And what a good morning it is: Baseball is finally back!
Players are reporting to Spring Training. Teams can sign players, trade players, and believe it or not, they can talk to their own players (something new manager Buck Showalter hasn’t been allowed to do with his 40-man roster since being hired after the lockout).
Hell, Steve Cohen is even tweeting again:
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Ok, enough about that. We have a ton to cover today. So let’s get into it!
MLB and the Player’s Association ratified a new collective bargaining agreement on Thursday around 7:00 pm EST. There is more to unpack than we have time for in one newsletter, so let’s focus on the important details relevant to the Mets.
🗓 First, the schedule:
Spring Training camps open with a voluntary report date of March 11 and a mandatory report date of March 14. There will be a condensed spring schedule beginning on March 18 against the Astros.
Opening Day will be on April 7 in Washington.
The Home Opener will be on the 75th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut on April 15 against Arizona.
They will play a full 162-game schedule (games lost due to the lockout will be made up in doubleheaders — which return to normal 9-inning games — and by adding three days to the schedule).
There will be 12 playoff teams this season. The top two division winners in each league will receive byes, leaving the third division winner to join the three wild card teams in a best-of-three opening round to decide who advances to the Division Series.
Expanding the playoffs means the end of Game 163 tiebreakers. MLB will follow an NFL-style tiebreaking system to determine playoff spots among teams who are tied in the standings at the end of the regular season.
Long live, Al Leiter!
⚾️ What about rule changes?
A rundown of some of the key on-field outcomes from the CBA negotiations:
None of the proposed rules you have seen in the news over the past few days will be implemented in 2022, so that means pitch clocks, bigger bases, and banning the shift will be shelved until at least next season. MLB did secure the right to implement rule changes within 45 days notice starting in 2023 (via a Joint Competition Committee that will include former players, but will be weighted by MLB-appointed members).
One rule change that will take effect immediately is implementing the designated hitter in the National League (more on this in a bit).
Besides returning to 9-inning doubleheaders, there will no longer be an automatic runner on second base to start extra innings.
💰 The luxury tax
George Harrison summed up the owners’ position on the competitive balance tax over fifty years ago:
Should five percent appear too small Be thankful I don't take it all' Cause I'm the taxman Yeah, I'm the taxman
Only the Mets would finally have an owner willing to spend at all costs to build a World Series contender, to then have the rest of the owners push for rule changes to severely limit his ability to do so (luckily the players pushed back).
While the tax thresholds will jump in the new CBA (from an initial threshold of $210 million last season to $230 million this year), a new tier was added that is already being appropriately labeled as the Steve Cohen Tax.
In fact, this added surcharge almost kept the lockout from ending, if you count the votes on the players’ executive subcommittee (which includes two Mets players — Scherzer and Lindor — and which voted 8-0 against the agreed upon CBA), and if you ask yourself why the Mets were one of four teams from the player reps to vote “no” on the final proposal. Jon Heyman tweets a lot of nonsense, but this all adds up:
While we all wanted this lockout to end as quickly as possible, some Mets players, and particularly Mr. Scherzer, clearly thought a few extra weeks of negotiation in March would be worthwhile if it meant Billy Eppler and future GMs would have more runway to spend Steve Cohen’s money for years to come.
That said, once the two sides were within a few million dollars of each other on the CBT thresholds, and with the penalties remaining the same outside of the new tier, it was time to make a deal.
🔹 How much will Uncle Stevie owe in taxes this season?
The Mets currently have an estimated luxury tax payroll of $264 million. While that number will surely change (including some inflation due to the increase in minimum salaries), I will use it to illustrate the new tax implications.
Even using the phased-in approach from the previous CBA, the Mets would only owe ~$9 million in taxes on that $264 amount (I will save you from the gory math). That doesn’t seem like enough to deter Mr. Cohen from opening his checkbook some more.
And remember, while the league added a new surcharge level, they also increased the thresholds (an amount that will continue to rise in subsequent seasons) to give Cohen more tax-free breathing room.
This explains why Cohen owes less in taxes on a $264 million payroll under the new system than he would have under the previous system.
Where things get interesting is if Cohen were to give a giant middle finger to his fellow owners and spend into the newly-minted Steve Cohen Tax level at an 80% surcharge. A $300 million payroll would cost him ~$30 million in taxes, or more than he is paying any Mets player this season, except Scherzer and Lindor.
We will have to wait and see whether Cohen views the increased thresholds as justification to spend more (a $300 million payroll would have cost him nearly $42 million under the previous CBA thresholds), or if he ultimately shies away from spending that much in solidarity to the owners he was just negotiating with, and out of principle that $30 million is a lot of freaking money to pay in taxes (especially when you reach the 80% surcharge amount), no matter what the numbers used to be.
Of course, all of this is in the vacuum of 2022. If the Mets push their payroll above $270 million, they will have their highest selection in the 2023 draft kicked back 10 picks (assuming that penalty is in fact the same). They would also face the possibility of being subject to a costlier repeater tax next season and beyond.
📝 CBA TIDBITS
A few more interesting notes from the new CBA:
There will be an NBA-style draft lottery with the top six picks. Relevant to the Mets, revenue sharing payees will be ineligible to receive lottery selections in three consecutive years.
The Rule 5 Draft has been cancelled this year.
