Back in business: 6 pre-lockout storylines shaping 2022

March 11th, 2022

Baseball is back in business.

Now that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement, the 30 clubs will get back to work on finishing off their rosters for the 2022 season.

A plethora of free agents will sign in the coming weeks, while general managers will reopen conversations regarding potential trades. The madness about to ensue will turn the hot stove up to a boiling point, picking up where the league left off on Dec. 1, when the league-wide, $2 billion spending spree came to a halt. Teams spent a combined $1.4 billion on Dec. 1 alone.

Here’s a look at six of the biggest stories from the first six weeks of the offseason:

Texas two-step
Following a fifth consecutive losing season, the Rangers were a team on a mission this winter. Texas made a huge splash by signing Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million deal, taking the first of five marquee shortstops off the board.

The Rangers also inked deals with Jon Gray and Kole Calhoun on the same day, but Texas wasn’t done. The following day, the Rangers stunned the baseball world by agreeing to a 10-year, $325 million contract with Corey Seager, pairing him with Semien to form a stellar double play combination.

Even after spending $561 million on four players, the Rangers are expected to be active in the first base and starting pitching markets. Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson are possibilities at first, while Clayton Kershaw and Carlos Rodón could be on the club’s rotation radar.

Mets taking it to the Max
No team has had a more impactful offseason than the Mets, who have not only added an abundance of talent to the roster, but also brought in new faces in both the general manager and manager’s offices.

Billy Eppler was hired as the new GM, while Buck Showalter was brought in to take over managerial duties. The pair will have some fellow new faces in Queens this season, as the Mets made a huge splash in free agency with the signings of Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar.

The Scherzer deal -- a three-year, $130 million contract -- was a stunner, as many had assumed the Dodgers would do whatever it took to retain the ace after Los Angeles traded for him last summer. But Mets owner Steve Cohen was aggressive in his pursuit of Scherzer, giving him a record $43.3 million average annual salary to pair him with Jacob deGrom atop New York’s rotation.

Marte gives the Mets the center-field weapon they needed, while Canha and Escobar will provide depth to the lineup and versatility in the field.

Tigers roar
Detroit showed solid improvement in its first season under manager A.J. Hinch, with its .475 winning percentage marking its highest since 2016. Many expected Hinch and the Tigers to pursue Carlos Correa -- which could still happen -- but the club addressed its hole at shortstop by signing Javier Báez to a six-year, $140 million deal.

The Tigers also added a solid arm to their rotation by signing Eduardo Rodriguez to a five-year, $77 million contract. E-Rod joins a rotation filled with talented young arms including Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, giving Detroit great hope for the future.

Canadian arms race
The Blue Jays knew they were facing the loss of Semien this winter, but given the firepower in Toronto’s lineup, the focus for the offseason centered on the top of the rotation, where American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray was also set to hit the free-agent market.

Rather than re-signing Ray, the Blue Jays opted to bring in a replacement, inking Kevin Gausman to a five-year, $110 million deal to lead the rotation. But that wasn’t Toronto’s only notable move, as the Jays signed José Berrios -- whom they acquired in a trade with the Twins last summer -- to a seven-year, $131 million extension.

The pair will lead a rotation that also includes Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah, the latter of whom had an impressive rookie season (9-2, 3.22 ERA in 20 starts).

Toronto could still pursue a bat -- Kris Bryant would be an interesting candidate, while Matt Chapman could become a trade target -- and it’s possible that adding yet another starter is in the Blue Jays’ plans, as well.

Ray of light in Seattle
The Mariners haven’t reached the postseason since 2001, but if ‘21 was any indication, that streak could come to an end in ‘22. Seattle won 90 games last year for the first time since ‘03 despite a 4.61 rotation ERA that ranked ninth in the AL and 19th in the Majors.

Enter Ray, the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, who agreed to a five-year, $115 million contract to leave Toronto for Seattle. Ray joins Chris Flexen and Marco Gonzales atop the rotation, though the Mariners will need youngsters Logan Gilbert, Justus Sheffield and/or Justin Dunn to step up in order to deepen the staff.

Seattle also acquired 2021 All-Star Adam Frazier in a deal with the Padres, adding the versatile infielder/outfielder to the mix, where he will likely play second base.

Extensions are trending up
• Berrios’ extension with the Blue Jays was one of five handed out this winter worth at least $50 million, with three of those players signing deals worth at least $100 million.

• Byron Buxton agreed to a seven-year, $100 million deal with the Twins, while the Rays’ Wander Franco landed an 11-year, $182 million contract after playing only 70 games in the Majors.

• Sandy Alcantara (five years, $56 million with the Marlins) and Antonio Senzatela (five years, $50.5 million with the Rockies) were also locked up by their respective clubs.