On March 10, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, effectively ending what had been a 99-day lockout and ensuring that there will be a full 162-game regular season in 2022. With the coming of a new season, MLB and its players have undergone a quick turnaround to get Spring Training underway and start the regular season on time. While teams are getting back into the flow of the new season, fans have had their first chance to catch up on their favorite teams for the first time since December. Here are some of the biggest stories to develop since Spring Training began just over a week ago:
New contract structure shaping free agency
On Saturday, star shortstop Carlos Correa, one of the more coveted free agents in this year’s free agency class, agreed to terms on a three-year, $105 million deal with the Minnesota Twins that includes opt-outs after the first season and the second season. Similarly, last offseason, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer signed a three-year, $102 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers that also includes opt-outs after the first two seasons. As each offseason progresses and we see more of these types of deals that include many opt-outs over fewer seasons, it becomes more clear that MLB free agents are taking a new approach to the deals that they sign. Not long ago, we saw players be more attracted to contracts that covered a longer number of years, ensuring that that player is on the books for a decent payday in exchange for what may be less average money per season. Now, players are turning to contracts that pay more average money per season, after which they can opt-out of that contract to become a free agent again, where more money could potentially be made if teams are willing to pay.
“I don’t know. I guess that’s what they’re doing now,” Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts said of shorter-term deals with higher annual salaries. “I don’t have any answer as to why they’re doing that. I don’t work in the front office. I just play on the field. I have no answer for that at all.”
Bogaerts is another player that could potentially benefit from this new contract structure, as he has the option to opt-out of his current deal with Boston and test free agency this upcoming offseason. Fellow Red Sox J.D. Martinez even joked about the new deals with more annual money over a shorter period, indicating that “Xander is going to be rich.”
As more teams hand out similar contracts to star players, it’ll be interesting to see how front office executives handle salaries and structure their rosters. We’ll also surely see records broken over the next several seasons over who becomes the highest-paid player in Major League Baseball on an annual basis, as Bauer’s deal last offseason crowned him MLB’s highest earner only for Correa to take home a heftier payday this offseason.
Late trades making headlines
Whereas most trade activity takes place during the winter when there is no baseball activity in sight, MLB’s work stoppage put a pause on teams acquiring new players. Only now that a new CBA has been agreed to, can teams engage in trade talk. And, as a result, we’ve seen some big names change teams as players begin to ramp up their training activity.
Perhaps the biggest trade to be agreed to so far this spring has been the Atlanta Braves acquiring All-Star first baseman Matt Olson in exchange for a plethora of top prospects. Atlanta then showed their commitment to Olson by signing him to a massive contract extension, making it all but certain that former Braves’ first baseman Freddie Freeman would be departing the team that drafted him back in 2007. Olson had a career season in 2021, batting .271 with 39 home runs and 111 runs batted in to go with a .371 on-base percentage, all of which formed new career-highs. Atlanta hopes that Olson will become a primary contributor at the heart of their lineup as they attempt to defend their 2021 World Series title.
The Seattle Mariners bolstered their lineup when they acquired 2021 All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker and 2018 All-Star third baseman Eugenio Suárez from the Cincinnati Reds. After falling just short of the playoffs last season, Seattle shows that they are going all-in by adding Winker, who set career-highs in every major statistical offensive category last season. They are also adding Suárez, who is coming off of consecutive disappointing seasons but has the opportunity to earn an everyday role at third base after the retirement of Kyle Seager.
The Toronto Blue Jays are another team that fell just short of the playoffs last season. The Toronto Blue Jays have bolstered their already-strong lineup by acquiring third baseman Matt Chapman from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league prospects. Chapman is another former All-Star that is coming off a disappointing season for his standards, but his bat is still a threat and will provide protection around Toronto’s offensive standards. However, it’s his defense that separates Chapman from the rest of the pack, and he’ll look to continue to provide Gold Glove-caliber highlights for the Blue Jays over at the hot corner.
The New York Yankees have been involved in a couple of trades this offseason, first acquiring Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela, and then later sending Luke Voit to the San Diego Padres for a minor league pitcher. Initial reactions from Yankees fans seem to be disappointed in the acquisition of Donaldson, who is 36 years old and is owed $21 million over the course of this upcoming season. On the other hand, Kiner-Falefa is a great addition to a subpar New York defense but has never been known for having a big bat. Most fans aren’t happy to see the departure of Urshela, a player that has provided both steady offense and defense for the Yanks over the last few seasons. Voit lost his roster spot in New York after an injury-plagued 2021 season and never quite rebounded. He’ll have the opportunity to reestablish himself as a premier power threat for the playoff-hopeful Padres.
Ever since the MLB work stoppage has ended, players and front office executives have had the difficulty of preparing for the upcoming season while also trying to make last-minute moves to improve their team’s roster. As a result, this offseason has been like no other in the sense that we’re seeing new trends when it comes to free agency contracts and players are being moved during Spring Training more than ever before. Even with all of the confusion of the lockout, it’s refreshing to finally say that baseball is back and in a big way, with much anticipation building up for the upcoming season.