There's been an interesting development across baseball this offseason. Two West Coast teams with high payrolls who stumbled down the stretch in 2018 have decided to shed salary and rebuild.
The Mariners won 89 games but realize they're too far behind the Astros — and perhaps even the A's — to continue along this path. And so they traded James Paxton, they're willing to listen on Mitch Haniger and Edwin Diaz, and they're aggressively shopping Robinson Cano.
The timing of this all is interesting, with the Phillies in a commanding position this offseason because of their deep pockets and John Middleton's desire to spend. The Phils are about to spend big, just as two other teams are already realizing they've spent themselves into a quandary.
Cano is halfway through the 10-year, $240 million contract he signed with the Mariners. He has five years and $120 million remaining. He was also busted for PEDs this past season, which will make any suitor hesitant. If Cano is suspended again, it will be for 162 games.
Even without the recent suspension, though, Seattle would still be looking to get out from under Cano's deal, which they were so excited to sign him to in 2013. The crazy thing is that the Mariners are seen as so willing to move Cano's money that they could include one of their two best young players — Haniger or Diaz — just to get Cano off the books.
I personally don't think they'll end up including Haniger or Diaz with Cano unless they also get some top-notch prospects back. But this is an example of how one humongous contract can affect an entire roster.
The Phillies, of course, are in a different position than the Mariners or D-backs. The Phils can simply afford more, and if in several years they're in a similar to predicament to Seattle or Arizona, they wouldn't be looking purely for salary relief in a trade. They'd want to do something similar to what they did with Cole Hamels — eat plenty of money to get a meaningful return in a trade.
Still, the contracts of Cano and Zack Greinke emphasize the point that these massive deals rarely work out for the team.
Just look at the active players with the 12 highest annual salaries:
1. Zack Greinke: $34.4M per year
2. Miguel Cabrera, David Price, Clayton Kershaw: $31M
5. Max Scherzer: $30M
6. Yoenis Cespedes: $27.5M
7. Jon Lester: $25.8M
8. Justin Verlander: $25.7M
9. Jake Arrieta, Felix Hernandez, Giancarlo Stanton, Stephen Strasburg: $25M
That's a dozen players and at least five — Greinke, Cabrera, Cespedes, Arrieta, King Felix — whose teams would ideally like a way out of the contract. Then you've got teams like the Cubs and Nats, who would probably prefer to have that $25 million available this offseason for Bryce Harper than to have it invested in Lester and Strasburg.
It's why I don't love the idea of the Phillies giving Patrick Corbin $130 million or more — and $130 million is where negotiations figure to begin with Yu Darvish getting $126M last offseason. It's tough for any player to live up to one of these contracts unless he's young and ascending with a skill set that ages well. With most pitchers, even aces, committing nine figures is too risky. One elbow pop and you're looking at an insane amount of dead money.
Harper and Manny Machado, though, are exceptions because they're so young. Both have turned 26 within the last four months. A team won't be paying for past performance like the D-backs did with Greinke, it will be paying the market price for a superstar about to begin his prime.
Middleton has said the Phillies could be a bit "stupid" about how they spend money this offseason. For Harper and/or Machado, it would be stupid money but a smart investment. In five years, few are going to fault the front office that signs either star. If every organization had as much money to spend as the Phillies, every organization would be approaching this offseason similarly.
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