The Best and Worst MLB Free-Agent Signings Early on in 2022

Joel Reuter@JoelReuterBRFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2022

The Best and Worst MLB Free-Agent Signings Early on in 2022

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    The 2021-22 MLB free-agent market was one of the most compelling in recent memory, from a loaded shortstop market to Freddie Freeman leaving the Atlanta Braves to the flurry of activity immediately before and after the 90-day lockout.

    All told, 11 different players secured a contract north of $100 million, led by Corey Seager who landed a massive 10-year, $325 million deal from the Texas Rangers.

    Ahead we've selected the five best and five worst signings of the offseason based on the early returns over the first month of the 2022 season. Only players who signed a multiyear deal were considered for a spot on the list, though we did count down the 10 best one-year contracts on a separate honorable mention slide of sorts.

    There's still plenty of time for the scales to shift, but here are the best and worst free-agent signings of the 2021-22 offseason so far.

Top 1-Year Deals

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    Joc Pederson
    Joc PedersonIcon Sportswire/Getty Images

    10 Best 1-Year Deals

    1. SP Clayton Kershaw, LAD
    2. SP Justin Verlander, HOU
    3. SP Michael Wacha, BOS
    4. SP Chad Kuhl, COL
    5. SP Martin Perez, TEX
    6. RP David Robertson, CHC
    7. OF Travis Jankowski, NYM
    8. RP Kenley Jansen, ATL
    9. 2B/3B Brandon Drury, CIN
    10. OF Joc Pederson, SF

    Honorable Mentions: Zack Greinke (KC), Matt Strahm (BOS), Noah Syndergaard (LAA), Daniel Vogelbach (PIT)

No. 5 Worst: Steven Matz, St. Louis Cardinals

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    Contract: Four years, $44 million

    A non-tender candidate prior to the 2021 season, Steven Matz was instead traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for a trio of prospects led by right-hander Sean Reid-Foley.

    The former New York Mets top prospect went 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 144 strikeouts in 150.2 innings, just in time to reach free agency for the first time in his career. The St. Louis Cardinals moved quickly to sign him, inking him to a four-year deal on Nov. 29.

    It's been a rocky start for the 30-year-old, as he has a 7.01 ERA through his first six starts, and last time out he allowed five hits, three walks and eight earned runs while recording just six outs on the road against the San Francisco Giants.

    His 3.82 FIP and a solid 30-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 25.2 innings would seem to suggest he's in line for some positive regression, but the early returns have been ugly.

No. 5 Best: Anthony Rizzo, New York Yankees

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    Contract: Two years, $32 million

    After 10 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, first baseman Anthony Rizzo was traded to the New York Yankees last summer as part of Chicago's fire sale.

    He posted a 109 OPS+ with eight home runs and 21 RBI in 49 games following the trade, and after testing the waters on the open market, he ultimately found his way back to the Yankees on a two-year deal. The Yankees' subsequent trade of Luke Voit made it clear the everyday first base job was Rizzo's.

    The 32-year-old is currently tied for the MLB lead with nine home runs to go along with a 168 OPS+ and a team-high 22 RBI in 28 games.

    Rizzo can opt out of the second year of his contract, but he's been a good fit on the Yankees so far. Given his age and position, he could also have a tough time topping $16 million on the open market, so there's a good chance we'll see him back in pinstripes.

No. 4 Worst: Avisail Garcia, Miami Marlins

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    Contract: Four years, $48 million plus 2026 club option

    The Miami Marlins ranked near the bottom of the league in team batting average (.233, 28th), team OPS (.670, 29th) and runs per game (3.85, 29th) last season, and that was a big reason why they lost 95 games and finished fourth in the NL East.

    They added a handful of offensive pieces this offseason in an effort to rectify that issue. The biggest of the bunch was outfielder Avisail Garcia, who inked a four-year deal that included a fifth-year option and $53 million in guaranteed money.

    The 30-year-old had a solid season with the Milwaukee Brewers last year, posting a 116 OPS+ while setting career-highs in home runs (29) and RBI (86), but that production is nowhere to be found so far in Miami.

    Garcia is hitting .189/.222/.253 with just one home run and four RBI in 99 plate appearances, and his 38 OPS+ ranks 169th among 174 qualified hitters.

No. 4 Best: Max Scherzer, New York Mets

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    Contract: Three years, $130 million

    With the largest annual salary in MLB history, it's going to be difficult for Max Scherzer to live up to his contract with the New York Mets. But he's off to a good start.

    The future Hall of Famer has a 2.92 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 37 innings, and after finishing third in NL Cy Young voting last year, he's on track to be in the thick of things once again this year.

    While those stats look great in a bubble, they have taken on even more importance to the Mets with Jacob deGrom opening the year on the injured list. Props to Tylor Megill, Chris Bassitt and Carlos Carrasco, but the Mets are not one of the best teams in baseball right now without Scherzer.

    At 37 years old, it's fair to wonder how he'll age over the next three seasons, but so far he has been worth every penny of his $43.3 million salary in 2022.

No. 3 Worst: Kris Bryant, Colorado Rockies

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    Contract: Seven years, $182 million

    A year after trading homegrown superstar Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals for pennies on the dollar, the Colorado Rockies shelled out big money to sign Kris Bryant in free agency.

