When Corey Seager signed as a free agent with the Texas Rangers prior to the lockout, he set the market rate for the other two All-Star shortstops still out there.
Seager, the former Los Angeles Dodger, signed a 10-year deal worth $325 million, setting the table for Carlos Correa and Trevor Story, who are eyeing similarly lucrative paydays now that the 99-day lockout has ended and the regular season is set to open April 7.
Correa is the No. 1 free agent among the 175 still unsigned, and Story is No. 4. Also on the market are No. 3, first baseman Freddie Freeman, and No. 8, third baseman Kris Bryant. Clayton Kershaw at No. 12 and No. 14 Carlos Rodon are the top starting pitchers remaining.
It could be wild.
“I don’t know what to expect,” said Stephen Souza Jr., an unranked free agent who last played for the Dodgers, as the players finished their last unsupervised workout at Mesa, Ariz., on Thursday. “It’s about a 24-hour period to get started. I’m expecting anything to happen. It could be slow. It could be chaos.”
Seager’s deal was far and away at the top of the list when 42 players rushed to sign a record $1.77 billion in contacts before the last Basic Agreement expired at midnight on Dec. 1 and the owners locked out the players.
The Rangers also signed infielder Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million contract.
Add outfielder Kole Calhoun (one-year, $5.2 million), and pitcher Jon Gray (four years, $56 million), and the Rangers have already spent $561.2 million on four players. They go into the truncated spring training having already committed $114.1 million this season alone, $73.3 million on the above four players.
Here’s the ranking of the top 15 free agents remaining as the signing period reopens:
1: Carlos Correa, shortstop
3: Freddie Freeman, first base
4: Trevor Story, shortstop
8: Kris Bryant, third base
12: Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher
13: Nick Castellanos, outfielder
14: Carlos Rodon, starting pitcher
15: Michael Conforto, outfielder
20: Raisel Iglesias, closer
21: Kyle Schwarber, DH
31: Anthony Rizzo, first base
32: Alex Wood, starting pitcher
35: Kenley Jansen, closer
40: Nelson Cruz, DH
50: Zach Greinke, starting pitcher
Among the teams seeking to quickly fill out the roster gaps as the season grows closer are traditionally deep-pocketed clubs such as the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Dodgers.
The Yankees need a shortstop, an outfielder, a starting pitcher, and perhaps a first baseman, but already have $211.3 million committed to 27 players.
The Dodgers lost a third of their roster after dropping the National League Championship Series in six games to Atlanta. Gone are Seager, starter Max Scherzer, middle-inning relievers Joe Kelly and Corey Knebel, Souza and Albert Pujols, and perhaps even Jansen and Kershaw. Of their free agent group, the Dodgers have thus far re-signed only the multifaceted Chris Taylor to a four-year, $60 million deal.
The Dodgers have $214.5 million committed to 29 players after spending a record $266 million last season and paying a $32.5 million luxury tax. The tax threshold was $210 million.
They are said to be in the market to sign Freeman, although the Braves, who defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series and recently released public documents that revealed they made more than $100 million in profits last year, have to be a challenger to retain Freeman.
The Dodgers could also re-sign the 42-year-old Pujols now that the designated hitter has come to the National League. No doubt, the Dodgers will be active.
“Certain teams are held to a championship standard. Certainly, the Lakers are, and the Dodgers are,” agent Scott Boras said before the lockout. “In LA, unless you’re competing for a championship you aren’t relevant. It’s a very high standard here.”
The Giants beat the Dodgers to win the NL West on the final day of the season with a franchise record 107 wins, but then lost to those same Dodgers on the last pitch of a five-game NL Division Series. At $171.9 million, they spent nearly $100 million less than the Dodgers last year. Still, gone from that team are Buster Posey (retired), Johnny Cueto (free agent), Kevin Gausman (signed a six-year, $110 million deal with Toronto), Bryant (free agent) and Wood (free agent).
During Phase 1 of free agency, they re-signed first baseman Brandon Belt (one year, $18.4 million) and pitcher Anthony DeSclafani (thee years, $36 million). There’s still a whole lot of work left for them to do.
The wild card in all of this is the New York Mets, heading into their second year under owner Steve Cohen, who’s personally worth $12 billion.
Even before the lockout began, Cohen amassed a $235.4 million payroll committed to 28 players. The big signings were three years, $130 million on Scherzer; two years, $26.5 million on outfielder Mark Canha; and two years, $20 million on infielder Eduardo Escobar. Last year, he had already given shortstop Francisco Lindor a 10-year, $341 million deal, setting the market rate for Seager, and thus Correa and Story.
And that’s where we are.