some reason.Matt York/Associated Press

    What? You thought we were going to just grade Major League Baseball's biggest post-lockout moves through last Monday and leave it at that?

    Not a chance.

    Though there were plenty of impact moves for us to size up this time last week, things kept humming right along, specifically on MLB's free-agent market, which is now almost picked clean after a series of high-profile signings.

    Of these, we chose the 10 biggest signings by way of guaranteed dollars for the grading treatment. We mostly weighed the fit between team and player, though we also deemed it relevant if a contract was more or less expensive or inexpensive than expected.

    We'll start with some honorable mentions and then proceed in chronological order.

Honorable Mentions

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    Zack Greinke
    Zack GreinkeReed Hoffmann/Associated Press

    San Francisco Giants Sign OF Joc Pederson

    The Deal: 1 year, $6 million

    Pederson has mostly been bad over the last two years, including when he's faced right-handed pitching. Yet he still managed to hit three big home runs for Atlanta last October, so there might be something for the Giants to unlock. For what it's worth, they're good at that.


    Kansas City Royals Sign RHP Zack Greinke

    The Deal: 1 year, $13 million

    Even in his diminished state, the 38-year-old Greinke is still a strike-thrower and an innings-eater. The Royals needed one of those amid their otherwise young and green starting rotation, so they might as well go for the guy who's also a local favorite and a future Hall of Famer.


    Los Angeles Angels Sign RHP Ryan Tepera

    The Deal: 2 years, $14 million

    Albeit accidentally, Tepera got an MVP vote in 2020. He's also coming off a 2.79 ERA with 74 strikeouts over 61.1 innings in 2021, so the Angels got themselves a good setup man for returning closer Raisel Iglesias.

March 15: New York Yankees Re-Sign 1B Anthony Rizzo

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    The Deal: 2 years, $32 million

    Rather than for the Freddie Freeman-flavored pie in the sky, the Yankees aimed lower and cheaper in re-signing Anthony Rizzo to fill their needs for a first baseman and left-handed hitter.

    It's mostly been downhill for Rizzo since he peaked as an All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger and World Series champion with the Chicago Cubs in 2016. Notably, the 32-year-old has a modest 109 OPS+ over the last two seasons, in part because his numbers didn't really tick up after he joined the Yankees last July:

    • With Chicago: .248 AVG, .346 OBP, .446 SLG
    • With New York: .249 AVG, .340 OBP, .428 SLG

    The Yankees did, however, glimpse a version of Rizzo's former self when he went 9-for-32 with three home runs in nine games before his stint on the COVID-19 injured list. That—plus a home run stroke that's well-suited to Yankee Stadium's short right field porch—gives them excuses to dream bigger than most on Rizzo.

    He's played in 94 percent of all possible games since 2013, so the Yankees should at least be able to count on Rizzo to man the cold corner on a daily basis. Even that would make him a solid bridge to whoever inherits first base from him.

    Grade: B-

March 16: Philadelphia Phillies Sign OF/DH Kyle Schwarber

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    Mary DeCicco/Getty Images

    The Deal: 4 years, $79 million

    The Philadelphia Phillies came out of the lockout with reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto at the heart of a strong offensive core, but they sorely needed more depth.

    To this end, Kyle Schwarber is worth a $79 million roll of the dice.

    He hasn't always been healthy or productive, as he's played in over 140 games in a season just once, and he posted a subpar 88 OPS+ as recently as 2020. He's also completed his fall down the defensive spectrum, from catcher to left field to first base to designated hitter.

    On the plus side, the 29-year-old is dangerous when he's locked in. He clubbed 38 home runs in 2019 and more recently put it all together with a 148 OPS+ and 32 home runs in 2021. Among other things, his peripherals included a hard-hit rate in the 93rd percentile.

    Schwarber's rise was largely kickstarted by Kevin Long, who's now the Phillies' hitting coach after serving the Washington Nationals in the same capacity last year. Between that and how his power meshes with Citizens Bank Park's tiny dimensions, the Phillies only need to hope that Schwarber can stay healthy.

    Grade: B+

March 18: Los Angeles Dodgers Sign 1B Freddie Freeman

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Deal: 6 years, $162 million

    Speaking of Freeman, it was perhaps inevitable that he would end up with the Los Angeles Dodgers after the Yankees and Atlanta shut their respective doors on him.

