Now that the MLB lockout has been lifted and the season will get underway in just a few weeks, we’re in an interesting situation where we are essentially getting spring training and the winter meetings concurrently. Twitter refreshing is becoming a minute-by-minute habit for baseball fans as we all anxiously await news on where the still available stars might land. In the meantime though, with the insanity of the last three months in MLB, it might be easy to forget some of the notable happenings prior to the lockout coming down in early December. Let’s launch into a quick refresher.
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This one would be hard to forget. Just before the lockout came down in early December New York announced to the world that this is really going to be a new era of Mets baseball under owner Steve Cohen. It took a massive three year/$130 million contract to do it, but the Amazins were able to lure righty Max Scherzer to Queens, giving them easily the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Jacob deGrom in the same rotation.
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Corey Seager and Marcus Semien both signed with the Rangers
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How about the spending spree the Rangers went on? Texas committed an even $500 million to completely reshape their long-term infield, convincing both Corey Seager and Marcus Semien to take their talents to Arlington. Texas sees their division as very much up for grabs the next few seasons, with Oakland entering a rebuild and the Astros likely beginning to regress. They could very well be correct, and it’s admirable to see them trying to capitalize on a potential window to win.
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Sticking in the AL West, knowing the same thing the Rangers do, the Mariners are determined to make 2022 the year their long postseason drought comes to an end. Seattle was very good a year ago and came just two games short of a postseason berth. To try to get over the hump, they went out and landed the defending AL Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray. In Toronto last season Ray was spectacular, pitching to a 2.84 ERA with a 1.04 WHIP while striking out a league-leading 248 hitters. Anything close to that level of production would be welcomed in the Pacific Northwest.
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With Ray departing, Toronto needed to make a splash to replace him, and they feel they did just that with the addition of Kevin Gausman, who’s coming off easily the best season of his career. In San Francisco last year, the righty went 14-6 with a 2.81 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, leading a Giants staff that played a key role on a club that won 107 games. The Jays paid the veteran handsomely, and they’re banking on his breakout season not being a fluke.
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Javy Baez signed in Detroit
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One of the more polarizing players in baseball, Javy Baez, had a bit of a whirlwind of a 2021 season. Part of the Cubs’ veteran core that brought a title to the Windy City six years ago, the veteran found himself as one of many Cubs shipped out of Chicago at the trade deadline last summer. He landed in Queens where he was reunited with his good friend Francisco Lindor and shifted to second base to accommodate his buddy. His Mets tenure was up and down, as offensively he performed well, but had a head-scratching incident with the fans and ultimately was not able to help New York reach the postseason. He was able to find a lucrative contract on the free-agent market though, joining an up-and-coming Tigers team where he will be able to slide back to his preferred shortstop position.
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Speaking of departing Mets. Right-handed Marcus Stroman somewhat quietly pitched fantastic in New York a year ago, delivering a 3.02 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP across 33 starts. The veteran brings energy and confidence to a Cubs team in transition, and he should quickly become a key component and a leader on his new team.
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San Francisco Giants legend Buster Posey opted to sit out of the pandemic shortened 2020 campaign, but returned last season to turn in his best campaign in several years. In 395 at-bats the veteran backstop slashed .304/.390/.499 with 18 homers, helping the Giants to a Major League-best 107-55 record. That’s why it came as quite a surprise in November when Posey announced his retirement. San Francisco does have highly touted catching prospect Joey Bart ready to assume starting duties behind the plate, but you’d have to imagine team brass thought Posey would come back for at least one more run at a title.
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Under Steve Cohen, the Mets are clearly targeting a World Series title in the very near future. With a managerial opening this winter New York quickly zeroed in a skipper with close to 3100 Major League games under his belt, Buck Showalter. This represented a stark change of direction from the Mets previous two managers–Luis Rojas and Mickey Callaway–both of whom were first-time big league skippers.
