The MLB’s pre-lockout offseason feeding frenzy was a sight to behold. For all the bad implications of a work stoppage, this short, insane period of signings a la the NBA offseason is something fans have hoped for in the past. We finally got a big rush of players signing on with teams like there’s no tomorrow. Big names and depth pieces alike got that bag right before owners shut them out.
You had a mixture of reactions from teams. Some simply chose to stand pat and wait for the CBA and economics changes, forgoing the pre-December rush. For the teams that dove in though, there was a lot of value to be grabbed in the Black Friday-like fray. A few teams, in particular, had hauls that would be considered good for a full offseason. With all transactions paused, for the time being, let’s take a look at the five teams that made out the best in the early activity.
5. Toronto Blue Jays Make Up For Losing Ray With Gausman
The Toronto Blue Jays lost a lot this offseason. Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien departing after a Cy Young and MVP-caliber season respectively is tough. Still, they made about the best move to soften the blow possible, hauling in Kevin Gausman on a five-year deal. Gausman was dominant in his two seasons in San Francisco, earning a sixth-place Cy Young finish with a pristine 2.81 ERA in 2021. With him, Toronto comes into 2022 with a sneaky deadly rotation with Jose Berrios and Hyun Jin Ryu along with promising young talent. It’s a solid pickup to bolster the pitching staff. Add in a lengthy extension for Berrios and you have the foundations for a great rotation for years to come.
The bullpen saw a bit of an improvement as well, with the addition of Yimi Garcia. Overall, the Blue Jays’ pitching-focused start to the offseason sets up as much for the future as it does for the present. While the losses of Ray and Semien are tough to swallow, they’ve made up for it by locking up a solid one-two punch in Gausman and Berrios. There’s still work to be done on the bullpen and an infielder to replace Semien would be ideal. Perhaps they turn to former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to add a dominant back-end arm. Whatever route they choose, the Jays started off on the right foot.
4. Chicago Cubs Salvage a Slow Offseason Start With Stroman
The Chicago Cubs did exactly what they needed pre-lockout: bolster that brutal pitching staff. Wade Miley already added some stability to that rotation but the buzzer-beater, 3-year, $71 million deal for Marcus Stroman really put the exclamation point on it all. What seemed like a slow, indifferent offseason was changed by a single deal for one of the best pitchers on the market. Stroman is consistency manifested, nearly always having a FIP in the threes and an ERA even lower. As far as ground ball pitchers go, he’s one of the best in the game.
CHICAGO! @Cubs— Marcus Stroman (@STR0) December 1, 2021
Outside of pitching, the Cubs also picked up a few intriguing pieces on offense. Former Yankees top prospect Clint Frazier headlines a group of intriguing outfielders looking to break out. Harold Ramirez and Michael Hermosillo add some power as well. These aren’t massive, landscape-shifting moves by any stretch. Still, hitting on any of these guys will only make this offseason seem better and better. Moreover, they added catcher Yan Gomes in a move that gives them serious flexibility. Gomes is a borderline starting catcher still, so he provides some insurance should the Northsiders look to trade Willson Contreras. If they don’t, it helps to get Contreras off his feet, especially since he caught more innings than any catcher last season.
3. Detroit Tigers Shored Up Shortstop, Catching, and Pitching
The Detroit Tigers’ offseason hasn’t gone exactly as planned, but it’s still a great start for a team about to contend. In an unexpected twist, the cats couldn’t haul in Correa, so they went for Javier Baez instead. Baez can be an infuriating player since he strikes out a metric ton. Still, his fantastic glove, offensive ceiling, and general fun factor bring a lot to the table. With his defense, it should only help the young pitching staff the Tigers are building. Add in Eduardo Rodriguez, a very good veteran with the potential to get even better in Comerica Park, and you have some great supplements to a core of young guys.
The sneaky pickup for them, though, is Tucker Barnhart. While he’s not the difference-maker on paper that Baez or Rodriguez is, he comes with a huge boon. Barnhart plays excellent defense behind the dish and works incredibly well with pitchers. For a team whose future dominance is based on the success of youngsters like Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal, having Barnhart adds a level of trust, dependability, and mentorship that will help these guys flourish. Maybe the Tigers will shock everyone and also add Correa, but even if they don’t, they’ve made significant steps forward this offseason.
Speaking of teams that added two big-name infielders…
2. Texas Rangers Add Two of the Best Shortstops in the Game
You might be thinking: how can the team that landed Corey Seager AND Semien not be number 1? It was a close call, but I like the variety of improvements made by the team at #1. With that said, I do really like the Rangers’ offseason so far. Semien and Seager vastly improve that infield on offense and defense and form a stable core to continue building around. Semien is coming off his second straight full season finishing in the top three of MVP voting while Seager just mashes to the tune of a career 131 OPS+. The addition of Jon Gray as well bolsters a pitching staff in desperate need of help and Kole Calhoun adds one more capable outfielder to the mix.
Texas Rangers introduce their new All-Star 2B Marcus Semien. His wife Tarah and three sons front row here in Arlington with dozens of Rangers employees in attendance.— Jonah Javad (@JonahJavad) December 1, 2021
Semien credits former #Rangers manager Ron Washington as an influential mentor & talks to him often. @wfaa pic.twitter.com/D6KJYwvXZ5
Going forward, if they can steal Clayton Kershaw away from the Dodgers, they could easily move up a spot. That rotation still needs a lot of work. Gray is a nice piece, but as of now, it’s still a rotation anchored mostly by Dane Dunning. As for the offense, it’s certainly better, but Seager and Semien are joining a group that put up a miserable 84 OPS+ last year. That’s with Joey Gallo‘s pre-trade numbers included too! It’s a fantastic offseason, albeit one that doesn’t move the needle enough. Texas is trying their darnedest to turn it all around in an offseason, but it’s going to be hard even with the monumental improvements.
1. New York Mets Win the Early Offseason Crown
It’s about the Mets baby. Take a bow Steve Cohen and Sandy Alderson for pulling off the best offseason before the lockout. Headlining the offensive acquisitions is Starling Marte, filling a hole in center field with a guy who had a 132 OPS+ last year. Marte isn’t the stolen base threat he used to be, but solid outfield defense and a fantastic bat make this a great pickup. Eduardo Escobar, meanwhile, is an extra-base machine with the ability to play all around the diamond. Even Mark Canha, who often flies under the radar, plays solid defense just about everywhere and has been nothing short of great offensively since 2018. It deepens that Mets lineup significantly and fills just about all the holes they needed.
As much as I love the offensive improvements, we have to discuss the elephant in the room: Max Scherzer. While the Mets lost Stroman this offseason, pulling in Mad Max is nothing short of terrifying. Even at 36, Scherzer placed second in Cy Young voting last year with a stellar 2.46 ERA between the Dodgers and Nationals. Plug in the future Hall of Famer with Jacob deGrom and you have one of the scariest one-two punches possible. Not to mention, Scherzer, along with The Mets can keep going from here, but so far, their moves leave little to be desired. The lineup is deepened. The pitching staff is disgusting. Now it just needs to translate on the field.