By Michael Levitt
Over the past three months, football, basketball and baseball have all had numerous newsworthy events. For football, these included the Kansas City Chiefs winning the Super Bowl and the Tennessee Titans defying expectations to make it to the AFC Championship Game. For basketball, these included the untimely deaths of former commissioner David Stern and the great Kobe Bryant, may both rest in peace. But baseball had by far the most newsworthy events of the three sports. Part of that was due to baseball being in an offseason, while the other two were not, but this offseason in baseball has created new excitement for some franchises.
After winning the World Series last year, the biggest question for the Washington Nationals was if they would be able to keep both third baseman Anthony Rendon and starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg and, if not, how they would be replaced. The Nationals gave both players a qualifying offer, which both declined, meaning the team would get a draft pick if they could not re-sign the player. They ended up re-signing Strasburg for seven years and $245 million, but that guaranteed that they could not re-sign Rendon because they did not have enough money. Rendon then signed with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for seven years and $245 million, the same amount as Strasburg. Rendon’s signing in Anaheim, along with new manager Joe Maddon, gave the Angels fanbase new reasons to be excited for the team, as they now have a better chance of making the playoffs after missing it for the past five years.
The other marquee free agent of the offseason, starting pitcher Gerrit Cole, was also given a qualifying offer by his team, the Houston Astros, but declined it and signed with the New York Yankees for nine years and a whopping $324 million. The Yankees lost in the postseason in part due to their lack of an ace starting pitcher, so Cole filled that spot nicely. He also took retired pitcher C.C. Sabathia’s spot in the starting rotation, along with giving the Yankees a huge upgrade. Cole is one if the best pitchers in baseball right now, so the Yankees getting him sent a message to their fans that they are willing to pay for talent if it can help them win a championship.
There were many second-tier free agents available as well, including starting pitcher Zack Wheeler and third baseman Josh Donaldson. Wheeler signed with the Philadelphia Phillies for five years and $118 million, giving the team a needed boost pitching-wise. He will immediately slot in as the second starter in their rotation, behind ace Aaron Nola. The Minnesota Twins signed Donaldson for four years and $92 million, which could be considered overpaying him in a few years. Donaldson is already 34 years old and teams have been very cautious over the last few years in giving players over the age of 30 big amounts of money in free agency, so Donaldson getting an average of $23 million a year is surprising. However, he did have an incredible season last year, hitting 33 doubles and 37 home runs with 96 runs and 94 runs batted in, so he did deserve to get a big payday. Donaldson’s signing helps the Twins defensively too, as it pushes Miguel Sano, who is a poor defender, across the diamond to first base, where they were slated to start Marwin Gonzalez, now back in his customary utility role.
Arguably no team helped themselves as much through free agency as the Chicago White Sox. The White Sox signed catcher Yasmani Grandal, starting pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Grandal is one of the top two catchers in baseball, along with J.T. Realmuto of the Phillies. Not only is Grandal one of the best catchers offensively, but he is one of the best defensively as well, which was where Welington Castillo and James McCann did not fare too well for the White Sox last year. Keuchel provides stability and a top-of-the-rotation arm that gives the club’s younger arms more time to develop, while Gio Gonzalez gives them pitching depth that was needed. Encarnacion provides a stopgap at designated hitter that allows Andrew Vaughn, the team’s first baseman of the future and their first-round pick last year, to take his time in the minor leagues and not be rushed to the majors. In addition to these moves, the club also kept first baseman Jose Abreu around, first by offering him a qualifying offer (which he accepted, putting him under contract for one season), and then by replacing that contract with a three year, $50 million deal that keeps him with the White Sox through the 2022 season. Abreu had said that he wanted to stay with the White Sox, and they were happy to have him back. When Vaughn gets brought up to the majors, Abreu will shift to designated hitter since Vaughn is the superior defender, but Abreu is a decent fielder and better than Encarnacion, so he will stay at first base for now.
There are still some good role players available in free agency who could be low-risk, high-reward players for some clubs, and spring training is coming up quick but has not started yet, so many of these players could sign pretty soon. They might be a good investment for teams looking to save money, and plenty have interest. However, many teams have already filled holes on their roster through free agency or trade, so not many teams need that much. Most teams only need one or two pieces more to have a full roster, and all the first and second-tier free agents have signed, so there is not much All-Star level production left on the market. Some players surprise every year, so it is possible that a free agent still available could be a huge steal.
Edited by Emma Moloney | firstname.lastname@example.org