Say this for the end of labor peace in baseball: It sure made the hot stove a lot of fun.
There were 35 notable free agent signings, 10 trades involving 17 teams, and five multiyear contract extensions in the 10 days leading up to the lockout early Thursday morning. Nearly $2 billion was spent.
The expiration of the collective bargaining agreement worked like the July trade deadline and propelled teams into action.
“I don’t know that I would have predicted this a month ago,” Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said. “It’s been interesting to watch it unfold. It’s been a lot of fun for baseball fans and those who follow our game. This is why you do the work to prepare, so you’re ready for whatever comes at you.”
The Players Association has resisted putting any sort of deadline on offseason transactions, but it may want to revisit that idea given how well it worked for its members this year. The NBA and NFL have turned free agency into fast-paced events that their fan bases look forward to. Baseball should be able to do the same thing.
That’s for down the road. For now, let’s assess the pre-lockout winners and losers.
▪ Mets: There’s been a lot of stumbling about since Steve Cohen bought the team a year ago. Three general managers have been ousted, along with one manager, and the team is eight games under .500. But they’re starting to figure it out.
Billy Eppler was hired as GM last month and moved quickly to sign Mark Canha, Starling Marte, and Max Scherzer.
Scherzer, one of the best pitchers in history, was 7-0 with a 1.98 ERA in the regular season after being traded to the Dodgers. Los Angeles wanted him back, but the Mets went to $130 million over three years to make the deal.
Scherzer provides instant credibility. He will bring an intense competitive streak to a team that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2016. If Jacob deGrom is healthy, the Mets will have the best top-of-the-rotation combo in the game.
“Clubhouses can change, and it only takes a few guys to do it,” Scherzer said.
Will Scherzer be worth a $43.3 million average annual value in 2024? That’s a problem for another day.
Marte was the best center fielder on the market. The Mets will be his fourth team since the Pirates traded him after the 2019 season.
Canha has an .807 OPS since 2018 and can play all over the outfield. He offers versatility to a manager.
That’s the next step for the Mets. Eppler hired Brad Ausmus to manage the Angels in 2018. He lasted only the 2019 season, unfairly fired by owner Arte Moreno so the Angels could bring in Joe Maddon.
Ausmus managed Scherzer in Detroit in 2014, which helps his case. Or the Mets could bring in 65-year-old Buck Showalter, who hasn’t managed since 2018. They have time to get this right.
▪ Tigers: Detroit hasn’t had a winning record since 2016. But the Tigers made impressive strides under A.J. Hinch last season and have since signed Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Báez.
A solid starting pitcher and a premier defensive shortstop should speed up their rebuilding.
▪ Rangers: Texas opened a $1.2 billion ballpark in 2020 and has finished last twice. Something had to change and it did with the signings of Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million), Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million), and Jon Gray (four years, $56 million).
The Rangers need more rotation help and surely aren’t done spending yet.
▪ Marlins: Yes, the Marlins. They traded for versatile Rays infielder Joey Wendle and obtained sturdy catcher Jacob Stallings from the Pirates. Kim Ng also signed Avisaíl García to a four-year, $53 million deal and agreed to a five-year, $56 million extension with righthander Sandy Alcantara.
Miami hasn’t won a playoff game since Josh Beckett beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the 2003 World Series. But the Marlins are going in the right direction.
▪ Mariners: A 90-72 finish has Seattle wanting more. The Mariners signed Robbie Ray for five years and $115 million, and obtained utility player Adam Frazier from San Diego.
It’s not an offseason unless Jerry DiPoto makes a trade with A.J. Preller. They have made eight deals since 2015. Look for Seattle to stay active.
▪ Xander Bogaerts: Seager was deemed worth $32.5 million a year, Semien $25 million, and Baez $23.3 million. Bogaerts has a deal worth $20 million annually and can opt out after the coming season.
One way or another, he’s likely to land a new contract.
The Red Sox have not spent lavishly this offseason. Part of their motivation is a desire to sign Rafael Devers to a long-term deal before he hits free agency and understanding that Bogaerts may need a new contract to stay in Boston.