The issue that dominated headlines 48 hours ago was settled early yesterday. The two sides agreed to negotiate on an international draft into the season. If they reach a deal on an international draft by July 25, the league will eliminate the qualifying offer attached to certain free agents, otherwise things will return to the status quo.
Starting next season, teams will play at least one series against every team, across both leagues. To account for the extra interleague games, there will be less divisional games. As someone who plans vacations around unique cities the Mets might visit, this is really appealing to me (not to mention it means watching the Mets play the Blue Jays or White Sox instead of another series against the Marlins).
Uniforms will feature advertising, with patches on jerseys and decals on helmets. In a win for the players, they will now have expanded rights to engage in promotional and endorsement activities with sports betting companies.
Players who finish first or second in Rookie of the Year voting will accrue a full year of service time regardless of their call-up date (paging Francisco Álvarez next season).
Younger players will be paid more, with minimum salaries going up and a new pre-arbitration bonus pool worth $50 million distributed to the top 100 qualified players based on awards and statistical performance.
With the CBA details out of the way, let’s talk about some roster news.
🍎 THE DESIGNATED HITTER
As part of the new CBA, the designated hitter is now a permanent fixture in the National League. This couldn’t come at a better time for the Mets based on how their roster is structured. It gives Buck Showalter a spot in the lineup to fit Robinson Canó (is there anything left?), Dominic Smith, and J.D. Davis (assuming he is still here).
On the heels of the lockout ending, Davis told the NY Post he thinks it’s a “60-40” chance he is “out of here.” He rightfully noted that he’s one of the few right-handed bats on the Mets’ bench, “so strategically I could see myself back there, but I don’t know. Anything can happen.” This point carries a little less weight if you consider the 2021 reverse splits by Davis and Dom Smith (meaning they both hit better against like-handed pitchers).
Puma listed the Cubs, Red Sox, Twins and Athletics as teams who had interest in Davis before the lockout.
⚾︎ EXTERNAL OPTIONS
There are over 300 free agents looking for jobs, on top of the players available on the trade market. If you want to improve your roster, there are plenty of options.
As of right now, some of the first names Mets fans might be thinking about don’t appear to be on the team’s radar. Andy Martino (who did an amazing job covering the lockout) reports the Amazins aren’t focused on pursuing Kris Bryant nor are they looking to reunite with Michael Conforto (whom the Yankees reportedly showed interest in before the lockout, as well as the Padres, to list a few).
Martino notes it’s possible the Mets could capitalize on a free-agent market that creates what he describes as an “unexpected opportunity,” such as signing a star player to a one-year, balloon deal.
Could that open the door for the Mets to sign Carlos Rodón?
Otherwise, expect new GM Billy Eppler to focus on adding depth players to the bench and pitching staff. We spent time last month profiling some of the top left-handed bullpen options on the market, which is an area of obvious need.
After non-tendering Robert Gsellman, Stephen Nogosek and Mark Payton before the lockout, the Mets have 13 players eligible for arbitration. With the entire offseason put on hold during the lockout, arbitration figures are now due on March 22, which means hearings will take place during the season (awkward).
The players eligible for arbitration are listed below, along with their service time, WAR value and projected salaries via MLB Trade Rumors. We will update this as contract numbers are finalized.
◾️ Former major league pitcher Odalis Perez died after an accident at his home in the Dominican Republic.
◾️ MLB commissioner Rob Manfred offered an apology to the fans: “I know that the last few months have been difficult,” he told reporters on Thursday. “There was a lot of uncertainty, at a point in time when there's a lot of uncertainty in the world. Sort of the way the process of collective bargaining works sometimes, but I do apologize for it.”
◾️ Former Met Daniel Zamora signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers.
🔗 What’s next for the Mets with MLB lockout over? Add a starter and bullpen arms, by Tim Britton, The Athletic: “Carlos Rodón is probably the most appealing free-agent pitcher left on the market; he was one of the American League’s best pitchers for much of last season but struggled with injuries down the stretch. The Mets could also look to the trade market, especially to Cincinnati or Oakland, to land a starting pitcher. The Reds may listen on Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle, and the A’s could move Frankie Montas, Chris Bassitt or Sean Manaea.”
🔗 5 Q's Mets must answer before Opening Day, by Anthony DiComo, MLB.com: “It will be a significant spring in Port St. Lucie for multiple reasons -- most importantly, because camp will give the Mets their first extended window in months into the health of Jacob deGrom. The last time team officials laid eyes on deGrom, his ongoing elbow discomfort forced him to shut things down for the season. Now, deGrom hasn’t pitched since early July. Significant questions surround his ability to stay on the field, even while acknowledging deGrom’s routine excellence when he’s managed to pitch. One truth that remains evident is that the Mets will struggle to compete without a healthy deGrom leading their pitching staff.”
And we leave you with the great Howie Rose…
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I’m looking forward to some hot stove madness this weekend. What are peoples thoughts on Zack Greinke? I think he’s an innings horse. Rodon has never put up as many innings in his best year as Greinke does in his worst.
A potential problem with this playoff setup is as follows: let's say that Atlanta is in first but has the 3d best 1st place record (so no bye) and ATL is only two games ahead of the Mets while the Mets are comfortably ahead of the next wild card team (so it will also get home-field advantage in the WC round). There is no incentive to win the division (both teams do not get a bye but have home field in the first round and there is no reseeding) which means that the Mets should rest Jake and Max instead of trying to win the division title. With so many WC teams, winning the division with the 3d best record is not a big accomplishment.