Great Moments in Cheap Owners: Tigers and Mets Edition

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We’ve talked all winter about how big league teams seem completely unwilling to spend money. About how it’s weird that they’re not spending money given that they are enjoying all-time record revenues. About how something must be wrong with the financial incentive structure in baseball if they can realize those record revenues despite not trying very hard to improve their on-the-field product.

We could try to explain it forever I suppose, but let’s take a break from that to look at two statements from MLB front offices today that simply illustrate what’s going on.

First up, the Tigers, who despite filling their ballpark pretty consistently for the past decade and a half, despite getting outstanding TV ratings and despite being owned by an obscenely wealthy family, has decided to take the full-blown tear-it-down and tank route with their rebuild. In charge of that rebuild is general manager Al Avila.

Hey, Al, how long might this rebuild take?

“We will be like the current White Sox by 2021 if everything goes right” is about as uninspiring a pitch the Tigers could possibly make. I sure hope the folks in the season ticket sales department don’t work on commission, because it’s gonna be bleak for a couple of years. But hey, Chris Ilitch worked hard to inherit this team from his dad and if he needs a low payroll to keep profits up, who are we to say that’s wrong?

Meanwhile, in Queens, someone asked Jeff Wilpon why the Mets aren’t bidding on Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. I mean, we know why the Mets aren’t bidding on Bryce Harper — the Mets’ owners, despite being in the largest market in the game, choose to treat their team as if it’s playing in Hooterville, USA — but here’s what Wilpon had to say about that:

Thing is, of course, that the Mets would not be paying two players $30 million even if they signed Harper or Machado because Cespedes’ salary — $29 million — is being underwritten by insurance because he just underwent major surgery. So major, in fact, that it’s a good bet that the Mets will not be paying much if anything of his salary themselves for some time.

The fact of the matter is that the Tigers, if they so chose, could put a more competitive team on the field than they plan to for the next two or three seasons. They have the money and could reward fans with a better on-field product, but they choose not to and nothing is making them. The fact of the matter is that the Mets too, despite their claims, could very well afford a superstar like Bryce Harper and such a move could actually be the difference between making the playoffs in 2019 or not but, again, they simply choose not to.

These teams, and others, are playing games with their fans. They’re coming up with silly excuses for failing to improve themselves and they’re not even trying to give plausible excuses for it anymore. And the crazy thing about it is that, if fans revolt and simply don’t show up to the ballpark in retaliation . . . it won’t matter that much for a while, for reasons we’ve recently discussed.

This is modern baseball.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
USA Today
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.