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MLB Teams Spend More Than $2 Billion on Free Agents

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SAN DIEGO — Money was flying and the clock was spinning when Mets General Manager Billy Eppler emerged from his suite late Wednesday afternoon on the ultimate day of the winter meetings to announce that Justin Verlander indeed had signed a two-year, $86.6 million take care of the club.

There was still loads of work to be done, roster holes to fill, championship aspirations to chase. Would the Verlander deal leave enough within the owner Steven A. Cohen’s budget for Eppler to deal with a few of those gaps in impactful ways?

“I feel the most important takeaway here is that Steve’s committed to winning,” Eppler said, and barely 24 hours later the club was in agreement to bring back outfielder Brandon Nimmo on an eight-year, $162 million contract. “He talked about that in his introductory news conference. He talked about that again last yr after we were entering into shortly after I got hired, and we made a few of those signings.

“The commitment stays very evident to today that he and Alex are making to the community, the fan base, the City of Latest York. It’s showing.”

Just like the Mets, teams throughout the industry were in a spending mood this week. Free of the constraints of the owner-induced, 99-day lockout a yr ago that brought the business of baseball to an icy winter halt, many clubs saw nothing but green lights and blank checks this week amid the palm trees on the Manchester Grand Hyatt.

Major League Baseball teams up to now this winter have guaranteed greater than $2 billion in salaries to Verlander, Nimmo, Aaron Judge (nine years, $360 million, Yankees), Trea Turner (11 years, $300 million, Phillies), Xander Bogaerts (11 years, $280 million, Padres), Jacob deGrom (five years, $185 million, Rangers), Masataka Yoshida (five years, $90 million, Red Sox), Willson Contreras (five years, $87.5 million, Cardinals) and Taijuan Walker (4 years, $72 million, Phillies), amongst others.

The cash has gone to pitchers and outfielders, sluggers and speedsters, young players and — especially eye catching — older players.

Verlander will turn 40 during spring training. San Diego’s take care of Bogaerts is the longest ever for a player who has already turned 30, and it ties him to the Padres until he’s 41. Likewise, Turner might be 40 when his deal expires. Judge and deGrom might be 39, and Contreras, a catcher, might be 35.

A part of the rationale for the long-term deals with high-priced stars is that it allows clubs to stretch the cash out over a protracted time period, thus lowering the typical annual value of a contract. The A.A.V. is a vital part in computing the competitive balance tax. So while the Phillies, for instance, may not expect Turner to be the player in his late 30s that he’s now, the lower annual salary leaves them more to spend elsewhere before hitting various luxury-tax thresholds that divert money to the smaller franchises via revenue sharing.

Also, advanced training techniques and nutrition may also help players extend their primes a bit longer than a they may a generation or two ago when cheeseburgers and fried foods comprised a typical postgame spread.

“How he takes care of himself, understanding his regimen, a few of the questions we asked him was how he does keep his body the best way he keeps it and a few of the things he’s learned over time,” Eppler said regarding why the Mets believed Verlander, coming off a Cy Young Award-winning season at 39, would proceed to pitch at an elite level. “This guy is a consummate skilled. While the age is what it’s, the best way his body works and the best way his stuff works is somewhat bit different.”

The overriding takeaway from the week was easy. Elite talent will get a player paid, even when factoring in age, injury history (deGrom) or redundancy (Bogaerts). The Padres already employed two shortstops in Fernando Tatis Jr. and Ha-Seong Kim, yet seriously explored signing Turner before adding Bogaerts.

San Diego, which continues to stun the industry with its financial outlays, currently projects a $235 million payroll for 2023, which might put them among the many top few teams within the majors. After failing to land Turner, the Padres met with Judge and his agent, Page Odle, for 3 hours at Petco Park on Tuesday night and were scheduled to speak again Wednesday before being told via text around 5 a.m. that Judge was returning to the Yankees.

A.J. Preller, San Diego’s president of baseball operations, said his club’s strategy wasn’t simply a matter of casting a large net a lot because it was “player specific” — meaning, when players comparable to Judge or Turner — two of the perfect in the sport — were available, San Diego no less than desired to see what might work.

Adding Bogaerts most definitely means sliding Kim over to second base, moving Jake Cronenworth from second to first base and deploying Tatis Jr. as an outfielder when he returns in mid-April from his performance-enhancing drug suspension and shoulder and wrist surgeries. Bogaerts, who helped the Red Sox win the World Series in 2013 and 2018, leads all M.L.B. shortstops over the past five seasons in on-base percentage (.373), and ranks second in batting average (.301) and slugging percentage (.508).

One possible advantage of adding Bogaerts, beyond his considerable talent, is the flexibleness it will give the team should Manny Machado opt out of his contract after the 2023 season.

“I feel if there’s a team built to give you the chance to maneuver some guys around, it will probably be us,” San Diego Manager Bob Melvin said this week on the final idea of adding one other shortstop before the Bogaerts agreement. “Now, there are probably some tough conversations along the best way so far as that goes, but I feel with the athletes we’ve got, we’re capable of move some guys around and make it fit.”

The 2 high-profile shortstops left on the free agent market are Carlos Correa and Dansby Swanson, each 28. After San Francisco’s failed run at Judge, Correa appears to be a logical goal for the Giants. Among the many aspects that might play a task: Fans undoubtedly are upset the team didn’t land Judge; attendance at Oracle Park in 2022 (2.4 million) was the bottom in a full season because the stadium opened in 2000; the Giants have an aging roster and were 26 games worse within the standings in 2022 than in 2021; and the perennially strong Dodgers and wildly spending Padres are threatening to depart San Francisco far behind.

“As a fan, that is great,” Giants Manager Gabe Kapler said this week before the Judge decision. “It’s really exciting for baseball. Envisioning a few of these players in latest uniforms and, obviously, the names that we’re all talking about, really enthusiastic about the potential for a few of them being Giants.”

He added: “I’ve been coming to the winter meetings for numerous years, and clearly we’ve had some breaks for various reasons, but that is probably the most exciting time that I can remember.”

With the brand new labor deal running through the tip of the 2026 season, clubs can operate with certainty regarding business operations and fans can invest emotionally without worrying a couple of work stoppage.

“The free agent market’s going to be what it’s, right?” Commissioner Rob Manfred said during an appearance at a Baseball Writers’ Association of America meeting this week. “It’s the product of a complete bunch of economic forces and individual decisions by clubs as to what they wish to do.

“On the positive side, I feel, per week in December where there’s a ton of give attention to players and where they’re going to be is thing when it comes to marketing the sport. And on the downside, I feel everyone on this room understands that we’ve got a level of revenue disparity on this sport that makes it inconceivable for a few of our markets to compete. It’s a few of the numbers we’ve seen. And, , that’s not a positive, just, it’s like every thing else in life, there’s good and bad.”

With somewhat greater than two months until the beginning of spring training, the Mets project an M.L.B.-record payroll of $322 million, up from $282 million in 2022. No team has ever crossed the $300 million threshold, and the Mets is probably not done spending.

“It’s nice to see some things within the rearview mirror,” Eppler, a San Diego native, said late Wednesday. “My family, who’s here, asked if I could get together tonight, they usually sent LOL after the text because they understand it’s not happening. So I’m going to go upstairs and get to work and stay to work.”

About 24 hours later, Nimmo again was a Met. And the winter maneuverings continued.

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