Opening Day should be a national holiday. At least that's what baseball fans think.
The intoxicating smell of the grass, the soul-awakening sound that warns of a home run hurtling towards the bleachers, the glove-like fit of a brand new fitted cap emblazoned with your team's insignia and the mouth-watering satisfaction of that first ballpark hot dog. Opening Day is simply the best.
And for the majority of MLB teams, Opening Day is also an introduction to their new roster. After working hard to craft deals, spend cash in free agency and entice the game's biggest stars to wear their colors, the first game of the regular season is very much a chance for the offseason's biggest spenders to flaunt their spoils of war. In 2022, despite the MLB Lockout, we've had some big spenders and some massive deals agreed to.
But with great spending comes great expectations. And for the MLB's biggest offseason spenders, the return on their investment doesn't appear to be the windfall they were anticipating. Here's where the five biggest spenders from the 2022 MLB Offseason stand so far this season.
Philadelphia Phillies - $204.15 Million
The Phillies have not shied away from spending money or dealing assets over the last few offseasons, but it was surprising to see them make more than one big move ahead of the 2022 season.
Recent acquisitions like former Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, former Mets pitcher Zach Wheeler and former NL MVP Bryce Harper have been massive for the Phils as they climb out of the NL East cellar. This past offseason, Philadelphia didn't slow down, signing former Nationals and Boston Red Sox slugger Kyle Schwarber to a 4-year, $79 million deal and Cincinnati Reds hitter Nick Castellanos to a 5-year, $100 Million agreement, solidifying their lineup as a potential offensive juggernaut in the National League.
To bolster an under-performing bullpen, the Phils also added Brad Hand, Jeurys Familia and Corey Knebel. When you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, the Phillies are getting stronger, but it remains to be seen if they can truly use that strength to get to the postseason.
So far in 2022, the Phillies haven't seen those investments in free agents pay off. Nick Castellanos is vastly underperforming his offensive production in the first half of last season and is on pace to strike out more in 2022 than any other season in his career. Not great for a guy who is making $20 million a season.
Of their bullpen acquisitions, the only pitcher who seems to be working out in a similar way to how Dave Dombrowski might have hoped is Brad Hand. the lefty's 2022 campaign has been as advertised, but compared to Knebel and Familia, he's Eric Gagne in 2003. Corey Knebel has four blown saves, the most in the National League and tied for the most in the Majors with Emilio Pagan of the Twins. Jeurys Familia's struggles can be summed up in his 1.767 WHIP, which is putrid.
If the Phillies are going to compete in the NL East and actually take on the Mets and Braves for the Division title, they need to start turning things around soon. The excusal of Joe Griardi as manager was a good first step, but unless they can continue their 15-5 pace in the 20 games after his removal as skipper, then this season will become another disappointment at Citizen's Bank Park.
Detroit Tigers - $235.5 Million
Things haven't been great for the Motor City Kitties in recent years, as the Tigers have fallen out of contention and almost off the major league map entirely. After heading for a deep hibernation and rebuild, the Tigers are now re-emerging as a potent threat made up of young stars on the rise and seasoned veterans. There's a possibility that Detroit's all-prospect starting rotation makes their presence known over the next few seasons, and that's good news. Matt Manning, Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal have shown their faces on the major league level, but still, have some growing to do.
That's okay since the Tigers brought in Eduardo Rodriguez from the Red Sox to add a veteran presence to the rotation. On the other side of the ball, the Tigers signed former Chicago Cubs shortstop Javy Baez to a 6-year, $140 Million deal, readying the right side of the infield for Spencer Torkelson's arrival at the major league level. Things may have been looking bleak at Comerica Park these last few seasons, but the Tigers are getting ready to take the league by storm and it's only a matter of time before we hear them roar again.
Is that resurgence of Detroit dominance going to come in 2022? Probably not. Baez has yet to find his stroke in the Motor City, but the real story isn't who the Tigers signed, it's who they've called up. Spencer Torkelson is struggling to find his own footing in Bigs, but the 22-year-old has time. While it may seem cruel to leave him dangling out there against MLB talent, this is the kind of development he needs. Same with Riley Greene who has called up in June. The Tigers are leaning into their growth at all costs. That's a good thing. At Commerica Park, you can see the future stars of tomorrow, today!
New York Mets - $258.5
Stop me if you've heard this once before. The New York Mets have signed a trove of fantastic players in the offseason and are heading into the regular season with a new winning attitude.
Yeah, exactly. Same song, different year. The New York Mets have built their franchise, not on World Championships, MVPs or a robust history of success. No, the Amazins have done so one the manufacturing, bottling and distribution of what may be the most potent mind control compound of all time: Unbridled Optimism. The Mets could field a team of toddlers on recess from the Flushing Nursery School and Mets fans would still find a way to hype up their team and find ways they could win the NL Pennant. I know this, because I am one of those people.
But in the 2022 offseason, the Mets did a bit of an overhaul, brought in some splashy free agents and have completely reset their foundational roster. With a rotation that boasts two Cy Young Winners from recent years and two up-and-coming studs, the Mets rotation finally feels closer to that "Four Horsemen of Queens" commercial that ran after their 2015 World Series run.
The signing of Max Scherzer feels like a fever dream and his contract feels like one that would be handed out across town in the Bronx. Three years for $130 million dollars. That's a new major league record right there, folks and it's quite the roster move to replace Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard. The Mets are not messing around. Add in the acquisitions of Oakland Athletics players Mark Canha, Christ Bassitt, Starling Marte and New York Yankees bullpen arm Adam Ottavino and it begins to look like the Mets are finally putting their money where their mouth is. To quote Ottavino, "It's great that a good team is in New York." Agreed, Adam. Agreed.
