Midway through baseball owners’ nearly two billion dollar spending spree at winter meetings in San Diego this week, Billy Eppler hung up on the phone in the Mets’ war room and announced to his troops that the earth had just moved.
Before the meetings, the Mets general manager had drawn up numerous game plans with his owner Steve Cohen on how to meet all their needs – center field, starting pitcher, bullpen – in the most prudent way possible. They had practically admitted to losing Brandon Nimmo in a bidding war that seemed to be heading for more years than they felt comfortable with.
But then Hal Steinbrenner blinked a ninth year for Aaron Judge and coughed up $146.5 million more than his superstar slugger originally turned down in March, and Phillies general partner John Middleton, who previously signed Taijuan Walker, the Mets No. 4. starting last year, for a whopping $72 million over four years, fulfilled his quest for shortstop Trea Turner with a jaw-dropping 11-year, $300 million contract. Mind you, Cohen had previously watched the Texas Rangers stun the baseball fraternity by luring Jacob deGrom to a five-year contract worth $185 million – when he and Eppler had privately agreed that three years would be their maximum for the two often injured. once winner of Cy Young – and now he was smoking.
Whether they realized it or not, baseball owners with their contract madness this week in what a top MLB official called “the age of irrationality,” unleashed the spendthrift monster of Steve Cohen, who basically told Eppler that night: . We are not losing Nimmo and we are not stopping there. We will spend what it takes to win.
With Nimmo’s eight-year, $162 million deal plus the $10 million thrown at David Robertson to fill the relief hole put in place Thursday night, Cohen had already spent $386 million this offseason to carry his mace salary at around $325 million – or nearly $100 million plus the first payroll tax threshold of $233 million and $35 million above the so-called “Steve Cohen” fourth threshold of $290 million for which the Mets will now be taxed at 90% with their first draft pick also reduced by 10 slots.
But Cohen obviously doesn’t care. Neither are Middleton of the Phillies, Peter Seidler of the Padres, Ray Davis of the Rangers or a reluctant Steinbrenner, all of whom passed or reached the $233 million threshold last week. And to think that the owners almost went into lockdown last March over the threshold issue.
There are still at least four gigantic contracts left to sign – Carlos Correa, who appears to be heading to the Giants, now desperate after losing Judge; Dansby Swanson, who many believe will be left out of the Braves’ comfort zone and will most likely land with the Cubs; Carlos Rodon, the top remaining starting pitcher who would favor going to the Yankees but won’t get his advertised six-year, $180 million asking from them; and Japan’s latest prodigy, Kodai Senga, who, with multiple teams including the Mets still in pursuit, will likely rake in more than $100 million despite never pitching in the majors.
Suffice it to say, no more statements from Commissioner Rob Manfred about the poverty of its owners are to be expected. Between Disney’s $900 million windfall from buying BAMTech, the extra TV millions from all streaming deals, new revenue from the sale of uniform ad patches starting next year, baseball is flooded with money and players should be happy because much of it seems to be going to them. I’m told the Padres, in the 27th-ranked market, are coming in with all their money selling small shares of the club.
Thus, the lucky spenders will all proclaim themselves winners of the Winter Meetings and their fans will surely agree. The only notable loser was the Red Sox, who lost shortstop Xander Bogaerts to the Padres by not even completing his 11-year, $280 million contract (they would have passed six years). Red Sox general manager Chaim Bloom, who was brought in from Tampa Bay by Red Sox owner John Henry, allegedly to run the team like the Rays, is doing just that.
No eight- to 10-year contracts for them, even for their franchise players, meaning they won’t be able to keep Scott Boras client Rafael Devers as the first player in the free agent market in any way. next year. Meanwhile, questions have been raised about Bloom’s two signs in meetings – the $105.4 million total outlay (including posting fees) for Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, which is believed to be below the average defensively, and the two-year-old, $32 million for closer Kenley Jansen, than most scouts think is at the end. Regardless of how it works, the Red Sox, who also lost to the Rays over No. 4 starter Zach Eflin, are now a last-place team.
IT’S A MADD WORLD, MADD
Dec. 9, 1982. Baseball Winter Meetings, Honolulu. The Yankees had just completed a trade with the Blue Jays, with the outfielder Davey Collins and his inflated salary of $650,000 going from the Yankees to Toronto for a right-handed reliever Dale Murray. On the surface, it looked like a home run for the Yankees, offloading Collins who had been a lost soul in New York and getting Murray a useful reliever. But when the New York baseball scribes approached Pat Gillick about the trade, the Blue Jays general manager had a completely different view that they weren’t prepared for.
“Forget Murray and Collins,” Gillick said. “Years from now this will be remembered as the Fred McGriff Trade.” Fred McGriff? It appeared he was the throw-in in the deal, a young left-handed first baseman who had spent the previous year with the Yankees rookie league team in Bradenton, Utah. Florida, and which Gillick had personally scouted. “I was actually down in Bradenton to watch a pitcher, Jose Mesa, who we had just signed and who was pitching for our Rookie League team against the Yankees,” Gillick recalled by phone Friday. “And during the game, McGriff, who had this wonderful swing, hit a 425-foot home run, and I made a mental note that if we ever made a deal with the Yankees to see if we could get it as a throw-in game since it was so far into the minors and they had [Don] Mattingly starts in the big club. My only concern was that McGriff was from Tampa and I was scared george [Steinbrenner] wouldn’t trade a local kid. But he really wanted to close the deal and it never happened.
Five years later, McGriff reached the major leagues as the Blue Jays’ first baseman and hit 125 homers for them over the next four years before Gillick traded him to the Padres with the shortstop. All Star. Tony Fernandez in the successful contract for Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter. “I hated to trade Fred,” Gillick said, “but we were about to get to the World Series in 1985, 1987 and 1989 and I just felt we had to shake things up and change the complexion of the club a bit. Plus, we needed a right-handed hitter in Carter. So last week, there was probably no one in baseball prouder of McGriff’s unanimous election to the Hall of Fame by the committee of contemporary era than Gillick. For him, the business of Fred McGriff had finally come to an end.