Reassessing all 6 divisions in light of FA mania

December 1st, 2021

Is your head still spinning? Mine sure is. The last few days of baseball transactions have been wildly disorienting and fabulously entertaining, a firehose of free agent signings coming at you so quickly you don’t even have time to get your bearings from the shock of one of them until another one comes and knocks you over. It’s been impossible to get any sort of perspective on any of it: They’re all just barreling by too fast.

So this afternoon -- with the knowledge that more could come at us any second -- let’s try. While some of the biggest names are still out there, from Carlos Correa to Freddie Freeman to Kris Bryant to Trevor Story, the baseball world, and the pending division chases and playoff races (in whatever form they end up taking), has been undeniably altered. Let’s take a look at each division and see how they’re different, in the wake of all the madness of the last few days, and knowing that there might be a pause on offseason activity when the collective bargaining agreement expires just before the stroke of midnight on Wednesday.

National League East

It’s a good thing Mets fans have decades of experience of dealing with the manic, discombobulating feeling of cheering for the New York Mets, or otherwise they’d probably be a little seasick right now. This offseason has been as frantic, with glorious highs and downright despairing lows, as any in Mets history. But you can’t say it’s not currently on a high note.

Mets owner Steve Cohen reacted to the disappointment of not signing Steven Matz -- a player whose supposed spurning of Cohen seemed to fire something up in the owner; Mets fans may owe Matz’s agent a debt! -- by going on a spending spree of epic proportions. Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte all agreed to deals in one night, filling out a third of the lineup in a matter of hours, but that was of course just the appetizer. The main course was the three-year, $130 million deal with Max Scherzer, Max freaking Scherzer, giving the Mets a 1-2 punch with Scherzer and Jacob deGrom that, if healthy (big if), is the best in the sport in a long time. This is how you want the Mets to act if you are a Mets fan, though perhaps not if you cheer for any other NL East team.

The other active NL East team has been, surprisingly, the Marlins, who have understandably targeted their lineup, trading for Gold Glove catcher Jacob Stallings and signing Avisaíl García. Neither is a game-changer, but there were big holes in this lineup, and they just filled two of them: Improvement is inevitable, and that the Marlins are making moves forward is an excellent sign. And the biggest move might have been a contract extension for Sandy Alcantara anyway.

Everyone else in the division has been silent, though the presumption (perhaps faulty?) is that the Braves will get Freddie Freeman signed at some point. The Mets’ spending is risky, but it’s a jolt to this division. The Phillies may need to make a move now as much as they have ever needed to make a move.

National League Central

As usual, the NL Central has been quiet. The Brewers added Pedro Severino, the Cardinals signed Matz (kicking off the Mets spree), the Reds look ready to say goodbye to Nick Castellanos and maybe even most of their rotation, the Pirates traded a Gold Glover (Stallings to Miami) and the Cubs have Wade Miley and Yan Gomes now. The Cardinals would seem to have made the “biggest” move, but their absence from the shortstop market -- now assured, considering the prices going around -- is probably the biggest non-move in the division. It looked like a clear two-team race at the end of the World Series (Brewers and Cardinals), and it still does.

National League West

The biggest changes in the NL West aren’t about additions: They’re about subtractions. Particularly in Los Angeles, where Corey Seager and Scherzer both appear to be leaving. It remains to be seen what happens with Clayton Kershaw, Chris Taylor and Kenley Jansen, but the Dodgers are obviously, palpably worse without those two, even allotting for their vaunted depth. The Giants have done what they can to fill out what had become an empty rotation, bringing back Anthony DeSclafani and adding Alex Wood and Alex Cobb. They are maintaining without necessarily improving. It feels like both teams are sort of reeling right now, which might be the best news for the Padres, who brought in manager Bob Melvin, which may have been the best move anyone in this division has made or will make.

American League East

Can you tell the Blue Jays were frustrated to finish fourth last year? The Jays were much better than a fourth-place team and have acted accordingly, bringing in Kevin Gausman, one of the best starting pitchers on the market, and extending José Berríos. (And they just lost a Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray, to Seattle.)

You’d think they might be in on an infielder too after losing Marcus Semien, but it is certainly notable that they’re the most active team in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox in it. Both those teams have been silent, save for a small Sox signing of Michael Wacha, but you don’t imagine that will last for long. (Also: With the Tigers presumably out of the running after reportedly signing Javier Báez, will the Yankees go big for Carlos Correa, a player their fans loathe?) The Rays’ deal with Corey Kluber feels like one of those deals that Tampa Bay will just find a way to figure out, but the organization is in such a glow of the Wander Franco extension that it’s understandable if you didn’t notice. But right now: This division still feels sort of status quo, with the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays all still playoff contenders.

American League Central

Perhaps the most important long-term deal in the AL Central came when the Twins extended Byron Buxton after months of speculation that he might be traded. Health is the first, second, third and fourth issue with Buxton, but it’s very simple: The Twins are terrific when he plays, and lousy when he doesn’t. He seems like the sort of guy you’d want to keep around. In the short term, though, it’s all about the Tigers, who built on last year’s step forward with a trade for Tucker Barnhardt and the signing of Eduardo Rodriguez. Then news broke overnight that the Tigers had agreed to terms with Báez, a solid (and very entertaining) addition who nevertheless is not the oft-rumored Correa.

All the moves ignore one basic fact, though: The White Sox still look like they have a comfortable cushion in this division, particularly if they’re healthier than last year. That hasn’t yet changed. Though Correa could shift that, and fast.

American League West

Whoa, nellie. There have been times the last few years when this has felt like a two-team division, with the Astros and A’s trading punches while everyone else takes on water. Clearly those other teams are tired of sinking.

The AL West, of all divisions, has been throwing haymakers, none more than the Rangers, whose rumored spending spree sure has come to fruition. You know that big shortstop market everyone was talking about? Well, the Rangers got two of them in Seager and Semien (with the latter likely playing second base, as he did in 2021 for Toronto). The risks would seem enormous considering the lengths of those contracts, but the immediate upside is just as enormous: Having those guys one-two in your lineup is terrifying. They also brought in a clear rotation topper by agreeing to a four-year deal with Jon Gray, and don’t forget Kole Calhoun, who has agreed to a one-year deal. The Rangers had a long way to go, and may still, but there are going to be a ton of Rangers jerseys flying off the shelves. They’re in the game now. It’s great to have them.

The Mariners, who were a heckuva lot better than the Rangers were last year and have a little postseason drought going on, merely went out and signed the Cy Young winner, bringing in Robbie Ray for five years, $115 million. Adam Frazier’s bat should help as well, and you suspect they’re not done adding to the lineup. They’re clearly all-in, something Mariners fans have been waiting on for a while. Also, oh yeah, the Angels brought in Noah Syndergaard, Michael Lorenzen and Aaron Loup as a way to patch their still-patchy rotation. The Astros could maybe still be in the market for Correa, but they’ve brought back Justin Verlander anyway and, you know, were just good enough to make the World Series. The A’s, who may be about to start trading away some guys, may cede their spot fighting the Astros in this division. Clearly, everyone else in the division is eager to take their place.

It’s all so wild. And we’re not done. It all changes so fast.