The shape of the division as lockout looms

We're 24 hours or so away from a likely suspension of baseball's regular offseason activity. When the current collective bargaining agreement between the Commissioner's office and the players' union expires at 8:59pm PST tomorrow, it's expected Commissioner Rob Manfred and the club owners will impose a lockout, halting any activity until a new agreement is reached.

How long that lockout will last and whether or not it will impact the 2022 schedule remains to be seen, but the expectation of it kicking in tomorrow night has prompted several teams and players to get free-agent deals done right away. And hoo-boy, some of those deals are eye-popping.

We've touched on the moves the Mariners have made so far—trading for second baseman Adam Frazier and signing free-agent pitcher Robbie Ray—but what about what other clubs have done? How will those deals affect the Mariners' approach going forward?

Seattle's division rival Texas Rangers have been huge spenders on the free-agent market so far, giving long-term big-money contracts to infielders Corey Seager and Marcus Semien as well as more modest deals to pitcher Jon Gray and outfielder Kole Calhoun. In the short term, the addition of Seager and Semien should improve the Rangers considerably, but down the road they may regret the contracts—Seager's deal is for ten years at an average annual value of $32.5 million; Semien's is seven years at $25 million (both players will be 38 when their respective contracts expire). You might recall the last time the Rangers gave a shortstop a ten-year, bank-breaking contract—in 2001 they made Alex Rodríguez the highest-paid player in the game with a $25.2 million AAV, spending nearly a third of their team payroll on A-Rod alone and crippling their ability to build around him. They had to find a creative means to unload what they belatedly realized was an albatross of a contract after just three years of the decade-long commitment and with great difficulty dealt him to the Yankees. Seager's deal is nearly as extreme in adjusted dollars, and combined with Semien's makes up 46% of the current Rangers' total player salaries for 2022. Texas finished dead last in 2021 with 102 losses; for now, these additions make them better, but without more pitching they shouldn't be too scary.

The Oakland Athletics, a perennial pain in Seattle's butt, is headed the other way. The A's started their offseason by letting their manager take another gig without even asking for compensation. Bob Melvin, who deserves a great deal of credit for the success of the A's in his lengthy Bay Area tenure, will manage the San Diego Padres instead. Oakland ownership is preparing to basically tank their 2022 campaign, intending to pare down their payroll severely and trade away anyone on even a moderate-level contract. Thus far they've chosen to re-sign role-players Tony Kemp and Chad Pinder and are taking offers on everyone else. It's a little surprising they have yet to trade anyone away given that CBA negotiations will center on, among other things, this sort of approach to rebuilding.

Down in Orange County, the Angels signed free-agent pitcher Noah Syndergaard for one season and have otherwise made only minor adjustments thus far (though they did re-sign their closer, Raisel Iglesias). They missed out on pitchers Kevin Gausman, Steven Matz, and Robbie Ray, and are still apparently looking to spend big on a starting pitcher. Makes sense, as that's a very weak area for the Halos as it stands. They're counting on healthy returns of their already-in-the-fold big-name players, Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, to improve their lineup.

The defending league champion Astros have lost All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa to free agency, though it's conceivable he may re-sign with Houston. They added former Phillies closer Hector Neris on a two-year free-agent deal and retained pitcher Justin Verlander, who last pitched in July of 2020, for two years at $25 million per.

Who knows how things will shake out by the time spring training gets into gear. But with the lockout all but imminent, this might be the status quo for a while.


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