The 2008 New York Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 1993. They were about to move into their newly renovated ballpark with more luxury suites. The Steinbrenners had money to spend and Yankee fans were eager to get right back into contention. Luckily for them, the stars aligned as the free agent class that winter was topped by three star players who could put the Yankees right back into October baseball.
While the rest of baseball was utterly shocked, Yankee fans celebrated Christmas all winter long as the Yankees committed a whopping $424 million in contracts to snatch up all three of the big off-season prizes. If that seems like a lot of money now, remember that this was 12 years ago.
In desperate need of pitching, the Yankees roped in likely future Hall of Famer CC Sabathia with a 7-year/$161 million deal. At the time, that was a monster contract. To further shore up their rotation, the Yankees also grabbed A.J. Burnett for 5-years/$83 million. However, the biggest contract that off-season went to the switch-hitting, gold-glove first baseman, Mark Teixeira. He signed for a then staggering 8-years/$180 million.
In case anyone reading this doesn’t recall how that investment turned out, the Yankees won the World Series in 2009. Meanwhile, Mets fans were less celebratory upon hearing the Braves outbid us for Derek Lowe and we settled for resigning Oliver Perez to a three-year/$36 million contract. We also signed Francisco Rodriguez to a three-year/$37 million deal.
Now the shoe is on the other foot, or, rather the coin purse is in another borough. Now, at long freakin’ last, the stars have aligned for us. All of our dreams came true as billionaire and lifelong Mets fan Steve Cohen bought the team away from the penny pinching Wilpon family. On top of Cohen’s riches, the Mets also have plenty of wiggle room with contracts coming off the books, including a surprise $20.25 million courtesy of the Robinson Cano PED suspension. And, as luck would have it, many of the top available free agents play our biggest positions of need – starting pitcher, catcher, and center field.
As if that wasn’t enough to get excited about, most teams will be hesitant to spend this off-season, as they lost millions in revenue in 2020 with Covid-19 robbing them of earnings from ticket sales, concessions, parking, merchandise, etc. Cohen lost no money last year because he didn’t own a baseball team until right now. Not only is he the richest owner in Major League Baseball, but he may also be the luckiest.
Maybe it’s so ingrained in us from the lean Wilpon years to think, oh, maybe now we can get one of the big free agents – which one should we get? Hence, there have been endless debates on this blog, and anywhere else intelligent Mets fans gather, about whether we should go after the ace pitcher, the All-Star catcher, or the playoff tested centerfielder. Why can we only have one?
We all dream of winning the lottery. If you win the small state jackpot, maybe you pay off your bills and go on an exotic vacation. But, if you win the Powerball jackpot, you take care of everyone you know, buy a giant house and a fancy car, season tickets to the Mets, and still have more left than you know what to do with. Hmm, maybe I should be shopping for a yacht or a private jet or an island! You get the point?
At the top tier of this year’s free agent class are Trevor Bauer, J.T. Realmuto, and George Springer, referenced above, as well as two-time batting champ DJ LeMahieu and slugger Marcell Ozuna. These are very good players who would look great in blue and orange, but none of them are generational talents like Mike Trout or Mookie Betts. No one above is going to command a 10-year/$300 million+ contract. Factor in the shortage of competition from so many teams in the red, and the Mets are in the catbird seat to corral three of these guys.
How much would that take? Well, the wildcard is Bauer, who has previously been committed to playing on one-year contracts. Coming off a Cy Young season, might he be convinced to finally commit to one team? If yes, it could set off a bidding war with all of the California teams seeking starting pitching. If that is the case, Bauer could push toward something in the neighborhood of 7-years/$210 million. Is this mercurial and only recently dominant pitcher really worth that much? MattyMets doesn’t think so, but perhaps some of you do.
As for the other four players, Realmuto and Springer could command something like 5-years/$125 while Lemahieu and Ozuna a bit less at 4-years/$92 million. So, if Cohen, Alderson and our as-yet-to-be-named General Manager want to add arguably the three best available free agents to our roster, it might cost $460 million. That would indeed top the 2008-9 Yankees haul, but then, it’s 12 years later.
Cohen likely doesn’t care nearly as much about sticking it to the Yankees as he does fielding a winner in Queens, but if that is a goal of his, a cheaper way to accomplish that would be to simply outbid the Bronx Bombers for LeMahieu.
It’s hard to fathom, like with the Powerball, but we actually won. Yeah, Mets fans really won! Let that sink in because now, it’s time to spend, baby. #LFGM