View Original Notice ? Alexander: A crazy lead-in to a baseball lockout?
Baseball’s free agent frenzy has been atypical, closer maybe to what we see in the NBA or NHL the first day when teams can officially woo players. As of Tuesday afternoon, over five days we’ve seen 28 signings, seven contracts worth $100 million or more, and more than $1.4 billion in guaranteed salaries committed.
Maybe it’s a sign: When baseball recovers from its impending labor pains, why not set a free agent signing deadline somewhere around the Winter Meetings to create this urgency every year?
(It also raises this question: If this much future money is being tossed around this aggressively – including $200 million in future commitments by, ahem, traditionally small-spending Tampa Bay – explain again why management almost certainly will impose a lockout when the collective bargaining agreement expires Wednesday at 8:59 p.m. PT.)
All of that said, if you’re a Dodgers or Angels fan you might have had your nose pressed up against the proverbial window the past few days, watching most of the cool kids head elsewhere.
The Angels did sign Noah Syndergaard, well before the rush, and maybe that was a coup but it will depend on whether the Thor who shows up does so in name only or brings his pre-injury stuff with him. They added reliever Aaron Loup, who should bolster their bullpen, and they warmed the hearts of the Cal State Fullerton Alumni Association by bringing Michael Lorenzen home (and they might bring Phil Nevin back to Orange County as third base coach, too).
That’s OK, I guess. They did something, which is better than doing nothing. But they’re a fourth-place team in desperate need of starting pitching help, and when their marquee signing is a guy who has pitched two innings over the past two seasons and a division rival just landed 2021 Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray … well, can Shohei Ohtani do more?
But if you are an Angels fan you’re probably used to lowered expectations. General Manager Perry Minasian might have all kinds of creative tricks up his sleeve for when baseball business resumes, but Arte Moreno has to sign off on them. As is often the case in Anaheim, that’s the issue.
Conversely, if you root for the team that plays its home games in L.A. County … you’ve been spoiled, but it might be wise to prepare for leaner times just in case.
This timing couldn’t be worse for the Dodgers. With a bundle of key players going on the market and the added complication of the albatross that is Trevor Bauer’s contract, the fears going in were that it wouldn’t end well. It certainly hasn’t started well, with Scott Boras clients Corey Seager and Max Scherzer headed to the Texas Rangers and New York Mets, respectively.
Seager signed for 10 years and $325 million, the sixth-highest total contract ever and a $32.5 million average annual value, as the Rangers spent $561.2 million on four players. Scherzer was one of four Mets signings for $254.5 million, and his three-year, $130 million deal obliterated Gerrit Cole’s previous record for AAV at $43.3 million a year. Cole was a Boras client, too; the Newport Beach-based agent does not give hometown discounts, ever, so this outcome was predictable.
It could get worse. As of 5 p.m. on Tuesday, utility man Chris Taylor, pitcher Clayton Kershaw and closer Kenley Jansen were still on the open market.
Meanwhile, Bauer remains in limbo while the commissioner’s office continues its investigation of the sexual assault allegations against him. The odds are that he won’t throw another pitch for the Dodgers, but the club still owes him $64 million over the next two years, and until they know whether Rob Manfred will issue a suspension they can’t assume any payroll relief.
Yep, that contract is the gift that keeps on giving.
Bauer and agent Rachel Luba issued self-congratulatory tweets Monday after Scherzer’s signing with the Mets, suggesting that they had pioneered the idea of short-duration, big-AAV contracts. Never mind that Andrew Friedman had made such offers in the past and usually been spurned. Does anyone remember the four-year, $180 million offer to Bryce Harper?
Short term deal for high AAV huh? Hmmm. Interesting. Congrats Max!
— Trevor Bauer (?????????) (@BauerOutage) November 29, 2021
Cool to see Scherzer use this new “market” Bauer strived to create for players—shorter deals w/ higher AAV for top-market guys. Creating that market & getting teams comfortable w/$40M+salaries was a huge challenge. Awesome seeing him &his agent use this new market to build off of https://t.co/TGmceuYBXw
— Rachel Luba (@AgentRachelLuba) November 29, 2021
Sometimes it’s just better to remain quiet.
If pennants were won or lost in the offseason, the Dodgers would be in jeopardy. To recap: They haven’t missed the postseason since 2012, they’ve won more than 100 games three of the last four full seasons and have played .636 baseball since 2017, and they broke a 32-year drought by winning the 2020 World Series. But 2022 could be an unaccustomed transition year, and when the game finally reopens for business Friedman might have to be in aggressive retooling mode.
The franchise renowned for starting pitching is down to two returning starters if Kershaw leaves; as of now, recent signee Andrew Heaney is the No. 3 starter behind Walker Buehler and Julio Urias. The bullpen will have to be refigured, as it is every year; thus the signing of Daniel Hudson. Max Muncy’s revelation of an ulnar collateral ligament tear, far more serious than the way the injury was first described when it happened on the final day of the regular season, could put another big hole in the lineup. And Friedman likely will be scrambling to augment a bench that was already thinner, and losing Taylor’s versatility would hurt big time in that regard.
(Friedman wouldn’t dare pursue Carlos Correa, would he? Dodger fans, I await your response.)
Simply put, barring some major wheeling and dealing after the lockout, the Dodgers don’t look like they’ll be nearly as good a team as they have been the last five years. The saving grace is that pennants aren’t won in November and December, and I’m sure Mets owner Steve Cohen has been reminded they don’t give ticker-tape parades for winning the offseason.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter