MLB Offseason Winners and Losers 1 Month Before Opening Day
The MLB offseason was dominated by the pandemic and the financial consequences of it, but winter is slowly giving way to spring as the Grapefruit and Cactus League seasons get underway. But there was more to the winter than just financial gains and losses. Record-breaking contracts were signed, key players changed teams and one club changed owners.
There were bigger, cultural issues baseball was forced to deal with this winter as well. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as the rest of the world deals with racial and social reckonings of sorts, baseball is dealing with them as well.
Not to mention, the friction between the players and league is more apparent than ever. With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire after the 2021 season, it's looking like some contentious negotiations are ahead.
Baseball finds itself in a strange place one month from Opening Day, but at least we know there will be an Opening Day after a rocky offseason. Here are the winners and losers of baseball's offseason at this point.
Winner: San Diego Padres
The Padres signed star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. to a 14-year, $340 million contract last month, locking up one of the most exciting players in the game through his prime. It was a big move for a small-market club like San Diego. The Padres have never really had any sustained periods of success, but they're trying to change that.
In a league without a salary cap, clubs have to spend money to build a winning team. The goal is to supplement young, homegrown talent before they hit free agency, and the Padres are hoping to keep that window open longer by ensuring Tatis will play in America's Finest City through age 35.
They want to win now and in the future, and they were one of the few teams making aggressive moves to improve their roster over the offseason.
The Padres brought in veteran right-hander Yu Darvish and traded for Blake Snell, and they also signed Korean infielder Ha-Seong Kim. They sent a message to the Los Angeles Dodgers that they will not cede the NL West without a fight.
When small-market teams are competitive, it's better for baseball.
Losers: Colorado Rockies, Cleveland Baseball Team
They haven't signed any marquee free agents in years, and they traded Nolan Arenado to the St. Louis Cardinals just two years after signing him to a long-term contract. One of the best third basemen in baseball, Arenado happily waived his no-trade clause to go to a competitive team. (He also got another $15 million for doing so.)
Now, the Rockies have to try to hang on to shortstop Trevor Story, who will be a free agent following the 2021 season. But at this point, it might be better for Story to get out of Colorado.
What's bad for baseball is when teams are unable to hang on to their homegrown stars, or when they just plain refuse to pay them. Cleveland traded shortstop Francisco Lindor and right-hander Carlos Carrasco to the Mets in an attempt to shed payroll.
The Oakland A's lost shortstop Marcus Semien to the Toronto Blue Jays, yet they're still trying to remain competitive. Leave it to the A's to backload a one-year deal, which is what they did for reliever Trevor Rosenthal, but at least teams like Oakland and Tampa Bay are trying to win.
The Rockies had a generational player slip through their grasp, and mediocrity is what they're left with.
Winner: Toronto Blue Jays
The Blue Jays won the George Springer sweepstakes, signing the free-agent center fielder and the best position player on the market to a six-year, $150 million contract. They also signed Marcus Semien to a free-agent deal and made some good moves to bolster their pitching depth, adding to both the rotation and the bullpen.
The Padres, Blue Jays and Mets were arguably the three busiest teams this winter, and Toronto has a good reason to expedite the building process. In fact, the club has three of them: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio. The Blue Jays are trying to build around their core.
There are still logistical concerns for the Blue Jays and where they will play home games since the Canadian government has not approved play at Rogers Centre yet. They'll begin the regular season at their spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida, and Sahlen Field in Buffalo is an option as well, but their Triple-A team will need the facility at some point. There is hope the team can return to Toronto later in the summer.
But whether or not the Blue Jays play in Canada or in Florida, the team is set up to do some damage in the AL East.
Labor relations are messy one year before the collective bargaining agreement expires.
Few leagues love to negotiate in public like MLB, and it's not having the intended effect. All winter, MLB insisted it would start the season on time, but Commissioner Rob Manfred presented a deal to the MLBPA for a two-week delay of spring training and a 154-game season. There was no time to negotiate. Players had already started ramping up training for a mid-February report and did not want to shut down.
Plus, they believed language in the proposal allowed Manfred to potentially cancel games and cut into their pay. The proposal was rejected and spring training started on time, despite the COVID-19 concerns.
