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The best and worst moves of 2022 MLB free agency

It didn't happen immediately, but MLB's post-lockout free agency and trade frenzy did eventually come true.

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When the Major League Baseball lockout ended back on March 10, rumors immediately began to spread that there would be a free agency frenzy once it restarted that same evening. While we didn’t see the immediate deluge of deals that plenty of fans expected to see as soon as 7:00 p.m. hit on the night the lockout ended, we didn’t have to wait long for the inevitable to happen.

Winner: Rangers get their catcher while Twins get something brewing

It started with a pair of trades on March 12 that set the tone for what and who was going to be involved when the real avalanche began. First, the Twins sent Isiah Kiner-Falefa to the Rangers in exchange for Mitch Garver. At first glance, it seems like an interesting-but-even trade. Texas picks up a solid catcher in Garver and Minnesota brings in a great defender for their infield who found himself on the outside looking in at Texas when they signed Corey Seager. Seems simple enough, right? As it turns out, the Twins were playing 4D chess and had a grand scheme that ended with one of the more shocking moves of free agency so far.

Loser: Another fire sale begins in Oakland

The second deal of that day signaled the beginning of a long-anticipated fire sale for the Athletics. The first team to take advantage of this was the Mets, who gave their rotation yet another boost by trading for right-handed starter Chris Bassitt in exchange for the first pair of many new prospects to enter Oakland’s farm system. While the Twins were not done buying, the A’s weren’t done selling. If we’re being completely honest, this type of rebuild is old hat for A’s fans. The difference is that there’s the looming specter of a potential move on the horizon for the Athletics, so there’s a small sense of finality about this particular fire sale.

Winner: Twins continue to wheel and deal

The Twins ended up having a very busy day on March 13. It started with the Reds going into selling mode as they shipped Sonny Gray off to Minnesota. All of a sudden, a team that was looking at potentially having Dylan Bundy as an Opening Day starting candidate was now looking at having a proven commodity as their starter when the season gets rocking and rolling again. Minnesota’s rotation still isn’t great, but now they potentially have a rock solid starter to lean on every fifth day.

Again, that wasn’t the end of Minnesota’s wheeling-and-dealing on that day. Remember Isiah Kiner-Falefa? The man didn’t even have enough time to celebrate his arrival in Minnesota before he had to start learning the lyrics to “(Theme From) New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra and start expressing adulation for Derek Jeter. Kiner-Falefa, Ben Rortvedt and Josh Donaldson got shipped off to the Bronx in exchange for Gary Sanchez and Gio Urshela. For the Yankees, this meant that Trevor Story and Carlos Correa weren’t coming to New York and it also meant that Gerrit Cole’s professionalism was about to be put to the test. For what it’s worth, both Cole and Donaldson passed the initial test with flying colors!

Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Loser: But what exactly were the Twins doing at this point?

For the Twins, this was a head-scratcher for sure. With all due respect to both Sanchez and Urshela, the Twins had downgraded at both catcher and third base, respectively. They also got the Yankees to take on the $50 million that Josh Donaldson was still owed. So what was the grand plan here? Our friends over at Twinkie Town figured that a big free agency move was coming and maybe it would be for a shortstop that would absolutely not be Carlos Correa, right?

Winner: Braves go from strength to strength at first base

Once the calendar switched from March 13 to 14, one of our recurring characters returned to the forefront. The Oakland A’s were not done stripping their house down all the way to the foundation and this time the next player to go was Matt Olson. The Braves sent four of their top prospects to the Bay Area in exchange for one of the best-hitting first basemen in all of baseball. This also meant that another one of the best-hitting first basemen in all of baseball would not be returning to Atlanta, as this certainly meant that Freddie Freeman was leaving the Braves. That was especially the case when the Braves immediately signed Olson to a contract extension, as they essentially chose having Matt Olson over Freddie Freeman.

Winner: Mariners take advantage of Reds reboot

Elsewhere on March 14, the Reds confirmed that they were undergoing yet another reboot when they sent Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Mariners in exchange for a handful of prospects and the ever-mysterious Player To Be Named Later. After what had to have been an agonizing 48 hours, Jerry Dipoto was finally able to transact. Meanwhile, there’s no joy in Red-ville as Cincinnati has seemingly doomed itself to become also-rans in 2022 as they are now the latest team attempting to figure out a way to compete without actually paying a boatload of money for quality talent. Meanwhile, the Mariners have seen their squad receive some strengthening with this addition of two former All-Stars. Seattle came agonizingly close to ending what is now a 20-year postseason drought, but moves like this could make it so that the streak doesn’t make it to 21 years.

Loser: Yankees get bronze medal in first baseman sweepstakes

The Ides of March ended up being a quiet day, unless you were the New York Yankees. That was when it became clear that not only were they not going to get Carlos Correa, they also weren’t going to get Freddie Freeman. Instead, they were going to get Freddie Freeman’s pal as Anthony Rizzo agreed to return to the Yankees. The market of available first basemen during this offseason made it seem like there was a podium, where acquiring either Freeman, Olson, or Rizzo would guarantee you a medal. While it’s debatable as to who is the proverbial gold and silver medal choice between Freeman and Olson, Rizzo was the clear bronze medal choice. With that being said, New York’s infield still looking pretty good with the additions of Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa and the return of Rizzo.

