The Detroit Tigers were hunting for a shortstop last winter, and the market was stocked with five enticing options.
The Big Five — Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Baez and Marcus Semien — ultimately netted just under a billion dollars in guaranteed money.
But while they cashed in on big deals, not all five players followed it up with big seasons in 2022.
The Tigers’ selection — Javier Baez — probably fared the worst of the group, although he hit better after a slow start and (unlike the Red Sox’ Story) remained healthy for the entire season.
What does the future hold? Here’s a look at the five players who have now completed one year of their long-term contracts.
Heading into free agency: Seager had been in the Dodgers organization since being drafted in the first round in 2012. He had a career 131 OPS+ in parts of seven seasons and was considered a solid but not elite defensive shortstop. He missed about two months in 2021 after getting hit by a pitch and breaking his hand, but he finished the season strong, hitting .306 with a .915 OPS in 95 games. Many considered Seager the most attractive shortstop on the market, giving that he was hitting free agency after his age-27 season.
The contract: Seager signed a whopping 10-year, $325 million deal with the Rangers.
How he fared: Seager hit .245 with 33 home runs and a .772 OPS (119 OPS+) in 151 games. He played almost exclusively at shortstop, where he was rated roughly average defensively. He was worth just over 4 wins above replacement.
Outlook: This will almost certainly be a bad deal for the Rangers when Seager is 37 years old and making $31 million in 2031. That’s why they need to maximize the front-end years. Losing 94 games last year was not part of the plan.
Heading into free agency: Only 27 years old, Correa was coming off perhaps the best season of his career. In parts of seven seasons with the Astros — including five under current Tigers manager A.J. Hinch — Correa posted an .837 OPS (127 OPS+) while playing elite-level defense. He hit a career-high 26 homers in 2021 while answering questions about his health by playing in 148 games.
The Tigers pursued Correa, reportedly offering him a 10-year deal not far from $300 million, but eventually pivoted to Javier Baez when it became clear Correa would wait until after the lockout to sign. His old team, the Houston Astros, were content to stick with rookie Jeremy Pena, a move that ultimately paid dividends.
The contract: Correa was forced to “settle” for a three-year, $105 million deal with the Twins that included an opt-out after his first year that everyone (Twins included) expected him to exercise.
How he fared in 2022: After a slow start, Correa finished with a .291 average, 22 home runs and .834 OPS (140 OPS+) in 136 games. He was a finalist for Gold Glove at shortstop. He was worth about 5 wins above replacement.
Outlook: Correa repeated the free-agent drama again this winter, reaching deals with the San Francisco Giants and New York Mets that were nixed over medical concerns. He eventually agreed to return to the Twins on a six-year, $200 million that contains four years worth of team options at the end of the contract.
So Correa didn’t do as well as expected on the market, but he didn’t do terribly. If you combine the two deals, it’s essentially seven years and $235 million guaranteed.
If Correa stays healthy, it could be a great deal for the Twins, who are only paying guaranteed money through Correa’s age 33 season.
Heading into free agency: The elder statesman of the group, Semien had already turned 31 by the time he hit free agency for a second time. But he was also coming off perhaps the best season of anyone in the Big Five. Semien hit 45 home runs and posted an .873 OPS (133 OPS+) while playing in all 162 games with the Blue Jays in 2021. No one doubted his durability. He had played in 536 of his teams’ 546 games over the last four seasons.
He played almost exclusively at second base for the Jays — and was superb — but he’s a shortstop by trade.
The contract: Semien blew most expectations out of the water when he agreed to a seven-year, $175 million deal with the Rangers to be a double-play partner with Seager.
How he fared in 2022: Semien hit .248 with 26 home runs and 25 stolen bases in 161 games for the Rangers. He had a .733 OPS (108 OPS+). His elite defense at second base made him worth about five wins above replacement.
The outlook: Semien took a step back from his monster numbers in Toronto, but he still delivered a very solid season for the Rangers. The fact that it was squandered on a bad team has to be concerning, because Semien is getting older and is still due a lot of money over the next six seasons.
Heading into free agency: An elite defender who had an .863 career OPS (112 OPS+), Story was still dogged by some questions after just a so-so offensive season (103 OPS+) in 2021. Plus, there were the questions surrounding any player leaving the thin air of Colorado: Can his numbers with the Rockies be duplicated elsewhere?
The contract: Story agreed to a six-year, $140 million deal with the Boston Red Sox that includes a team option for a seventh year.
How he fared in 2022: Story played in 94 games, missing time due to injury. He hit .238 with a .737 OPS (102 OPS+). He had 16 homers and 13 stolen bases. He played exclusively at second base (and did quite well defensively). He was worth about 2.5 wins above replacement.
Outlook: Not great. He underwent elbow surgery this offseason and could miss much — or even all — of 2023. That means he’d enter 2024 — his age-31 season — well removed from his last full season of elite play in 2019.
Heading into free agency: Baez was seen as an elite defender at short who was also very good at second and third. His offensive production was more befitting a slugger: A lot of home runs and a lot of strikeouts. In fact, Baez struck out a league-high 184 times and had just 28 walks in 547 plate appearances in a 2021 season split between the Cubs and Mets. But the power (31 homers) were still there.
The contract: Baez signed with the Tigers on a six-year, $140 million deal just before the lockout deadline. There’s a player opt-out after 2023.
How he fared in 2022: Baez hit .238 with 17 homer runs, nine stolen bases and a .671 OPS (93 OPS+) in 144 games. He struck out 147 times and drew 26 walks. His defense at shortstop was inconsistent, although he was still capable of making special plays. He was worth a little bit more than 2 wins above replacement.
Outlook: If you’re a glass-half-full person, you could be heartened by the way Baez performed after a slow start. Less optimistic sorts might note that Baez has just turned 30, meaning his strikeout and walk rate are unlikely to significantly improve. That puts him out of step with the mold of hitter that new president Scott Harris is building his team around.
After this season, Baez will have four years and $98 million left on his deal with the Tigers and he’ll have a decision about whether to test the market again. If he has another year like 2022, it probably won’t be much of a decision.
These players weren’t in the Big Five, but they were on the shortstop market last year.
Chris Taylor, who is more a utility player than a shortstop, agreed to a four-year, $60 million to remain with the Dodgers. He had his worst offensive season in years, hitting .221 with a .677 OPS (86 OPS+) in 118 games.
Andrelton Simmons, who in his prime was considered one of the best defensive shortstops to ever live, signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the Cubs, but didn’t hit at all before being released. His career is on the brink.