It all happened so quickly.
Carlos Correa had been scheduled for his introduction as a Giant on a 13-year, $350 million deal on Tuesday. But San Francisco sent out a statement that morning saying the scheduled press conference had been postponed.
Less than 24 hours later, the baseball world awoke to news that Correa’s deal with the Giants was off, and the 28-year-old All-Star was signing with the Mets — moving to third base to partner with shortstop Francisco Lindor — on a 12-year, $315 million deal.
The development proved stunning and illuminating. In particular, the unraveling of the Giants deal highlighted the notion that an “agreement pending physical” is not the same as signing a contract.
“We can’t take anything for granted,” said agent Brian Grieper, who in December 2012 negotiated a three-year, $39 million deal for client Mike Napoli with the Red Sox only to have it unravel when the physical revealed a degenerative hip condition. “It’s not a formality.”
Teams are able to request access to players’ medical files — including past MRIs and any notes on injury history — during free agency. But after teams agree to terms with players on a contract, an in-person exam and follow-up MRIs usually serve as a last checkpoint for a deal.
Typically, such exams go without incident. But that’s not always the case. And in instances in which either a player’s medical file or the in-person physical reveals an area of concern, different teams can have different approaches to the same identified medical risk.
It’s possible, for instance, that different medical directors would identify the same issue but their teams would take different approaches to it: One team might simply walk away from a deal, another might seek specific language protecting against a pre-existing condition, a third might proceed if and only if it could secure an insurance policy it deemed reasonable, and a fourth might simply be willing to live with the injury risk. There’s also suspicion that teams will, at times, identify medical issues to undo a deal if they get cold feet.
“These are subjective decisions,” said former Red Sox and Orioles GM Dan Duquette. “It’s based upon the financial risk, the projected return on the contract, and the player’s performance.”
When a medical concern is identified during the physical, team doctors offer recommendations but typically don’t determine the club’s ultimate course.
“A medical director cannot quote-unquote blow up a deal,” said Dr. Thomas Gill, who formerly served as the medical director of the Red Sox, Patriots, and Bruins. “That’s completely up to the owner and to the GM. A medical director’s job is as an adviser, and is to say, ‘In my medical opinion, this is what I think’s going to happen, and here’s the risks, here’s the benefits. You have to decide whether the financial implications make sense for the club.’ You’re essentially an insurance actuarial.”
For Gill, that role took a number of forms. He recommended against anything more than a two-year deal for Pedro Martinez after the 2004 season. At the last minute, team owners bumped up their offer to three years, but only after the Mets had made a four-year offer. Martinez made just 25 starts over the last two years of his Mets deal.
When the Sox traded for Josh Beckett in 2005, Gill recalled reviewing his medical file over Thanksgiving at CEO/president Larry Lucchino’s house. While Beckett had experienced a number of disabled list stints because of shoulder and blister issues, Gill believed the Sox could keep him healthy with their shoulder program.
“That was an example where our medical staff says, ‘Even though there’s a reason this guy’s available, we can get a diamond in the rough,’” said Gill.
In December 2009, the Sox reached agreement with John Lackey on a five-year, $85 million deal. The exam led to a redirection.
“I said, ‘There’s no way I can sign off on this,’ ” said Gill. “It was clear he had an ulnar collateral ligament problem.”
The Sox didn’t want to lose out on Lackey, but inserted a clause in the contract stipulating the Sox would get an additional year on the contract if the righthander missed a season because of Tommy John surgery. That is exactly what happened when Lackey blew out in 2011, underwent surgery that left him unable to pitch in 2012, thus giving the club a team option at the big league minimum.
Perhaps more relevant to the Correa situation, in the winter of 2006, the Sox reached an agreement on a five-year, $70 million with Scott Boras client J.D. Drew. But it wasn’t until almost two months after the initial agreement that the deal became official because of a right shoulder issue for which the Sox sought some contractual protection.
There were some who viewed that protective language as inadequate, as Gill recalled finding out when receiving a late-night call from Cardinals team doctors.
“It was like 11:30 at night, and the [Cardinals] team doc calls me about J.D. It woke me up, and all I could hear was all these guys cracking up in the background,” said Gill. “I said, ‘What the hell what’s going on?’ He said, ‘We can’t believe you guys actually signed J.D. Drew! That guy will never be healthy for you.’ ”
Drew ended up playing 606 of 810 possible games (75 percent) for the Sox during his contract. Different teams had different outlooks on the medical risk he presented — a common development in free agency, as the case of Correa, the Mets, and Giants suggested.
