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Detroit Tigers links: Free agents versus the lockout

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A flurry of signings, including a truly wild deal for Marcus Semien, has us set for a wild couple of days as the impending lockout nears.

2018 BBWAA Awards Dinner

As of Sunday, the owners and the MLB Player’s Association still seem bound for a lockout of players and a total halt of transactions and activity at midnight on December 1. That’s a lot of pressure on one’s holiday shopping, and several teams went on a pre-emptive spree over the weekend.

The biggest move came out of nowhere, as the Texas Rangers kicked off the free agent market for shortstops by inking Marcus Semien to a seven-year, $175 million pact that will make the former Oakland Athletic’s shortstop, and Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman, a Ranger through 2028.

The 31-year-old Semien posted enormous full season campaigns in 2019 and 2021, averaging about seven WAR by FanGraphs’ calculation. His defensive skills translated well to the second base position in 2021 with the Blue Jays, but seems bound to move back to the shortstop position in 2022. Unless they go and sign Texas native Trevor Story as well.

The Rangers followed that up Sunday night by apparently agreeing with former Colorado Rockies starter, and one of our more popular free agent targets here in Detroit, Jon Gray. Per Jeff Passan of ESPN, the deal is for four years, though the final terms were not available as of this writing.

Good for Marcus Semien as far as getting paid in full and beyond. Gray should be a nice addition as well. However it’s a bit odd what the Rangers are doing here. They won 60 games in 2021. Their farm system is flush with good depth pieces, but there isn’t a blue-chipper in sight. A team that appears years away from contention thought signing the oldest available free agent infielder into his late 30’s was the move. Presumably there’s more coming, and the Rangers could theoretically spend another $100 million this offseason if they want to, but whether that means Trevor Story or not, it’s still extremely difficult to see them competing in the AL West any time soon.

It was only a few minutes after the Semien bombshell when the Rangers made their next signing, but in this case it was just for a part-time corner outfielder in veteran Kole Calhoun. Between Semien, Gray, and Calhoun, that’s a big day, but still leaves the Rangers a long way from looking like a likely contender. FanGraphs has a breakdown of the Semien deal for your reading pleasure. Good luck, Rangers. At least ownership there is spending money.

Another little talked about team got into the mix on Sunday, as the Miami Marlins signed former Tigers outfielder Avisail Garcia to a four-year pact. The 30-year-old outfielder is now five years removed from his 4.2 fWAR 2017 campaign, and that production proved unsustainable. Over the last few seasons he’s been roughly a league average performer, so the Marlins paid in full here to lure Garcia down to Miami. They also went on to ink starter Sandy Alcantara to an extension, which was generally expected to happen.

They’re also rumored to be fishing for another big catch, with Miami native Nick Castellanos posited as a possible next target. However, the San Francisco Giants and Philadelphia Phillies are much more attractive landing spots and also rumored to be in on Castellanos in anticipation of the DH coming to the National League next season.

The next in line was former two-time Cy Young winner, Corey Kluber, and it was the Tampa Bay Rays who pulled the trigger. On Sunday they inked the 35-year-old Kluber to a one-year deal with a guaranteed base salary of $8 million, but with incentives that could add up to $5 million more for a possible total value of $13 million.

In keeping with Rays tradition, they avoid any long-term commitments here, and because they’re the Rays, presumably they’ve got a plan to get the most out of Kluber. The veteran right-hander’s fastball is seriously diminished from his prime years, but he started throwing his curveball and changeup more in 2021 and gave the New York Yankees 80 innings of quality mid-rotation production.

The next big deal wasn’t a free agent signing, but rather an extension. The Minnesota Twins locked up their oft-injured, but extremely talented, center fielder, Byron Buxton on a seven-year extension worth $100 million. The deal has a full no-trade clause for Buxton, and will keep him in Minnesota until his mid-30’s. In just 61 games played in 2021, Buxton hit 19 home runs, posted a 169 wRC+, all while providing his usual brilliant defense in center field.

Finally, around 9 p.m. ET on Sunday night, one more big deal was announced. The Toronto Blue Jays, who already watched Steven Matz sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, and may lose ace Robbie Ray in free agency, made a big move of their own. They inked veteran right-hander Kevin Gausman to a five-year deal worth $110 million.

