The old owner squeezed nickels despite running a huge-market franchise. The new owner told baseball operations to spend what is necessary to change not just the talent level, but perceptions in the industry of the organization while creating time to restock the farm system.
The Dodgers, after Guggenheim Baseball Management purchased the club from the penurious Frank McCourt for a then-record $2 billion in May 2012, also was interested in building the roster star power with an eye on negotiating a lucrative local TV deal.
The alterations were immediate. During that season, the Dodgers obtained Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and — notably — added about a quarter of a billion dollars in future obligations to acquire Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez from the Red Sox. After all but shunning the international market under McCourt, the Dodgers won the bidding for Yasiel Puig, then in the offseason landed Hyun Jin Ryu. That same winter they spent more on one player (Zack Greinke) than any other team.
The Dodgers’ season-opening payroll in 2012 was $95.1 million. It was $216.6 million the following year. That season, 2013, they won the NL West and have made the playoffs nine straight years. It is one reason why when bids were close last offseason (the Mets were higher) that Trevor Bauer picked the Dodgers. That could be playing out yet again this offseason with Max Scherzer.
The runner-up to Guggenheim to buy the Dodgers was Steve Cohen. Upon purchasing the Mets from the penurious Wilpons for a record $2.4 billion, Cohen said the organization whom he would most like to emulate was the Dodgers. It took a year of adjustment. But Cohen told his new general manager, Billy Eppler, spend what is necessary this offseason.
On the surface, Cohen does not want to retreat or rebuild. He wants to try to give the Mets a chance to address flaws and go after the NL East title. But — like with the Dodgers’ first steps under Guggenheim ownership — there are underlying reasons, too.
The Mets’ farm system is neither deep nor ready to help right now, especially when it comes to pitching. So a large outlay toward the major league roster will give time for growth. The intention is not to sign a player with a qualifying offer to avoid losing a draft pick as compensation. If they hold to that, the Mets will have roughly six of the top 100 picks, including Nos. 11 and 14 overall, next June.
But Cohen is also trying to change perceptions; to convince players that they are an aggressive organization steadily modernizing and running more logically. He was annoyed last week when Steven Matz leveraged the Mets to get to a franchise that — for wont of a better term — better has its act together in the Cardinals.
In the aftermath, Cohen approved $124.5 million in guarantees for Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Starling Marte. That currently takes the Mets from a $195 million-ish payroll to begin last season to far-and-away a franchise record projection of about $225 million now. And all indicators are the owner has not put up the stop sign.
The Mets have been pushing hard at the top of the free-agent starting-pitching market on Scherzer, Kevin Gausman and Jon Gray. The Mets, in the view of other organizations, were willing to outspend their competitors in this area. Does that mean three guaranteed years for Scherzer (through his age-39 season) when others are leery of doing the same? If so, Cohen just might get to team Scherzer with Jacob deGrom.
For now is Cohen trying to buy (or bribe) the Mets out of a current negative perception? Some of this also is location. Bauer favored returning to his Southern California roots last offseason — and the Mets turned out to be fortunate that is how it played out. Scherzer also might prefer Southern California, which is why he is open not only to a reunion with the Dodgers, but is listening on the Angels.
The Giants and Mariners were aggressive on Gausman. Seattle was believed to be interested in 2021 Met Marcus Stroman, too. The Blue Jays also are a factor, including trying to retain the AL Cy Young winner, Robbie Ray. Gray had multiple suitors as well with the Rangers and a retention by the Rockies seen as strong possibilities.
The expectation was that the top of the starting-pitching market was going to be sorted before a potential lockout Wednesday midnight. That is when the collective bargaining agreement expires and MLB has indicated it will order a lockout — so no free-agent signings or trades — without a deal with the union.
Thus, there’s a sense of a ticking clock in the starting-pitching market for interested teams to put forth their best offers. The Mets were trying — to improve their team and reputation. Cohen does not want to dodge that responsibility.
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