THE AMAZIN’ MET$
Correa deal helps demolish payroll record
The Mets’ dead-of-night agreement with Correa qualified as one of the most stunning in baseball history. That status derived not only from the startling rapidity with which the Giants deal unraveled and gave way to a new one in New York, but also because of what it said about the way the Mets are doing business under owner Steve Cohen.
Fangraphs estimates that the Correa deal, if finalized, would push the Mets’ payroll to approximately $390 million as calculated for luxury tax purposes — far and away the highest in MLB history, demolishing the record $297.9 million payroll carried by the 2015 Dodgers. If ever anyone wondered why the MLB Players Association has insisted it has no interest in a salary cap in baseball, Cohen has offered a clear answer.
It’s possible the Mets will shed some salary with one or more trades (they are overloaded with position players). Still, there’s no question their spending will surpass anything the game has ever seen.
Naturally, the Mets’ spending binge has inspired predictable angst about competitive balance and questions about whether small-market teams can compete with a franchise that currently projects to spend more in luxury tax payments ($115 million — more than double the prior record) than several teams will spend on their payrolls.
In the recent collective bargaining agreement, owners added a new tier of luxury tax penalties, with an enormous tax (90 percent for the Mets in 2023) for any spending more than $60 million beyond the luxury tax threshold. Cohen has treated that new layer of taxes as a speed bump rather than a stop sign, spending audaciously in the face of that intended deterrent in an unabashed attempt to win a World Series.
But are the Mets under Cohen really so different than past lavish spenders?
Assuming the Mets carry a $390 million luxury tax payroll, they’d be spending $157 million beyond the $233 million luxury tax threshold — 67 percent beyond the level where teams incur penalties. That’s a huge margin — but at least by percentage, not the largest in MLB history.
In 2004, the Yankees spent $83.4 million beyond the $120.5 million luxury tax threshold — a payroll that was 69 percent over the line. The Yankees likewise carried a payroll that was 68 percent over the threshold in 2005. More recently, in 2015, the Dodgers carried a $297.9 million payroll in a year where the threshold was at $189 million — spending 58 percent beyond the threshold.
Yes, Cohen has blown past prior high-water spending marks. But while there’s a shock value to the numbers associated with the Mets payroll of nearly $400 million and more than a half-billion dollars when accounting for projected luxury tax payments, his efforts to build the best team that money can buy are not unprecedented.
State’s new income tax a factor in negotiations
In the November elections, Massachusetts voters approved a “Millionaire Tax,” bumping up state income taxes in 2023 from 5 percent to 9 percent on annual income over $1 million. Baseball players pay state income tax based on the location of their games, meaning that Red Sox players pay Massachusetts state income tax on half of their salaries.
News of the increase came as a shock to Kiké Hernández.
“Well, [expletive] me. This is news to me,” Hernández said by phone. “I’m surprised my financial guy hasn’t reached out to me to tell me that. I will 100 percent, as soon as I hang up with you, reach out to him.”
Hernández agreed to his one-year, $10 million deal for 2023 in September — before the new tax had been passed. It was not a factor in his contract talks.
But this offseason, agents who have been negotiating with the Sox say they’ve been factoring the millionaire’s tax into the calculus when contemplating offers. The Sox, said multiple agents, are now lumped in with teams in California and New York in needing to outbid clubs in more favorable tax environments (particularly Texas and Florida, where there’s no state income tax) to present offers of equal value.
“Every good agent is going to factor that in,” said one agent. “It’s a big deal. It’s potentially millions of dollars in the deal. It absolutely factors into our decision-making process.”
The Sox have said they’re open to considering moving Hernández back to the middle infield as they contemplate alignments with Xander Bogaerts having signed with the Padres. How is Hernández preparing for the season?
“As we stand right now, as the team stands on paper, I understand that what’s best for the team is for me to be in center field. So I’m preparing to play center field every day,” said Hernández, whose favorite position is shortstop. “But I haven’t thrown away my infield glove.” Hernández said he continues to take ground balls.
Hernández had been working out with Bogaerts in Arizona in the weeks leading up to his decision to sign with San Diego. While sad to see a friend and All-Star contributor leave the Red Sox, he couldn’t begrudge Bogaerts’s decision.
“As much as it hurts to lose that guy, I’m also really happy for him because he’s a friend,” said Hernández. “These people become your family. If your family member gets $120 million more in one place than another, you get happy for that person.”
