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Winners and losers of MLB's pre-lockout free agent spree: Two star shortstops must wait to cash in

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  • Cole Winn
    Cole Winn
    American baseball player
  • Max Scherzer
    American baseball player
  • Javier Báez
    Javier Báez
    Puerto Rico baseball player

Three weeks of furious transactions left Major League Baseball’s off-season looking like a half-complete high rise of luxury condos. The towers stretch to the sky, the glassy exterior taking shape, yet cranes and scaffolding indicate plenty of work remains.

Now, an MLB-imposed lockout ensures no one will be living, working and playing inside anytime soon.

Still, plenty of work was done before Wednesday night’s expiration of the collective bargaining agreement, as more than $1 billion in free agent dollars were distributed and multiple trades took place before the deep freeze was ordered. This creates an unusual, though not unprecedented, off-season in which the work will be done in two phases, with plenty of superstars still for the taking.

So, who made out best during Phase I of construction?

USA TODAY Sports takes a look at the winners and losers in the early rounds of a hot stove season that may yet stretch into spring:

Trevor Story has 107 home runs and 85 stolen bases since 2018.
Trevor Story has 107 home runs and 85 stolen bases since 2018.

Winners

Carlos Correa and Trevor Story: They caught a significant break when the Texas Rangers signed not one, but two of the five marquee shortstops, speeding up the game of musical chairs and creating surprising positional scarcity. Javy Baez consumed one of the premiere and obvious landing spots in Detroit, but there’s still massive need in big-money spots like Houston, New York, L.A., Philadelphia and St. Louis. Cha-ching!

Rangers: A $500 million middle infield is a good way to remind people you still exist. With that pitching staff, contention may not come until 2024, or whenever Jack Leiter and Cole Winn are ready to launch.

Max Scherzer: If $43.3 million per year into your 40th birthday isn’t winning, what is? Scherzer has had the good fortune of riding with Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Walker Buehler and other dominant starters over the past decade, a big reason why he’s pitched in eight of the last 11 postseasons. Now, his partner is Jacob deGrom.

Relief pitchers: Raisel Iglesias’ $58 million pact with the Angels shows just how much teams value dominant out-getters - particularly those who can work across multiple innings. Kendall Graveman (White Sox, $24 million), Aaron Loup (Angels, $17 million), Hector Neris ($17 million, Astros) and even Yimi Garcia ($11 million, Blue Jays) all got multiyear deals when they might have commanded just one year in previous winters. That all bodes well for Kenley Jansen, Ryan Tepera and Andrew Chafin on the other side of the lockout.

Kris Bryant: His market was heating up just as the plug was pulled, leaving some half-dozen teams to salivate over the most deluxe multi-positional guy to hit the market. A big-money reunion with the Giants became much more viable when San Francisco opted for economy pitching options, leaving plenty of dough to offer Bryant. They will have plenty of competition, and now one of the more challenging markets to peg looks like it will land closer to $200 million than $100 million.

Marlins: Stealth moves to extend the quietly dominant Sandy Alcantara, finally beef up the outfield with Avisail Garcia and trade for Joey Wendle makes them a far more intriguing sleeper cell in 2022. If nothing else, it suggests they’ll be ready for even bigger moves in a year or two.

Wander Franco’s 2027 employer: Very cool that the Rays made a preemptive strike to lock down their budding superstar shortstop – who’s still just 20 years old. Yet the 11-year, $182 million deal is heavily backloaded and his salary leaps to $22 million in 2027 – the final year of the Rays’ Tropicana Field lease. Will the Rays’ future be secure by then? Will Franco be the first Rays (presumed) All-Star to make it to the end of a long-term deal? It’s not too soon for the vultures to start salivating.

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Losers

Red Sox: They’re going with an all-hands approach to their pitching staff, letting Eduardo Rodriguez walk while bringing on Michael Wacha, Rich Hill and James Paxton. It can certainly work, particularly if Tanner Houck ably holds down a swing role, but also presumes Chris Sale will return to his semi-dominant form and Nick Pivetta takes another step forward. Could be savvy, but also feels like a half-measure resembling recent Yankee off-seasons.

Dodgers: They can survive the big – and very expected – losses of Corey Seager and Scherzer, but reality looks a lot grimmer once it happens. They were fortunate the irreplaceable Chris Taylor was down for a reunion, but now must build out most of the rotation and bullpen – with many question marks surrounding a return of franchise great Clayton Kershaw.

White Sox: The Tigers just got a lot better with Baez and Rodriguez, the Twins locked up Byron Buxton and are making other noises. Meanwhile, Carlos Rodon doesn’t look likely to return and the Craig Kimbrel conundrum still hasn’t been solved. An AL Central repeat looks a lot more complicated than the first go-round.

Braves fans: That quick and easy reunion with Freddie Freeman? It didn’t happen. Still no reason why the franchise anchor won’t re-up in Atlanta, but that it’s not yet settled business will cause plenty of sleepless winter nights in Braves Country. And the Dodgers, Yankees and Blue Jays will thirst for his bat once this thing is settled.

Reds fans: It was a nice two-year run of trying to win. Losing Wade Miley on waivers to a division rival and, soon, Castellanos to a nine-figure payday are only the initial indignities of a befuddling teardown.

Mariners equipment managers: Sure, Robbie Ray will be a fantastic addition to the Mariners’ rotation. But it can’t be easy to get his famously snug pants just right, can it?

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB free agency winners and losers: Lockout halts baseball rumor mill