On Tuesday, as word got out that the San Francisco Giants had postponed Carlos Correa’s preseason press conference due to an issue with his medical records, I joked with a group of friends that the Dodgers would swoop in and sign Correa to a three-year contract with a pullout.
The Dodgers could use an upgrade at shortstop. They have a history of offering short term deals to premium free agents and waiting for market cuts. Coming out of the shadows to snatch Korea at a discount, even with the baggage he would carry to Los Angeles as the face of the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, was within the realm of possibility.
But New York Mets owner Steve Cohen changed the calculus—not just for the Dodgers, but for every other franchise.
Cohen has become the biggest troublemaker since buying the Mets for $2.4 billion in 2020. He is the richest owner in Major League Baseball and yet his fanbase dwarfs his money. Early Wednesday morning, the combination resulted in an agreement between the Mets and Correa on a 12-year, $315 million contract, according to a person familiar with the deal but not authorized to speak about it because the deal was not announced.
With the staggering expenses, the Mets have committed $806.1 million to the players this season. According to Spotrac, their projected 2023 payroll is $385 million with a competitive tax bill of $113 million. No team has paid more CBT in MLB history than the 2015 Dodgers, who coughed up nearly $70 million ($43.6 million) less.
A decade ago, the Dodgers had taken over the majors with a spending spree when Guggenheim assumed control of the franchise. The Dodgers paid the luxury tax for the controlling group’s first five full seasons (2013-2017). It was part of the plan: to spend big money on the major employers to build a competitor while developing the farm system. To date, the scheme has produced 10 consecutive postseason appearances, three pennants, and a World Series title in 2020.
Guggenheim’s runner-up in the Dodgers lottery, Cohen said his goal is to replicate Guggenheim’s strategy at Queens. But he has taken spending to another level, pledging $1.6 billion to players in his first three seasons as owner, according to Spotrac. The fellow owners were so afraid of Cohen’s wallet that the fourth cash transfer limit added to the new collective bargaining agreement last winter was dubbed the “Cohen tax.”
Second on the list is the New York Yankees with $833 million — about half of Cohen’s spree.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have spent $584 million over that span, ranking seventh, but they’ve only committed $44.5 million this season as a potential Trevor Bauer return looms. If Bauer’s two-year suspension is overturned completely, the Dodgers will owe Bauer $60 million and MLB millions in luxury tax. The Dodgers had loopholes but were not willing to offer non-premium agents long-term contracts.
The closest they’ve come to a major free agent investment this offseason has been going after 39-year-old Justin Verlander, one of the best players in the free agent market, to bolster their rotation. They offered the right holder a two-year, $80 million deal with big money deferred, according to people familiar with the situation. In the end, it ended up being two teams: The Dodgers and the Mets. Verlander selected the Mets and Cohen.
Early Wednesday, Correa named the Mets and Cohen as well. The stunning twist makes the Mets a tougher hurdle to reach the Dodgers’ World Series, while their arch-rivals languish in Weeks North after the Giants failed to sign Aaron Judge.
Then there are the potential fallout next winter when the Giants apparently have the money — more than previously thought — to challenge the Dodgers for Shohei Ohtani in free agency.
Then again, Cohen will probably augment them all. There is no telling what a major league baseball mobster would like to do, leaving the Dodgers with a competitor like no other.
© 2022 Los Angeles Times. visiting latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.