What price glory?

The late George Steinbrenner is rolling over in his grave. The owner of the “other team” in New York is outspending is son, Hal Steinbrenner. Billionaire owner Steve Cohen is on track to spend almost $500 million on payroll and penalties for his New York Mets. Cohen is thumbing his nose at the $233 million luxury tax threshold for the 2023 MLB season, as the Mets’ payroll is now expected to be roughly $384 million. The Mets’ offseason spending splurge has now exceeded $800 million.

The current collective bargaining agreement discourages profligate spending, but it doesn’t prevent it. The CBA anticipates owners operating franchises as a business. That has not been the case. Cohen’s offseason spending spree, in which the Mets have committed $476.7 million to seven free agents, has forced the hand of the Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers have been quiet.

No one in the Dodger organization stated that they plan to remain under the competitive balance tax threshold, but it seems to be a consideration. After all the costs have counted, no major league team spent as much as the Dodgers in the ten full seasons of the current ownership group headed up by team president Stan Kasten. They’ve had the top competitive balance tax payroll in six of the 10 seasons, and it’s likely be second to the Mets in 2022 when the final numbers are in.

Heading into 2023, the Yankees are now second in payroll, with third-place Philadelphia closing in on them. San Diego is fourth. The Texas Rangers are sixth but moving up fast with owner Ray Davis opening up the checkbook to sign Jacob deGrom to a five-year, $185 million deal. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t the only one surprised by the Rangers outbidding the Mets to lure deGrom away from the only team he’s ever played for. It’s been that kind of an offseason, and the year isn’t over yet. 

While Cohen, Steinbrenner, Davis, Padres owner Peter Seidler and Phillies owner John Middleton have been willing to pay exorbitant salaries, other teams have taken a different approach, choosing to put money into player development, hiring top scouts and an elite field staff. The idea is to find other ways to stay competitive. “Moneyball” teams like the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays have opened the eyes of other teams with success in their advanced analytics to stay competitive.

The analytics movement that spread across baseball in the early 2000s, inspiring a best-selling book and a hit movie, took a huge leap forward with the introduction of Statcast in major league baseball parks across the country. Statcast is a high-speed, high-accuracy, automated tool developed to analyze player movements and athletic abilities. It was introduced to all thirty MLB stadiums in 2015, a year now considered the beginning of the Statcast era. It revolutionized fantasy baseball. 

The question I’d like to explore in today’s column is whether teams like the Mets, Yankees, Phillies, Padres and Rangers will be successful with their attempts to buy their way to a championship? Or, will teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, Cleveland Guardians, Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles be able to compete? The Brewers, Guardians, Rays and Orioles all have payrolls under $50 million heading into 2023. Stuart Sternberg’s Rays have an estimated payroll of only $31 million.

Let’s take a look at the six highest-paid players and see where they fall in the all-important wins above replacement (WAR) and fantasy ranking heading into 2023. We’ll look at the 2022 WAR leaders and also see how the fantasy community ranks the highest paid players. Keep in mind, that a baseball player’s perceived value in fantasy is not the same as in reality. This is why I thought it would be useful to add the player’s WAR ranking to keep reality and fantasy in their proper focus.

JUSTIN VERLANDER, SP, NEW YORK METS

The Mets signed Verlander to a two-year contract that is worth $86.7 million and includes a $35 million vesting option for 2025. Verlander is coming off arguably his best Major League season at age 39. The three-time Cy Young Award winner had league-best 1.75 ERA over 28 starts for the Astros, leading the Majors with a 0.83 WHIP. Verlander’s WAR was 5.9 and his ADP is currently 45. Verlander reunites with Max Scherzer, who was his teammate from 2010-14 in Detroit.

MAX SCHERZER, SP, NEW YORK METS

It was just one year earlier that the Mets announced their three-year, $130 million deal with three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer. As Scherzer heads into his second year in New York, he will earn the identical salary that Verlander will earn – $43,333,333. A pair of oblique issues limited Scherzer to only 23 starts in 2022. This pair of aces tops the list on payroll. While Verlander’s 5.9 WAR was tied for 18th, Scherzer’s WAR of 5.3 was tied for 31st. His ADP is 56.

AARON JUDGE, OF, NEW YORK YANKEES

Judge picked a good time to have a career year in 2022, with 62 home runs, 131 RBI and 133 runs scored. The slugger, who will turn 31 in April, finished with a .311/.425/.686 slash line. The biggest surprise was that he was a five-category contributor, adding 16 steals. Judge easily led the league with a 10.6 WAR. He endured his share of injury issues in the past but played in a career-high 157 games and has missed only 19 contests across the past two seasons. His ADP is 5.

ANTHONY RENDON, 3B, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

Three years ago, the Los Angeles Angels made a big mistake. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Signing Rendon to a seven-year, $245 million contract after a career year with Washington in 2019 was the ultimate “buy high.” Rendon will make $38,517, 428 in 2023.He has played in only 157 games in the past three seasons (including the short 2020 campaign). Injuries may be to blame for huge drops in his batting average and slugging percentage. He had a 1.0 WAR and his ADP is 242.

MIKE TROUT, OF, LOS ANGELES ANGELS

The fact that Trout will make less money than Rendon in 2023 is one of the great injustices. Unlike his teammate, Trout is still an elite player. He has a career .303/.369/.630 across 12 seasons. Despite missing 43 games, Trout hit 40 homers in 2022, tying Pete Alonso for third place. The only thing limiting him injuries, but history shows Trout can produce more in 130 games than most can contribute over a 150-game season. He was tied for 13th with a 6.3 WAR and his ADP is 24.   

GERRIT COLE, SP, NEW YORK YANKEES

Checking in as the sixth highest-paid player in 2023, Cole is coming off a year where he posted his highest ERA (3.50) since leaving Pittsburgh in 2017. There were some real lows for Cole in 2022, including a five-homer, mid-summer blowup outing in Minnesota. But Cole still led the majors in strikeouts with 257. The two-time Cy Young runner up logged 200.2 innings last season, which was sixth. He continues to bring the heat at 97-98 mph. He had a 2.4 WAR and his ADP is 17.

Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, writes about football and baseball for CreativeSports. Be sure to follow Thomas on Twitter@ThomasLSeltzer1.

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