We tracked their comings and goings, followed every rumor and projected them onto team after team. We knew they would change the way we viewed races. We just weren’t sure how or how much.
Some will tell you last winter’s free-agent market moved as slow as molasses. That’s one way to look at it. Another would be that the Hot Stove League has never been hotter as speculation built and built.
Anyway, that was then. What we now have is some perspective as these players put a finishing touch on their first seasons with their new teams. We’re not declaring winners and losers. We may be years from being able to do that. But we can get a start.
When all was said and done, 24 players signed deals worth at least $20 million prior to Opening Day. Here’s an unscientific ranking of the top 11 based strictly on production.
(Statistics through Thursday)
1) Patrick Corbin, Nationals (6 years, $140 million)
3.15 ERA, 1.126 WHIP, 168 2/3 IP, 10.3 K/9
Corbin's arrival gave the Nationals a rotation built for October, with the lefty lining up behind Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. Corbin has been everything the Nationals hoped for, especially down the stretch when he has performed like an ace. In his last 13 starts, he has allowed more than two earned runs just twice for a microscopic 2.16 ERA.
2) DJ LeMahieu, Yankees (2 years, $24 million)
.335 BA, 23 HRs, .919 OPS
LeMahieu was signed to be organizational depth, that is, a player capable of playing multiple positions. He has done that starting 118 times at three different infield positions. He’s a huge reason the Yankees have thrived despite so many injuries and may finish his first season in the Bronx with a batting championship.
3) Michael Brantley, Astros (2 years, $32 million)
.332 BA, 19 HRs, .928 OPS
Seeing Brantley become one of the anchors for one of baseball’s best teams, it’s difficult to remember how injuries cost him a big chunk of the 2016-17 seasons and cast doubt on his ability to be an impact player again. Those doubts have been erased during an All-Star season that has been a thing of beauty to watch.
4) Bryce Harper, Phillies (13 years, $330 million)
.255 BA, 28 HRs, .869 OPS
Harper will likely finish his first season in Philadelphia with around 35 homers, 35 doubles and 100 walks. Dozens of players would love to have that kind of production. Only this isn’t dozens of players, and we’re not talking about the record-setting contract. He has always been projected to do more.
5) Charlie Morton, Rays (2 years, $30 million)
3.11 ERA, 1.091 WHIP, 165 IP, 10.9 K/9
After the 2016 season, Morton wondered if any team would even offer him a Major League contract. In two seasons with the Astros and one with the Rays, he has remade himself into one of the AL’s best pitchers: Eighth with a 3.27 ERA, fourth in strikeouts (565), eighth in WHIP (1.15) and ninth in innings (478 2/3).
6) Manny Machado, Padres (10 years, $300 million)
.262 BA, 27 HRs, .798 OPS
The Padres wanted to add a solid bat to the middle of their order and they have done that. Whether they’ve added a superstar remains to be seen since Machado’s numbers are down across the board -- and not just because he’s playing half his games in cavernous Petco Park. On the other hand, he’s going to finish with more than 20 doubles, 30 home runs and 60 walks, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
7) A.J. Pollock, Dodgers (4 years, $55 million)
.264 BA, 10 HRs, .779 OPS
Injuries again cost Pollock a big chunk of games, but he has batted .298 with a .913 OPS in 36 games since his return. The Dodgers signed him to help them win a World Series, and that’s ultimately the best way to evaluate his season.
8) Josh Donaldson, Braves (1 year, $23 million)
.259 BA, 32 HRs, .900 OPS
Donaldson has shown again that when he’s healthy he’s still one of the best players in the game. He’ll get another crack at free agency this offseason and could use a nice Braves postseason run as a springboard.
9) Lance Lynn, Rangers (3 years, $30 million)
3.77 ERA, 1.245 WHIP, 176 2/3 IP, 10.3 K/9
This season should have erased any doubts that Lynn could bounce all the way back from Tommy John surgery that cost him the 2016 season. He pitched at least six innings in 19 straight starts at one point, including 12 of at least seven innings. In those 19 starts, he allowed three runs or fewer 15 times.
10) Adam Ottavino, Yankees (3 years, $27 million)
1.58 ERA, 1.263 WHIP, 62 games, 12.32 K/9
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman built a deep, made-for-October bullpen, and Ottavino has been a big part of that. He has pitched in at least 60 games for the third straight season and will be called up to get the big strikeout in the seventh and eighth innings.
11) Zack Britton, Yankees (3 years, $39 million)
2.18 ERA, 1.211 WHIP, 57 games, 7.38 K/9
Britton struggles with his control more than he did in his best days with the Orioles, but he’s also performing at his highest level in three seasons. Manager Aaron Boone has used him exclusively in the eighth inning in 22 appearances since late June, and Britton has been scored upon once.