Rosenthal: MLB’s massive free-agent spending is just getting started. Explaining the forces at work.

Tyler Anderson jumped too soon.

Oh, anyone can understand why Anderson on Nov. 15 agreed to a three-year, $39 million free-agent deal with the angels rather than accept a one-year, $19.65 million qualifying offer from the dodgers. In his first six seasons, Anderson had an adjusted ERA that was precisely league-average. Last season, at age 32, he broke out with the Dodgers, producing the eighth-best adjusted ERA in the majors. The Angels offered him nearly $40 million. He wanted to play in Anaheim. Why mess around?

Reasonable question. Too reasonable, it turned out. Anderson acted rationally in an environment that quickly turned irrational. The contracts, for starting pitchers, in particular, but really, for all players, are getting crazier by the day. And the spending orgy at the Winter Meetings, rivaling the 2019 and 2000 editions, if not quite something out of Ancient Rome, is just getting started.

On Monday, Justin Verlander, turning 40 on Feb. 20, matched new meads teammate Max Scherzer, 38, for the highest average annual salary in the game’s history, $43.33 million. Trea Turner agreed with the Phillies on an 11-year, $300 million contract that will take him through — gaspage 40. Still to come: Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Rodón. And more.


Aaron Judge (Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Welcome to the perfect storm of baseball excess, a confluence of events that already has produced more than $1 billion in free-agent contracts. Each deal is more jaw-dropping and seemingly more nonsensical than the last. And yet, none of it comes as a surprise.

Consider the forces at work:

• It’s the first full offseason of a new collective-bargaining agreement. Owners historically react to the assurance of labor peace over a sustained period by spending more freely.

• The sport’s revenues last season approached $11 billion, according to commissioner Rob Manfred. That number potentially will exceed the record of $10.7 billion set in 2019, the last full season played without COVID-19 restrictions.

• The league in November sold the remaining 15 percent of BAMTech to Disney for $900 million. While that amount technically breaks down to $30 million per team, it’s possible the league held back a portion of the money for its Central Fund.

• The higher luxury-tax thresholds in the new CBA created more flexibility for the game’s biggest spenders. The lowest threshold increased from $210 million in 2021 to $230 million in 2022 and then $233 in 2023. The impact only is now starting to show. Last offseason started under the old CBA and ended after a 99-day lockout with an abbreviated conclusion to free agency.

• The new, expanded postseason format — and the surprise appearances of the Padres and Phillies in the National League Championship Series — is perhaps creating greater hope for clubs that previously were also ran, and providing more incentive to spend.

So, there you have it, the makings of a splurge.

The offseason started with Edwin Diaz becoming the highest-paid reliever in history, agreeing to a five-year, $102 million contract with the Mets. two other relievers Robert Suarez (five years, $46 million) and Rafael Montero (three years, $34.5 million) followed with inflated deals. A general manager looking for bullpen help was scrambling to meetings with agents on Sunday night, trying to strike a reasonable two-year deal with a quality reliever, and looking rather harried.

The starting-pitching market, peaking with the rangers’ signing of Jacob de Grom for five years and $185 million, is even more intense, and not just at the top. Two weeks after Anderson signed with the Angels, Zach Eflin reached a three-year, $40 million agreement with the Rays despite pitching only 75 2/3 innings last season. And things were just getting started.

Matthew Boyd turned 13 1/3 innings with the mariners last season into a one-year, $10 million contract with one of his previous teams, the Tigers. Mike Clevinger joined the White Sox on a one-year, $12 million deal after missing all of 2021 while recovering from Tommy John surgery and producing an adjusted ERA 14 percent below league average in 2022. Both contracts seemed excessive initially. Not even a month later, both might be bargains, just like Anderson’s.

The middle tier of free-agent starting pitchers — Chris Bassitt, Nathan Eovaldi, Jameson Taillon, Andrew Heaney, Taijuan Walker, et al — will be the next to be overpaid. One of those pitchers received five new offers after deGrom signed, according to his agent, who asked not to be identified while in the middle of negotiations. Bassitt and Eovaldi might be weighed down slightly by their qualifying offers. But the way money is flying around, will teams even blink at the prospect of giving up a draft pick or two and international bonus pool space to get the pitcher they want?

Of course, it’s not just the starting pitchers benefiting. For a look at the possible ramifications of some of the bigger position-player deals, let’s fast forward to the 2031 Phillies. Bryce Harper will be 38 that season, playing out the final year of his contract. Turner also will be 38, but with two years left on his deal. The Phillies can bask in the relatively low average annual values ​​of both players — Turner ranks 27th all-time at $27.27 million, Harper 35th at $25.38 million. But both contracts include full no-trade clauses and lack opt-outs. Barring something dramatic, neither player is going anywhere.

All of which is fine, as long as teams get the production they anticipate in the early years of the contracts. Harper to this point has been well worth the money for the Phillies, winning an MVP award in 2021 and leading them to the World Series in 2022 while serving as a DH because of an elbow injury that led to Tommy John surgery. How will Harper age? What kind of player will Turner be when he starts to lose his speed? Neither question will trouble the Phillies, as long as they win a World Series or two while each is under contract.

The performance of the often-injured deGrom over the next five years will bear perhaps closer inspection. One writer joked that Díaz as a reliever might pitch more innings over the next five years than deGrom as a starter. Verlander at $86.66 million is no bargain, but at nearly $100 million less than deGrom, the Mets are practically giddy over their “savings.”

Hey, it’s not my money, or even your money — ticket prices are driven by the principles of supply and demand, not by the sizes of player contracts. If the owners didn’t have the money, they wouldn’t spend it. And boy do they have it, more than ever before.

Poor Tyler Anderson. He got rich before he could have gotten even richer. Amid the wackiness of the 2022-23 offseason, he’s baseball’s unfortunate son.

(Top photo of Trea Turner: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

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