We knew Hot Stove season was going to come earlier than usual, given the ongoing MLB CBA dispute, but holy smokes! This got nuts real quick! Over the weekend, a myriad of moves were made involving the biggest free agents on the market.
Javier Báez signed on with the Detroit Tigers. Max Scherzer will return to the NL East as a member of the New York Mets. Starling Marte will join Scherzer on the Mets. Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, Robbie Ray, signed a 5-year deal with the Seattle Mariners. However, it was the Texas Rangers who set Twitter on fire with the moves they made.
Yeah, arguably the two best infielders available this offseason both decided to head on down to Arlington. Their contracts total $500 million between the two of them, and the Rangers might not be done. According to reports, Texas has emerged as the favorite to land three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw as well.
That would be the move to put the Rangers in contention next season. As great as both Semien and Seager are, the Rangers have needed immense help with their pitching staff for a long time and their top prospects at the position won’t be ready to join the Major League club for a few years at the earliest. However, there are serious health concerns with Kershaw as well, so even if the Rangers land the future Hall of Famer, there’s a sizable chance he doesn’t make the impact Rangers’ fans expect him to.
Clearly, the Texas Rangers are attempting to compete as early as 2022. They’ve had a terrific start to the offseason, but there’s one team who’s had an even better offseason, and they’ve done it all while losing some of their key pieces from 2021.
The Toronto Blue Jays lost both Ray and Semien to free agency. With that much talent departing from a team that missed the playoffs, you’d think the Blue Jays’ front office would just give up and go “Oh well. We tried. Time to rebuild” but no! The Jays are apparently going all-out in an attempt to remain competitive.
The key to the Jays’ offseason was always going to be replacing Ray and Semien. Well, they’ve already done the former.
In his two seasons with San Francisco, Kevin Gausman has developed into one of baseball’s elite pitchers. He boasts arguably the best splitter in the Majors and was one of only seven pitchers in MLB last season to eclipse 190 innings pitched (yes, Ray was another). Of course, there is the argument that Gausman was never good before his time with the Giants. I can’t argue that. He was very mediocre in his seven years prior to becoming a Giant. However, if you make this argument, you also have to acknowledge that Ray was also a pretty mediocre pitcher before he joined the Blue Jays.
Yes, Ray did have that one great season in 2017 with the Diamondbacks but his career ERA is still 4.00 even with his outstanding 2021. That’s eerily similar to Gausman’s 4.02 career mark. Over the last three years though, Ray has recorded a 3.93 ERA and 4.29 FIP compared to Gausman’s 3.79 and 3.30. Gausman has been the better pitcher over recent years, and while he may never be as great at producing swings and misses as Ray, Gausman is much better at creating weak contact. Even in 2021, when Robbie Ray was arguably the best pitcher in baseball, Ray generated weak contact just 14.1 percent of the time, seventh-lowest among qualified pitchers. Gausman finished 21st. Obviously, generating weak contact isn’t a problem when you’re striking out as many batters as Ray did in 2021, but Gausman was less than one K per nine innings behind Ray, and with that close a margin, I’ll take the guy who allows less than one home run per nine over Ray any day of the week. Not to mention, Gausman signed for $1 million less annually than Ray did, and they’re the same age.
Of course, there’s still the task of replacing Semien, which might be impossible. Semien was a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman and one of the best table-setters in MLB. That doesn’t mean the Blue Jays won’t try still. Per reports, the Blue Jays are heavily involved in talks with both Chris Taylor and Kris Bryant — both 2021 All-Stars and remarkably versatile defenders. While Chris Taylor is a more obvious replacement for Semien, seeing as how he has spent a lot of time at second base and is more attuned to a spot at the top of the lineup, Bryant would also be a capable replacement. He’s never had the opportunity to hit in front of someone as talented as Vlad Guerrero Jr. (yes, Rizzo is good, but he’s no Guerrero). Better yet, if Bryant was placed after Guerrero in the lineup, he’d have several opportunities to hit with runners on, giving Bryant a chance to put up similar RBI figures as Semien did in 2021.
There’s a small possibility that Toronto could land both Taylor and Bryant, which would obviously be the best case scenario, but that’s too much for anybody to predict.
With a full year of José Berrios next season as well, Toronto is putting themselves in a position to compete in the daunting AL East once again without having to give up any of their prospects or pay exorbitant prices to retain their key players. No matter which angle you slice it, that is an incredible offseason.
The only issue for Toronto now will be signing either Bryant or Taylor once the new CBA is agreed upon around February 2022. Since no deals can be made without a CBA, there will be a flurry of teams trying to sign whichever superstars remain unsigned through the December 1 deadline. Teams will have to navigate through a hectic month-long (not as long as it sounds) signing period before the start of spring training, which could lead to several big-name players being signed for more than they are actually worth. Perhaps a deal with Taylor and/or Bryant can be made before tomorrow morning, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.