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MLB free agency landscape has been set

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The question now - can the teams and MLBPA figure out how to make it work?

Gatorade All-Star Workout Day Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Option decisions have been made league-wide by teams and players alike regarding their 2022 contract status. Or, in the case of the Cincinnati Reds, abdication of willingness was made, allowing other teams to benefit at their expense in that arena.

Then, on Sunday, the deadline for MLB clubs to issue Qualifying Offers to their departures came and went, with fourteen MLB stars getting that graduation present. That one-year, $18.4 million offer represents Major League Baseball’s attempt to let teams who won’t spend to keep their departing stars recoup some draft pick compensation for their loss so that one day down the road they can also not pay to keep around a star, too. Nick Castellanos was one of those, as Reds fans are well aware, and him declining it this week will likely be the last business we see between he and the team after his brilliant 2021 season.

We know the Los Angeles Dodgers have damn near a billion dollars of contracts coming off the books. Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw (who didn’t even land a QO), Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, and Kenley Jansen all became free agents, giving the biggest spenders in the industry even more spending power to dictate the overall market, should they so desire. The Houston Astros are in a similar spot, with each of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, and Carlos Correa dropping off the books and into free agency, their big-spending former club now with the chance to choose on whom they dole out huge bucks.

On the flip side, though, we know the bottom of the barrel intends to mostly stay there. When the Chicago Cubs claimed Wade Miley from the feeble Reds last week (and promptly picked up his $10 million option), that signaled that they were once again interested in spending coin on reasonable players. However, it also signaled that the teams higher than them in waiver order - the busted Pirates and rebuilding Diamondbacks, among others - weren’t even interested in the free timeshare condo the Reds had floated out to all parties involved. Down there in the pecking order, it appears the spending will again be slim.

All of this is, of course, set with the backdrop of the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is scheduled to sunset at the end of this month. There is expectation that MLB and the MLBPA will get together and figure out a way to share the billions of dollars this sport generates appropriately, though there is obviously no guarantee that process goes smoothly or keeps with the schedule the usual baseball season follows. That gives those owners and ownership groups who thrive on frugality an excuse to scale back even more in the face of uncertainty, and boy have we see the Cincinnati Reds jump at that at every turn.

It’s enough to make us not lament the players the Reds have already just given away, but to wonder which one will be next.

It’s going to be a frustrating winter for Reds fans and for much of baseball alike, at least until a new CBA can be structured and the few teams out there intent on actually participating as winning entities and not merely check-cashers get to thrive at the expense of their peers.