With the MLB lockout in the rearview mirror and Opening Day less than two weeks away, many of the league’s top free agents have put pen to paper on contracts for the 2022 season. While some players stayed put, several teams acquired new talent that could prove to be a key factor in the upcoming title chase.
Freddie Freeman – Dodgers, 6 years/$162M
Over the past two seasons, Freddie Freeman has added an MVP award, two Silver Slugger Awards, and a World Series ring to his trophy case. Freeman is undoubtedly the best player at his position and with him seemingly being at the height of his power at age 32, the first baseman was the marquee signing of the offseason.
The signing came after Freeman’s former team, the Atlanta Braves, traded for All-Star first baseman Matt Olson and gave him an 8-year contract extension. According to USA TODAY columnist Bob Nightengale, the move deeply affected Freeman, leaving him to ask, ” ‘How does that happen?’ “
Freeman’s deal with the Dodgers makes him the highest-paid first baseman in Major League Baseball, a title previously held by Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. The lineup Freeman joins in L.A. now includes 8 All-Stars, 3 MVPs, and a pair of batting champions. Expect Freeman and the Dodgers to do some historic damage on the offensive end.
Carlos Correa – Twins, 3 years/$105.3M
One of the offseason’s most intriguing deals was coincidentally struck in the middle of the night, sending Carlos Correa from Houston to his new home with the Minnesota Twins. Although many believed Correa would be the offseason’s highest earner, the 27-year-old shortstop opted to take a gamble on himself in the Twin Cities.
The finer details of the contract show that Correa has access to opt-outs after each of the first two seasons, meaning he can walk away at essentially any point during the agreement. The total dollar figure also makes Correa the highest-paid infielder in MLB history by average annual value, sliding by Anthony Rendon‘s record-setting $35M AAV by a margin of just $100K.
After making trades with the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds to acquire Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela, and Sonny Gray, the addition of Carlos Correa makes Minnesota a very real threat in what seemed like a division the Chicago White Sox would dominate a few weeks ago.
Kris Bryant – Rockies, 7 years/$182M
Since trading away Nolan Arenado in what was a lackluster deal for the Rockies, the team has undergone a changing of the guard at general manager, parting ways with Jeff Bridich and promoting Bill Schmidt from his previous role as Colorado’s vice president of scouting.
Among Schmidt’s first transactions as GM is the signing of former NL MVP Kris Bryant, a surprising move that will surely please Rockies fans who were scorned by the loss of Arenado. While the path to prosperity in the NL West is not necessarily an easy one, the league’s new expanded postseason format may allow the Rockies to find their way into the Wild Card hunt this season with Bryant leading the way.
Trevor Story – Red Sox, 6 years/$140M
In the hyper-competitive AL East, the Boston Red Sox saw it necessary to make a splash this offseason. With the addition of Trevor Story, the Red Sox boast what could be the league’s very best infield in 2022.
In the hours prior to Story’s deal with Boston reaching the public, it was reported by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman that the career shortstop would consider a position change as part of his new deal, in this case a move to second base in order for Xander Bogaerts to maintain his spot on the infield. The last time Story logged innings as a second baseman dates back to 2015 when Story played for the Rockies’ Double-A and Triple-A minor league affiliates.
Nick Castellanos – Phillies, 5 years/$100M
With their division rivals tooling up for a run at the NL East title, the Philadelphia Phillies are taking an exciting approach to the battle: hit first, hit often, and forget the rest.
Coming off a Silver Slugger Award-winning season, Nick Castellanos joins a lineup headlined by the bats of J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, newly added Kyle Schwarber, and reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper. This team is going to challenge some of the game’s limits at the plate and is poised to break a record or two with owner John Middleton opening up the piggy bank this offseason.
Carlos Rodon – Giants, 2 years/$44M
One of the first signings after the lockout was lifted came from the San Francisco Giants, inking a deal with 2021 breakout phenom Carlos Rodon. The 29-year-old left-hander finished fifth in AL Cy Young Award voting a year ago, making his presence felt in the White Sox rotation.
Much like Rodon, San Francisco’s entire pitching staff seemed to breakout last year, which bodes well for the possibility of Rodon seeing continued success on the mound. Along with the additions of Alex Cobb, Joc Pederson, and Matthew Boyd, the Giants may have what it takes to put pressure on the Dodgers for a second year in a row.
Yusei Kikuchi – Blue Jays, 3 years/$36M
Although Yusei Kikuchi wasn’t nearly as effective in the second half of last season as he was early on, the newest member of the Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation was named to the American League All-Star team last season.
Blue Jays fans will hope to see Kikuchi fill at least a portion of the void left by reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray signing with the Seattle Mariners prior to the lockout, and how he may be able to achieve that is through his fastball. The 30-year-old struck out more than a batter per inning last season, attacking the zone with velocity and movement that, according to Baseball Savant, is more comparable to Ray’s profile than any other pitcher in the Majors.
Anthony Rizzo – Yankees, 2 years/$32M
After landing with the Yankees at the trade deadline last season, Anthony Rizzo proved to be a key player in New York’s lineup as they fought through a tight Wild Card race down the stretch despite seeing continued regression in overall results at the plate.
Rizzo’s signing came after the team acquired third baseman Josh Donaldson via trade with the Minnesota Twins, giving the Yankees a veteran presence at both corners of the infield. The deal appears to be somewhat of a bet on Rizzo returning to form in the near future, which doesn’t seem too farfetched considering his bat-to-ball skills still remain above league average.
Kenley Jansen – Braves, 1 year/$16M
With Kenley Jansen making some significant changes to his process on the mound last season, the 34-year-old saw a bit of a resurgence in success with the Dodgers.
A major point of emphasis for Jansen was the increased usage of his slider, a pitch he posted his best swing & miss rate since 2017 with a year ago. At this stage of Jansen’s career and after the season he just had, it’s interesting that he would agree to a one-year deal. However, with the losses of Chris Martin and Jesse Chavez in the Braves’ bullpen, Jansen should do wonders for bolstering the team’s back end.
Nelson Cruz – Nationals, 1 year/$15M
For the first time since his debut season in 2005, Nelson Cruz plays in the National League. The Washington Nationals jumped at the opportunity of having an everyday player to fill the new universal designated hitter role in the NL this season.
The 41-year-old is the second-oldest position player in the Majors, trailing only current-free-agent Albert Pujols. Regardless, Cruz is seemingly a guarantee for at least 30 home runs over a full season. His impeccable longevity is something special that Nationals fans will hope for him to impart to teammates such as Juan Soto, Victor Robles, and Keibert Ruiz.
Featured image credit: Charlie Riedel/AP Photo