It is typically a November rarity for MLB teams to bludgeon each other with stacks of redeemable currency, but this 2021 edition has been a riveting exception. We say such a thing because leading up to the expiration of the collective bargaining agreement and the lockout by owners, teams and free agents reached one frenzied accord after another in those final days and hours. The scale of such investments and the pace at which they unfurled is unexampled in the history of free agency, at least insofar as November is concerned.
Given the rare set of circumstances that led to this burst of activity, we may never see anything like it again. So let's pay a bit of homage to the normally staid and unadventurous month of November with a walking tour of some relevant digits. To the numbers? Yea and verily: People of baseball, let us wallow in those numbers like turgid piggy-piggies drunk on fermented slop.
Before we plunge into these depths, let us note a bit of necessary esoterica. When we talk about free-agent spending in this particular exercise, we're referring to free agents under Article XX(B) -- i.e., those with at least six years of MLB service time and no contract for the coming season. Among the implications of those stirring words is that the tallies to come don't include contract extensions or the exercising of any club or player options. Yes, Article XX(B): When letters are mixed with numerals in reference to contract language, it's time for the Party People to rise up as one. Let us do so forthwith.
Total dollars: $1,708,600,000
Before the Gregorian calendar even flipped to December, teams this offseason committed, yes, more than $1.7 billion to free agents. That's already higher than last winter's free-agent spending by a margin of almost $400 million. It's also worth noting that we've still got many high-profile free agents left on the market. These include Carlos Correa, our top-ranked free agent of the current class, Kris Bryant, Freddie Freeman,, Trevor Story, Nick Castellanos, Clayton Kershaw, and others.
So what does this November foundation mean in terms of history? We're probably headed for just that -- history. Without question, this offseason, provided the ongoing owner lockout doesn't snuff it and the 2022 season out altogether, will become just the third in which at least $2 billion has been spent on XX(B)-ers. In the offseason of 2019-20, teams spent $2.132 billion, and in the 2015-16 offseason teams racked up a record $2,427,972,500 in guarantees to free agents. Right now, there's likely more than $1 billion in free-agent spending yet to come, which means we're going to breeze past that record. In case you need further evidence that a record is in the offing, there's this: In the winter of 2015-16 the average contract for free agents was worth roughly $17.6 million; this winter, that figure so far is $39.7 million. Out of a class of 186 free agents for 2021-22, 144 are still on the market at this writing. Ergo, the record is going to be shattered like the gauzy dreams of thine youth.
Total spending by the Texas Rangers: $561,200,000
Praise be to the Rangers who plumbed the free-agent coinpurse like none other despite losing 102 games last season. In the final days of November, they remade the roster by signing Corey Seager (10 years, $325 million), Marcus Semien (seven years, $175 million), Jon Gray (four years, $56 million), and Kole Calhoun (one year, $5.2 million). STEM practitioners will confirm that that's more than half a billion dollars in salary commitments.
It's indeed a record. Previously, the Yankees held the mark thanks to the offseason of 2008-09, when they spent $429 million to ink the likes of Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett. So there's breaking a record and then there's pulverizing it. The Rangers have achieved the latter. Adjust the Yankees' 2008-09 figure for inflation up to the current day, and you wind up with a figure that's a bit north of $550 million. The Rangers still come out on top in that context.
Nine figure contracts in November: Five
During the month of November, five players signed contracts with $100 million or more. They are Seager ($325 million with the Rangers), Semien ($175 million with the Rangers), Max Scherzer ($130 million with the Mets), Robbie Ray ($115 million with the Mariners), and Kevin Gausman ($110 million with the Blue Jays). That's not counting Javier Baez, whose $140 million pact with the Tigers became official on Dec. 1.
This brings us back to the rarity of what happened this November. Throughout the history of free agency before the current offseason, just four players -- Yoenis Céspedes in 2016, Jordan Zimmermann in 2015, and Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano in 2006 -- signed nine-figure free-agent contracts in the month of November. As you saw above, November 2021 has more than doubled that tally. Normally, teams and free agents are slow to make such commitments, as they prefer to let markets play out and resist impulsive decision-making. This year, however, the promise of a Dec. 2 lockout hastened all such matters and gave us an NBA-style rush of signings the likes of which the baseball observer has never before… observed.
So whatever this has been, savor it. It probably won't happen again, and it also might be the last taste of baseball we get for a time.