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Can money buy baseball happiness? Mets and Rangers are trying to find out

·Writer
·5 min read
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With a loaded free agent class and a collective bargaining agreement negotiation looming, MLB's financial floodgates have fully opened, and the water has pooled into two locations.

The New York Mets, backed by hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen, have already reeled in four notable names. Their biggest get: three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who agreed to a three-year $130 million deal on Monday morning. He joins a group that already included Starling Marte, Mark Canha and Eduardo Escobar, who have agreed to deals worth a combined $124.5 million.

That looked like the biggest haul of the offseason, until the Texas Rangers got back on the phone. Having already landed Toronto Blue Jays All-Star Marcus Semien on a seven-year, $175 million deal and starting pitcher Jon Gray on a four-year, $56 million deal, the Rangers went ahead and grabbed erstwhile Los Angeles Dodgers star Corey Seager for 10 years and $325 million.

Per Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, the Rangers' $561 million in free agent spending is already an MLB record. Perhaps the scariest part in all this is both the Rangers and Mets are probably not done, with plenty of quality free agents still out there.

In the coming months, you are probably going to see a lot of articles declaring that either the Rangers or Mets "won" the offseason. Despite both teams finishing below .500 last year — the Rangers all the way down at 60-102 — ownership opened the checkbooks and now their fans get to delight in seeing new, expensive names pop up in their depth charts.

MLB has never seen an onslaught of free agent deals quite like this week's, but it's still a familiar story. There will always be an offseason "winner." Whether or not that label is valuable, well, let's take a closer look at that.

What have big wins in free agency actually meant?

Barring, say, a Carlos Correa mega-deal with a team that was already loading up, the crown of this offseason's biggest spender will almost certainly rest with the Rangers or Mets.

With the caveat that every team and player situation is different, here's how the biggest free agent spenders of the last 10 offseason have fared, with all numbers coming from Spotrac's offseason tracker:

2020-21: The Toronto Blue Jays spent $186 million to go from an 86-win pace to 91 wins. Notable names: George Springer, Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray.

2019-20: The New York Yankees spent $338 million to go from 103 wins to an 89-win pace. Notable names: Gerrit Cole, Brett Gardner.

2018-19: The Philadelphia Phillies spent $403 million to go from 80 wins to 81 wins. Notable names: Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson.

2017-18: The Chicago Cubs spent $215 million to go from 92 wins to 95 wins. Notable names: Yu Darvish, Tyler Chatwood, Steve Cishek, Brandon Morrow.

2016-17: The Los Angeles Dodgers spent $199 million to go from 91 wins to 104 wins. Notable names: Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen, Rich Hill.

2015-16: The San Francisco Giants spent $316 million to go from 84 wins to 87 wins. Notable names: Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Denard Span.

2014-15: The Washington Nationals spent $218 million to go from 96 wins to 83 wins. Notable names: Max Scherzer.

2013-14: The New York Yankees spent $318 million to go from 85 wins to 84 wins. Notable names: Jacoby Ellsbury, Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran.

2012-13: The Los Angeles Angels spent $153 million to go from 89 wins to 78 wins. Notable names: Josh Hamilton, Joe Blanton.

2011-12: The Los Angeles Angels spent $321 million to go from 86 wins to 89 wins. Notable names: Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson.

Yes, we are dealing with a limited data sample, but the number of apparent cautionary tales in there should tell you that adding a few great players in free agency isn't a direct line to winning in a sport where you need a more than a few great players to win a championship.

The clear winners on the above list are the 2016-17 Dodgers and 2020-21 Blue Jays, and even those carry some major asterisks that show spending big money doesn't equal instant results. You may have noticed the biggest names of the Dodgers' haul were all re-signings, so this wasn't your classic shopping spree so much as renewing a subscription for an already-winning formula. The Blue Jays' success this season — which still didn't involve a playoff berth — was certainly helped by Semien and Ray, who both signed big subsequent deals on Monday, but at its center was a young core featuring Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.

Beyond those two clubs, you're looking at a whole lot of immediate disappointment, with mixed results in the following years. The Nationals' signing of Scherzer will go down as the best free agent signing of a generation and Harper just won the NL MVP Award, while the Angels may never get over how badly they whiffed on the last decade.

Does this mean the Rangers and Mets are fools for spending money? Of course not. It just goes to show that adding, say, the combined 12.6 WAR of Seager, Semien and Gray from 2021 (as calculated by Baseball-Reference) to a team that won 60 games last year probably won't be enough to vault the Rangers to the top of the AL West.

Like pretty much every other team, the Rangers will need help from areas beyond free agency if they want to contend. And because all three of their new deals run for at least four years, they'll have time do that as highly ranked prospects Jack Leiter and Josh Jung find their footing.

The Mets, having finished last season with 77 wins, figure to fare better in 2022, especially if Cohen keeps cutting checks. Last season was a Murphy's Law sort of exercise, and the team already had a talented core including Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Brandon Nimmo. The franchise may be perpetually snakebitten, but Cohen's wealth could be good for plenty of antidote.