As a Braves fan, it’s understandable if your first reaction was disappointment or frustration. After all, the Mets just locked up one of the best shortstops in the game, and they did it by offering a contract that Liberty Media wouldn’t even consider.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Braves Country.
Players don’t ascend forever. In most cases, players regress significantly once they sign a mega-contract. Albert Pujols, Chris Davis, Khris Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto are just a few examples. Sure, there have definitely been instances where long-term, mega-money contracts have worked out too, but it’s a substantial gamble that can handcuff front offices for over a decade. If Lindor suffers an injury or regresses (which he most certainly will defensively), or both, the Mets are still on the hook for a ridiculous sum of money until his age-38 season.
Financially constrained teams struggle
Secondly, even teams with deep pockets have proven to struggle when they tie so much money into a few players. Currently, the Angels have 68.15% of their payroll in four players, and two of them are playing at a below replacement level. Even before they signed Rendon, they had 47.53% of their payroll in four players.
It has not exactly played out well for the Angels. There is no true salary cap, but there is a luxury tax threshold. The Angels desperately need pitching but can’t get any because they can’t afford good free agents. They also don’t draft very high because they are pressured to do the best they can, given how much they have invested into their payroll. They are stuck in mediocrity. Baseball is not like the NBA; a few players can’t swing a team in the right direction. The Angels have Mike Trout — arguably the best player ever — and haven’t made the playoffs since 2014.
Even winners suffer
There are other examples too. The Phillies (2008), Giants (2010, 2012, and 2014), and Cubs (2016) did win the World Series fairly recently, but they also spent tons of money on just a few players. After their younger guys hit free agency, they could not afford to fill the gaps and have either fallen to mediocrity or are trending that way.
To be fair, I am sure Braves fans would trade a World Series for years of mediocrity. However, the point here is that, outside of the Giants, things can fall apart quickly if payroll is not handled properly. Since 2011, the Phillies have not finished better than 3rd in their division; the Giants have not had a better winning percentage than .503 since 2016, and the Cubs, once thought to be a potential dynasty, haven’t made it past the Wild Card Game since 2018. The Mets have a lot of budding young talent, and eventually, they will want to be paid handsomely. New York won’t be able to hang onto all of them when they pay aging and likely to decline Lindor close to $40 million a year.
The Mets’ financial situation
Before Lindor’s extension, the Mets had approximately 43.37% of their payroll in only five players, and one of them (Cano) is not even playing this year. If you include Syndergaard, approximately 18% of their payroll is on guys who won’t see the field.
In short, Stroman and some other players may come off the books after 2021, but you can still see how the Mets are getting into a sticky situation. They are set up fantastically in the short-term, but their long-term outlook is much bleaker unless they are willing to go well over the luxury tax threshold.
The Braves are in a much more financially flexible situation than the Mets, even with a smaller payroll. So while New Yorkers are rejoicing today about Lindor’s extension, the situation has the potential to sour quickly and put them in a disadvantageous position for years to come.