No sport, let alone baseball, can withstand a labor stoppage right now. The notion of rich athletes feuding with rich owners who don't want to pay their workers won't sit well during a time when the country is in the midst of yet another economic recession. So many people have lost jobs and loved ones, so public squabbling will only seem petty and will look terrible from a public relations standpoint.
The league has set itself up for very difficult negotiations next winter, and it would benefit MLB not to negotiate in public moving forward.
Winner: New York Mets
Billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen bought the Mets in September, ending 34 years of Wilpon family ownership and 30-some years of torture for fans. Cohen and the Mets made a splash right away.
The club brought in reliever Trevor May and catcher James McCann on free-agent contracts, traded for Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster deal and signed outfield role players Albert Almora Jr. and Kevin Pillar and added outfielder Khalil Lee to improve the outfield depth at Triple-A, all without giving up too many high-level prospects.
The Mets also went after the two biggest free agents, George Springer and Trevor Bauer, which was uncharacteristic for a club that did things on the cheap under the ownership and management of Fred and Jeff Wilpon.
However, the Mets were not without their problems. They fired brand-new general manager Jared Porter after he admitted to sending harassing and inappropriate text messages to a female reporter during the 2016 season. They quietly fired hitting coordinator Ryan Ellis after multiple female employees accused him of sexual harassment. And a bombshell report in The Athletic detailed former manager Mickey Callaway's pattern of harassment, some of which occurred when he was the Mets skipper.
It's amazin' how this team continually finds itself at the center of controversy, but this just goes to show that it takes time to truly change the culture of a professional sports organization.
Loser: Seattle Mariners
Kevin Mather went scorched earth and insulted just about everyone in baseball in a virtual speech with the Bellevue Breakfast Rotary Club of Bellevue, Washington. The comments were made Feb. 5 and posted online 15 days later.
Mather said the quiet parts loud, revealing some of baseball's dirty secrets. He insulted international players who didn't speak English well enough to his liking, he talked about the somewhat open secret of service-time manipulation, and he insulted Rob Manfred as well. He also gave the MLBPA some information that should prove useful when it comes to CBA negotiations next year.
The worst part of this was that he was speaking candidly to a rotary club. He was not being peppered with tough questions from journalists on team dealings. These were things he chose to tell Mariners fans. These candid thoughts were unprompted, which probably prompted Mariners players to wonder just how deep that mentality runs.
It's a fair question, and it's also fair to wonder how deep these things run throughout the entire game.
Mather resigned as team president, but he never should have been allowed to resign in the first place. The club should have taken swift action in terminating his employment because it would have sent a message that that behavior and those beliefs do not reflect those of the Mariners organization.
Outfielder Julio Rodriguez might have tweeted this is in jest, but he has every right to take it personally.
Winner: Trevor Bauer
Trevor Bauer and his agent, Rachel Luba, negotiated a contract that prioritizes flexibility over long-term security. It's a unique three-year contract that allows the NL Cy Young Award winner to opt out after each of the first two years and earn up to $102 million if he stays with his hometown Los Angeles Dodgers throughout the duration of the deal.
The usual plan for pitchers like him hitting free agency is to get as much money as possible, but Bauer wasn't after money alone in his first go-around with free agency.
Bauer has been traded twice, so at this point in his career, it's natural to want some control over where he plays. He has specific routines and setups that he believes have made him successful, and it was important for him to play for a club that would allow him to continue doing those things.
The 30-year-old also talked about prioritizing his happiness in a video he released on his YouTube channel.
Professional sports teams have often been the ones with the power, so Bauer decided to take some back for himself with this contract. It will be worth watching to see if other players do the same.
Losers: Teams That Enabled the Culture
Kevin Mather had to resign. Mickey Callaway, though suspended pending a league investigation, is still employed by the Los Angeles Angels as the pitching coach. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson is facing some criticism for hiring Jared Porter, Callaway and Ryan Ellis.
We can't pretend this isn't a problem when every few months there is another report about someone in the game abusing power. It's clear that this is a widespread issue.
These aren't the first instances of baseball men behaving badly, and they won't be the last until meaningful change is enacted.
The league is trying to take steps by instituting an anonymous hotline to report harassment and requiring anti-harassment and discrimination training. The Mets said they are changing their hiring processes.
It's a start, but more is needed. The problem won't get better until enough people want it to change and the behavior is no longer enabled.