Detroit Tigers: Javier Baez to sign six-year $140 million contract

The Detroit Tigers have agreed to sign free-agent shortstop Javier Baez to a six-year $140 million contract.

The soon-to-be 29-year-old was a key cog in the Chicago Cubs lineup that bucked a 108-year championship drought. He also finished second in the 2018 MVP race after posting career highs in nearly every offensive category.

Throughout his eight-year career, Baez has established himself as an elite and flashy defender. In 2020, his stellar play led to the Gold Glove award. Tigers fans can also expect Baez to continue wreaking havoc for the opponent on the bases.

He’s also, however, still a free swinger. In 2021, Baez led major league baseball in strikeouts while also ranking 3rd in strikeout percentage. The Cubs sent their star infielder to the New York Mets just before the July trade deadline, where a new approach led to a reduced strikeout rate and increased walk rate.

Javier Baez signed a six-year $140 million contract with the Detroit Tigers
Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

Tigers fans had been loudly clamoring for Carlos Correa since the 2021 regular season. Yet, this move should not come as a surprise. General Manager Al Avila and owner Chris Illitch have already been on record saying they do not wish to pay a single player $300 million, and they didn’t.

At $140 million, the Tigers are still in the market for another bat or arm. Utility extraordinaire Chris Taylor is still available, in addition to left-handed slugger Kyle Schwarber.

On a larger budget, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Nick Castellanos wouldn’t be the most unrealistic moves in the world for a team that once boasted Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, and Justin Verlander all making over $20 million annually.

This move sets the Tigers up to begin their next championship window. Young phenoms Riley Green and Spencer Torkelson are expected to be lineup mainstays for the 2022 campaign. Pitchers Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize will also be off of any pitching restrictions.

The current CBA is set to expire Wednesday, which will likely freeze any further free agency deals for the time being.

St. Louis rolls out the welcome Matz

Cardinals Steven Matz

The St. Louis Cardinals bolstered their starting rotation this off-season by acquiring Steven Matz on a 4 year deal for $44 million. The 6’2″ lefty is coming off a career year with the Toronto Blue Jays. He went 14-7 with an ERA of 3.82. In an interview at the end of last season Matz said of the Blue Jays, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been on a team this good.”

Mets Spurned by Steven Matz

When news of Steven Matz signing with the Cardinals reached New York, it was met with anger. Mets owner Steve Cohen took his frustrations to Twitter saying that “words and promises don’t matter.” Cohen was under the impression from Rob Martin, Matz agent, that the Mets would be able to match any offer. Martin said that, despite the deep pull to the Mets franchise, Matz did what was best for his family.

To explain, the Mets drafted Matz in the 2nd round of the 2009 MLB draft and he spent his first six seasons in the MLB in the orange and blue. The lefty left the Mets when they traded him to Toronto with a 4.35 ERA in 2020. Matz posted a 3.82 ERA in his lone season with the Blue Jays as they fell short of the playoffs.

Life In St. Louis

Steven Matz will be joining a Cardinals staff that has the ageless wonder Adam Wainwright and young phenom Jack Flaherty. It looks like Matz will be the third starter in front of Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson. Matz had a 46% ground ball rate coupled with the fact he threw his sinker 52% of the time he should succeed in front of this historic level defense.

Matz proved he could stay healthy, as he went 150 innings while tallying 144 strikeouts last season. After that his old manager, Charlie Montoyo, called Matz an “unsung hero” for all the work he put in. You can read more on that interview here: https://www.mlb.com/news/steven-matz-has-been-blue-jays-unsung-hero

The Cardinals were in every awards race out there, bringing in five Gold Gloves, three Silver Slugger finalist, and two players in the MVP conversation. The iron has never been hotter for the club and it’s brand new manager, who are able to field the exact same team as no starter was eligible for free agency.

Now add in the pressure of this being Wainwright and Molina’s last year — the Cards need to win. There certainly is no tomorrow for this club and bringing in a reliable guy like Steven Matz could be just what they need.

