Every move of the 2021-22 offseason, tracked

November 24th, 2021

It took less than a day after the Braves won the World Series for the first offseason move to be made. If we've learned anything from offseasons past, there are going to be dozens and dozens more such moves to follow it. As we've regularly done in the past (2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21) we'll catalogue each notable move here, so consider this your running list of the offseason.

Nov. 23, 2021: White Sox sign P Kendall Graveman
Three years, $24 million (sources)

Ten months ago, Chicago signed Liam Hendriks. Four months ago, the Sox traded for Craig Kimbrel and Ryan Tepera. On Tuesday, they were busy finalizing terms with Graveman, who had a breakout 2021 as a reliever after years of struggling to stay healthy and established as a back-end starter. The White Sox, clearly, covet collecting high-end relievers, and considering that they also return Aaron Bummer, who had an All-Star caliber season of his own, as well as Michael Kopech and Garret Crochet, at first glance this seems more luxury than necessity.

Then again, there's a lot of moving parts here. Tepera is a free agent, Kopech is likely to move to the rotation in 2022, and Kimbrel, who was unreliable for the White Sox, seems for all the world a trade candidate after having his $16 million option picked up. Through that lens, there's definitely more of a need for a reliable reliever to set up for Hendriks, though it's fair to point out that despite being in the Majors since 2014, Graveman's track record of success is a limited one. From 2014-'20, he had a 4.44 ERA, mostly for Oakland, around multiple arm injuries. In 2021, split between Seattle and Houston, he added a slider, and his sinker velocity, which had been in the 92-93 range as a starter, did, well, this:

It's that velocity jump (and a clear reason for it happening) plus the improved secondary pitches that give Chicago confidence that his out-of-nowhere 2021 wasn't a fluke, though it does raise questions about Kimbrel's near-term future. Just six weeks after Tony LaRussa accused Graveman of intentionally throwing at Jose Abreu in the playoffs, they're now on the same side. That, at least, ought to be interesting. -- Mike Petriello

Nov 22, 2021: Giants sign P Anthony DeSclafani
Three years, $36 million

Despite the stunning 107-win 2021 season, the Giants entered the winter with a ton of work to do, and we don't just mean replacing the retired Buster Posey. Other than Logan Webb, the entire starting rotation was headed to free agency, and even Webb, for as great as he was in October, hasn't had a full season in the rotation yet. Bringing back DeSclafani and likely Alex Wood, who is close to a two-year, $10 million deal, according to a source, who combined to start 57 games (and throw 306 1/3 innings) for the Giants this past season, doesn't fully fix that issue, but it does provide badly-needed depth.

In a way, the paths of DeSclafani and Wood -- as well as their teammate on the 2019 Reds, Kevin Gausman, who is still unsigned -- tell you a lot about what it is that the Giants did so well, which is to identify talented-yet-underperforming players and get the most out of them. DeSclafani had a 4.29 ERA in parts of six seasons for Miami and Cincinnati; he posted a 3.17 with San Francisco, in some part due to changes in his pitch mix, using his slider as his primary offering for the first time. Wood had posted some strong years with the Braves and Dodgers, but had managed only a 5.96 ERA across 48 1/3 injury-plagued innings in 2019 and '20 before throwing 138 2/3 quality frames for the Giants.

That DeSclafani's deal is larger despite the fact that Wood is a year younger likely tells you a little about how he's been more durable and can be counted upon for more innings. Still, San Francisco's official depth chart for the rotation now reads 1) Webb, 2) DeSclafani ... and that's it. Maybe Wood gets finalized, behind them. Maybe Alex Cobb joins up, as has been rumored. Maybe this is just a good start, with a considerable amount of work yet to do. -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 22, 2021: Angels sign P Aaron Loup
Two years, $17 million

Two years ago, after a pair of seasons wrecked by arm injuries, Loup had to settle for a Minor League contract with Tampa Bay. He was good in the shortened season for the Rays, which earned him a one-year deal from the Mets for 2021, where he was absolutely fantastic (0.95 ERA), which in turn has now earned him a two-year deal for real money from the Angels. It's long been clear the Angels needed to find at least six new pitchers, and they weren't all going to be starters; Loup, along with fellow ex-Met Noah Syndergaard, makes for some nifty pre-holiday shopping, though he's not a replacement for free-agent star closer Raisel Iglesias.

