Analysis: What to do about the Mariners’ lack of spending so far in free agency

“A nickel isn’t worth a dime anymore.”

Can you imagine what Lawrence “Yogi” Berra would have to say about the current financial situation of Major League Baseball?

With a slight halt in off-season transactions, the current total of secured dollars in MLB contracts owed to free agents by MLB teams since the World Series ended is about $3.7 billion over 95 contracts.

Of course, the Mets, under owner Steve Cohen, committed the largest share of that total in a spending spree not quite seen in MLB.

If the Mets are willing to swallow any concerns about Carlos Correa’s surgically-repaired ankle and finalize an agreed-upon 12-year, $315 million contract, something the Giants won’t do in a 13-year, $350 million contract, the “other team” is in New York City. York will commit just over $807 million in 10 new MLB contracts this offseason.

Back in November 2020, Mets media asked Cohen, who has the highest net worth of any MLB owner at $14.6 billion, about the organization’s increased spending on player payrolls.

His answer: “I can promise you we’re going to act like a big market team. Are we going to act like drunken sailors? No, we want to be thoughtful.”

Two seasons in the property and a post-season tasting in 2022 may have changed Cohen’s philosophy from thoughtful to carefree, or his initial interpretation of what drunken sailors act like is a little different than usual.

According to a FanGraphs model, the Mets’ projected payroll for the 2023 season is approximately $376 million for their 40-man roster with projected Competitive Balance Tax “CBT” payroll, which is adjusted based on the rules of the last collective bargaining agreement, at $390 million. Under CBT, or “luxury tax” rules, the Mets will have to pay $116 million in taxes to MLB based on current projections. Half of that amount will be distributed to teams that fall below the CBT minimum of $233 million in payroll and the remainder goes to the MLB Players Benefits Plan.

Six teams are expected to be above the CBT thresholds of $233M, $253M, $273M and $293M for 2023: Mets, Yankees ($291M), Padres ($247M), Phillies (251M). dollars), Braves ($239.6 million) and Blue Jays ($233.2 million). The Dodgers are currently expected to be worth $232.9 million for 2023.

In Seattle, there was a fair amount of consternation among the fanbase about the Mariners’ relative absence from the free agent frenzy. After a 2022 season in which the team won 90 games for the second year in a row, ended a 21-year drought and advanced to the Major League Soccer by defeating the Blue Jays in the Wild Card Series, much was expected of the usually energetic Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations, Most recently, he was promoted to General Manager, Justin Hollander.

Seattle has been active through early offseason trades—a favored method of transactions for Depoto in years past—acquiring outfielder Teoscar Hernandez from the Blue Jays and second baseman Colten Wong from the Brewers. Hernandez effectively replaces Mitch Hanegger at right field, who signed with the Giants as a free agent, and Wong replaces Adam Frazier at second base, who signs with the Orioles.

In terms of adding via free agency, the Mariners, either because of philosophical planning or salary budget limits or perhaps a combination of the two, weren’t part of the frenzy.

Seattle has signed one free agent to supplement the 2023 roster: right reliever Trevor Gott to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. Obviously, that could change in the coming weeks as spring training approaches and the Mariners try to add a right-handed hitter or perhaps another hitter to supplement their still apparently lacking lineup.

solemn? Possible.

caution? Absolutely.

Cheap? Well, here is the current controversy among Mariners fans.

The Mariners knew they’d never be players for outfielder Aaron Judge and realized early on that their interest in shortstop Trea Turner wasn’t mutual, while the rest of the shortstop market, which includes Correa, Xander Bogaerts and Dansby Swanson, wasn’t forming as such a prospect because of the interest. – to them or from the players – and financial reality.

When asked about salaries and the free agent market in the MLB Winter Meetings on multiple occasions and on his weekly radio show on Seattle Sports 710, Dipoto was verbose if not increasingly exhausting in his explanation. He pushed the idea of ​​drafting, developing, trading, and scaling players as a way to build a team that could keep winning against the “big start” moves of free agency.