▪ Guardians, Orioles, and Pirates: Maybe it will change over time. But for now their entire rosters will be paid less than the $43.3 million the Mets will pay Scherzer next season.
Outside of José Ramírez, who is on the books for $12 million, no Cleveland player is expected to make more than $4.8 million in 2022. The highest-paid Pirate is Roberto Pérez, who signed for $5 million last week. Pérez was a free agent because Cleveland declined his $7 million option.
That teams are allowed to run such bare-bones operations is a big reason there’s a lockout. But the Players Association has rejected the idea of a salary floor in baseball.
▪ Yankees fans: Their team’s most notable move so far was hiring former Mets manager Luis Rojas as third base coach.
Hal Steinbrenner seems to be waiting out the lockout before deciding what path to take. The Yankees need rotation help, a shortstop, bullpen depth, and maybe a first baseman, unless that’s where DJ LeMahieu lands.
The Yankees did decide to retain catcher Gary Sánchez, which means he’ll be due $8 million. It speaks to the lack of catching in the game when a team is willing to pay that much for a player who has hit .201/.299/.444 the last four seasons and is a poor defender.
▪ Justin Verlander: He agreed with the Astros on a two-year, $50 million deal in mid-November. But the deal was never announced by the team.
Is something up with his physical? Verlander missed last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Because of lockout rules, the Astros can’t comment.
▪ Baseball fans: What was an intriguing offseason came to a sudden stop because of the lockout. The sides started slinging mud at each other minutes later.
Labor negotiations are necessary, and perhaps even good for the game if a new agreement improves the product on the field and finds a way for middle-class players to be compensated more fairly.
You may find it hard to sympathize with athletes who are getting $325 million deals, but if it was your son or grandson, you’d want him to get his share of the revenues.
For all our sakes, hopefully the league and the union aren’t foolish enough to let the lockout interrupt the season.
Hill returns to Sox for a third stint
Rich Hill had the ultimate leverage when it came to free agency. If he didn’t like his options he could always retire. Or just wait at home in Milton until a contender needed help during the season and sign then.
But the Red Sox made it easy, signing him to a one-year deal worth $5 million with a chance to make as much as $8 million if he reaches 160 innings. Hill is a great fit as No. 4 starter. He has a 3.15 ERA in 127 games since 2015, all but two of them starts. His fastball averaged a modest 88.1 miles per hour last season, but Hill was among the league leaders in limiting hard contact.
Like Tom Brady, he has all the answers to the test now.
But the Red Sox will get more than a reliable starter in Hill. They’ll get a good presence in the clubhouse.
Alex Verdugo arrived with an unearned sense of entitlement that annoyed many of his Dodgers teammates when he was first called up in 2017.
Hill flashed his temper and blew up Verdugo in front of everybody in the clubhouse. But he also made it a point to become a mentor to Verdugo and they remain close friends.
Earlier this year, Hill said Verdugo has the ability to be an All-Star.
Here’s another little story about the kind of person Hill is.
In 2014, Hill and wife Caitlin suffered a tragedy when their infant son, Brooks, died of brain and kidney conditions in February. Hill was with the Sox at the time and understandably was late arriving to spring training.
A small group of reporters were in the clubhouse waiting to talk to John Lackey when Hill arrived.
None of us knew what to do. Hill reporting to camp was a story, but what kind of question could you possibly ask somebody mourning the death of a child?
The decision was made that we’d give Hill some space. We backed away as teammates, coaches, and staff members came over to hug Hill and welcome him back.
Then Hill walked over to us.
“I’m sure you guys must have some questions,” he said. “So let’s talk.”
Hill told us about Brooks, what had happened, and praised the doctors and nurses at Mass. General. We talked a little about baseball, too. It was a remarkable moment to see how graceful he handled the situation.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ Chaim Bloom on where the Sox will turn once the lockout ends: “We still would like to add more pitching. We’ve got some guys who can fill multiple roles. But as far as short relievers, that is something we have yet to address in meaningful fashion. And we’re going to continue to look at doing that.”