    With proven power production and defensive versatility, Bryant was undoubtedly one of the top players on the market, but it's fair to question whether that was money well spent for a Rockies team with more pressing needs and an uphill battle to contend in a stacked NL West.

    While the Rockies have been better than expected in the early going, Bryant has more or less been a non-factor, posting a 93 OPS+ and minus-0.2 WAR in 15 games before landing on the injured list with a back soreness in late April.

    There's plenty of time left to change the narrative, but so far the largest free agency splurge in Rockies franchise history has been a disappointment.

No. 3 Best: Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Contract: Six years, $162 million

    A staple at first base in Atlanta for 12 seasons, Freddie Freeman followed up his 2020 NL MVP win by hitting .300/.393/.503 with 31 home runs and 4.7 WAR last season while helping lead the Braves to a World Series title.

    The 32-year-old hasn't missed a beat since joining a loaded Los Angeles Dodgers lineup. He has posted a .317/.403/.515 line with 13 extra-base hits in 119 plate appearances, and he's also quickly become a fan favorite in his new city.

    His 165 OPS+ currently leads the Dodgers, and with former first baseman Max Muncy off to a slow start in a super-utility role, Freeman's contributions are even more magnified.

    Freeman will be in his age-37 season when he reaches the final year of his contract, so it's worth wondering how well his deal is going to age, but so far, so good.

No. 2 Worst: Trevor Story, Boston Red Sox

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    Contract: Six years, $140 million

    Even in a down year by his standards, Trevor Story still put together a 24-homer, 20-steal, 4.2-WAR season in his last hurrah with the Colorado Rockies.

    The final domino to fall on a loaded shortstop market, he wound up having to shift to second base with the Boston Red Sox in deference to Xander Bogaerts, though he could conceivably shift back to his natural position next year if Bogaerts decides to opt out.

    The 29-year-old is still searching for his first home run in a Boston Red Sox uniform, and he's hitting a meager .194/.276/.269 for a 60 OPS+ in 105 plate appearances. His strikeout rate has also spiked from 23.4 to 33.3 percent, and his batted-ball metrics have taken a step backward.

    With second base prospect Jeter Downs currently sporting an .825 OPS with six home runs in 26 games at Triple-A, and lower-level prospect Nick Yorke poised to move quickly through the minors, it's reasonable to question whether that $140 million could have been better allocated.

No. 2 Best: Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

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    Contract: Five years, $110 million

    Kevin Gausman picked the perfect time for a career year, going 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 227 strikeouts in 192 innings to finish sixth in NL Cy Young voting after returning to the San Francisco Giants on a qualifying offer.

    Armed with a lethal split-finger fastball, he was one of the market's elite starting pitching options, and the Toronto Blue Jays shelled out nine figures to add him to a starting rotation that already included Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu and young right-hander Alek Manoah.

    The 31-year-old is off to a fantastic start in Toronto with a 2.13 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and a brilliant 46-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio over an AL-leading 38 innings pitched.

    He regressed a bit after the All-Star break last year, but he is once again pitching like a frontline starter and outperforming 2021 AL Cy Young winner Robbie Ray (6 GS, 4.38 ERA, 1.24 WHIP), who he is essentially replacing in the Toronto rotation.

No. 1 Worst: Marcus Semien, Texas Rangers

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    Contract: Seven years, $175 million

    The Texas Rangers spent $500 million on a new middle infield during the offseason, and while shortstop Corey Seager (94 OPS+, 4 HR, 0.6 WAR) is off to a quiet start, it pales in comparison to the struggles of his new double-play partner.

    Marcus Semien was a bona fide AL MVP candidate last season while playing on a one-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. He set the all-time record for home runs by a second baseman (45) and posted a 131 OPS+ and 7.3 WAR in 162 games.

    A year after winning Gold Glove honors, the 31-year-old is once again playing terrific defense at second base (2 DRS, 5.1 UZR/150), but he is batting just .178 with a 45 OPS+ and still searching for his first home run of the new season.

    Beyond the surface-level struggles, his batted-ball metrics are also ugly, including his average exit velocity (7th percentile), hard-hit rate (6th percentile) and barrel rate (14th percentile). That doesn't inspire much confidence in a quick turnaround.

No. 1 Best: Carlos Rodon, San Francisco Giants

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    Contract: Two years, $44 million

    Carlos Rodon enjoyed a career year with the Chicago White Sox last season playing on a one-year, $3 million contract. He posted a 2.37 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 185 strikeouts in 132.2 innings, finishing fifth in NL Cy Young voting.

    However, he pitched just 43 innings after the All-Star break, and that coupled with his lengthy injury history limited his free-agency appeal to shorter deals.

    He wound up inking a two-year contract with the San Francisco Giants that includes an opt-out clause if he reaches 110 innings pitched this year, and so far he has done a fantastic job replacing Kevin Gausman atop the starting staff.

    The 29-year-old has a 1.80 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and an MLB-leading 53 strikeouts in 35 innings, and his 1.17 FIP is a great indication of just how dominant he's been and should continue to be as long as he can avoid the injured list.

           

    All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs.

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