After huge financial losses in 2020, MLB Free Agency can be a bumpy ride as teams cut costs


Nine days after signing a 12-year $ 365 million extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers – the second-biggest deal in baseball history by total value – right-back Mookie Betts scooped Ketel Marte’s strike at Chase Field, tossed a 300- perfect leg strike to his teammate Corey Seager, who was in third base, and watched Seager take down the Marte Diamondbacks who were trying to stretch doubles to trebles.

On the same day, July 31, across the country, Yankees right boxer Aaron Judge made his way through a home run at Yankee Stadium, part of an offensive dam that ended in Yankee’s 5-1 victory over old Betts, the Boston Red Sox. Ahead of the MLB 2020 cut-off season, the judge avoided arbitration when he agreed to a $ 8.5 million annual deal.

They are two of the sport’s elite talents, but while Betts has thrived with his new team midway through the 60-game schedule, the referee has already landed on the injured list (IL) twice. Yankees manager Aaron Boone addressed reporters on Friday.

“I just hurt him,” said Boone of the judge.

The referee’s injuries have come in the last few seasons, and this injury story could hurt the 28-year-old financially this winter when he qualifies for arbitration. Will the Yankees, who maintain control of the referee for the next two seasons, decide to sign a contract with a powerful outfielder for an extension while in his prime, like the Dodgers with 27-year-old Betts? Or is the judge’s injury too big a red flag for the Yankees to commit to a long financial pact?

The referee is one of the many baseball players to be decided in unprecedented times this winter, when 30 MLB teams will end a season that will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. There are no fans in the stadiums during MLB matches, no franchise sales, and only a fraction of TV revenue is affected due to the reduced number of regular season matches. If the 2017 baseball season were considered a slow-growing market for free agents, by comparison, the 2020 winter baseball business might be creeping up at an icy pace – or not moving at all.

“All the big teams have lost a lot of money due to the pandemic. Small market teams lost money because they didn’t get a revenue split this year, ”said one baseball manager. “I think you will see a record number of non-tenders.”

Jim Duquette, former CEO of the New York Mets, said there was no doubt that teams will have to think “conservatively” this winter after such a big financial blow.

“I think most teams are going to cut wages,” said Duquette, who is now an analyst at MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. “Even though it is only a year of losses, there is a great deal of uncertainty about what the attendance landscape will look like next year. Uncertainty about: “Will they release the schedule on time?” I don’t think anyone knows about it, even if we have the vaccine.

If non-tendering numbers increase the number of majors this off-season, it could crowding the freelance market, not to mention teams that are likely to adopt a penny pinch philosophy in business deals. Uncertain times make Betts’ gigantic multi-year deal – which he signed in late July in the midst of a global pandemic – look more and more like a very clever financial decision. If Betts had decided to enter a free agency this winter, he might have had a much harder time getting a lot of money.

Now the 2018 American League MVP has not only lifetime financial security, but also a big money franchise that was made to win this year and beyond.

This is the Dodgers leap of faith. I’m sure they depend on long-term profitability, ”said Dan Duquette, Jim’s cousin and former CEO of Red Sox and Orioles. “But Betts is a great player, one of the best players the Red Sox has ever had. I don’t know if he will get the same money from a free agency this winter. He is a generation talent. It’s a bit different. Not everyone has the production and talent at this stage of their career to be able to sign this type of contract.

In addition to running to IL this season, the referee left two months last year with an oblique injury and missed six weeks of the 2018 season after breaking his right wrist. Another famous player on the team, Giancarlo Stanton, came through a replacement with the Miami Marlins after the 2017 season. But Stanton was also plagued by injuries and only played 18 games for the Yankees last year. The difference to 30-year-old Stanton is that when he arrived in the Bronx, the former National League MVP had already signed a 13-year-old contract worth $ 325 million after the 2014 season.

One sports lawyer said that for a player like a referee, if the Yankees decide to sign a multi-year renewal with him while the team is still in control for two years, they could pay much less than a free agent contract. Signing the judge for renewal now would help the team avoid those years of arbitration.

“Absolutely. Those two years would be based on arbitration comparisons, and the judge’s injury history could be used as a factor in the analysis,” said the attorney. “Years of a freelance agent would be based on current market standards, and teams could potentially use the pandemic as a factor. Or the Yanks might be. roll the dice and go from year to year.

The referee was American League rookie of the year 2017 and runner-up after Jose Altuve for the AL MVP award in the same season. Jim Duquette said when the referee was sane, he “already proved to be one of the best players.”

What should the Yankees do with their star minion on the business side?

“A tough call,” said Duquette.

There are also players like the pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was at the Mets when he decided to retire from the 2020 season due to concerns over COVID-19. Players who decide not to play this year for these reasons are giving up their salaries for 2020. Stroman, 29, was expected to earn a proportional salary of $ 12 million, but he gave up on that amount and would enter a free agency during troubled times.

The right-hander had a combined record of 10-13 with the Toronto Blue Jays and Mets in 2019 and had a 3.22 ERA. He has a career record of 51-47 over six seasons. The Mets were already without Noah Syndergaard’s ace (Tommy John’s surgery) to kick off this season, and fellow starters Steven Matz and former Cy Young award winner Rick Porcello are struggling. If Stroman had played this season and stayed healthy, the potential would have been to bolster his free agent status.

“The Stroman numbers are what they are,” said one baseball source. “The player is paid for what he does on the pitch. Stroman won’t get any money from Max Scherzer. Scherzer, as Washington Nationals and World Series Champion, is a client of super agent Scott Boras, and the 36-year-old right-handed is nearing the end of his current $ 210 million seven-year contract.

Even more difficult for waiting free agents is that they and their agents and representatives will have less influence than in normal times when they reach the negotiating table. Baseball team owners are certainly not in danger of poverty, but at the same time, losing more than $ 100 million or more in revenue will greatly impact any business decision.

“We are not the federal government. We can’t check incentives, said the baseball manager.

Dan Duquette had an even stricter look: “The economy is worrying to everyone. It’s much easier to plan when you know what to expect in the future. It’s hard for everyone at the moment. “

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