The soon-to-be 31-year-old posted the best season of his career with the San Francisco Giants in 2021, after breaking out during the shortened 2020 season. He put up 192 innings this year, with an ERA of 2.81 and a 3.00 FIP. That’s not a bad price up front for a Blue Jays team that desperately needs to get its pitching right while the likes of Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bo Bichette, and other young talents are still cheap. Adding Gausman now has them in pretty good shape.

We’ve gotta say, the Tigers’ deal for Eduardo Rodriguez is looking better and better all the time.

Meanwhile, the Angels, still in dire need of rotation help after adding Noah Syndergaard on a one-year deal, picked up another inexpensive but decent option, who also plays a bit of outfield.

What does this all mean? Well, let’s just say the consensus is that Monday will be wild. Certainly there are probably teams and agents that would prefer to wait for the new CBA. However, for players, the idea of waiting until February or even March to find their new team, forcing their spouse to move the household on short notice while they hurry off to a new camp, is probably a pretty un-appealing option. Add to the mix a Mets owner in Steve Cohen who has vowed to do everything possible to make his club a winner, and now a Texas Rangers’ team with plenty of payroll space and an apparent fit of madness under way, and you have the recipe for a wild ride over the next few days.

Expect some holdouts, as the top free agents remaining may be willing to wait, but you can also expect a huge flurry of signings as teams and players rush to get deals done in time for their medical evaluations to be completed in advance of the expected lockout.

Max Scherzer, at least, is rumored to be set to make his final decision prior to the lockout. So look for an announcement on him on Monday. The Mets apparently have a huge offer on the table. Hard to imagine either team in LA offering this much.

Eduardo Rodriguez

In case you missed it last week, here is Eduardo Rodriguez’s introductory press conference with Detroit media. General manager Al Avila and manager A.J. Hinch had a few interesting comments, apart from all the usual feel-good fare.

Matt Boyd’s good works

The next two days are going to be very interesting in the life of Tigers’ starter Matt Boyd. As he rehabs from surgery on a tendon in his elbow, not a ligament, that will keep him out of action until at least May, the lefty’s future in Detroit is hanging by a thread. Estimated to receive $7.5M in arbitration, and with those arbitration figures due to be exchanged by Wednesday, the Boyd’s will presumably be looking for a new home shortly. The Tigers may have considered a short, inexpensive deal to keep Boyd around and see how he recovers from the surgery, but they’re not going to offer him that arbitration figure, and it sounds like the two parties aren’t going to find common ground here.

In the meantime, Boyd and his wife Ashley, who runs the foundation, continue their good work in building safe houses in Uganda to combat child trafficking. Boyd announced last month that the project had completed three more homes on land they own in the country. The big lefty has been a bit of a frustration in terms of his performance for the Tigers, but in more important matters, the Boyds appear to be most excellent people. We’ll miss them and wish them well if this is indeed the end.

Around the horn

The wonderful David Laurila has another fascinating pitching interview at FanGraphs, this time with Milwaukee Brewers prospect, and part-time knuckleballer, J.T. Hintzen. Also at FanGraphs, Hall of Fame guru, Jay Jaffe, explores the Hall of Fame case for Todd Helton.

Mike Axisa of CBS Sports MLB, takes a look at the Seattle Mariners deal to acquire second baseman Adam Frazier from the San Diego Padres. And with the Tampa Bay Rays signing shortstop Wander Franco to a huge long-term extension, R.J. Anderson takes a look at which of the best young players in the game could be next, and also what the pressure of the lockout means for the game’s free agents.

Meanwhile our former managing editor Kurt Mensching has a post over at Motor City Bengals discussing Chris Ilitch, and the potential for him to build or damage his own legacy as an owner this offseason.

Baseball is awesome

The first blast of snow has now swept the Great Lakes region, sending us lurching toward the hibernation portion of our calendar. Right about this time every year, I need to see some baseball and reflect on the season past. Kudos to the creator for this fine highlight reel from 2021 to help warm you up.