MLB free agency: Mets spending heading toward George Steinbrenner, Yankees levels

The Mets star slugger is now fully operational after attempting to sign Carlos Correa to a reported 12-year, $315 million deal late Tuesday night after his deal with the Giants was voided.

That brings their projected payroll for 2023 to $384 million (without the luxury tax pushing it to nearly half a billion), the largest payroll in MLB history and nearly $100 million more than the next closest team (this year’s projection of Yankees).

The statement “highest in history” is used a lot when talking about sports deals, as they constantly reset the market. While we’ve seen payrolls outpace the competition in the past, the Mets are starting to approach George Steinbrenner-Yankees territory.

As it stands today, including the reported deal with Correa, the 2023 Mets payroll is projected to be 32 percent higher than the next closest team in baseball (the Yankees). This is the largest difference between the two highest payrolls in baseball since the 2009 World Series champion Yankees (+35%). It’s also identical to the Yankees’ streak over an 11-year stretch from 2003-13 (payroll data from The Baseball Cube).

What the Mets of 2023 are doing, the Yankees have been doing for over a decade.

The Yankees have accounted for nine of the top 10 payroll gaps between the top two teams since 1988, when this information was first available. Only once, in 2009, did they win the World Series.

The highest percentage difference in payroll between the top two teams since 1988

  • 2005 Yankees (+69%)
  • 2006 Yankees (+62%)
  • 2008 Yankees (+52%)
  • 2004 Yankees (+45%)
  • 2009 Yankees (+35%)
  • 2007 Yankees (+32%)
  • 2023 Mets (+32%)
  • 2003 Yankees (+30%)
  • 2010 Yankees (+27%)
  • 1988 Yankees (+21%)

The Mets’ projected payroll for 2023 ($384 million) is also double the league average ($172 million), though there are several months left to spend from the offseason. Of the previous 14 teams to do so, only the 2009 Yankees won it all.

Double MLB payroll average since 1988

  • Yankees (11 times from 2003-13)
  • Dodgers (three times, 2013-14 and 2022)
  • Mets (2023)

Yes, Steve Cohen’s Mets are starting to spend like George Steinbrenner’s Yankees, but they haven’t peaked yet. The Yankees set the standard here. Their payroll doubled the league average in 11 straight seasons (2003-13). Their payroll peak was in 2005, when they spent 69 percent more than the next closest team and 185 percent more than the league average, still significantly higher than this year’s Mets projections (69 percent and 124 percent, respectively) .

The Yankees had the highest payroll in baseball for 15 consecutive seasons (1999-2013). The Mets have a long way to go. But they’re in the neighborhood of the Yankees of the 2000s, thanks to more than $800 million spent on free agents this season, easily the most in the league, with their crosstown rivals coming in second at $573 million.

The Mets payroll is topped by Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, who earn $43.3 million per year, the highest average annual salaries in MLB history. Factoring in Kodai Senga, Carlos Carrasco and Jose Quintana, the rotation earns $129 million per year, which would undoubtedly make them the highest-paid top five of all time. Then throw in Edwin Diaz, the highest-paid reliever of all time ($20.4 million per year).

The left side of the Mets infield is really where the Yankees comparisons begin. Correa is the 12th player in MLB history with a deal worth at least $300 million, joining teammate Francisco Lindor. They are one of four current pairs of teammates to achieve that number.

Teammates with $300 million contracts

  • Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Gerrit Cole (Yankees)
  • Bryce Harper and Trea Turner (Phillies)
  • Fernando Tatis Jr. and Manny Machado (Padres)
  • Francisco Lindor and Carlos Correa (Mets)

Correa is expected to move to third base, similar to what Alex Rodriguez did when paired with Derek Jeter. Jeter (10 years, $189 million) and Rodriguez (10 years, $252 million) were on the two longest contracts in baseball and shared the same side of the field for several years with the Yankees. Correa and Lindor aren’t in the same league there, even financially, league-wise.

Still, the Mets’ spending is quite remarkable, even looking like the Yankees’ mid-2000s team-building philosophy. Of the Mets’ 11 highest-paid players, only Brandon Nimmo was drafted by the team.

Highest Paid Mets Players (Average Annual Salary)

Salary

Acquired

SP Max Scherzer

$43 million

Free agent

SP Justin Verlander

$43 million

Free agent

SS Francisco Lindor

$34 million

Trade

3B Carlos Correa

$26 million

Free agent

CL Edwin Diaz

$20 million

Trade

BY Brandon Nimmo

$20 million

Draft

BY Starling Marte

$20 million

Free agent

SP Kodai Senga

$15 million

Free agent

SP Carlos Carrasco

$14 million

Trade

BY Mark Canha

$13 million

Free agent

SP Jose Quintana

$13 million

Free agent

So what does this all mean? It all but guarantees that the Mets will be very relevant under Steve Cohen, and perhaps public enemy No. 1 akin to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees. But it doesn’t guarantee a championship. We’ll have to wait until November for that.

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