Hey, Big Spenders: What the free agent moves mean for the league

The off-season is usually a hotbed of free agency activity, and we should now be gearing up for the start of pre-season training.

However, all of that continues to be on hold due to the ongoing lockout.

Perhaps in anticipation of the first MLB lockout in 27 years, there was a flurry of activity prior to the lockout being announced, with a handful of teams splashing the cash to bring in a mix of big names, rising stars and solid veterans to fill out, revitalise and arguably make their rosters World Series contenders.

For example, my BFN colleague and New York Mets contributor Alex North highlighted that his team have been one of those that has spent big and immediately put the Mets into the World Series conversation for next season.

Along with two guys from my team the Oakland A’s, Mark Canha and Starling Marte (both of whom are big losses to the A’s in my opinion), and Eduardo Escobar from the D-backs, the Mets have also signed one of the best pitchers in the league in Max Scherzer. In total, the Mets spent over $255 million before all activity was forced to stop, and also announced the signing of Buck Showalter as the team’s new manager.

The Texas Rangers were the biggest spenders though, committing over $560 million in spending on the likes of Corey Seager from the Dodgers and another former Oakland A Marcus Semien from the Blue Jays, among others.

While another article could be dedicated to highlighting how much of this spending was on pitchers – Kevin Gausman, Marcus Stroman and Noah Syndergaard were all signed for big money in free agency too, for example – because they can be the deciding factor in whether a team wins or loses, it has to be asked what this level of spending means for the rest of the league if or when a new collective bargaining agreement is finally reached?

In one sense, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing that a few teams threw some cash around – granted, the Mets and the Rangers arguably spent big because they wanted to lock in game-changing players like Scherzer and Seager to their ballclubs before the lockout started, but it should hopefully have the effect of making other teams have to spend big too to keep up (and let’s not pretend that players’ agents haven’t quietly been chatting to GMs in the last couple of months…). From a player and fan perspective then, it could be great.

In that sense, it’s also good that Steve Cohen put his money where his mouth is and backed up his promises of building a pennant-winning team. Firstly, it might serve to light a fire up the behinds of other team owners and get them moving on the promises they’ve made to their fans.

It’s surely good for New York as well; when you think of The Big Apple, you think of the big bad beast in The Bronx, and one of the problems with the Yankees is that they’re less of a baseball club and more of a global brand at this point. I don’t know about you, but when I see someone in a Mets cap, I think they are more than likely definitely a Mets fan. When I see someone in a Yankees cap meanwhile, I’m not sure if they’re simply wearing a fashion item. Surely, it’s a good thing then that The Bronx Bombers are going to have some legitimate competition for the best baseball team in New York next season, particularly given that New York is the biggest media market in the country, and so, has the most eyes on it. If New York having two of the biggest, most popular teams in the league means MLB is getting more attention, and maybe even bringing some casual fans back to the sport, that’s a good thing.

However, there is also a real danger that some teams will get left behind. For example, the A’s aren’t going to be able to financially compete with the Rangers in the AL West – our free agency moves prior to the lockout consisted of re-signing Chad Pinder, Tony Kemp and Deolis Guerra for a combined total of less than $6 million – and the Rangers’ moves come ahead of a 2022 season when the Astros have just lost a World Series and will undoubtedly be looking to bounce back, while the Angels will have Mike Trout coming back from injury to play alongside reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani. Given the A’s at least have a knack of fielding a team each season that somehow is always in the hunt for a playoff spot, it should at least mean the AL West will be one heck of a competitive division next season. (As the guy who’s a fan of the team that seemingly has the lowest payroll in the division, I hope it will anyway!)

Around the league, there are other teams that don’t have the financial resources to compete with the Mets dropping $255 million+ on free agents, never mind the Rangers committing to over half a billion in spending on just Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. It is worth asking how are the less ‘fashionable’ teams in the smaller media markets – like the Guardians or the Reds, for example – are ever going to compete and get back into contention when their rivals are spending such astronomical amounts of money? And do we really want to risk a situation where the title-winning power could end up concentrated to a handful of teams, much like it is in the English Premier League?

These are questions worthy of articles of their own, and I look forward to reading my fellow BFN contributors’ articles in response.

For now, I will end by pointing out that the Rangers are in the American League and the Mets are in the National League. Given the amount of money they’ve both spent in obvious pursuit of the pennant, if the negotiating stalemate can be broken and we do actually have a 2022 season, what odds Mets vs Rangers is the World Series in October?

Featured image photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Brett is the Oakland A’s contributor and can be found on Twitter @brettwalkerpr.

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