Cincinnati Reds Have Déjà Vu All Over Again With Luis Castillo

Cincinnati Reds Luis Castillo
Luis Castillo Gives Reds Some Déjà Vu (Photo by David Kohl/USA Today Sports)

The Cincinnati Reds face déjà vu all over again with starting pitcher Luis Castillo. Odds are, the Reds learned their lesson the last time they were in this position with an ace starting pitcher from the Dominican Republic by the name of Johnny Cueto.

Like his predecessor, Castillo has excelled at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. His 3.18 ERA at home with a 1.109 WHIP in 382+ IP attests to that. As good as Castillo has been at GABP, Cueto has posted even better career numbers in Cincinnati: 2.96 ERA and 1.089 WHIP in 656+ IP.

The Reds staged a small-market team coup a decade ago in 2011 when they bought out Cueto’s three arbitration years plus his first two years of potential free agency for a paltry $37M over five years. But Cueto wasn’t great yet when he inked that deal. In his first three years with the Reds prior, Cueto posted a 4.27 ERA with a 1.348 WHIP in 531 IP.

The Reds didn’t pull off that kind of coup last year with Castillo. He entered his first arbitration year in 2021 after putting up a 3.62 ERA with a 1.168 WHIP in 519+ IP prior with the Reds. Now, the team can’t expect to swing a deal anywhere close to the Cueto one a decade ago.

So, where does that leave the Reds with Castillo? Probably not in a position to offer the 7yr./$131M contract received by Jose Berrios from the Toronto Blue Jays last week.

Hence the sudden flurry of trade rumors surrounding Castillo. Big-market media mouthpieces may promote these trade rumors, but any trade of Castillo is unlikely to happen until July. Part of the reason for that trade timeline is the subpar 2021 season that Castillo had with the Reds. He finished with a 3.98 ERA and 1.364 WHIP in 187+IP. It took an ace-like second half in 2021 for Castillo to lower his ERA to sub-4.00.

Reds’ ownership under Bob Castellini has faced almost this exact same dilemma before. It really is déjà vu all over again. The Reds have two starters in Castillo and Tyler Mahle headed for free agency in two years. Castillo is headed into his age 29 season in 2022. It’s age 27 season for Mahle in 2022.

Cueto and starting pitcher Homer Bailey presented the same dilemma for the Reds in the mid-2010s. Therein lies the déjà vu for the Reds. Cueto was headed into the last year of his extension in 2015 at age 29. Bailey would’ve been free agent eligible in 2015 at age 29, but the Reds made a fateful decision.

The Reds responded by inking Bailey to a 6yr./$105M contract in 2014 in his last arbitration year. The deal included a team buyout option in the last year, making it a 7yr./$125M deal on paper.

Those numbers conjure too much bad déjà vu for the Castellini clan to offer Castillo anything comparable to the Bailey deal. Bailey was an unmitigated disaster. He signed the deal in his age 29 season. His first year was solid enough, then the wheels fell off. Over the next four years, Bailey had a 6.25 ERA in just 46 starts. His merciful end in Cincinnati produced a 1-14 season in 2018 with a 6.09 ERA.

In contrast, the Reds played out Cueto’s contract, trading him in 2015. Cueto would then go on to score a 6yr./$130M deal with the San Francisco Giants in 2015. That big contract didn’t do too much more for the Giants than Bailey’s did for the Reds.

All of which is why the Cincinnati Reds will likely stand pat on Luis Castillo for at least the first half of 2022. Same for Mahle, who has paled in comparison to Castillo at GABP (5.09 ERA and 1.398 WHIP in 221 IP).

Detroit Tigers: Tigers Sign Eduardo Rodriguez

The Detroit Tigers have signed left-handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez.

The former Red Sox pitcher inked a five-year deal with a player option after the second year. With incentives, the deal is valued at up to $80 million.

Rodriguez has been a model of consistency in his big league career, coming off another 30+ start season. In 2019, he finished sixth in the Cy Young award race, where he posted a career-high 203.1 innings.