It should be noted that if you're expecting another 0.95 ERA from a pitcher who is about to be 34, you'll be disappointed -- he had a 2.45 FIP and a 3.15 xERA, still quite good -- but even when (not if) that ERA rises, Loup can still be a solid addition to a needy bullpen so long as he continues his ability to avoid the loudest contact. Thanks in part to his sidearm-ish release point as well as a sinker/cutter mix that can be difficult to pick apart, Loup allowed just six extra-base hits all season long, thanks to a barrel rate (or barrel avoidance rate, if you prefer) in the 99th percentile. (Even the lone homer he allowed came to Juan Soto, which hardly seems an outcome worth stressing over.)

The Angels aren't done improving their pitching, or even close to done. But early on this winter, they've made more progress than most. -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 17, 2021: Astros sign P Justin Verlander
Two years, $50 million, with opt-out after 2022

Verlander turns 39 in February and he's thrown all of 73 pitches across the last two seasons, having undergone Tommy John surgery 13 months ago, and yet the Astros still handed him not only a guaranteed $50 million if he wants it, but also the choice to walk away from the second year if he thinks he can do better. On top of that, because he'd received and rejected the Qualfying Offer, and players can be issued that just once, he won't have to worry about it the next time he's on the market.

It is, in most every way, an enormous win for a pitcher who already has a spot reserved in Cooperstown. It's also a tremendous risk for the Astros, who are banking a great deal on the fact that at 39 (and potentially 40), Verlander can pitch as well as he did from 34 through 36 for Houston. The good news, anyway, is that we'd yet to see any real signs of decline before the injury; after all, Verlander did win the 2019 Cy Young, then added 35 1/3 more innings in the run to the World Series. That'll be more than two years in the past by the time the 2022 season begins, though clearly he was impressive enough in early November when he threw a workout and was touching 96 MPH.

We're in the midst of a turnover in the Houston rotation, because the names fueling this half-decade run -- Keuchel, Cole, Morton, etc. -- are gone, it's likely Zack Greinke is on his way out too, and even Lance McCullers Jr. comes with questions about the health of his arm. It's meant that relative newcomers Jose Urquidy, Luis Garcia and Framber Valdez have begun to shoulder more of the load, and they've been quite good, though they were never going to do it alone. If 2022 Verlander looks anything like the version we saw before his injury, a quietly good Houston rotation could be among baseball's best. Again. -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 16, 2021: Angels sign P Noah Syndergaard
One year, $21 million (per sources)

If $21 million, plus the loss of a 2022 second round Draft pick, sounds like a whole lot of risk for a pitcher who has thrown two innings in the last two seasons, then perhaps that shows you that the Angels are finally, finally serious about adding pitching to support Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani on their path back to the playoffs.

Last year, the Angels had a 4.68 ERA, ninth-worst, but even that undersells the problem, because their two best non-Ohtani pitchers (Alex Cobb, 3.76 ERA, and Raisel Iglesias, 2.57 ERA) are each currently free agents. Conservatively, this team was going to need something like a half-dozen new pitchers at a minimum, and if you need that much pitching, well, risk comes with the package. Syndergaard is a piece of the puzzle, not the full solution to it, though the Angels rotation at least looks more interesting with him alongside Ohtani, Patrick Sandoval, José Suarez, Reid Detmers, Jaime Barría, and Griffin Canning, in whatever chunks of innings their health and productivity will allow.

Besides, while it's unreasonable to expect Syndergaard to come in and suddenly be a 200+ inning horse -- a mark he never reached in his best years anyway -- talking about how little he pitched over the last two years doesn't exactly tell you the story of his 2022, either. By Opening Day, he'll be more than two calendar years off his March 2020 Tommy John surgery, and he did manage to get back on the mound for two late-season appearances. The one-year deal allows him to get back on the market next year, without another Qualifying Offer, and having made more in 2022 than he would have if he'd accepted the $18.4 million from the Mets. It's a win/win for Thor, aside from just getting to play with Trout and Ohtani.

But really, the big winner here is any free agent pitcher who enters the market healthy, because if this is what Syndergaard gets, those with more recent track records might be excited. -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 15, 2021: Braves sign C Manny Piña
Two years, $8 million (with a team option for 2024)

It's easy to forget now, but there was a game in early May where the Braves lost both of their catchers (Travis d'Arnaud, Alex Jackson) to injury, forcing them to scramble over the summer with veterans Jeff Mathis, Jonathan Lucroy, Steven Vogt, and Kevan Smith, as well as rookie William Contreras. d'Arnaud returned and should be the starter in 2022, while Jackson was traded to Miami for Adam Duvall, but what they returned was that the rest of it just wasn't good enough, at least not for next season.

