What we've learned from latest blockbuster deals ... and what could still happen

March 17th, 2022

While we can’t advocate that the calendar ever plays out like this again, there is no denying that this has been the most epic start to Spring Training in baseball history.

Where once we were focused this time of year on the beautiful banality of pitchers’ fielding practice and which guys showed up to camp in the best shape of their lives, now instead we’ve had one head-spinning, mind-boggling blockbuster after another, to the point where it is getting increasingly difficult to remember who plays where (and for how much).

It's been a lot of fun, and it’s not even close to done. Here are five takeaways on what’s happened and what’s still coming.

1. All eyes turn to Correa, Story
Even within the context of an offseason that featured a 99-day lockout, the fact that two elite shortstops remain unsigned at this late stage is stunning. Each day that draws us closer to Opening Day increases the possibility of some sort of short-term deal or opt-out clause that invites and/or back into the market in the near future. And while the signing would seemingly shut the door on whatever faint possibility there was of Story returning to the Rockies, the Astros remain engaged with Correa. Back in November, a reunion in Houston did not seem possible, but we’re too late in the game to rule anything out now.

Given that the Red Sox were engaged late on , it will be particularly interesting to see how they pivot and if they get creative with their middle-infield positioning. (Publicly, Xander Bogaerts has been steadfastly against moving off shortstop to accommodate an external addition, but keep in mind that he is only under wraps for another year.)

As late as it is, the list of teams that make sense for either of these players has dwindled. But the Twins freed up money and space to remain engaged, the Cardinals could stand to upgrade up the middle, and the Mystery Team has not yet reported to camp.

2. The Dodgers are what people used to think the Yankees were
Raiding rosters to build an assemblage of All-Stars used to be the Yankees’ domain. But in the last few years, it’s been the Dodgers plucking Mookie Betts from the Red Sox, Trea Turner (and, briefly, Max Scherzer) from the Nationals and, now, Freddie Freeman from the Braves not long after those clubs beat them in October. It had seemed, particularly when they let Corey Seager walk, that this might be a more modest winter for the Dodgers, given their system depth and current commitments. Instead, after signing another megadeal with Freeman, they are currently projected to vault over the third luxury tax threshold of $270 million.

Juxtapose that with the Yankees. Yes, they took on big salary in the deal for Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa and brought back Anthony Rizzo. But for the Yanks to abstain from the greatest free-agent shortstop class in history out of deference to what prospect Anthony Volpe can eventually/possibly/hopefully provide in the not-too-distant future was the continuation of a general trend of the Yanks relinquishing the “Evil Empire” title. The Dodgers unquestionably own it now (sorry, Mets).

The way L.A. has conducted business also stands in stark contrast to their most bitter rivals. The Giants were viewed as a threat this Hot Stove season to play in the deep pool in free agency. They have focused instead on short-term signings (Carlos Rodon’s two-year, $44 million deal the biggest among them) and roster reunions.

3. Sorry, but the Braves played this right
Now that the dust is settled, we can see – clear as day – that as emotionally devastating as letting Freddie Freeman go might be for the Atlanta Braves, their methodology here is entirely defensible. Generally speaking, signing your franchise face is preferable to giving up top prospect talent. But if the top prospect talent is surrendered in order to acquire one of the elite players at your franchise face’s position and that elite player is five years younger than your franchise face, well, it makes the departure of the franchise face a heck of a lot easier to swallow.

The remarkably swift method by which the Braves extended after acquiring him from the A’s allowed them to save face while losing face. In the end, the soon-to-be-28-year-old Olson got an average annual value of $21 million over eight years, while the 32-year-old Freeman got an average annual value of $27 million over six. The Braves get younger and more powerful, and Freeman gets big money to sleep in his own bed in Southern California, next to his shiny World Series ring. Hard to find a loser in this situation, really.

4. The Blue Jays get some glove
The last time the Blue Jays acquired an All-Star third baseman from the A’s, it worked out pretty well. And there’s no reason to think the acquisition won't be similarly fruitful for a Toronto team that already posted the highest OPS of any lineup in baseball last season and only got better. Toronto generally has had more success making blockbuster acquisitions on the trade front than in free agency (George Springer was a rare exception), but the team had the farm system and financial flexibility to land one of this trade market’s top prizes. The only question is whether Chapman makes this team “too right-handed,” a la the Yankees of recent vintage.

It's Chapman’s glove, though, that is the real headline here. He vastly improves this club defensively on the left-hand side of the infield (Hyun Jin Ryu and his 48.3% career groundball rate say thanks). The Blue Jays needed run prevention at the hot corner more than they needed additional lineup balance (which could still come, as the “offseason,” of course, is not yet over). Blue Jays third basemen were minus-3 Outs Above Average when moving to their left last season, while Chapman was worth plus-5 (tied for best in the Majors).

5. The Rox rocked our world
The Rockies are a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, elevated 5,279 feet above sea level. In the last two years, they not only dealt their franchise player, Nolan Arenado, to another NL club for what many deemed a marginal return but absorbed $51 million in the process. They held Trevor Story and Jon Gray, despite being 14 games under .500 at the 2021 Trade Deadline. And now, as a team that finished 32 ½ games back in the NL West and has just five returning players who were worth two or more WAR last season (Ryan McMahon, C.J. Cron, German Marquez, Kyle Freeland and Elias Diaz), they’ve committed seven years and $182 million and a no-trade clause to one of the biggest bats in the market in Kris Bryant.

Anybody questioning why Bryant would sign with a club that clearly isn’t a contender should know the answer. (Hint: It’s not, as Mike Hampton once famously said, the school system.) And nobody should criticize the Rox for trying to improve their team (especially with the postseason field expanded), even if the exact methodology is a little, um, unorthodox. Bryant can help them in any corner, and the Coors effects could help him with the breaking balls that have given him trouble in the past (though his numbers in 65 previous plate appearances at Coors are surprisingly pedestrian, with a .263 average and .404 slugging percentage).

Arenado voiced that he wanted out, so the Rox let him out. Bryant wanted in, so they let him in. But was this high on the list of strangest Hot Stove happenings in memory? Yes. A mile high.