Hernández keeping tabs
When Hernández agreed to re-sign, he received assurances from chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and the front office that the Sox would be aggressive in upgrading their roster after a last-place finish. The Sox have added to their bullpen and signed Masataka Yoshida to play left and Justin Turner as a DH/corner infielder, but lost Bogaerts and as of Friday still had an incomplete starting rotation.
“Our bullpen looks way better than it did last year. I’ve been staying in touch with [team officials]. I know for a fact that they’re trying to make things happen,” said Hernández, who has contributed to recruiting efforts. “As much as [Bogaerts’s departure] can be deflating, I still have hopes that we can make the moves that we have to make — maybe not replacing Xander with one player but we can still make a couple of moves to make us a more complete team than we were last year.”
Hernández expressed excitement about being reunited with former Dodgers teammates Kenley Jansen and, particularly, Turner.
“He didn’t become an All-Star until his mid-30s and that’s what I’m trying to do,” said Hernández. “He was always an inspiration to me.”
Pedro Martínez and Brayan Bello continue to work in the Dominican Republic, Pedro keeps telling Bello to not change anything of what he’s doing on the video just to sink his sinker more. pic.twitter.com/KcVxPgAxa4— Boston Strong (@BostonStrong_34) December 24, 2022
Pedro pitches in
The Twitter account @BostonStrong_34 posted video this week of righthander Brayan Bello working in the Dominican Republic with Pedro Martinez.
“So many of the pitchers, especially from the Dominican, really idolize and look up to him,” said pitching coach Dave Bush. “The fact that he’s willing to take younger players and work with them, teach them stuff, is fantastic.”
While the Red Sox had contacted free-agent outfielder Andrew Benintendi at the beginning of free agency, the team never showed a willingness to go anywhere near the five-year, $75 million deal he ultimately signed with the White Sox.
Some evaluators believe new Red Sox outfielder Masataka Yoshida — whom the Sox spent $105.375 million to acquire (a five-year, $90 million deal and $15.375 million posting fee) — has an offensive profile similar to that of Benintendi.
Obviously, the effort to project player performance is inexact, and the Sox felt tremendous conviction in the idea that Yoshida can be a special offensive talent. But it will be interesting to contrast the performance of the two players over their next five years.
Dodgers have until Jan. 6 to decide on Bauer
An arbitrator reduced Trevor Bauer’s unpaid suspension from 324 to 194 games, thus entitling him to $22.5 million of his $32 million salary this year after he received none of his $32 million salary in 2022 and making him eligible to pitch again at the start of the 2023 season.
But it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers — or any team — giving him an opportunity to do so in MLB given the jarring accounts of his violations of MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy. Three women reportedly accused Bauer of choking them unconscious and assaulting them during sex.
Even with the reduced penalty, the arbitrator determined that it was appropriate for Bauer to serve the longest unpaid suspension ever by an active player for a violation of the domestic violence and sexual assault policy, which has been in place since 2015. The Dodgers have until Jan. 6 to make an official decision about whether to reinstate or release Bauer.
RIP Denny Doyle, who died Tuesday. He was 78. Doyle came to the Sox in a trade for a player to be named in June 1975, and rode a magic carpet for a half-season in helping the Red Sox win the AL East and advance to the World Series. A career .250/.295/.316 hitter, Doyle hit .310/.339/.429 in 89 games with the Sox that year while playing second, third, and short. He spent two more years with the Sox, playing his last game at age 33 in 1977 … Happy 64th birthday, Rickey Henderson, who spent one season with the Red Sox, hitting .223/.369/.352 with eight steals in 72 games as a 43-year-old. “He wasn’t as fast as he once was, but his first step when he ran was still quicker than anyone on our team,” said Henderson’s teammate, Lou Merloni. This year, Howard Bryant’s wonderful biography (“Rickey: The Life and Legend of an American Original”) clarified a longstanding mystery surrounding Henderson’s year in Boston: Why did the Red Sox give Henderson a classic Ford Thunderbird prior to the final game of the 2002 season? According to Bryant, when Henderson — who’d signed a minor league deal with an invite to spring training — made the season-opening big league roster, he was unhappy with his big league salary. Mike Port, the Red Sox acting GM, told Bryant that Henderson informed the team that he was “canceling the contract” prior to Opening Day. The Sox wouldn’t renegotiate the contract, but told Henderson they’d honor him at the end of the season with a special day that included a gift — which ultimately became the car.
Alex Speier can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @alexspeier.