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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Here are the winners and losers of pre-lockout free agency

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen attends the

New York Mets owner Steve Cohen attends the opening of Citi Field as a mass vaccination site for COVID-19  on Feb. 10, 2021. Credit: Corey Sipkin

Well, that was a quick hot stove season.

After all these years clamoring for an NBA-style blitz of free-agent signings, we finally got our wish. Unfortunately, the cost was a total shutdown of the sport, courtesy of Rob Manfred’s lockout.

Talk about your Faustian bargains.

MLB teams have spent $2.5 billion since the end of the regular season, according to the payroll-tracking site spotrac.com. The Rangers currently lead the pack, investing $561.2 million in four players. Next up is the Mets ($254.5M for five players) followed by the Blue Jays ($252M, three players), Tigers ($217M, two players) and Rays ($203.2M, three players).

Officially, baseball completed a record $1 billion worth of contracts on Wednesday alone in the hours leading up to the midnight expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, with the lockout taking effect precisely one minute later. Now the sport will remain frozen indefinitely, with no trades or free-agent signings allowed until this bitter labor war is resolved.

It’s important to note, however, that there still is plenty of unfinished business as far as teams upgrading for 2022, and the opportunity to do that could be a very brief window. Just check out the top of the remaining free-agent class: Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, Nick Castellanos, Kris Bryant, Trevor Story, Seiya Suzuki, Clayton Kershaw, Michael Conforto and Kenley Jansen, to name a few.

In the rush to start spring training, that should make for another crazy market, albeit influenced by whatever new economic rules are put in place (if we’re lucky enough to get an agreement by March). But until then, here’s a glance at MLB’s pre-lockdown offseason, in which the bold got to buy themselves some positive PR to ride out this dark period.

WINNERS

1. Steve Cohen. The lesson? Never bet against a man with $14 billion. Days after Cohen was ridiculed for his Twitter rant against Steven Matz’s agent, the Mets' owner spent $254.5 million, getting Max Scherzer ($130M) and Starling Marte ($78M). And nobody seems to be talking about Flushing being radioactive anymore after that bumpy road to Billy Eppler’s hiring as general manager. Who says money can’t buy you love?

2. Rangers. Two-year-old Globe Life Field already has hosted a World Series, but it featured the Dodgers and Rays during the 2020 pandemic season. Texas seems intent on having another before too long, striking fast to sign Corey Seager ($325M), Marcus Semien ($175M) and Jon Gray ($56M). Signing two of the five shortstops on the market, then moving one to second base is a serious power move for a Rangers team intent on spending its way back to respectability.

3. Noah Syndergaard. Just when you thought $18.4 million was an overpay for a pitcher rehabbing from Tommy John surgery who had thrown two innings in two years (and only fastballs), Syndergaard parlayed the Mets’ qualifying offer into a $21 million pillow contract with the Angels. That’s plenty of books and buffalo jerky. Plus, SoCal is the perfect chill spot to revive a career — the exact opposite of NYC.

4. Tigers. No Carlos Correa, but Detroit led the way in free agency by grabbing one-time Red Sox ace Eduardo Rodriguez ($77M) in early November and former Mets target Javy Baez ($140M) at the wire to fill their shortstop void for half the cost of Correa.

5. Marlins. Nope, not a misprint. The tiny-market Marlins signed Sandy Alcantara to a five-year, $56 million extension — the largest outlay of cash during Derek Jeter’s four-year tenure as CEO — only a few days after securing free-agent outfielder Avisail Garcia (four years/$53M). Miami also made two smart trades for catcher Jacob Stallings and versatile infielder Joey Wendle.

LOSERS

1. Rob Manfred. Maybe the commissioner eventually gets a personal W if this lockout ultimately wears down the union and the new CBA slants heavily toward the owners (again). But for now, Manfred looks like baseball’s grim reaper, killing all that giddy transactional fun of the past few weeks and trying to sell us on the "defensive" measures necessary to save the sport.

2. The universal DH. It went sort of under the radar, but Manfred said he pulled the on-field rule changes off the negotiating table this past week, basically because he didn’t want to distract from the big issues — namely divvying up the money. The commissioner knows the union wants the DH — more jobs, more cash — and no doubt is holding it hostage to get something the owners crave in return.

3. Yankees. Hello? Anybody home? The Yankees went into this offseason needing a shortstop, rotation help and maybe even a centerfielder, but their entire free-agent expenditure to date is the $2 million on reliever Joely Rodriguez. Presumably, GM Brian Cashman will have time to fix some holes once the CBA dust settles. But it’s never a great look when the Mets’ owner is spending more like a Steinbrenner than the actual Steinbrenner, and leading up to the lockout, Hal seemed to be more loyal to Manfred than his increasingly restless fan base.

4. Seiya Suzuki. Coming over to play in the United States can be complicated for Japanese stars. In Suzuki’s case, the lockout has made it considerably more so. The 27-year-old outfielder, a career .315 hitter with six straight seasons of 25-plus homers for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, posted on Nov. 22. But his 30-day window to negotiate a contract is now on hold indefinitely (he’ll get the remaining 20 days when business resumes), and that’s going to be a rushed transition. Also, if Suzuki prefers to return to Japan, he’ll likely have to decide by Feb. 1, when NPB spring training starts.

5. Dodgers. Don’t get used to seeing the Dodgers in the L column. We expect it to be temporary. But losing Scherzer and Seager in the same week was a significant blow, even for a good team like the Dodgers, and Max Muncy also revealed last Monday that he is dealing with a torn UCL in his non-throwing arm from that collision on the season’s final day. The Dodgers did re-sign super-utilityman Chris Taylor to a four-year, $60 million contract hours before the lockout, however.

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