Before getting locked out, players loaded up Wednesday as big league teams unlocked their coffers for an unprecedented spending spree.
Major League Baseball clubs committed to a one-day record $1.4 billion in salaries, hours before the league was expected to lock out players following the 11:59 p.m. expiration of the collective bargaining agreement.
Six nine-figure contracts were handed out, including two by the Texas Rangers — shortstop Corey Seager got $325 million over 10 years and infielder Marcus Semien will make $175 million over seven years.
The Detroit Tigers got infielder Javier Báez for a $140 million, six-year deal, ace Max Scherzer was assured $130 million over three years from the New York Mets, and righthander Kevin Gausman landed with the Toronto Blue Jays for $110 million over five years. Twins center fielder Byron Buxton also finalized a $100 million, seven-year contract to remain with Minnesota.
It’s the first time teams have combined to spend over $1 billion in a single day.
“This is actually kind of fun,” Scherzer said. “I’m a fan of the game, and to watch everybody sign right now, to actually see teams competing in this kind of timely fashion, it’s been refreshing because we’ve seen freezes for the past several offseasons.”
The 23 deals and counting announced Wednesday totaled $1,408,250,000, part of roughly $2 billion in new contracts handed out since the end of the World Series ahead of the CBA expiration.
“This year was a situation where we received some calls early and had some interest in what we were asking for,” said Semien, a free agent for the second straight year. “It became easier to narrow a decision down. What it came down to was an opportunity to build something.”
The union and league are likely headed for a protracted labor dispute after the average major league salary fell on opening day in 2021 for the fourth consecutive season.
Players and teams alike may have feared the chaos of a limited free-agency window in the spring if the lockout goes that long. That spurred agents, general managers and owners to act before rosters froze.
“It was 50-50,” Báez said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen when the deadline comes. I was just making sure I wanted to be with one of the best teams.”
Plenty of big names remain on the board, though. Star shortstop Carlos Correa, first baseman Freddie Freeman, third baseman Kris Bryant, shortstop Trevor Story, and outfielder Nick Castellanos remain free agents and might have to wait until spring or later to find a home.
Based on estimates for remaining unsigned players, MLB projects offseason spending will be about $3 billion for a star-studded free agent class, roughly $700 million more than the previous high.
Among the other deals completed Wednesday were righthander Marcus Stroman to the Chicago Cubs, $71 million over three years; outfielder/infielder Chris Taylor returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers, $60 million over four years; righthander Raisel Iglesias stayed with the Los Angeles Angels, $58 million over four years; righthander Jon Gray to Texas, $56 million over four years; outfielder Avisail Garcia to Miami, $53 million over four years; lefthander Alex Wood to San Francisco, $25 million over two years; infielder Eduardo Escobar to the New York Mets, $20 million over two years; infielder/outfielder Leury Garcia to the Chicago White Sox, $16.5 million over three years; catcher Yan Gomes to the Chicago Cubs, $13 million over two years; righthander Yimi Garcia to Toronto, $11 million over two years; righthander Corey Knebel to Philadelphia, $10 million for one year; righthander Corey Kluber to Tampa Bay, $8 million for one year; righthander Andres Munoz with Seattle, $7.5 million for four years; righthander Luis Garcia with San Diego, $7 million for two years; catcher Roberto Perez to Pittsburgh, $5 million for one year; and righthander Dylan Bundy to Minnesota, $5 million for one year.
Stroman broke his own signing news on Twitter.
“Chicago has always been one of my favorite cities. Culture and passion everywhere. Beyond excited to pitch in front one of the best fan bases in all of sports,” tweeted the 30-year-old, who made 33 starts for the Mets last season after sitting out the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign. “Thank you to everyone in the city for the warm welcome. I can feel it. Let’s get to work!”
Max Scherzer, Mets owner Steve Cohen eager to form a winner
Mets owner Steve Cohen promised a max effort bringing a World Series back to New York. Enter Max Scherzer, the newest ace in Queens.
The Mets and the three-time Cy Young Award winner finalized a $130 million, three-year deal, a contract that shattered baseball’s record for highest average salary and forms a historically impressive 1-2 atop New York’s rotation with Jacob deGrom.
Scherzer said he was convinced during a video call with Cohen last month that the second-year owner was going to do whatever it took to build a winner in Flushing.
“You don’t hear that from owners too much these days,” Scherzer said. “When you hear an owner wants to do what it takes to win, obviously that piqued my interest.”
Of course, Cohen put his wallet behind his words.
The 37-year-old Scherzer will earn $43.33 million per year, 20 percent higher than the previous mark, the $36 million Yankees pitcher Gerrit Cole is averaging in his $324 million, nine-year contract signed prior to the 2020 season. Scherzer has the right to opt out after the 2023 season and become a free agent again.
The eight-time All-Star was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA last season with the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired him on July 30. He didn’t lose a game after May 30 and was as dominant as ever in his first nine starts with LA, going 7-0 with an 0.78 ERA.
The right-hander ran out of steam following heavy usage in the postseason, though. He was unable to start Game 6 of the NL Championship Series against Atlanta as planned due to arm fatigue. The Dodgers lost that game to end the series.
Scherzer said he took about two weeks off before resuming throwing. He’s back on his normal offsesaon program, and he said the arm has turned a corner and felt better over the past two weeks.
Robbie Ray, Mariners came together quick
Seattle was still in the middle of finishing their first big deal of the offseason when they started making an aggressive move to land a new ace for their pitching rotation, a signing that would grab even more attention.
Once Robbie Ray expressed an interest, it was a quick process to bring the American League Cy Young Award winner to Seattle.
“It just seemed like a really good fit and we were ready to move forward,” Ray said one day after signing with the Mariners. “I mean, it happened really quickly, but we’re glad that it did.”
After the best season of his career, Ray is seen by Seattle as a major piece to help move the Mariners from unlikely postseason contenders to playoff regulars for years to come. His $115 million, five-year deal includes an opt-out after the third year, something president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said is “getting in line with the times” and was worth adding to make sure the deal was completed.
“I think that’s one of the main attractions for us is we want to be the team where, when other teams are coming to Seattle to play us, they look at the three pitchers or the four pitchers that are lined up for that series and they say, ‘Oh man,’” Dipoto said.
Corey Kluber was ‘priority’ for Rays
Two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber had his third consecutive injury-plagued season in 2021, going 5-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 16 starts for the New York Yankees, but Tampa Bay president of baseball operations Erik Neander called him “a priority target” in formally announcing the sides agreed to an $8 million, one-year free-agent contract which includes an additional $5 million in incentives.
“I’m at the stage of my career where I’m trying to still win a World Series and I think that the success that this team has had the last few years makes it pretty obvious that they’re in a position to do that,” Kluber said. “This is a team I want to be part of.”
Kluber was limited to seven starts and 35⅔ innings during his last year with Cleveland, in 2019, and just one inning with Texas in 2020 due to forearm, shoulder and oblique injuries.
“I finished last season with no restrictions, healthy, so I’m approaching this offseason like a normal one,” Kluber said. “Starting to get ramped up throwing now, which is always kind of an exciting part of the offseason.”
1983 Cy winer LaMarr Hoyt dies at 66
LaMarr Hoyt, who won the 1983 AL Cy Young Award with the Chicago White Sox, died Monday in his hometown of Columbia, S.C., following a lengthy illness. He was 66. Hoyt went 98-68 with a 3.99 ERA in eight years in the majors. The 6-foot-3 righthander was also the 1985 All-Star Game MVP while with San Diego, pitching three innings of one-run ball in the only All-Star selection of his career.