As a result, the Red Sox will receive a compensatory draft pick, in addition, the Tigers will surrender their third-highest draft pick in 2022.

Where does he fit in the Tigers rotation?

Even with the innings limits removed from Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize, Eduardo Rodriguez will likely find himself anywhere between 2-4 in AJ Hinch’s rotation.

His repertoire includes a fastball that will sit around 93 mph, which he compliments well with a changeup around 85 mph, a cutter at 88 mph, and a slider at 82 mph.

Rodriguez is a strikeout savant who is coming off posting his career-best strikeout rate (10.6 per nine innings) while also among the league’s best at limiting hard contact. In addition, he also had the lowest walk rate of his career (2.7 per nine innings).

The lefty is poised to be a veteran presence in the young Tigers rotation despite being only 28 years old. He and Matthew Boyd are the most tenured starters on the Tigers…for now cough Justin Verlander.

This move is the Tigers’ second of the offseason after they traded for two-time Gold Glove
catcher Tucker Barnhart on November 3rd.

Tigers’ GM Al Avila has previously identified the strong need at improving the starting pitching this offseason, even placing it as a top priority.

Despite Tigers fans’ strong desire to hand a blank check to Carlos Correa before any other moves are made, this should come as no surprise after witnessing the Tigers select eight pitchers in the 2021 MLB Draft.

MLB Free Agency Rankings 2021-22

MLB Free Agency
AP

Here are the top available names in MLB free agency this off-season. This class is pretty jam-packed with talent.

MLB Free Agency Rankings – Top 20

SS Carlos Correa: Detroit Tigers, 10 years, 350 million

Correa is one of the safest free agent signings ever. At the end of a 10 year deal he will only be in his age 36 season and he has shown a lot of improvement in his defense, durability and hitting entering his prime. He is a future Hall of Fame talent and has an impressive track record and postseason numbers and any team would benefit by adding him. Every team should be in on him but I like a reunion with AJ Hinch.

2. SS Corey Seager: New York Yankees, 10 years, 325 million

Seager has established himself as a big splash as well this year, coming back healthy from some injury woes. He is probably a little below Correa in talent and may have to move to third base eventually but any contender looking for a huge piece should be in on him. The Yankees have a ton of infield questions and Seager would solidify their infield immediately.

3. SS Trevor Story: St. Louis Cardinals, 8 years, 245 million

Story is uber-talented as well in this crop of shortstop though a bit older than the others he has the most tools with his speed and consistent defense. The worry for him is leaving Coors. His offensive production may take a hit but the bottom line is Story has a good swing and he should actually improve upon a down season in 2021.

The Coors hangover effect means his numbers at home will get worse but his road numbers should improve and he should put up production in a way similar to Nolan Arenado did. A lot of teams could be in on him too including the Rangers.

4. 3B Kris Bryant: New York Mets, 6 years, 170 million

Bryant is a great middle of the order bat. There are questions about how he may age and he doesn’t have one elite skill but he has pop and a great bat. He could fill a role like he did for the Giants last summer. The Cubs could look strongly into bringing the fan favorite back but the Mets make a lot of sense, as do the Phillies. He will make a team a lot better during the front end of whatever deal he signs.

5. 1B Freddie Freeman: Atlanta Braves, 6 years, 160 million

The consistent, sweet-swinging first baseman won’t be leaving Atlanta. It sounds like a deal will get hatched out sometime this month for Freddie and he will continue to be an All-Star in Atlanta.

6. SS Marcus Semien: Toronto Blue Jays, 5 years, 125 million

Semien has actually been one of the best middle infielders in baseball since 2019 in WAR. He has positional flexibility too and the power he showed is legit. I don’t think Toronto can afford to lose him. He will have many suitors if he doesn’t.

7. SP Max Scherzer: New York Yankees, 2 years, 62 million

Max should be highly in demand because while I wouldn’t say he is at his peak right now, he hasn’t declined a ton. You know exactly what you’re getting in the strikeout heavy ace. The Dodgers will want to try hard to keep him, but any contender on the brink of success could greatly benefit.

