Six players, $995 million: Breaking down MLB's new nine-figure men, from Corey Seager to Javy Baez

·10 min read

For 48 precious hours from Sunday into Tuesday, Major League Baseball morphed into the NBA, its often painfully deliberate offseason giving way to a flurry of free agent transactions.

Inspired by a looming lockout and billions of dollars in available cash, a half-dozen stars reached agreement on nine-figure contracts, shedding significant light on the intentions of their new clubs in the process.

This merry run of transactions – with the biggest tremor Corey Seager’s 10-year, $325 million agreement with the Texas Rangers - is about to encounter a brick wall with Wednesday night’s expiration of MLB’s collective bargaining agreement with the Players’ Assn. MLB is expected to impose a lockout shortly thereafter, leaving consensus No. 1 free agent Carlos Correa and dozens of other players in limbo.

Yet 11 of the top 21 players in our ranking of 106 best free agents managed to beat the lockout deadline and left us with plenty to chew on as December looms. A look at the upsides, pitfalls and greater meanings of the six biggest signings:

Corey Seager is joining the Rangers on a 10-year, $325 million deal.
Corey Seager is joining the Rangers on a 10-year, $325 million deal.

Corey Seager: A-Rod, two decades later

Player free agent rank: 2

The deal: 10 years, $325 million with Texas Rangers

The player: Seager, 27, is a physical presence up the middle and atop a lineup, cut from the same cloth as Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra and the other punishing shortstops of the 1990s. And two decades after the Rangers rocked the industry with a 10-year, $252 million pact with A-Rod, Seager far exceeded that with his own decade-long deal that once again signals the Rangers are open for business. Seager’s injury history raises some concern, but he's played at least 134 games (or the equivalent thereof) in four of his six seasons. A broken hand due to a hit-by-pitch limited him to 95 games in 2021, but he produced his best slash line - .306/.394/.521 of his career. Since 2020, his adjusted OPS of 147 tops No. 1 free agent Carlos Correa’s mark of 121 in that span, and it will be a fun parlor game to see which big, physical shortstop proves the better buy over time.

The team: Entering year three of their billion-dollar ballpark, the Rangers could not afford a sixth consecutive losing season – or at least couldn’t stand idly by. Their startling $556 million commitment to Seager, Marcus Semien and right-hander Jon Gray – who signed a four-year, $56 million deal – should be just the start of a long-overdue ramp-up. And perhaps it’s timed just right for the AL West’s longtime bullies, the Houston Astros, to encounter a down cycle.

The impact: Seager’s Dodgers can simply slide Trea Turner in at shortstop for this season and move Gavin Lux to second base, but you don’t just delete a powerful lefty bat from the lineup and not feel some pain. Instead, Seager will be the lineup linchpin in Texas – and we’re confident he’ll last far longer than the three seasons A-Rod spent in Arlington.

Marcus Semien: Steady wins the race

Player free agent rank: 3

The deal: Seven years, $175 million with Rangers

The player: Semien, 31, finished third in AL MVP voting in 2019 and ’21, shrugging off a subpar shortened 2020 by slugging 45 home runs on a one-year deal with the Blue Jays. Now, he gets a massive reward for proving 2020 was an aberration. Semien spent 2021 at second base, but could easily slide back to short if, in coming years, the Rangers deem the 6-4 Seager a better fit at third base. A smart player and an excellent clubhouse presence, he and Seager will form a solid foundation upon which Texas can build.

The team: Are the Rangers ready to win now? Hardly. But the clock begins ticking to maximize the window their half-billion dollar middle infield has cracked open. They’re betting a fair amount of money that Gray will find consistency that eluded him at Coors Field. Yet all these investments may significantly hinge on 21-year-old right-handers Jack Leiter – the No. 2 overall pick in July – and Cole Winn reaching Arlington and forming the core of a championship rotation.

The impact: Can the Blue Jays replace Semien’s 45 home runs and steady presence? Betting that Cavan Biggio can do so poses significant risk. The Rangers have no such concerns.

Javier Baez is set to join the Detroit Tigers this winter.
Javier Baez is set to join the Detroit Tigers this winter.

Javy Baez: Motor City centerpiece

Player free agent rank: 10

The deal: Six years, $140 million with Tigers

The player: Few are as dynamic and exciting as Baez, 29, a Gold Glover and two-time All-Star who combines elite power and undeniable elan up the middle. He hit at least 29 homers across three seasons but has struggled with contact and on-base issues – striking out an NL-high 184 times in 2021. In six-plus seasons with the Cubs and a half-season with the Mets, Baez was more complementary piece, what with fellow stars Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Francisco Lindor alongside. Now, he’s the undeniable centerpiece of a Tigers club that will soon surround him with young, high-end talent.

The team: It’s once again a fun time to be a Tigers fan, what with a Casey Mize-led rotation revival bolstered by the free agent signing of Eduardo Rodriguez. Now, a potentially impactful young core – slugger Spencer Torkelson, outfielder Riley Greene – has a veteran around which to build in a division very much for the long-term taking.

The impact: Baez leaves a pair of teams in his wake, with the Mets pivoting to spending big bucks on pitching and the Cubs still flattened by last year’s July teardown. Detroit will afford a nice fresh start for Baez, who if he continues to make strides in walk rate – it was a career-best 7% in two months with the Mets – can become an even better version of himself.

Acquired at the trade deadline, Scherzer helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS in 2021.
Acquired at the trade deadline, Scherzer helped the Dodgers reach the NLCS in 2021.

Max Scherzer: Getting the Super Max

Player free agent rank: 6

The deal: Three years, $140 million with Mets

The player: He will be the highest-paid player per annum - $43.3 million – as he enters his age-37 season, a tribute to Scherzer’s singular greatness. He posted a career-best 0.86 WHIP, leading the majors in that category along with fewest hits (six) and walks (1.8) per nine innings while striking out 236. Scherzer also made 30 starts for the first time since 2018, once again managing to skirt major injury while battling just occasional aches and pains. A healthy and dominant Scherzer can be an immediate agent of culture change in New York, where the Mets are still seeking a manager and were dogged by mini-dramas in shortstop Francisco Lindor’s first season.

The team: Get set for the glossy promo shots of Scherzer and Jacob deGrom, posing menacingly, baseballs clutched in their hands. It’s an appropriate flex – they’ve won four of the last six NL Cy Young Awards. But after that? Taijuan Walker’s second-half slide is concerning and the Mets will forage to fill out the rotation. With enough looming question marks, deGrom’s health – he made just 15 starts in 2021 due to myriad arm and shoulder maladies – is paramount.

The impact: Scherzer has remade much of the NL landscape since July – his trade from Washington to Los Angeles emptied out much of the Dodgers’ prospect inventory and now the club faces significant rotation holes with Clayton Kershaw also a free agent and Trevor Bauer unlikely to pitch for the team again. Meanwhile, Scherzer will likely face the prospects dealt for him in his first two starts against the Nationals – this time as the bell cow of a suddenly aggressive big-market club.

Robbie Ray: Mariners finally go big

Player free agent rank: 5

The deal: Five years, $115 million with Mariners

The player: Oft dominant but rarely consistent, it all coalesced for Ray in 2021, when he led the majors with 248 strikeouts and won the AL Cy Young Award. Ray was an All-Star in 2017, when he led the NL with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but in one-plus seasons with Toronto, made significant adjustments to improve his command. A true unicorn in 2021, Ray was a horse with precision, leading the AL in innings (193 1/3), ERA (2.48), WHIP (1.05) and adjusted ERA (154).

The team: Known best for GM Jerry Dipoto’s incessant trading, the Mariners never quite paired activity with achievement until last season, when they squeezed out 90 wins and fell three wins shy of their first playoff berth since 2001. All the while, Seattle largely avoided the free agent pool while awaiting a wave of prospects to better bend their “win curve.” Has that time arrived? Perhaps. Prized outfielder Jarred Kelenic made an uneven 2021 debut but finished on a more encouraging note, and his minor-league running mate, Julio Rodriguez, has cracked the 40-man roster and should join him early in 2022. Their most important young player, though, will be second-year right-hander Logan Gilbert, who struck out 128 in 119 innings and posted a 1.17 WHIP in his 2021 debut. Ray and Gilbert should give the Mariners a dominant 1-2 punch.

The impact: Was the Mariners’ 90-win season – during which they were outscored by 51 runs – a mirage? Ray’s presence alone could make up a good bit of that gap, but it won’t be worth much unless pitching surprises such as Chris Flexen (3.61 ERA in 179 2/3 innings) and Paul Sewald (104 strikeouts in 64 2/3 relief innings) can repeat their unforeseen success.

Kevin Gausman: Leaving a Giant hole

Player free agent rank: 12

The deal: Five years, $110 million with Blue Jays

The player: Gausman repeated his 2020 revival in rousing fashion, striking out 222 in 192 innings and making his first All-Star game as the Giants won 21 of his 33 starts. Gausman rocketed from occasionally frustrating young pitcher to All-Star by boiling his repertoire down to two pitches – a four-seam fastball and splitter, which accounted for 88% of his pitches. The “here, hit it” approach caught up to him a bit in the second half and may be a tougher sell in an AL East with more daunting ballparks. But Gausman will still miss plenty of at-bats to neutralize the daunting dimensions and punishing lineups in Boston and New York.

The team: Replacing Ray with Gausman for essentially the same price means the pair will be compared and debated in taverns from Yonge Street to Mississauga for the foreseeable future. But the effect remains the same: Toronto will come right at you with a rotation of Jose Berrios, Hyun-jin Ryu, Gausman and Alek Manoah (127 strikeouts, 1.05 WHIP in 111 2/3 innings as a rookie). The Jays clubbed a major league-high 262 home runs last year, but Semien’s loss may force the club to lean a little more on pitching in ’22.

The impact: While Giants GM Farhan Zaidi has worked magic with his entire roster, resulting in a startling 107-win season in 2021, Gausman may be the one guy they can’t afford to lose. Zaidi brought back Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood from the ’21 staff, but replacing Gausman’s 192 oft-dominant innings will be challenging – and will ask a lot of starter and relief arms that performed at just about peak efficiency a year ago. Toronto won’t have such worries.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB free agent frenzy: These six players are getting $995 million

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