$615 million. On three players. By two teams. In one day.
It began at about 4 p.m. in Dallas on Nov. 28, when a Texas Rangers team coming off a 102-loss season agreed to terms on a seven-year, $175 million contract with Marcus Semien, a top-three finisher in MVP voting after two of the last three seasons. Twenty-three hours later, a Seattle Mariners team that hasn’t reached the playoffs in two decades added reigning American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray with a five-year, $115 million deal. And an hour after that — with Major League Baseball’s inevitable lockout looming — the Rangers came over the top with a 10-year, $325 million commitment to Corey Seager, the best player available outside of Carlos Correa.
The AL West is wild right now, — and once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, all five of its teams will continue to be extraordinarily busy.
The Houston Astros (Justin Verlander) and the Los Angeles Angels (Noah Syndergaard) have each committed more than $20 million on frontline starters coming off Tommy John surgery but have more work ahead of them. The Rangers and Mariners are intent on continuing to add. And the Oakland Athletics, who do more with scant resources than any team outside of the Tampa Bay Rays, will immerse themselves in a rebuild that could see them part with both of their star corner infielders, Matt Chapman and Matt Olson.
We sifted through it all below.
2021 record: 95-67 (lost in World Series)
What to expect when the lockout ends: What remains of the Astros’ offseason essentially boils down to one question: How much offense, if any, will they need once Carlos Correa officially departs via free agency? Correa’s return still seems like a long shot; the Astros haven’t signed a free agent to a deal longer than five years under Jim Crane’s ownership, and their last reported offer to Correa was valued at $160 million, roughly half of the top contracts for his position.
Even without Correa, the Astros would still boast a lineup featuring Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Michael Brantley, Kyle Tucker and Yordan Alvarez.That’s a devastating top six, even though Gurriel and Brantley will both be in their mid-30s this season. But the bottom third projects to be noticeably weak without another move. Maybe Trevor Story can replace Correa on a shorter contract. Maybe Tucker moves to center field and the Astros engage in the corner-outfield market. Or, given that their 2022 payroll is already in the neighborhood of $170 million, maybe they roll with the current group and make some changes on the margins.
Current outlook for 2022: The Astros’ best path to upgrading a 2021 team that fell two wins shy of a championship was adding a bona fide frontline starter, and they did that by bringing Justin Verlander back for $25 million (plus a conditional $25 million option for 2023). Verlander is a soon-to-be 39-year-old coming off Tommy John surgery, but he is also Justin Verlander. In his last full season, he won the 2019 American League Cy Young Award, and his return once again makes the Astros the favorites in this division. But not by a lot, largely because of the Correa component. He’s an established star on the field, but his impact in that clubhouse has also been, by all accounts, profound. Moving on won’t be easy, regardless of who replaces him.
2021 record: 90-72 (missed playoffs)
What to expect when the lockout ends: The Mariners will continue to be aggressive, even after the additions of Robbie Ray and Adam Frazier, and there are two obvious areas to improve. One is the starting rotation, which is in better shape now that the Mariners currently boast a capable four-man staff consisting of Ray, Marco Gonzales, Logan Gilbert and Chris Flexen. But they have the resources to engage the Cincinnati Reds and the Oakland Athletics for additional starting pitching, which would ease the pressure on some of the young arms coming up through the system.
What this team really needs, however, is offense. The Mariners finished last season with the fourth-lowest OPS in the majors, and though Frazier certainly helps, his presence alone is not enough to abate the uncertainty surrounding relatively young players such as Jarred Kelenic, Evan White, Abraham Toro, Taylor Trammell and, when he comes up, Julio Rodriguez. With a hole at third base, Kris Bryant seems to make a lot of sense here, as does Story, who would seemingly have to agree to move positions, with J.P. Crawford locked in as the team’s shortstop. It’ll be interesting to see if the Mariners also look to add a center fielder given Kyle Lewis‘ knee issues.
Current outlook for 2022: The Mariners became one of the most pleasant surprises in the sport last season, winning 90 games and nearly making the playoffs for the first time in 20 years. But they did so with a minus-51 run differential, riding clutch hitting and strong relief pitching — two traits that don’t often carry over year to year. The Mariners have emerged from a three-year rebuild with a lot of organizational depth and have put themselves in a position to contend if they adequately supplement the major league roster, but significant additions must take place. Ray and Frazier were a great start. The Mariners need more.
2021 record: 86-76 (missed playoffs)
Biggest additions so far: MGR Mark Kotsay, SP/RP Brent Honeywell Jr.