And so far, they've been exactly that, despite not being the only good team in New York. With Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer missing significant time due to injury, the Mets should have crumbled. After all, Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker and Carlos Carrasco aren't equal substitutes, right? Wrong. The Mets roster, impeccably crafted by new GM Billy Eppler, has worked so far in 2022. The Mets are dangerous in 2022 and have talent to spare. Who would have thought that Dom Smith would be sent down to Triple-A Syracuse months after being involved in trade rumors with the Padres? The Mets (who are good) seem to have found a recipe for success this season. All they need to do now, is maintain and not trip themselves up.
Los Angeles Dodgers - $266.2 Million
The Dodgers seems to be on this list every single year, but after already crafting a team that's chock full of All-Stars, it's wild to see them still securing massive talent year in and year out. The loss of Corey Seager was mitigated by their deal to bring Trea Turner in from Washington at the 2021 Trade Deadline, who they signed to a one-year, $21 million deal to avoid arbitration. But the acquisition of another NL East talent is what turned heads this offseason.
Freddie Freeman's 6-year, $162 Million deal was a shock to fans, as the general feeling was that Freeman would return to the Atlanta Braves where he just won a World Series or even head further south to join up with the Tampa Bay Rays. Instead, Freeman opted for warmer climes and Dodger Blue.
The Dodgers also retained a big roster piece that allows them flexibility in both their outfield and infield, by agreeing to a 4-year, $60 Million deal with Chris Taylor. The Dodgers offered Taylor a qualifying offer early on in the offseason, but Taylor decline it, instead opting to search for a multi-year deal. The Dodgers are still the most dangerous team in the NL West (sorry Giants and Padres fans), and possibly all of Major League Baseball.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. The Dodgers go out and acquire a superstar in the offseason and they're one of the best teams in the league. Sounds familiar, right? While the Mets earned praise for their hot start early in the season, that's probably because the Dodgers were operating as they normally do: atop the NL West and decimating bad teams. So far, so good. The Dodgers are still in the driver's seat out West and there's not a lot that could shake them. Consider that $266.2 Million some division title insurance.
Texas Rangers - $580.7 Million
To say the Rangers have had an excellent offseason is putting it mildly. No one saw them coming, and their moves sent other teams in the marketplace sprinting for the nearest free agent who met their needs. Seriously, it's been a wild offseason, and we haven't even mentioned the lockout.
The Rangers seemed to be in on everyone from the former Colorado Rockies' ( Now the Boston Red Sox shortstop) Trevor Story to the former Houston Astros' (now the Minnesota Twins') Carlos Correa.
The two biggest signings for the Rangers, and maybe even the entire offseason, were that of Corey Seager at shortstop for 10 years and $325 million and Marcus Semien for 7 years and $175 million. That's a lot of money to lock up between two guys, but both deals are very much worth their weight in payroll.
Corey Seager has been a mainstay in the "best shortstop" conversation since he arrived on the scene in 2015. During his time with the Dodgers, Seager won NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2016 and has been selected to two All-Star games in his short career. There are some injury concerns, but the main point here is that the Rangers have locked up an exciting face for their new, blossoming rebuilt franchise. Corey Seager is the perfect piece to build around, and if the Los Angeles Dodgers didn't already push their chips in on Turner, Seager might still be playing at Chavez Ravine. Luckily, after freeing up short by sending Isiah Kiner-Falefa to Minnesota in exchange for Mitch Garver, the Rangers opened the door for Seager to make himself at home in Arlington.
Marcus Semien, on the other hand, has been one of the most underrated and overlooked infielders in the entire league over the last few seasons. Coming into the league within the Oakland Athletics organization, Semien's breakout season came in 2019 when he found himself climbing the WAR leaderboard thanks to his high caliber of play in every single aspect of the game. I know, that sounds like horrible analysis, but that's why Semien has gotten overlooked in recent years.
But on a Toronto Blue Jays team that is jam-packed with young generational talent, it was impossible to ignore just how insanely talented Semien is, both at the dish and in the field, wherever the Blue Jays needed him to play.
Similar to how we all fawn over Los Angeles Angels phenom Mike Trout's stat lines, but hardly tune into his games. There's something magical about seeing a player who is at the top of their game, play with such ease, but you tend to only appreciate it when that greatness is within reach of other immense talents. A friend once said to me (yeah, buckle up for this one), "The best kind of acting is the kind that happens without the audience even realizing it. It's not sleight of hand, it's just reality, without frills." That's Marcus Semien, and he has two Top-3 AL MVP finishes and the stat lines to prove it.
So far in 2022, however, Seager and Semien appear to have left some talent in their old haunts. Both players are underperforming in the first three months of the season and are getting outhit by less expensive teammates. While this feels like a personal issue for both players, I'd actually argue that this is a managerial problem. We've already seen two managers lose their jobs with Joe Girardi and Joe Maddon being removed from their posts, and after a 33-35 start to the season, Chris Woodward should be feeling some heat. With two expensive studs underperforming and the Rangers' young stars showing up on a nightly basis, the problem might just be leadership.
Things have improved from last season in Arlington, but they could be better. So the question becomes, when do we push all the chips in and actually make a run for the AL West?
Has This Spending Paid Off?
For each team highlighted above, we saw an attempt to make their rosters better. Now, it's just a matter of determining the value of their decisions based on performance. But, at the end of the day, with teams like the Baltimore Orioles, Arizona Diamondbacks, Washington Nationals and Pittsburgh Pirates constantly tanking and fielding Quadruple-A lineups, sometimes it's just nice to see teams putting in the work. Even if that success doesn't immediately come to fruition.
This article was originally published on March 25, 2022, and has been updated since.
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