Both the Mets and Yankees are part of a historical reshuffling of the deck in baseball. Here’s a glimpse into the new order and its impact.
Presumably, most fans of the Mets and Yankees would agree that contracts given to the likes of Yoenis Cespedes (4 years – $110 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (7 years – $153 Million), Mark Teixeira (8 years – $180 million), Jason Vargas (2 years – $16 Million), Jason Bay (4 years – $66 million) – and others – have crushed their team’s flexibility to improve while under the duress of paying these players in years where their production was nil.
At the same time, though, as fans of the Mets and Yankees, we can chuckle at the misfortunes of other teams who fell into the same trap. Think of the Angels, for instance, who gave Albert Pujols, a player who can barely walk and will play his final games at the age of 41 (10 years – $240 Million), and Josh Hamilton, for whom the Angels suffered the indignity of paying him $26 million while he played for a team opposing them (5 years – $125 million). As you know, the long list goes on.
What is to be noted, however, is that all of these contracts were awarded to players within the same relative period. And because teams do not operate in a vacuum, that’s how it goes in baseball.
I refer to the phenomenon as the monkey-see, monkey-do mentality. And we don’t see it only on the financial side of baseball. We see it in “The Opener,” which began with the Tampa Bay Rays, but by the end of the season had spread to six other teams employing the strategy.
In the same way, we can ask what has become of the stolen base, a popular strategy of another time? Or, as another example, “The Shift,” a strategy spread so wide and far that Major League Baseball is now considering rules changes to thwart its adverse effect on the game.
A New Wave In Baseball
While not the leaders of the movement, the Mets and Yankees have taken hold of a new change in baseball that accents fiscal responsibility, especially when it pertains to long-term and wildly expensive contracts for players. The movement has triggered complaints from the Player’s Union and some fans who lay open the charge of collusion against players by team owners.
Collusion, however, implies that one owner is on the phone with another owner who calls another owner suggesting we get together to screw the players. It’s the same as charging managers for colluding against left-handed pull hitters by employing the shift, when in fact the shift spread as it did because of managers generally agreeing that it is a good idea.
Whatever the case, though, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado are still out there wearing out a path to meet with any team(s) willing to talk to them, even without a contract to their liking. Five years ago, teams that include the Mets and Yankees would have been tripping over each other ramping the price up while the player drank lemonade on the golf course waiting for his agent to call.
Lost in the conversation that centers on Machado and Harper, though, is this. Until both players are off the board as trendsetters, free agents in the second tier like Marwin Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel, as well as the third tier players like Adam Jones and Evan Gattis, have little or no chance of securing a job for the 2019 season. That is not a good development for baseball.
It’s Too Late To Lament
I see no advantage in ruing the arrival of fiscal restraint by team owners. It’s a fact of life now in baseball, despite the ubiquitous owner of the Phillies saying he was going to spend “stupidly” this offseason.
I would argue too that the improvements made in personnel changes by both the Mets and Yankees far outweigh the advantage of adding Harper or Machado, especially when balanced dollar for dollar in net value to either team.
A Word Of Warning
Remember, we’re dealing with a pendulum-like phenomenon. These things go in waves, just like “The Wave” that fans became hooked on at ballparks across America. Or, to put it another way, what goes up must come down.
By and large, owners can only blame themselves for the last wave in contracts awarded to players like the ones cited above. After all, who among us would have turned down the insane terms being offered, declaring, “Ah, you’re paying me too much. Knock it down by ten million, and I’ll sign”.
Therefore, it is incumbent on both the players and owners to not let the pendulum swing as far as it did when everything was in the player’s favor. Fortunately, both sides are already engaged in talks that are geared to shortening the free agent “season,” forcing quicker signings, so fans are guaranteed to see the highest level of play at all times.
At the moment, there are still more than 100 free agents still not signed, and Spring Training is underway. For pitchers especially, a late start can turn a season around (think Lance Lynn and Greg Holland). Families sit at home waiting for their lives to turn on a dime when Dad signs to play – where?
Amidst the chaos, the Mets and Yankees did the right thing. Make trades to get what you need, and when that doesn’t work, identify a free agent or two, making sure you pursue them aggressively (Yankees – Adam Ottavino and DJ LeMahieu, Mets – Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie), while making sure to stay clear of all the hoopla surrounding you know who.
Meanwhile, as fans, we need to keep our eyes focused on that pendulum. If, for instance, we begin to see a slew of one-year deals being signed by free agents, we’ll know it’s time to scream louder to put a check on the owners.
Until then, however, what we are seeing is a simple “market correction” that was long overdue.