There are dozens of free agent relievers still on the market. Given how last season ended for Matt Barnes, a reliever with some experience as a closer would seem to make sense.
▪ New Red Sox lefthander James Paxton is one of the eight players on the union’s executive subcommittee for labor issues. One of his counterparts on the owners’ seven-member labor-policy committee is Sox principal owner John Henry.
▪ Alex Binelas, one of the prospects the Sox received from Milwaukee for Hunter Renfroe, is from Oak Creek, Wis. His high school is 12 miles from American Family Field.
“It’s something me and my family, my friends always talked about,” Binelas told Baseball America last season. “Ever since I started playing baseball when I was 4 years old, it was, ‘I want to be a Milwaukee Brewer one day.’”
So much for that.
▪ The Red Sox aren’t allowed to communicate with any players on the 40-man roster during the lockout. Those players aren’t allowed to work out at team facilities, either. It also means Paxton can’t work with the medical staff as he makes his way back from Tommy John surgery.
But the team still has business it can attend to. The Sox have yet to replace Tim Hyers as one of their hitting coaches. They also need a first base coach and a manager for Triple A Worcester.
▪ The Red Sox were a 14-1 choice to win the World Series on Nov. 3, according to BetOnline. They were 18-1 as of Thursday.
Hall of Fame choices due
Two of the Hall of Fame’s era committees — Early Baseball and Golden Days — are meeting this weekend in Florida and are scheduled to vote Sunday. There are 10 candidates each group is considering.
Twelve votes from the 16-member committees are required for election. But electors can pick only four candidates.
Early Baseball covers the years before 1950; Golden Days encompasses 1950-69.
The only candidate with any connection to the Red Sox is Lefty O’Doul. He played 36 games for the Sox in 1923, most of them as a relief pitcher.
O’Doul developed a sore arm, gave up pitching, and went back to the minors to become an outfielder. He returned to the majors in 1928 with the New York Giants and went on to hit .353 over seven seasons.
Seven of the 10 Early Days candidates are figures from the Negro Leagues, including the estimable Buck O’Neil.
The Golden Era candidates include Dick Allen, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, and Tony Oliva.
Allen and Minoso have long been considered among the best players not yet in the Hall. Hodges is the only player to get at least 50 percent on the BBWAA ballot not to eventually get in. That doesn’t include those still on the ballot.
The results will be announced at 6 p.m. Sunday on MLB Network.
Golden Days candidates will not come to a vote again until December 2026 with Early Baseball next up for a vote in December 2032.
The ballot next December will be for Today’s Game candidates. That covers 1988 to the present. The next Modern Baseball vote will in December 2024. That will be the next opportunity for Dwight Evans, who fell four votes short in 2019.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox assistant GM Raquel Ferreira, and former Sox infielder Deven Marrero were among the guests when Mookie Betts married his longtime girlfriend, Brianna Hammonds, on Wednesday in California at an oceanside resort. Joe Kelly, Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Chris Taylor, and Dave Roberts also were on hand, along with former NFL running back Eddie George and the rapper Nelly. The festivities included a party at Dodger Stadium on Monday . . . Former Sox infielder Bill Mueller, now 50, left the Arizona State coaching staff and will join the Nationals as a hitting instructor. Mueller led the American League with a .326 average in 2003. The Sox didn’t have another batting champion until Betts hit .346 in 2018 . . . The pandemic had an impact on how often major leaguers were drug tested. Per statistics released by the league and the Players Association, MLB averaged 11,127 tests from 2017-19 with most of those (an average of 9,561) coming during the season. There were 8,436 tests in 2021, 7,885 during the season. There were six positives . . . Happy birthday to Cornelius Clifford Floyd, who is 49. The Red Sox obtained Cliff from the Expos at the 2002 trade deadline. He hit .316 with a .935 OPS over 47 games for a team that won 93, but missed the playoffs by six games. Floyd then signed a four-year, $26.5 million deal with the Mets. Floyd had an .840 OPS and 233 home runs over parts of 17 seasons.