After a 99-day lockout, Major League Baseball and its free agents went to their neutral corners, then came out signing. In the 10 days following ratification of a new contract, teams resumed spending as if the labor dispute had never happened.
At last count, clubs had spent $1.24 billion on 30 free agents, increasing the grand total to over $3 billion, including those 44 players who inked deals before the sun set on all transactions in the early hours of Dec. 2.
There are also millions of dollars in incentive packages attached to many of these contracts. And over 100 free agents remain unsigned, including such familiar figures as Michael Conforto, Johnny Cueto and Albert Pujols.
The big guys earned the big dollars.
Kris Bryant signed an eight-year, $182 million deal with the Colorado Rockies, who only a year ago shed Nolan Arenado largely because they wanted to save money.
“Because [Bryant] wanted to play here,” said Rockies manager Bud Black, indicating that the multiple-position Bryant would be slated in as the left fielder.
Freddie Freeman returned to his hometown of Los Angeles to sign a six-year, $162 million contract with the Dodgers after the Atlanta Braves traded a bushel of prospects to the Oakland A’s for first baseman Matt Olson. The above figures don’t include Atlanta’s subsequent signing of Olson to an eight-year, $168 million pact because he was not a free agent.
“Sometimes plans change,” Freeman said during his introductory Dodgers media conference. “You could see that that chapter closed right then and there.”
Freeman said he couldn’t speak for hours after the “door was closed” on returning to the Braves and the Dodgers stepped into the breach.
Trevor Story went to the Boston Red Sox for six years, $140 million shortly after the club was chastised in the local press for acting like the low-spending Tampa Bay Rays on the open market.
In another major shock, top-ranked free agent Carlos Correa signed a three-year, $105.3 million pact with the Minnesota Twins that includes opt outs after each of those three seasons.
In a sidebar for the World Series-winning Braves, they also lost last fall’s series MVP Jorge Soler, who signed with the Miami Marlins for three years and $36 million. But National League Championship Series MVP Eddie Rosario re-signed for two years at $18 million, former Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen joined a stacked bullpen for one-year, $16 million, and starter Colin McHugh came in for two-years, $10 million.
In another surprise the Philadelphia Phillies added to a stocked lineup by signing both Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos for a combined $179 million, Schwarber for four years, $79 million, and Castellanos for five years, $100 million.
The designated hitter arriving as a full-time presence in the National League had a lot to do with some of these signings as Schwarber, Castellanos, Freeman and Bryant can rotate into that position.
For Freeman, the ability to DH will be a luxury. During the last four seasons he’s played almost every game for the Braves at first base, missing only 10 starts.
In recent years, the Dodgers have consistently spent the most money in Major League Baseball, and that continued after the lockout as they also re-signed left-hander Clayton Kershaw to a one-year, $17 million contract. Kershaw missed the end of the regular season and playoffs with a sore left elbow.
The Dodgers had won eight NL West titles in a row, before the San Francisco Giants dethroned them last year on the final day of the regular season.
“I can’t say enough about ownership, the position they put us in, not only to play in, but win the last game of the year,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. “And our chances of that this year have now gone way up.”
The Dodgers already have a total payroll of $270.5 million this season, the highest in the league, followed by the New York Mets at $249.1 million, and the New York Yankees at $235.9 million.
The first phase luxury tax threshold is $230 million in the new Basic Agreement. Based on last season’s figures, the Dodgers paid a $32.5 million tax.
The Yanks didn’t pay the tax last year. They added $50 million over the next three years by obtaining Josh Donaldson in a trade with the Twins, and also re-signing Anthony Rizzo for two years at $32 million.
But the Yankees balked at spending big money to sign either Correa or Story even though shortstop was designated as one of their positions of need.
The Mets, in their second year of ownership under Steve Cohen, did their big spending before the lockout, adding pitcher Max Scherzer for three years, $130 million, outfielder Starling Marte for four years, $78 million, and infielder Eduard Escobar for two years, $20 million.
In all, the trends and tendencies that existed before the lockout remained. Even the A’s stuck to their penurious ways, trading stars Olson, Matt Chapman and Chris Bassitt, the latter going to the Mets bolstering a deep rotation.
Not much changed after the lockout. Now it’s time to play ball.