On Tuesday, as word spread that the San Francisco Giants had postponed Carlos Correa’s introductory news conference because of 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 opt-outs.
The Dodgers could use an upgrade at shortstop. They have a history of offering premier free agents short-term deals and waiting the market out for discounts. Emerging from the shadows to snatch Correa at a discount, even with the baggage he would carry to Los Angeles as a face of the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal, was within the realm of possibility.
But New York Mets owner Steve Cohen has changed the calculus — not just for the Dodgers, but for every other franchise.
Cohen has become the ultimate disruptor since purchasing the Mets for $2.4 billion in 2020. He’s the richest owner in Major League Baseball and yet his fandom dwarfs his money. Early Wednesday morning, that mix produced an agreement between the Mets and Correa on a 12-year, $315-million contract, according to a person with knowledge of the deal but not authorized to speak about it because the deal has not been announced.
With the stunning expenditure, the Mets have committed $806.1 million to players this offseason. Their projected 2023 payroll is $385 million with a completive balance tax bill of $113 million, according to Spotrac. No team has paid a bigger CBT figure in MLB history than the 2015 Dodgers, who coughed up nearly $70 million less ($43.6 million).
A decade ago, it was the Dodgers taking the majors by storm with spending sprees when Guggenheim took control of the franchise. The Dodgers paid a luxury tax for the ownership group’s first five full seasons in control (2013-2017). It was part of the plan: Spend big money on major leaguers to build a contender while the farm system developed. So far, the blueprint has produced 10 consecutive postseason appearances, three pennants, and a World Series title in 2020.
Cohen, the runner-up to Guggenheim in the Dodgers sweepstakes, has said his goal is to replicate Guggenheim’s strategy in Queens. But he’s taking the spending to another level, committing $1.6 billion to players in his first three offseasons as owner, according to Spotrac. Fellow owners were so fearful of Cohen’s wallet that the fourth CBT threshold added to the new collective bargaining agreement last winter was nicknamed the “Cohen tax.”
The New York Yankees are second on the list at $833 million — about half of Cohen’s spree.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have spent $584 million during that span, ranking seventh, but they’ve committed just $44.5 million this offseason as Trevor Bauer’s potential reinstatement looms. If Bauer’s two-year suspension is completely overturned, the Dodgers would owe Bauer $60 million and MLB millions more in luxury tax. The Dodgers have holes but were unwilling to offer long-term contracts to star free agents.
The closest they’ve gotten to a significant free-agent investment this offseason was pursuing 39-year-old Justin Verlander, one of the top players on the free-agent market, to bolster their rotation. They offered the right-hander a two-year deal worth $80 million with significant money deferred, according to people with knowledge of the situation. In the end, it came down to two teams: The Dodgers and the Mets. Verlander chose the Mets and Cohen.
Early Wednesday, Correa chose the Mets and Cohen, too. The stunning twist makes the Mets a tougher obstacle to reach the World Series for the Dodgers, while debilitating their archrivals to the north weeks after the Giants fell just short of signing Aaron Judge.
Then there are the possible ramifications next winter when the Giants would seemingly have the money — more than previously thought — to challenge the Dodgers for Shohei Ohtani in free agency.
Then again, maybe Cohen will outbid them all. There’s no predicting what Major League Baseball’s chief disruptor is willing to do, leaving the Dodgers with a competitor unlike any other.