“We’re using free agency in a way to increase our roster, not in a way to build it,” said DiPoto.

He also noted long-term contract extensions completed in the season with star early defense Julio Rodriguez (potentially $470 million total) and ace Luis Castillo, who signed a five-year, $108 million extension that now looks economical.

Dipoto has never commented directly on the payroll budget for obvious negotiation reasons. He maintained that ownership, led by Chairman John Stanton, had always given him flexibility to spend, and yet…

But many MLB sources have indicated that he is not operating with the payroll flexibility that was widely expected after a 2022 season that saw the Mariners draw 2.287 million fans (the second highest since 2008) and Rodriguez emerge as the biggest star in the organization and perhaps the most beloved player since Ken Griffey. Junior.

Think of the number of Rodriguez jerseys you’ve seen this season and the number of newly purchased Mariner outfits fans are wearing this season.

The Mariners will also host an All-Star Game at T-Mobile Park in 2023, which was supposed to increase season ticket commitments for this season after last season’s success with season ticket holders getting priority access to All-Star Game tickets.

It’s totally fair that fans are upset, and if not, they’re at least skeptical. Not a single postseason appearance erases the memories of two decades of mostly incompetence. Trust is earned by work, not by promises. Dipoto didn’t specify the budget, but he also couldn’t criticize it.

According to the Associated Press, which gets information sent to teams annually, the Mariners’ payroll ended at $93.7 million in 2022. According to FanGraphs, the Mariners’ 2023 salary is expected to be $135 million, which currently ranks 17th. in MLB standings.

There are currently 12 teams that have an expected payroll of less than the $116 million the Mets pay in luxury tax. Rebuilding Athletics is expected to bring in $54 million in payroll.

Dipoto said the Mariners would like their payroll to be closer to the first third of the 30-team league. The 2018 Mariners had the highest payroll in team history at $171 million, which ranked 10th that year. The Mariners went into rebuilding mode and payroll has declined steadily since then. Sources indicated that the team is expected to approach the 2018 salary figure in future seasons, but with underlying salary inflation, staying near the top 10 to 15 could require more money. They won’t reach that level this season, even with each team getting $30 million from MLB’s sale of its advanced media technology.

Obviously, the top of the payroll does not guarantee success. The 2008 Mariners became the first team to lose 100 games with over $100 million in payroll. The Rays and the earlier version of the A have always been the antithesis to this thinking.

The Mariners are 21st on the payroll in 2022 when they make the postseason. But of the 12 postseason-eligible teams, seven are in the top 10 on the payroll — Mets (first), Dodgers (second), Yankees (third) Phillies (fourth), Padres (fifth), Astros (eighth) and Braves (ninth). ) ) – They were in the field. The Blue Jays were in 11th place while the Rays (23rd at $98 million) and Guardians (27th at $66.5 million) fell short of the Mariners.

In 2021, six out of 10 salary teams are in the top 10 in MLB.

In the American League West, the Rangers, who finished 68-94 in 2022, followed up another offseason spending of $500 million on Corey Seager and Marcus Semin with a total spending of $244 million on three pitchers, including $185 million on Jacob DeGrom. They have a projected payroll of $197 million in 2023, which ranks fifth.

Astros World Series champion Jose Abreu has added veteran outfielder Jose Abreu to a three-year, $58.5 million contract, and reliever Rafael Montero, a former Mariner, has signed a three-year, $34.5 million contract extension, as well. Michael Brantley brought it back once. General, a $12 million deal. Houston has a projected payroll of $194 million, which is the tenth highest.

Meanwhile, the Angels, who are currently for sale and have seven straight losing seasons, carry a projected salary schedule of $207 million (not adjusted for CBT) for 2023, the sixth highest.

Spending does not guarantee success in MLB; It is essential to add or retain talent and certainly helps reduce the variables of potential failure. For the Mariners and this off-season, it’s probably like Yogi said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

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