Winner: Blue Jays add Platinum Glove talent in Matt Chapman

March 16 ended up being a much busier day in baseball. The A’s said goodbye to their third All-Star in less than a week, as they dealt Matt Chapman to the Blue Jays. While the haul they received for Matt Olson was substantial, that wasn’t exactly the case for Chapman. Still, the team North of the border was very happy to add a very valuable glove to what is looking like an increasingly formidable roster for the Blue Jays. Chapman’s defense is unquestionably elite, as he finished 2021 ranked in the 99th percentile in Outs Above Average and is routinely capable of providing double-digit numbers in Defensive Runs Saved. The Blue Jays figure to be a threatening force in the always-dangerous AL East.

MLB: Spring Training-Pittsburgh Pirates at Toronto Blue Jays Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Winner/Loser: Kris Bryant gets a massive payday as the Rockies continue to confound

Then we got an absolute doozy of a free agency deal, as Kris Bryant finally got the massive payday that he’d been looking for. It just so happened that the huge contract came from the Colorado Rockies. While Bryant is likely going to be spending far more time nowadays in left field than at third base, you may remember that the Rockies once had a very good third baseman playing for them not too long ago. Last year, this same Rockies team traded that player to St. Louis and paid the Cardinals nearly $51 million to do so. Here in the present-day, Colorado followed that up by giving Kris Bryant $182 million over seven years. So you could make the argument that the Rockies spent $233 million to drop Nolan Arenado in favor of Kris Bryant.

It’s a weird flex but it seems okay because Kris Bryant got a bag that he deserved every penny of, he gets to live in a nice city that’s relatively close to his hometown of Las Vegas, and the Rockies got a player that they’ve coveted since he turned professional. Either way, it’s clear to see that Bryant is the one that’s coming out ahead here. The Rockies may be good again at some point down the road, but they’re definitely going about it in a deeply weird way.

Winner: The Dodgers reload by adding Freddie Freeman

The next day was when the big free agency domino finally fell. Freddie Freeman made his decision and the choice was to don the Dodger blue. Freeman signed with Los Angeles on a six-year, $162 million contract that basically confirmed that the Dodgers would have an absolutely terrifying lineup going forward. LA’s lineup will now has a scarcely-believable four former MVPs in their lineup — including the 2018 AL MVP in Mookie Betts, the 2019 NL MVP in Cody Bellinger, and the 2020 NL MVP in Freeman. Even Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA is impressed, and PECOTA hates everybody!

Championship Series - Atlanta Braves v Los Angeles Dodgers - Game Four Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Loser: Phillies add Castellanos while sacrificing defense

The free agency dominoes continued to drop on March 18. Nick Castellanos got himself a nine-figure payday with the Phillies, while Kenley Jansen became just the latest lifelong Braves fan to join the Atlanta Braves. The Jansen signing helped bolster a bullpen that did a lot of heavy lifting on Atlanta’s path to the 2021 title, while Castellanos has basically confirmed that the Phillies are fine with having no defense whatsoever if deep fly balls to left field are routinely a thing. We even got a notable trade thrown in on this day as well, as Luke Voit moved from the Yankees to the Padres.

But seriously, let’s talk about Philadelphia’s defense for a moment. The Phillies were horrid defensively in 2021 and adding both Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber will definitely ensure that they’ll continue to deal in the basement of the NL in that particular department. While it’s likely that the Phillies will indeed mash the ball, this could end up being an experiment that’s too flawed to succeed going forward. It’s going to be fun to watch, for better or worse!

Winner: Minnesota’s grand plan is finally revealed

March 19 brought our good ol’ friends in Minnesota back to the forefront. As it turns out, the Twins were indeed up to something when they were making all of those weird deals. They were doing all of this in order to free up enough money to sign Carlos Correa. While Correa’s contract is incredibly player-friendly as it’s a three-year, $105.3 million contract with a chance to opt-out after each of the first two seasons of the agreement, it’s still a huge deal that the Twins were able to swoop in and pull off a huge upset in terms of signing the star shortstop. If you correctly predicted that Carlos Correa would end up a member of the Twins by the time Opening Day 2022 rolled around, then I’m going to personally ask you for lottery numbers because you’re either a time traveler or a clairvoyant.

Winner: Red Sox make their presence felt by signing Trevor Story

The very next day brought about a more predictable destination for arguably the final huge free agent left on the market. Trevor Story finally found himself a new home as he signed a six-year, $140 million deal with the Red Sox. Story will actually be moving over to second base, as Xander Bogaerts will stay at shortstop. It’s an interesting decision but this could also be a temporary move to second base for Story should Bogaerts decide to test the free agency waters next offseason. Either way, the Red Sox can say that they’ve got one half of their keystone combination figured out for the foreseeable future and a they’ve got a really good one in the form of Story.

So while we didn’t get the anticipated maelstrom of acquisitions immediately following the lockout, we did get a bunch of deals spread out over a period of just under two weeks. There’s still a couple of weeks until Opening Day, so there’s still plenty of time for even more deals to go down before teams start to settle in for the regular season marathon. Even if this was the end of the road as far as major signings and trades go, this was still a pretty fun period to bring baseball back. The lockout was truly a miserable period and it seems like the whole of MLB was attempting to make up for it with all of this movement going on. There’s no replacement for the actual games, but an exciting offseason is certainly an enticing alternative.