LAS VEGAS – In the hallways and meeting rooms of Resorts World, baseball general managers are starting to weigh bigger bets than the wagers placed on tables and machines in the casino downstairs.
A free-agent market that will be defined by Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson and Xander Bogaerts began to take shape when the New York Mets reached a record deal for a reliever, a $102 million, five-year contract with closer Edwin Díaz subject to a successful physical.
With a five-year labor contract in place following the end of a 99-day lockout in March, baseball's major league economic rules are in place through the 2026 season, perhaps leading to a more normally paced free-agent market.
“It's going to come back pretty strong,” predicted player agent Alan Nero, managing director of Octagon's baseball division. "I think you're going to see things back to normal. I certainly hope so."
GMs meet with each other and with agents during the annual session, which began just two days after Houston's World Series victory and ends Thursday. They gather again for the winter meetings in San Diego from Dec. 5-7 — last year's meetings at Orlando, Florida, were canceled because of the lockout.
While some trades come together quickly, most develop from drawn-out discussions. Los Angeles Angels general manager Perry Minasian on Monday ruled out dealing two-way star Shohei Ohtani, who agreed last month to a $30 million, one-year contract and is eligible for free agency after next season.
Díaz's deal was confirmed by a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because it wasn't finalized. It will break the previous high for a reliever, set when Aroldis Chapman returned to the New York Yankees after the 2016 season for an $86 million, five-year agreement. Chapman voided the last two years and reached a $48 million, three-year deal that brought his earnings to $104 million over six seasons.
Under owner Steve Cohen, who bought the Mets after the 2020 season, New York added Max Scherzer, Starling Marte and Mark Canha last offseason and became baseball's biggest spender for the first time since 1989. The Mets' payroll was $273.9 million as of Aug. 31, with final figures that include bonuses yet to be compiled.
Star pitcher Jacob deGrom gave up a $30.5 million salary for next season when he opted out Monday to become a free agent and will seek more after Scherzer agreed to a $130 million, three-year deal that included the highest average salary in baseball history.
Judge turned down the Yankees' offer of $213.5 million from 2023-29, then set an American League record with 62 homers and will receive one of baseball's largest deals.
Mike Trout's $426.5 million, 12-year contract with the Angels through 2030 remains the highest, followed by Mookie Betts with the Dodgers ($365 million for 12 years though 2023), Francisco Lindor with the Mets ($341 million for 10 years through 2031), Fernando Tatis Jr. with San Diego ($340 million for 14 years through 2034) and Bryce Harper with Philadelphia ($330 million for 13 years through 2031).
Free agent negotiations slowed markedly after the 2018 season, when Harper and Manny Machado didn't reach deals until spring training was underway.
The pace was slightly faster after the 2019 season, when more than 25% of free agents signed by the holiday break, then slowed again after 2020, when just 15 reached agreements before January.
Last year, there was a big rush to finalize deals before the Dec. 2 lockout, with six-figure contracts for Scherzer, Corey Seager, Marcus Semien, Javier Báez and Kevin Gausman among $1.4 billion in spending on the final day.
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