    Though Freeman, 32, said he was "blindsided" by the latter's trade for Matt Olson, it didn't exactly force him to downgrade his own situation. Joining the Dodgers is a homecoming for the Southern California native, not to mention a jump from the World Series champions of 2021 to those of 2020.

    And goodness is Freeman a perfect fit for the Dodgers lineup. Said lineup already had two MVPs and six other players who've been All-Stars. Freeman has been both in his career, and his track record since 2013 includes a stellar .302/.394/.523 slash line and a 162-game average of 30 home runs. 

    The risk here is obvious. Past production is no guarantee of future production, especially when it comes to players over the age of 30. Freeman is already well past that mark, and his contract runs through his age-37 season.

    Yet between their deep pockets and win-now timeline, the Dodgers were ideally suited to take a risk on Freeman. If all goes well, they'll keep hoarding wins and contending for championships.

    Grade: A

March 18: Atlanta Signs RHP Kenley Jansen

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    Jae Hong/Associated Press

    The Deal: 1 year, $16 million

    After officially losing Freeman to the Dodgers, mere hours passed before Atlanta responded by luring L.A.'s longtime closer.

    For his part, Kenley Jansen is pumped just to be a part of the organization. He was a fan of Atlanta growing up and specifically of fellow Curacao countryman Andruw Jones. Simply on this front, this is a happier occasion than most one-year deals for the player.

    Jansen is 34 years old, and he's been on something of a roller-coaster in recent seasons. On the whole, the 136 ERA+ he posted between 2018 and 2021 fell a fair bit short of the 183 mark he put up in his first eight major league seasons.

    Yet Jansen is coming into Atlanta hot. He pitched to a 0.65 ERA in his last 27 appearances of the regular season in 2021 and then basically went untouched in eight playoff outings. He still has a nasty cutter, but he showed a greater willingness to also mix in other pitches.

    Should Jansen falter, Atlanta will still have Will Smith, Tyler Matzek, Collin McHugh and A.J. Minter to handle high-leverage innings. If he doesn't falter, he'll be the face of one of baseball's nastiest bullpens.

    Grade: A-

March 18: Chicago Cubs Sign OF Seiya Suzuki

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    The Deal: 5 years, $85 million

    If Seiya Suzuki has his way, he'll become the Cubs' very own Mike Trout.

    Long before he was saying "I love you" to Trout, the 27-year-old Suzuki was modeling his game off of the Los Angeles Angels' three-time MVP in Japan. And it showed. All he did between 2016 and 2021 was hit 177 home runs and steal 77 bases while also winning five Gold Gloves.

    What's more, Suzuki more or less mastered Trout's advanced approach in his last three seasons with the Hiroshima Carp. In those, he walked 20 more times than he struck out.

    Granted, how well that approach ultimately translates to the majors will hinge on how Suzuki adjusts to the kind of high-velocity fastballs that are more prevalent here than they are in Japan. Per Kyle Glaser of Baseball America, "opinions are split" as far as how well he'll make that adjustment.

    For now, though, Suzuki and Marcus Stroman are satisfactory win-now additions for Chicago's lineup and pitching staff, respectively. After breaking up their previous core last July, the worst they'll be is a more watchable team. At best, they'll make a few runs at the newly expanded playoff field.

    Grade: B+

March 18: Colorado Rockies Sign INF/OF Kris Bryant

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    The Deal: 7 years, $182 million

    It has been barely more than a year ago that the Colorado Rockies traded Nolan Arenado. Though they didn't also move Trevor Story and Jon Gray, they did effectively run them out of town.

    So, they weren't exactly the team you'd expect to sign Kris Bryant to a megadeal.

    There is some logic at work here. The Rockies needed an outfielder and somebody with power in the middle of their lineup. Bryant fills both needs, and he should feast at Coors Field—not just because of its thin air and dimensions, but because it's a good place for him to keep punishing fastballs.

    Even still, there's no ignoring that Bryant isn't the same player he used to be. He's averaged just 3.7 rWAR per 650 plate appearances since 2018, compared to 5.9 rWAR between 2015 and 2017. Further, his athleticism was in apparent decline even before he turned 30 on Jan. 4.

    Bryant thus made the most sense for a deep-pocketed, win-now team that could preserve his legs by mostly playing him on the infield and at DH. With an 87-loss 2021 season in their rearview and a payroll that's likely close to maxed out even at $133 million, the Rockies don't check these boxes.