So, instead of rushing Contreras or prospect Shea Langeliers, the Braves added some badly-needed depth in Piña, who hit a little in parts of six years with Milwaukee (91 OPS+, 42 homers) but is mostly prized for his defense, mostly his lethal throwing arm and also his above-average framing. That goes beyond what can be quantified, anyway, because part of Milwaukee's recent success has been the progression of Omar Narváez behind the plate -- an improvement he credited in large part to Piña. Seems like just the kind of guy you want to spend Spring Training with a pair of young catchers, doesn't it? -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 15, 2021: Tigers sign P Eduardo Rodriguez
Five years, $77 million (per sources)

It's been clear for months that this was going to be the winter that the Tigers were going to make some moves to support their improving young core, and with all due respect to catcher Tucker Barnhart, he alone was not going to be it. While there's a lot to like about young starters Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, the truth is they're a lot more about potential than production at this point, and with Matt Boyd and Spencer Turnbull each recovering from arm surgery that will cost them chunks of 2022, a quality veteran starter was always going to be a must-have addition for Detroit.

Now, how much Rodriguez qualifies as a "quality veteran starter" might depend on how exactly you perceive pitchers, because on the surface, maybe you're confused. Rodriguez finished sixth in 2019 Cy Young balloting, but did not pitch in 2020 while recovering from myocarditis after a bout with COVID-19, and then in 2021, he posted a 4.74 ERA, which is hardly impressive. Except, of course, that teams don't just look at ERA these days, especially when there's an absolute ton of evidence that the Boston infield behind him was just wretched:

You can really throw that 4.74 mark out the door, and realize that based on the underlying metrics -- like the 185/47 K/BB in 157 2/3 innings, like the fact that he was in the top 13% in avoiding hard-hit contact -- he really pitched a whole lot more like Robbie Ray ... who might win the Cy Young. You can't pretend the 4.74 ERA didn't happen, of course, but you can certainly see how it's not entirely a reflection on the way he pitched. Rodriguez doesn't even turn 29 until just after Opening Day, making this a five-year deal that ought to align perfectly with what Detroit hopes is their contention window, which is in part why they were OK with giving up a Draft pick to sign a player who received a qualifying offer. (He can also opt out after 2023 if he wants, putting added pressure on Detroit to win now.)

Now: Who's next? -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 9, 2021: Dodgers sign P Andrew Heaney
One year, $8.5 million

Nearly seven years after Heaney was first briefly a Dodger -- and we do mean briefly, because he was there for a matter of minutes in the midst of two deals that sent him from the Marlins to the Dodgers to the Angels -- he's the first free agent to sign with a new team, and there's just so much about this signing that tells you what modern baseball is about. Heaney has had his moments, but with more downs than up, because little is impressive about a career 4.72 ERA, or one season of more than 130 innings, or pitching so poorly after the Yankees traded for him last summer (7.32 ERA, 13 homers in 35 2/3 innings) that they simply stopped using him in September.

So: What on earth, then, is the appeal? It's because teams like the Dodgers, Giants, Astros, and others like them love to find an underperforming pitcher with at least one thing to like and make them better. (Like Kevin Gausman, for example.) In this case, the One Thing To Like is that Heaney gets more strikeouts than average, and he walks fewer batters than average, and over the last four years, the list of pitchers who have done those things better than he has is a list of baseball's best pitchers. While the Robbie Ray comparisons we're already hearing don't really work, because Ray's stuff is simply more overpowering than Heaney's, it's also not that hard to see the Dodgers helping him reshape his curveball or add a slider, because even a mild decrease in home run rate could make him interesting.

Or, it could completely not work at all. But that's the point. The Dodgers are wagering just a one-year deal to find out. That they jumped on him so quickly indicates they are confident. -- Mike Petriello

Nov. 3, 2021: Reds trade C Tucker Barnhart to Tigers
Reds receive Minor League third baseman Nick Quintana

Cincinnati might have non-tendered Barnhart rather than pay him the $7.5 million he's due in 2022, so instead they traded him for a relative non-prospect. Whether you think the Reds ought to have kept him generally depends on how you value veteran catchers, because Barnhart is a below-average hitter (75 OPS+ across 2020-21) who was in the process of losing his starting job to 25-year-old Tyler Stephenson, the No. 11 overall pick in the 2015 Draft.

That's a hefty salary for a defense-first backup catcher, but that's also exactly why the ready-to-improve Tigers were interested -- if the long-running rebuild they're hoping to escape from is going to succeed, it's going to require young pitchers Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Tarik Skubal to show more than they have so far. Forget how well or at all Barnhart hits. That is why he's here. -- Mike Petriello