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The Sunday Brief: Top Storylines to Follow This Week

All the stories you need to follow this week in the MLB.

It’s the first week of 2022 Major League Baseball! Brought to you by a brand-spanking new Collective Bargaining Agreement that was finalized a solid 3 weeks ago. For this update, we’ve had a whopping three games worth of material to talk about, but we’re already seeing former team drama, new team drama, and players getting signed to big fat cash paychecks for the foreseeable future.  Let’s see if we can’t dredge up some storylines for your favorite teams.

José Ramírez, Guardian Guaranteed

After a reporter tweeted that the San Diego Padres were trading for José Ramírez, the star player announced that he was staying with his home team, the Cleveland Guardians. Take that Manny Machado! Ramírez was already under option through 2023, and now he has a 5-year extension that will keep him with the Guardians until 2029. Ramírez will make $150 million over the life of the contract, making him the top-paid player in Guardians history and worth more by himself than a few MLB team payrolls. Signing Ramírez to a major deal bodes well for Clevelanders who look forward to keeping Shane Bieber on the team as he approaches the end of his arbitration in 2024. With Ramírez locked up until the age of 36, the Guardians can attract free agents as they continue their post-Francisco Lindor refresh. Ramírez’ extension comes with a no-trade clause, meaning that Cleveland is likely to start the franchise rebuild at mid-season 2022 if things are going well, or possibly in the 2023 off-season.

Update: Following up on the Guardians’ rebuilding effort, the team signed outfielder Myles Straw to a five-year extension. Straw arrived in Cleveland in the middle of the 2021 season after failing to break the Astros’ starting lineup for a few years. At age 27, Straw has never played a full year as an MLB starter, and the contract extension is a seeming sign of confidence from the Cleveland front office. Straw, who is noted for his elite speed, will work to get on base as much as possible to be a run generating tandem with his newly extended teammate, José Ramírez. For you Cleveland fans, now you’ve got five-year extensions for your favorite superstar (that’s Ramírez) as well as the unproven outfielder who will certainly need to figure out how to keep his legs moving at the age of 32 (that’s Straw).

 

From the Dads to the Twins

 

After a busy off-season where the Minnesota Twins signed a ton of free agents like [checks notes] Chris Archer, the Twins made one final move before the start of the season by bringing in Chris Paddack and Emilio Pagan to round out their pitching depth. Now, the Twins already had a starting rotation, what with the acquisitions of Dylan Bundy, Chris Archer, and Sonny Gray to go with cup-of-coffee rookies Joe Ryan and Bailey Ober. The Twins also had a closer. Key word is had in that last sentence. Paddack comes to the Twins after a pretty mediocre 2022, where the 26-year-old finished the season with a 5.07 ERA in 22 starts. On the plus side, Paddack’s FIP was down by 3.80, meaning that there’s room for growth. The Twins mentioned in the media that they may go with a 6-man rotation, but that’s not really a thing that Minnesota has done historically. Paddack will likely get a chance to chase Ober back to AAA while the team goes heavy on arms in April.

The Twins sent Taylor Rogers — their incumbent closer — and Brent Rooker to the Padres in return for the pitchers, leaving an opening in the Minnesota bullpen in the closer role. It’s thought that the Twins’ vacant closer role will now be manned by Tyler Duffey in the 1A role, with Jorge Alcala and Emilo Pagan filling out as the 1B/1C closers. Meanwhile, the Padres’ questionable closer situation — which was thought to be occupied by Robert Suarez — will likely now be occupied by the newly acquired Taylor Rogers. For those of you who are unaware, Rogers has a twin brother, Tyler, who plays on the Giants and is also in the mix for a closer role. Tyler is perhaps more famous among the social media savvy because he’s a submarine pitcher who has a slider that rises upwards. With both brothers in the NL West now, we’ll probably see them pitch against each other a few times per year in Padres/Giants games.

 

Freeman Fled? 

 

News came out around the start of the season that Freddie Freeman — 5x All-Star, 2020 NL MVP, 2021 World Series Champ — wasn’t exactly welcomed back in the Atlanta clubhouse this season. Throughout the lockout, fans everywhere assumed that Freeman was returning to Atlanta, but a stunning trade for Matt Olson revealed that the reigning World Series champions didn’t intend to bring back Freeman, who many believed to be the face of the franchise. Instead, Freeman signed a 6-year, $162 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. This week, Ronald Acuna Jr. –the young star that now takes the reins of the team in Atlanta — gave an interview where the reporter what Acuna missed about Freeman. Acuna responded, “Nothing.”  It seems Freeman was well-known as a clubhouse culture enforcer, and Freeman admitted this himself to the MLB Network. The narrative, of course, quietly implies that the Atlanta front office chose Acuna over Freeman — and that Freeman’s clubhouse behavior might have been the reason behind Atlanta’s sudden and unexpected trade for Matt Olson. We’ll probably never truly know the reason that Atlanta didn’t re-sign Freddie Freeman, but Acuna’s interview gives us a hint that the Atlanta front office might have been forced to choose sides.

Pirates Lock Up Hayes

 

The Pittsburgh Pirates signed Ke’Bryan Hayes to an 8-year, $70 million contract. Hayes, who has only played 120 Major League Games in his career, seems to be trading an explosive first contract for a longer, guaranteed first contract. As a rookie, Hayes would have been under team control for many years and subject to yearly arbitration negotiations. Instead, he signed a long-term contract valued at slightly below $9 million per year, which is about average for a MLB veteran. The contract puts guaranteed money in Hayes’ pocket should he get injured, and makes him an attractive trade candidate in the future should the Pirates decide to trade him for multiple building blocks.

What can I say? Three games down, 159 to go! Tune in next week for a bigger, brighter, better edition of Storylines to Follow.

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Blair Williams

Blair holds a PhD in Japanese history and is the author of "Making Japan's National Game: A Cultural History of Baseball." He's a fan of sci-fi, prog metal, and sipping rums.

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