What to expect when the lockout ends: A’s fans, I regret to inform you that this will not be fun. Uncertainty over the new Collective Bargaining Agreement hindered early action, but make no mistake: When the lockout ends, the cash-strapped A’s will once again begin to tear down in a manner akin to their strategy seven offseasons ago, when the A’s first began parting with star players approaching their expensive arbitration years. On the bright side, the track records of the men who will be steering this course — Billy Beane, David Forst, Billy Owens and Dan Feinstein, among others — should inspire some confidence.
After the 2014 teardown, the front office kept making short-term moves to give the major league team a chance. More importantly, the A’s secured impactful young pitchers, such as Sean Manaea, Frankie Montas and Chris Bassitt, who helped produce four consecutive winning seasons from 2018 to 2021. Now all three of those pitchers could be traded — along with position players Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, two former first-round picks. The potential returns for those players will go a long way toward determining how long this latest rebuild lasts.
Current outlook for 2022: Forst’s phone will be ringing off the hook when baseball’s offseason resumes. In Olson and Chapman, both two years away from free agency, he holds two dynamic corner infielders on both sides of the field. In Montas (two years away from free agency), Manaea and Bassitt (both entering their final seasons under team control), he possesses three proven, dependable starting pitchers. The A’s have already lost two solid outfielders in Starling Marte and Mark Canha, and though it’s unlikely they’ll part with all five of the aforementioned players, the possibility shouldn’t be ruled out. The question is whether those losses will be supplemented by veterans on cheaper, short-term contracts to at least give the A’s a chance in this division.
2021 record: 77-85 (missed playoffs)
What to expect when the lockout ends: Before the lockout, the Angels did a nice job plugging urgent roster holes, committing a combined $45 million in 2022 salary to Noah Syndergaard, Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and Aaron Loup — moves that will undoubtedly help both their rotation and their bullpen. But if the Angels truly want to contend in a difficult division, and reach the postseason for only the second time in 13 years, they need more pitching. Their rotation currently consists of Syndergaard, Lorenzen, Shohei Ohtani and whoever sticks out among a group of young pitchers that includes Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, Jaime Barria, Reid Detmers and Griffin Canning. Ideally, the Angels would need two from that list to help fill out a six-man staff, not three.
The question is: Where do they go to find that extra pitching? Most of the best free-agent starters are off the board. The trade market is more robust, but the Angels’ two most attractive young players, outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh, batted a combined .251/.309/.374 in the majors last season. The Angels might not have the prospect capital to compete for the best available starters … unless they sign Freddie Freeman, a local product, to use Jared Walsh as the headliner in a trade for a controllable, reliable starting pitcher. unconventional, but this organization has done plenty of unconventional in recent years. The Angels’ 2022 payroll is already in the $170 million range, but Justin Upton‘s contract comes off the books in November.
Current outlook for 2022: If Mike Trout is healthy and Ohtani builds off the two-way prowess he displayed in an MVP season, the Angels boast two of the five best players in the sport. If Anthony Rendon finally gets back to the player he was for the Washington Nationals, and if either Adell or Marsh emerges, and if Syndergaard regains his form coming off Tommy John surgery, and if some of their young pitchers perform — the Angels might really have something. It’s a lot of uncertainty, as is usually the case with this franchise. But it’s also a lot of upside.
2021 record: 60-102 (missed playoffs)
Biggest subtractions so far: RP Jharel Cotton
What to expect when the lockout ends: The Rangers, coming off a 102-loss season, didn’t fit the description of a team that would spend $556 million on three players in less than 48 hours. But that’s exactly what they did, living up to the widely held belief that they would be major catalysts in this offseason’s free-agent market. Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and Jon Gray don’t instantly make the Rangers contenders; their roster still has too many holes. But that new, retractable-roof ballpark is suddenly a far more attractive destination. And it doesn’t seem as if the Rangers are done adding.
Their outfield still needs help, and the Rangers have been rumored among the teams in on Seiya Suzuki, who has carried an OPS above .950 after each of his past four seasons in Japan. The rotation needs even more help, and Clayton Kershaw, one of Dallas’ most famous products, makes a ton of sense if his left arm is healthy. So might someone like Carlos Rodon. Or perhaps a trade for Sonny Gray or, less likely, Luis Castillo. The Rangers were financially committed to just one player — reliever Jose Leclerc, at $4.75 million — before their stunning splurge in free agency. They still have money to spend. No sense in stopping now.
Current outlook for 2022: Yes, the Rangers need another outfielder. But their lineup looks pretty good even without one; spending $500 million on your middle infield can do that. Their bullpen seems to have some pretty good depth, as well. It’s the rotation where things seem flimsy. Outside of Gray, the Rangers’ only two locks — if you want to call them that — might be Dane Dunning and Taylor Hearn, who combined for a 4.58 ERA in 222 innings last season. Beyond that is a host of uncertainty. It’s why this team is probably still at least a year away from contention, frenetic spending notwithstanding.