8. SS Javier Baez: Chicago Cubs, 8 years, 225 million

Baez has his concerns as far as getting on base and making tough outs on the basepaths by being overaggressive at times but he has power, versatility and is the most exciting player in baseball you could argue. Even in a slump he still can help a team with his glove and speed. The Mets will try to keep him at second/third but the Cubs can offer him shortstop/third and familiarity and I think they want to bring back one of their stars.

9. SP Robbie Ray: Los Angeles Angels, 4 years, 95 million

Ray had a breakout year and was one of the best pitchers in the AL. He is also the K/9 leader for any qualified player ever. His command could be iffy and his track record isn’t spotless but he could provide a top of the rotation arm for many teams and any team who needs a starter should be in on him. Ultimately, I think he will sign with the Angels who badly need starters.

10. SP Marcus Stroman: San Francisco Giants, 6 years, 150 million

Stroman seems to me as the safest option on the market. He is a borderline ace and will pitch a solid amount of above average innings for the team he ends up with. If he has a solid defense behind him, it will make him all the more better. You can see how successful he has been though throughout his career.

11. SP Justin Verlander: Detroit Tigers, 2 years, 28 million plus incentives

I think Verlander has some risk but likely will rebound well from his Tommy John. I think the Tigers are the perfect match as he can lead the staff of young arms and they can benefit from him. He could help a team on the brink of success or who already has made the playoffs.

12. OF Nicholas Castellanos: Chicago White Sox, 4 years, 80 million

He is a below average fielder but one of the better hitters in baseball. If the White Sox got him their line-up would be dangerous, but I’d watch out for the Padres too. He could already fit in the middle of any contenders line-up though and may be one of those senaky signings that helps a teams run production a lot. Plus he can DH some days in the AL.

13. SP Kevin Gausman: Toronto Blue Jays, 4 years, 85 million

The Giants finally put together Gasuman’s pitch mix after years of promise and solid pitching. He should be able to hold down his newfound stuff and become a dependable number two starter in most cities. I think the Jays will be heavy on him as they need some reliable pitching to go with their mix of young arms and veterans.

14. SP Carlos Rodon: St. Louis Cardinals, 3 years, 63 million

Rodon was a high draft pick who was always solid but unspectacular. That changed last year but the one big thing was that he still didn’t hit a ton of innings pitched. In today’s game though that shouldn’t be as big of a problem as it was in years past if he can give you 150 solid innings. Last year he had about 1 WAR for every 27 innings he pitched, which is very impressive.

15. OF Starling Marte: New York Mets, 3 years, 60 million

Marte’s calling card is his speed and while he is on the wrong side of 30 and he may not steal 40 bases a ton more seasons, he can still be a quality corner outfielder who can hit at the top of the order with power and be a true table setter for a team as he gets on base.

16. UT Chris Taylor: Texas Rangers, 4 years, 70 million

Taylor got buried on the Dodgers but he is a pretty solid player, one from the Zobrist academy of ballplayers. A contender could keep using him as a swiss army knife or he could step in as an above average regular for any team. He was in a slump but came back on in the play-offs and the list of offers he gets will likely be long.

17. OF Mark Canha: Milwaukee Brewers 3 years, 55 million

Another greatly underrated player and WAR darling, Canha has improved since he was a Rule 5 pick for the A’s since 2015 and can do a little bit of everything. He a teams dream player that they can insert into the line-up and count on major production. The Brewers definitely need someone like him to boost their team even more after their early exit.

18. 1B Anthony Rizzo: Boston Red Sox, 4 years, 75 million

Rizzo probably isn’t worth as much as he thought going into free agency as his overall numbers have taken a dip. He is still an above average player though who fits into the middle of a good teams order. He looks like a .280, 25 homer bat still. The Red Sox need a natural first baseman badly and Rizzo should fill production lost by Schwarber.

