Evidently, baseball’s winter spender freeze is thawing. Actually a few wildly aggressive teams, and especially agent Scott Boras, are taking a blow torch to the ice cap … which isn’t to be confused with MLB’s de facto salary cap.
MLB teams already have heated up free agency by investing more than $1 billion in free-agent signings this offseason.
More than $1 billion.
As of Dec. 10.
The leadership at the MLB Players Association isn’t whining about collusion. Outspoken players aren’t accusing the team owners of locking the doors to the free-agent market.
Oh, there will be mewling. You can count on that. Complaints about how “middle class” caliber free agents are being ignored, or shortchanged. Grumbling about how a significant percentage of the free-agent money is being thrown around by wealthy franchises — which provides cover for all of the miserly teams that are shamelessly tanking.
The first grievance would be bogus. “Middle-class” free agents are doing just fine. See: Cincinnati signing infielder Mike Moustakas at $64 million over four years, and Texas handing $44 million (combined) to starting pitchers Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles at an average annual value of $8.8 million.
The second grievance — the tankers are still tanking — has more validity. But we’ve also seen smallish-market Cincinnati, which normally does free-agent business in the discount aisle, plunking down plenty of money for Moustakas.
Interesting. Moustakas, 31, secured a four-year agreement after settling for one-year contracts as a younger player in each of the last two offseasons. And the Reds, seeking another jolt of offense, are said to be in aggressive free-agent pursuit of former Cardinals left fielder Marcell Ozuna.
As of early Wednesday afternoon here’s the list of the 12 largest contracts — based on total value — signed so far:
SP Gerrit Cole: Yankees, 9 years, $324 million.
SP Stephen Strasburg: Nationals, 7 years, $245 million.
SP Zach Wheeler: Phillies, 5 years, $118 million.
Catcher-1B Yasmani Grandal: White Sox, 4 years, $73 million.
Moustakas, Reds, 4 years, $64 million.
1B Jose Abreu: White Sox, 3 years, $50 million.
RP Will Smith: Braves, 3 years, $40 million.
RP Drew Pomeranz: Padres, 4 years, $34 million.
Gibson, Rangers, $3 years, $28 million.
SP Michael Pineda: Twins, 2 years, $20 million.
SP Cole Hamels: Braves, 1 year, $18 million.
SP Jake Odorizzi: Twins, 1 year, $17.8 million. (He accepted the team’s qualifying offer to stay with Minnesota.)
Agent Boras already has negotiated $633 million in free-agent contracts for three clients: Cole, Strasburg and Moustakas.
And there’s more to come; Boras also represents an attractive group of free-agents that that includes third baseman Anthony Rendon; lefty starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel; and corner outfielder Nicholas Castellanos. Boras soon will zoom past $1 billion in new contracts for his clients.
Boras doesn’t rep LH starter Madison Bumgarner. Less than two weeks ago, observers scoffed at reports of Mad Bum seeking a total deal worth $100-plus million. Well, stop chortling. Bumgarner will get what he wants.
Don’t worry about the team owners. They can afford to buy these players, and many more, at extravagant prices. They aren’t victims. They aren’t being blackmailed. They are absolutely, positively, rolling in massive piles of revenue.
And the tankers — shamelessly — are raking in stacks of cash. Owning an MLB franchise is just about like owning an NFL franchise: even if you put a horrible team on the field, even if you don’t even try to compete, even if you aren’t very considerate of paying-customer fans … doesn’t matter. You can count on immense profits and prosperity.
In 2010, annual MLB revenue came in at $6.1 billion. By 2018, the revenue total had escalated to $10.3 billion. That’s an increase of just about 70 percent. (The revenue data for 2019 isn’t yet available.)
What, if anything, does this mean for the St. Louis Cardinals?
1. The Cardinals will almost certainly hold the line on payroll this offseason, coming in around the same level as 2019. Translation: another big, booming year for ownership.
2. The Cardinals are smart, and correct, in their overriding philosophy of scouting, drafting, signing and developing young pitching. Grooming so many young starting pitchers gives the Cardinals an advantageous opportunity to have considerable cost control in their rotation. Other MLB teams are paying premium prices to stock their rotations.
3. Given the Wheeler, Strasburg and Cole contracts — three right arms, $687 million — the Cardinals aren’t a candidate for Bumgarner. Then again, they never were. That was a media-sparked wildfire rumor that left gullible media and fans dizzy.
4. LH starter Dallas Keuchel stands to greatly benefit from the trickle-down economics. Last year this dude couldn’t find a full-season free-agent contract to his liking. Keuchel signed with the Braves after July 1. He’ll presumably have more lucrative options this winter. And that probably moves the former Cy Young winner away from the Cardinals’ comfortable reach.
5. The Miles Mikolas deal is looking pretty sweet right now. Remember when the Cardinals gave Mikolas four years and $68 million last spring? This caused many heart palpitations among media and fans that fret over Bill DeWitt Jr.’s money. OH MY GOD, how will the Cardinals survive paying Mikolas $17 million per year? (Mr. DeWitt is fine. He’ll make it.)
6. The Cardinals got another bargain price to sign future team Hall of Famer Adam Wainwright to another one-year deal for $5 million. What the heck … that’s 73.7 percent less than what Hamels received from the Braves on a one-year deal. That’s 45.5 percent less than what RH Kevin Gausman received on a one-year deal with the Giants.
7. Jack Flaherty is a very, very happy young man. The Cardinals’ ace, 24, can stay healthy and continue to pitch at a high level, he can dream of cashing in on a free-agent deal that will make the Cole-Strasburg contracts look like clearance-sale prices. Flaherty can become a free agent in 2024 at age 28. Cole, the new Yankee, signed the biggest contract for a starting pitcher in MLB history at 29. Strasburg is 31.
8. Dakota Hudson is happy too. The Cards’ young starter can become a free agent in 2025. I know that’s a long way off, but still …
9. When measured against the salary standards being rewritten this offseason, the Cards’ contract with pitcher Carlos Martinez looks swell. Sure there are questions about CM’s shoulder and state of mind. But the Cardinals are only obligated to pay him two more guaranteed seasons (2020, 2021) for $23 million total. If they pick up the team options on Martinez and add 2022 and 2023, it means they’d have four more years of his pitching at an average of $14.5 million per season.
10. I wonder if Paul Goldschmidt regrets signing that five-year, $130 million contract with the Cardinals last spring? It kicks in this coming season. I wonder if Goldy could have gotten more on the open free-agent market?
Thanks for reading …