    Grade: D

March 18: Philadelphia Phillies Sign OF Nick Castellanos

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    The Deal: 5 years, $100 million

    After signing Schwarber, the Phillies doubled down on adding power by agreeing to terms with Nick Castellanos.

    Way back when, we tabbed Castellanos as a boom-or-bust free agent on account of a couple different concerns. For one, he's a slugger who swings too much to also take his walks. For two, he benefited so much from Great American Ball Park in 2021 that his OPS there trumped his road OPS by 337 points.

    For three, he's in the conversation for the worst defenders in baseball. That would be neither here nor there if the Phillies signed him as a DH, but that position seems to belong primarily to Schwarber. Castellanos would not only have to play the field, but he would have to play left field instead of right field in deference to Harper.

    Nonetheless, the 122 OPS+ and 162-game average of 30 homers that Castellanos has posted since 2016 can only be played down so much. And if a bat-first player must move on from Great American Ball Park, Citizens Bank Park isn't much of a downgrade in terms of hitter-friendliness.

    So as long as you don't focus too much on the gloves, the Phillies lineup now looks like a much better offensive unit.

    Grade: B

March 19: Minnesota Twins Sign SS Carlos Correa

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Deal: 3 years, $103.5 million

    At the outset of the offseason, Carlos Correa looked destined to sign a long-term deal worth upwards of $300 million. And in all likelihood, that money would come from an established contender.

    In other words, not a short-term deal with a team that finished in last place in 2021.

    Yet the agreement does make sense for Correa, personally. The $35.1 million average annual value is the second-highest ever for a position player, which is befitting of a 27-year-old shortstop who leads his position in rWAR since 2015. He can also opt out after 2022 and 2023 if he sniffs an opportunity for more money.

    Why the Twins? Well, they had an opening at shortstop in addition to money to offer. Correa might also simply want to play at Target Field, where he has a 1.205 OPS for his career.

    As for the Twins, this sure seems like a "why not?" signing. They're typically not big spenders, but Correa's deal isn't even the richest in their history. And even though they finished in the cellar last year, they still have quite a few pieces left from their division winners of 2019 and 2020. Might as well go for it.

    Grade: A

March 19: Miami Marlins Sign OF/DH Jorge Soler

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    The Deal: 3 years, $36 million

    Correa wasn't the only star slugger to sign a three-year contract with opt-outs after 2022 and 2023 over the weekend. Those same terms also applied to Jorge Soler's deal with the Miami Marlins.

    He'll obviously be making a lot less money, which is only fair. Even after eight seasons in the majors, Soler has 3.6 rWAR to his name. And 3.5 of that came in his 48-homer season with the Kansas City Royals in 2019.

    Consider this a reminder that the 30-year-old is extraordinarily mercurial. That '19 season is the only one in which he's enjoyed both good health and good consistency, though even the latter is debatable. Even as recently as last year, he didn't come close to replacement level in 94 games with Kansas City.

    The Marlins are left to hope, then, that Soler can find some kind of equilibrium between his best days with the Royals and his stretch run with Atlanta last year. In the latter, he hit 14 homers in 55 games even before claiming the World Series MVP.

    At $36 million, it's not a bad gamble. But considering that the Marlins had one of baseball's worst offenses last year, the club would have been better off setting its sights higher.

    Grade: C+

March 20: Boston Red Sox Sign 2B Trevor Story

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    The Deal: 6 years, $140 million

    Of the 725 games that Trevor Story has started in the big leagues, 722 of them have been at shortstop. The other three? At designated hitter.

    And yet, he agreed to play second base for the Boston Red Sox. On purpose.

    The money was clearly good enough to convince him to make the change. Beyond that, we can speculate that he was willing to make it for the change of scenery. After six years on generally forgettable Rockies teams, joining a team that fell two wins shy of the World Series in 2021 is certainly a change for the better.

    And while Fenway Park is not Coors Field, it does have one thing to assuage concerns over Story's notorious home/road splits. The Green Monster in left field has long been a target for right-handed hitters with pull power. With a 1.545 OPS to his pull side, Story has lots of that.

    The Red Sox can be excited about that and about how much Story's athleticism—i.e., 89th-percentile sprint speed in 2021—will boost their infield defense. Provided, of course, that the throwing issues he had last year at least don't crop up when he has to make strong, accurate throws to complete double plays.

    Grade: B+ 


    Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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