19. SP Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers 3 years, 65 million

Kershaw has had some rough seasons dealing with injuries. The Dodgers are among the deepest teams in recent memory though and Kershaw is still a marvel, though not a Cy Young contender, at this point. The Dodgers can afford to let their franchise icon hopefully give them 170 innings for a few upcoming seasons and those will be better than most guys they could feasibly get.

20. SP Eduardo Rodriguez: Seattle Mariners, 3 years, 60 million

Rodrgiuez seemed to have bad luck last year as his Outs Above Average on Baseball Savant showed him as the unluckiest pitcher on defense. He has been a middle of the rotation anchor on a World Champion and can also miss some bats. He is a very good get. I think the Mariners will try and snatch him up to help out their pitching staff, an era that needed the most help last year.

Other Notable Free Agents

21-30

21. OF Kyle Schwarber: Rays, 2 years, 28 million

22. OF Michael Conforto: Giants, 1 year, 21 million

23.SP Noah Syndergaard: Mets 1 year, 18 million

24. 1B Brandon Belt: Giants 3 years, 50 million

25. SP Steven Matz: Braves, 2 years, 27 million

26. RP Raisel Iglesias: Padres, 3 years, 42 million

27. RP Kenley Jansen: Angles, 2 years, 26 million

28. SP Jon Gray: Giants, 3 years, 60 million

29. DH Nelson Cruz: Twins, 1 year, 10 million

30. 3B Eduardo Escobar: Phillies, 3 years, 38 million

31-40

31. SP Anthony DesClefani: Rangers, 2 years, 30 million

32. SP Zack Greinke: Padres, 1 year, 16 million

33. OF Avisail Garcia: Guardians, 2 years, 24 million

34. RP Kendall Graveman: Astros, 3 years, 27 million

35. OF Jorge Soler: Rockies, 2 years, 26 million

36. OF Eddie Rosario: Cubs, 1 year, 10 million

37. 3B Kyle Seager: Yankees, 2 years, 28 million

38. SP Yusei Kikuchi: Twins, 2 years, 25 million

39. RP Corey Knebel: Red Sox, 2 years, 18 million

40. SP Alex Wood: Rays, 1 year, 13 million

41-50

41. RP Mark Melancon: Phillies, 1 year, 9 million

42. RP Collin McHugh: Dodgers, 2 years, 22 million

43. C Yan Gomes: Marlins, 3 years, 30 million

44. SP Michael Pineda: Astros 1 year, 13 million

45. SP Alex Cobb: Phillies, 2 years, 21 million

46. SS Andrelton Simmons: Athletics, 1 year, 5 million

47. RP Yimi Garcia: Giants, 2 years, 13 million

48. RP Andrew Chafin: Giants, 2 years, 12 million

49. 2B Jonathan Villar: Reds, 1 year, 4 million

50. OF Andrew McCutchen: Padres, 1 year, 7 million

51-60

51. OF Joc Pederson: Royals, 1 year, 9 million

52. SP Danny Duffy: Giants, 1 year, 6 million

53. RP Adam Ottavino: Phillies, 2 years, 10 million

54. RP Ryan Tepera: White Sox, 1 year, 5 million

55. RP Archie Bradley: Blue Jays, 1 year, 5 million

56. RP Michael Lorenzen: Nationals, 2 years, 10 million

57. RP Joe Kelly

58. OF Leury Garcia

59. RP Daniel Hudson

60. OF Tommy Pham

61-70

61. OF Kevin Pillar

62. OF Yoshi Tsutsugo

63. SS Jose Iglesias

64. RP Luis Garcia

65. SP Martin Perez

66. SP Dylan Bundy

67. SP Tyler Anderson

68. OF Kole Calhoun

69. SP Zach Davies

70. RP Alex Colome

71-81

71. RP Sean Doolittle

72. SP Jake Junis- Sleeper

73. SP Chris Archer

74. RP Aaron Loup

75. RP Joely Rodriguez

76. 2B Josh Harrison

77. SS Freddy Galvis

78. SP Johnny Cueto

79. IF Matt Duffy

80. OF Corey Dickerson

81. RP Hector Neris