Big spending and strong trading: The story of the offseason so far 

Happy New Year everyone. Hope you all enjoyed the Christmas and New Year season, and were able to find time for some rest and relaxation.

Prior to the festivities, there was a flurry of activity to start the MLB off-season. In many ways, this article could be a rehash of last year’s ‘Hey, Big Spenders’ piece, as it has been very similar to last offseason, with the same teams splashing the cash on free agents or trading to strengthen their already-strong line-ups.

The biggest story has undoubtedly been the amount of money spent by the New York Mets in free agency. Not only did Steve Cohen’s team respond to losing arguably The Best Pitcher in MLB™, Jacob deGrom, by bringing in Justin Verlander, who legitimately could make a claim for that title himself, they then also added the likes of Kodai Senga, Jose Quintana and David Robertson, along with a bunch of relieving talent, too. Not satisfied with arguably creating the best pitching staff in the league that also includes Max Scherzer, Steve Cohen and Mets GM Billy Eppler then stunned us all by stepping in to sign Carlos Correa to a reported twelve-year, $315 million deal following the collapse of Correa’s reported move to the Giants. It should be said that the Mets and MLB still haven’t confirmed the Correa deal though, you would assume because of the same ankle issues that gave the Giants pause.

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Antony DiComo has done an excellent job of rounding up all the signings the Mets have made for, but, in short, his last line says it all: “the Mets have added 16 players from outside the organization to their 40-man roster, including a commitment of $806.1 million to free agents.” It should be said that line also includes the money the Mets have spent to retain free agents that were already with the organisation, such as Brandon Nimmo, Edwin Diaz and Adam Ottavino. That three alone account for over $275 million of the Mets’ free agency spend!

Elsewhere in the National League, the Cubs, the Dodgers and the Phillies have done a very good job of maintaining and improving what were already good rosters; whether it’s the Cubs retaining Drew Smyly and Jameson Taillon while also bringing in top-tier players like Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson, the Dodgers retaining Clayton Kershaw while also bringing in Noah Syndergaard and a veteran hitter the calibre of J.D. Martinez, or the Phillies splashing the cash on Trea Turner, while also adding Matt Strahm and Taijuan Walker, all of them have done good business. No round-up of the National League would be complete without mentioning the San Diego Padres adding Xander Bogaerts to a line-up that already has Manny Machado, Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr.

Over in the American League, the Texas Rangers have also been very active again. In addition to signing de Grom, they have also added Nathan Eovaldi and Andrew Heaney to give themselves arguably the best starting pitching rotation in the league. Given the amount of money spent to bring in Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, among others, last offseason, it would be fair to say the Rangers are making a concerted effort to get to the World Series after what was a disappointing 2022 season. Whether they have enough depth throughout the roster to still be playing baseball at the end of October is another matter though.

Elsewhere in the American League, the Astros have softened the blow of losing Verlander by retaining Michael Brantley and Rafael Montero while also adding former AL MVP Jose Abreu. The Yankees, meanwhile, are the Yankees; not only have they given Aaron Judge a nine-year, $360 million contract to keep him within their ranks, but they have also brought in Carlos Rodon on a six-year, $162 million deal and brought back both Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Anthony Rizzo, among other deals. While the Mets’ and Rangers’ spending generates headlines and excitement, the Yankees spending big is simply par for the course.

Given they lost Bogaerts, Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez in free agency, and it isn’t that long ago that Mookie Betts was traded away as well, the best bit of business the Boston Red Sox have done in a long time is the reported eleven-year, $331 million contract extension they have given to Rafael Devers. While it is debatable that Devers deserves to be handed a contract of that size, it should certainly help to quell the grumblings of what is a passionate fanbase. A quick word too on the White Sox’s signing of Andrew Benintendi to what is the largest free agent contract in the club’s history. In their piece for ESPN, Jesse Rogers and Jeff Passan rightly call Benintendi “one of the game’s premier bat-to-ball hitters”. I was always impressed whenever I saw Benintendi step up to the plate for the Royals, and his acquisition should help to make up for the loss of Jose Abreu.

As for the size of the contracts that have been handed out; that’s the nature of free agency and an open market, particularly when there are much-sought-after assets, like Aaron Judge, Trea Turner and Carlos Correa, in the market. Good for all of the players who have received such big-money contracts, I say – for example, Judge turned down the contract extension the Yankees offered him last off-season and backed himself to succeed this past season. And, boy, did he, breaking the American League home run record and winning the American League MVP. You can’t begrudge the man for wanting to maximise his earnings while he can, particularly when he earned it with such good record-breaking play.

The wider argument has got to be what this says about the MLB as a whole though, particularly when Judge, Justin Verlander (who will be 40 years old by the time the new season starts), Trea Turner and Jacob deGrom are now all going to be individually earning nearly as much next season as the Oakland A’s are currently projected to spend on their entire payroll next year?

Let’s be clear; all the players mentioned above are exceptional, and if teams are willing to pay them over $30 million per season for their services, good for them.

A league where one team is paying a 40-year-old, albeit one of the best pitchers in the MLB, nearly as much or more than the likes of the A’s, Marlins and Pirates are paying their entire roster is one where the gulf in talent between teams is only going to get wider and wider though, thus creating a league that is going to get less and less competitive. If the league becomes less competitive, it also becomes less interesting to watch at a time when MLB is already trying to find ways to make the game faster and more interesting in response to increasing competition for viewers’ eyeballs.

At the very least then, while it is an old argument, it is one that deserves to be repeated in these situations; does the MLB need to consider introducing minimum and maximum salary caps, along with enforcing harsher penalties on those that continue to break the luxury tax? That, you would hope, would help to bring a bit more parity and stop certain teams from being able to flex their financial muscle and hoard talent.

Featured Image – Rich Schultz for Getty Images Sport

Brett is the Oakland A’s Team Contributor for Batflips & Nerds and can be found on Twitter @BrettChatsSport.

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