The Mets Didn't Sign Carlos Correa Because He Was Too Expensive, Not Because He Has A Bum Knee
This has been the weirdest free agency saga in a long time. Nothing quite matches it off the top of my head, at least not in baseball. I'll start by saying this: I think Carlos Correa is a fucking stud and every organization in baseball should be hellbent on acquiring a talent like him any time a talent like him becomes available to sign.
In the end, that's the goal, right? To acquire the best talent available which, in theory, should lead to more wins and hopefully championships?
Eh... not really. 99.99% of the time the guys cutting payroll checks want to make sure that money is being spent in the most economically efficient way possible. Getting the most "juice out of the squeeze" is at the forefront of every front offices mind. Not winning. It's gutted a great game, but it is what it is.
And it's like that because of the luxury tax, at least partially. The luxury tax threshold is built in to deter the big spenders (Yankees, Red Sox (at least before Chaim), Dodgers, etc.) from signing the best of the best free agents year in and year out to promote more competitive balance across the league. It hasn't really worked, as the best players almost always leave the "poor" teams to play for the "richest" teams anyways once they hit free agency, but in theory, it acts as a sort of ipso facto salary cap.
That tax line doesn't just hurt teams' wallets, though; when organizations start stringing seasons together where they're over the tax line, they can get docked draft picks, international bonus pool money, and more. There are a million little rules re: MLB's luxury tax line that a casual fan doesn't know and probably doesn't give a shit about, but I think it's important for this specific scenario because almost every organization really REALLY cares about that luxury tax number.
Now, Steve Cohen has proven money doesn't matter to him. He's paying $1,000,000 to my guy Danny Mendick to sit in AAA and be like... the 100th MIF on the Mets' depth chart this year. That move, in and of itself, was pretty unprecedented.
That said, Cohen is a billionaire for a reason. He's good with money and he knows how to not only stretch, but how to make a dollar. Obviously. That's why me thinks someone is finally got in his ear, and me thinks that person made Cohen realize that he wouldn't just be paying a paltry $26.25MM AAV for Correa if they inked him to his original 12 year, $315MM deal...
...me thinks someone even told him, "Uncle Stevie, we're a zillion dollars over the lux tax threshold. I know you want to be George Steinbrenner with your money and buy a Mets championship, but it doesn't work like that anymore for extended durations. Sit down so I can explain to you how this all works. Only the guaranteed AAV of contracts count against the lux tax, not the salary players make in any given year. We could front load this contract, back load this contract, or pay the contract out evenly and we'll still be paying almost $50MM/ year for Correa because we're on the precipice of being taxed into Bolivian because our payroll is astronomical not only in 2023, but YoY already. We don't think he's THAT good of a player. His knee may or may not be an issue but we need to GTFO of this handshake agreement. There's a very good chance you'll be wasting your money on him and this probably won't be good for the long term health of the org. But if we could cut his term length in half....."
That's where the Twins and their simpleton projected payroll of ~$160MM come in. Now, any team can afford any player. I'll take that to my grave. Ownership league wide - sans a handful of clubs - sucks in this sport. But the Twins are paying exactly what the market has dictated Correa should make - which is $33MM AAV or so - and about $7MM higher than what he would have made had he signed with the Mets. They're also out of the contract in 6 years, which is a lot more palatable for them than 10+. Correa also has outs and can still chase more money as well.
I could be way wrong here, but this is my theory. It makes too much sense when you look at the new figure Correa has agreed to. Simply put, teams way under the lux tax threshold can afford the higher AAVs. Teams like the Mets, who have blown past that threshold year over year, still can afford it, they just don't want to. They don't believe they'd be getting the most bang for their buck on this player. Front offices are extremely risk adverse when it comes to spending money. Cohen is undoubtedly cut from a different cloth than most other owners and FOs, but in the end, it's ALWAYS about the dollar.
Correa's knee might be actually fucked up, but as a gambling man I'd wager a hefty sum this was never about a physical. Not for the Mets, not for the Giants and not for the Twins, who have more access to his medicals than anyone.
It was because someone told Steve Cohen NOT to sign that original deal. Unfortunately for the Mets and Mets fans, Cohen listened this time. We'll see if this becomes a trend, I guess.
PS - as much as I love Steve Cohen and as much as I want 30 owners just like him - which would be best for the health of MLB - the Mets are still the Mets until they bring home the Commissioner's Trophy... if that ever happens in our lifetime. KFC has been singing like a canary, but the fat lady hasn't been singing with him. We'll see if she ever decides to