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This winter the Twins were faced with a difficult decision regarding their most talented player. Star center fielder Byron Buxton was set to be a free agent after 2022, and Minnesota was hopeful to lock him up before that. They were successful in that pursuit, but the seven year/$100 million contract they gave him is not without risk. Injuries have plagued Buxton for the entirety of his Major League career, and he’s only participated in 215 games over the past four calendar years. There’s an expression that perhaps the greatest ability is availability. When Buxton is healthy he is unquestionably one of the more talented players in our sport, but that’s a lot of money to shell out on someone who’s consistently struggled to stay on the field.
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The Rangers’ spending spree did not end with position players. Righty Jon Gray was the #3 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and while he didn’t quite live up to the hype that comes with being picked that high, in Colorado he was a more than serviceable rotation piece. Gray boasts a winning career record–saying something while he was pitching for a mostly noncompetitive Rockies team–with a lifetime 4.59 ERA. Texas is counting on a change of scenery and elevation unlocking a new dimension for him.
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Young Wander Franco was baseball’s top prospect before the Rays promoted him to the big leagues last June, and it didn’t take long for him to convince Tampa Bay that he should be the piece they build around for the next decade. After only 70 big league games the Rays were sold enough to reward the switch-hitting shortstop with an 11 year/$182 million long-term extension, marrying the two together for the long haul. It was the kind of financial commitment Tampa Bay has typically avoided, and it’s nice to see. Hopefully, the pact will work out for both the team and the player.
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Speaking of long-term big-money extensions. Toronto traded a lot of prospect capital to the Twins last summer to acquire ace right-hander Jose Berrios, a trade that very nearly helped the Blue Jays sneak into the postseason. Toronto very frustratingly finished just a game behind both the Yankees and Red Sox for the two AL Wild Card berths, but it was no fault of Berrios, who was tremendous for them down the stretch. In 12 starts for the Jays, the veteran delivered a 3.58 ERA with a 1.09 WHIP across 70.1 innings, and Toronto made keeping him north of the border for the long haul a priority this winter. In November the Blue Jays and Berrios agreed to a massive seven year/$131 million extension, and he’ll join Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Cavan Biggio as the faces of a Toronto team looking to bring playoff baseball back to Canada.
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Bob Melvin has long been one of the most respected managers in the big leagues, but even still, this was a strange development to watch from the outside looking in. Already under contract to manage the A’s in 2022, Oakland let Melvin talk to and then accept the Padres managerial opening without asking for any sort of compensation from San Diego. The Athletics explained afterward that they didn’t want to complicate the process for Melvin out of respect for the job he did for them for a long time and the fact that the Padres were willing to offer him long-term security. His Oakland contract would’ve expired at the end of 2022 and for an A’s team that is entering a deep rebuild, they didn’t believe it would any longer be a fit for him.
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The Mets’ newfound commitment to trying to win a championship is certainly refreshing to the fans of the orange and blue, and yet another example of this mindset is the team’s free-agent addition of outfielder Starling Marte. Splitting last season between Miami and Oakland, Marte was simply spectacular, slashing .310/.383/.458 with 12 homers, 55 RBI, and 27 doubles. Perhaps most notable were his league-leading 47 stolen bases, and that type of speed is an element the Mets have sorely missed in recent years.
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Left-hander Steven Matz spent the first six years of his big league career in New York with the Mets, but particularly after the pandemic truncated 2020 season, it was clear he needed a change of scenery. And when the Mets traded him to Toronto ahead of the ’21 campaign, he seemed to be rejuvenated. In 29 outings for Toronto Matz was able to turn in a 3.82 ERA across 150.2 innings, and he parlayed that performance into a nice free-agent agreement in St. Louis.
Justin Mears is a freelance sports writer from Long Beach Island, NJ. Enjoys being frustrated by the Mets and Cowboys, reading Linwood Barclay novels, and being yelled at by his toddler son. Follow him on twitter @justinwmears.