The Athletic

Rosenthal: MLB’s massive free agent spending is just beginning. Explain the forces involved.

Tyler Anderson jumped too soon.

Oh, anyone can understand why Anderson agreed to a three-year, $39 million free agent deal with the Angels on Nov. 15 rather than accepting a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer. of the Dodgers. In his first six seasons, Anderson had an adjusted ERA that was precisely league average. Last season, at age 32, he broke out with the Dodgers, producing the eighth-best adjusted ERA in the majors. The Angels offered him nearly $40 million. He wanted to play in Anaheim. Why bother?

Reasonable question. Too reasonable, it turned out. Anderson acted rationally in an environment that quickly became irrational. Contracts, for starting pitchers in particular, but really, for all players, are getting crazier by the day. And the spendthrift orgy of the Winter Meetings, rivaling the 2019 and 2000 editions, if not quite out of ancient Rome, has only just begun.

On Monday, Justin Verlander, who turns 40 on Feb. 20, tied new Mets teammate Max Scherzer, 38, for the highest average annual salary in game history, $43.33 million. Trea Turner has agreed to an 11-year, $300 million deal with the Phillies that will see him until the age of 40. Still to come: Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodón. And more.

Aaron Judge (Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Welcome to baseball’s perfect storm of excess, a confluence of events that has already produced more than $1 billion in free agent deals. Each chord is more mind-blowing and seemingly more absurd than the last. And yet, none of this is a surprise.

Consider the forces at play:

• This is the first full offseason of a new collective agreement. Owners historically respond to the assurance of social peace over an extended period by spending more freely.

• Revenue from the sport last season approached $11 billion, according to commissioner Rob Manfred. That number will potentially surpass the $10.7 billion record set in 2019, the last full season played without COVID-19 restrictions.

• In November, the league sold the remaining 15% of BAMTech to Disney for $900 million. While that amount technically breaks down to $30 million per team, it’s possible the league has withheld some of the money for its central fund.

• Higher luxury tax thresholds in the new CBA have created more flexibility for the game’s biggest spenders. to $233 million in 2023. The impact is only beginning to be felt. The last offseason began under the old CBA and ended after a 99-day lockout with an abbreviated conclusion in free agency.

• The new, expanded playoff format – and surprise appearances by the Padres and Phillies in the National League Championship Series – may be creating more hope for clubs that were previously equally run and more incentive to spend.

So there you have it, the ingredients for madness.

The offseason began with Edwin Díaz becoming the highest-paid reliever in history, agreeing to a five-year, $102 million contract with the Mets. Two other relievers, Robert Suárez (five years, $46 million) and Rafael Montero (three years, $34.5 million) followed with inflated contracts. A general manager looking for bullpen help was rushing to meetings with agents on Sunday night, trying to work out a reasonable two-year deal with a quality reliever, and looked rather hassled.

The starting pitching market, culminating in the Rangers’ signing of Jacob deGrom for five years and $185 million, is even more intense, and not just at the top. Two weeks after Anderson signed with the Angels, Zach Eflin agreed to a three-year, $40 million deal with the Rays despite only going 75 2/3 innings last season. And things were just getting started.

Matthew Boyd turned 13 1/3 innings with the Mariners last season into a one-year, $10 million deal with one of his previous teams, the Tigers. Mike Clevinger joined the White Sox on a one-year, $12 million deal after missing all of 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and produced a 14% lower adjusted ERA to the league average in 2022. Both contracts initially seemed excessive. Not even a month later, both could be good deals, just like Anderson.

The middle tier of independent starting pitchers — Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Andrew Heaney, Taijuan Walker, et al — will be next to be overpaid. One of those pitchers received five new offers after signing deGrom, according to his agent, who asked not to be identified as he was in the middle of negotiations. Bassitt and Eovaldi could be slightly weighed down by their qualifying offers. But the way the money flows, will teams even blink at the thought of giving up a draft pick or two and international bonus pool space to get the pitcher they want?

Of course, it’s not just the starting pitchers who benefit. For a look at the possible ramifications of some of the biggest positional player deals, let’s fast-forward to the 2031 Phillies. Bryce Harper turns 38 this season, playing the final year of his contract. Turner will also be 38, but with two years remaining on his contract. The Phillies can bask in the relatively low average annual values ​​of both players — Turner ranks 27th all-time with $27.27 million, Harper 35th with $25.38 million. But both contracts include full no-trade clauses and lack opt-outs. Unless something drastic happens, no player is going anywhere.

All is well, as long as the teams obtain the production that they anticipate in the first years of the contracts. Harper at this point was well worth the money for the Phillies, winning an MVP award in 2021 and leading them to the World Series in 2022 while serving as DH due to an elbow injury that led to Tommy John’s surgery . How will Harper age? What kind of player will Turner be when he starts losing his speed? Neither question will trouble the Phillies, as long as they win a World Series or two while each is under contract.

The often-injured deGrom’s performance over the next five years may merit closer scrutiny. One writer joked that Díaz as a reliever could throw more innings over the next five years than deGrom as a starter. Verlander at $86.66 million isn’t a bargain, but at nearly $100 million less than deGrom, the Mets are pretty much giddy with their “savings.”

Hey, it’s not my money, or even your money – ticket prices are determined by the principles of supply and demand, not the size of player contracts. If the owners didn’t have the money, they wouldn’t spend it. And they have it, more than ever.

Poor Tyler Anderson. He got rich before he could get any richer. Amid the craziness of the 2022-23 offseason, he’s baseball’s unfortunate son.

(Trea Turner top photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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