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Thursday, September 29, 2022

MLB lockout’s end brought free agent frenzy

What once looked unlikely, the agreement on the CBA brought a flurry of big moves and left one huge favorite heading into the 2022 MLB season

By OMAR NAVARRO — sports@theaggie.org

 

The cancellation of the second week of MLB’s regular season on March 9 was a gut-punch to everyone, as an agreement seemed less likely with each meeting between the Players Association and the owners. Just the next day, the long, grueling Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement (CBA) negotiations finally came to an end on March 10 and from there on, it was full steam ahead. 

It wasn’t always a given that the negotiations would end. With both sides unable to come to an agreement on major issues and MLB owners not negotiating until 43 days after the lockout began, many questions arose about whether the owners actually wanted to negotiate or just have things their way. Aside from raising the Major League minimum salary, there were a multitude of new rules that will go into effect this season. For starters, the designated hitter will now be in both the American and National League. The fight was a long time coming — all teams will now have to shift their strategy and add in another hitter. In addition, the postseason will look quite different as there will now be 12 teams instead of 10. In order to deter teams losing to get a high draft pick, the 18 teams that do not make the postseason will have a lottery system to determine the top six picks.

Throughout every year of the CBA, the minimum salary for the majors will go up, starting at $700K this season. One of the bigger fighting points in this negotiations was that of the Competitive Balance Tax, which taxed the higher spenders. The tax is now at $230 million and will get up to $246 million after the CBA expires in five years. Other rule changes like the banning of the shift, larger bases and more won’t make its way into the league until 2023, but regardless, the end of the negotiations was a time to rejoice for everyone in baseball — and it also meant it was time to unleash the free agency madness. 

With players like Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien and others all signing before the lockout, it was almost easy to forget which players were still available. Freddie Freeman, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Kris Bryant and Nick Castellanos were all still available and would make an impact on any contender or team needing a star player to make that leap. 

The first major move came as a surprise, as the Atlanta Braves acquired star first baseman Matt Olson from the Oakland A’s in exchange for a massive haul. Subsequently, both sides agreed on an eight year, $161 million contract extension to lock him in with Atlanta for the long term. This move meant that the defending champion Braves would almost certainly not bring back their franchise star Freddie Freeman, so the Freeman watch was on. 

One of the teams in the Freeman race was the New York Yankees, but their move of acquiring 3B Josh Donaldson and SS Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for catcher Gary Sanchez and 3B Gio Urshela signaled to everyone that the Yankees might not be making any big moves. Donaldson is owed $50 million over the next two seasons and with former MVP Aaron Judge due an extension soon, any big money moves was something that seemed unlikely, much to the dismay of Yankees fans. Their signing of first baseman Anthony Rizzo almost certainly put another team out of the Freeman race.

The A’s were not done getting rid of talent; however, as they traded Matt Chapman to the Toronto Blue Jays for prospects. After narrowly losing out on an AL Wild Card berth last season, the Blue Jays have added more talent with Chapman and adding right hander Kevin Gausman before the lockout. Their offseason was a success, but their ‘aggressive pursuit’ of Freeman could’ve made this a homerun. 

As the Freddie Freeman sweepstakes continued, one thing for certain was that the longtime face of the Braves franchise would not be going back. In a lengthy Instagram post, Freeman expressed his thanks to the team and the city of Atlanta — almost like a goodbye post. With the team still in question, another star went off the board.

Kris Bryant agreed to stay in the NL West — but not with the San Francisco Giants. After being traded to the Giants in the middle of last season, questions arose whether he would be back. Ultimately, the Colorado Rockies, a surprise team in the running for Bryant, agreed to a seven year, $182 million contract. This move was a great get for the Rockies but at the same time, very confusing. In an effort to save money, they traded their All-Star third baseman Nolan Arenado prior to last season. Now with the signing of Bryant for big money, one might ask what was the point, and where the Rockies plan on going from here. 

The news on March 16 was not over, as the race for Freddie Freeman came to an end. The superstar first baseman agreed to a six-year $162 million deal with the 2020 World Series Champion and powerhouse Los Angeles Dodgers. The 32-year old will now step into an already loaded lineup with four former MVPs, Freeman, outfielder Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Clayton Kershaw — who they also re-signed. The Dodgers are looking to continue their reign over the National League and get back to the World Series, and Freeman can do just that. He will step in for the injured Max Muncy who will now likely return from injury as the second baseman. Although the Dodgers lost reliever Kenley Jansen to the Atlanta Braves, health, depth and firepower has them as major World Series favorites heading into the season. 

With other moves being made, three big names remained — Nick Castellanos, Carlos Correa and Trevor Story. Castellanos was the first to get off the list, as he agreed to a 5-year, $100 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies. With big names and contracts on the books, the Phillies are looking to finally get some return on their investment this season. After falling off in the Wild Card race last season, a reworked Phillies team hopes to make major noise, and a hitter like Castellanos will surely help the cause. 

Not too long after, another major move struck down and this was a shocker. Carlos Correa agreed to a three-year, $105.3 million contract with the Minnesota Twins — a team that came out of nowhere. Many expected the Houston Astros to retain Correa, but after the Twins cleared up a lot of money, they had the ability to make a move like this. With opt-outs after every year, Correa has the ability to maximize his money while also helping a team win now.

Finally, the last major domino remaining was Story, who had many teams looking to sign him. Ultimately, he ended up in Boston, as the Red Sox agreed to a six-year $140 million deal that includes an opt-out after the fourth year. After a bounce back year for the Red Sox, they will hope to continue the momentum with another big bat. With them, the Yankees, Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays all in the division, it will be one of the most fun races to watch this MLB season. 

There was always some doubt that we would even get to this point. With the CBA negotiations seemingly going nowhere and the cancellation of two weeks of baseball, the hope was hard to find. In the end, it came, and with Opening Day set for April 7, teams have retooled and are ready to start this long season. Whether it is one of the big name favorites in the World Series or a team that got hot, the amount of player movement this offseason will be a treat and cause for intrigue for fans across the country, as a lot of teams feel that they have the ability to be there until the very end. 

 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

 

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