ST. PETERSBURG — So baseball just had its version of a drunken frat party.
The season was over, the labor war was only days away and teams were in the mood to overindulge. And, as is usually the case with this much revelry, some folks are going to wake up with serious regret.
Staring at an economic showdown between players and owners that is expected to begin with a lockout Wednesday evening, teams went on a spending spree in recent days.
It was thrilling for fans, it was lucrative for players and it was Armageddon for accountants. General managers were spending money as if they were elected officials.
Max Scherzer is likely a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the Mets just agreed to pay him $43 million a year until he turns 40. And that was one of the smarter deals.
The top six contracts on the free-agent market, as of Tuesday morning, had fetched just under $1 billion in guaranteed money. To put that into warped perspective:
One of those six players was Kevin Gausman.
He’s a fine pitcher, Gausman. Had his first All-Star appearance last season. But he’s soon to turn 31 and has a 64-71 record with a career ERA of 4.02. In other words, we ain’t talking Gerrit Cole here.
Even the normally reticent Rays got in the action with a contract that will guarantee 20-year-old shortstop Wander Franco at least $182 million over the next 11 years.
Final grades for most of these contracts will not be evident until years down the line. But that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate about winners and losers today.
Instead of predicting slugging percentages and pennants for the players and teams involved, we’ll take a broader look at 10 of the top deals. Call it the Regret Index.
Corey Seager, Texas, 10 years, $325 million
Seager looked like a potential superstar in 2016-17, but injuries slowed his ascent. Going into next year at age 28, there is still a window for MVP-caliber seasons but his durability is a little concerning. With the amount they are investing, the Rangers need Seager to be more than just a steady shortstop with a .295 batting average and a little pop. Regret Index: 60 percent chance.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay, 11 years, $182 million
It’s a little unfair to include Franco on this list because he was still six years away from free agency, which means the Rays had far more leverage. He’s also much younger than any of the players on this list, which means the Rays will get the prime of his career. Franco has less of a track record, but nobody doubts his potential. Combine all those factors, and this is easily the best contract of the bunch. Regret Index: 20 percent.
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Marcus Semien, Texas, 7 years, $175 million
Since 2019, Semien is the only hitter in the majors to post two seasons with a WAR of 6.0 or higher. He moved from shortstop to second base in 2021, and won a Gold Glove. That’s the good news. The bad news is he will turn 32 by the end of next season. And, while the Rangers just bought themselves the best middle infield combo in baseball, they still don’t look like contenders. By the time they finish supplementing the roster, Semien will be past his prime. Regret Index: 65 percent.
Javier Baez, Detroit, 6 years, $140 million
You look at the average salary Seager ($32.5 million), Semien ($25 million) and Fernando Tatis Jr. ($24.3 million) are making and Baez ($23.3 million) looks pretty good by comparison. The question is whether he is an elite middle infielder like the others. Too many strikeouts, not enough walks and you have to wonder if Comerica Park will impact his home run totals. Regret Index: 60 percent.
Max Scherzer, New York Mets, 3 years, $130 million
He’s been in the top three of the NL Cy Young voting five of the last six years. He’s led the league in WHIP four of the last six years. No one doubts Mad Max is one of the top pitchers in the game. Put him together with Jacob deGrom, and the Mets have a Koufax-Drysdale type of duo. Considering his age, the Mets overpaid for Scherzer. But they also dramatically increased their chances for a pennant in the next couple of years. Regret Index: 35 percent.
Robbie Ray, Seattle, 5 years, $115 million
For a pitcher coming off an AL Cy Young Award season, that’s a bargain deal. For a pitcher who had a career ERA of 4.26 going into last season, it’s not quite so attractive. Chances are, the Mariners will get more of the 2021 version of Ray than the 2014-20 version of Ray, but there’s still some risk involved in signing a player coming off a career year. Regret Index: 50 percent.
Kevin Gausman, Toronto, 5 years, $110 million
Did you read the Ray synopsis? Yeah, same thing. Regret Index: 50 percent.
Eduardo Rodriguez, Detroit, 5 years, $77 million
Gausman and Ray had their career years in 2021 as they hit free agency. Rodriguez’s best season was in 2019. The difference? About $35 million. Regret Index: 40 percent.
Justin Verlander, Houston, 2 years, $50 million
So the Rays are debating whether it’s worth paying Tyler Glasnow around $9 million to keep him under contract through the 2023 season when he’ll return from Tommy John surgery. The Astros, meanwhile, are paying Verlander $25 million a season at age 39 after missing nearly two full years! And I kinda like the deal. Regret Index: 40 percent.
Jon Gray, Texas, 4 years, $56 million
The Rangers won 60 games last season. Even if Semien and Seager add a 6.0 WAR each, Gray is not going to get Texas over the hump. Regret Index: 70 percent.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
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