When you really think about it, a book like Moneyball is about two things. Primarily, it's about a small market team like the Oakland A's being smarter than everyone else - exploiting inefficiencies in stats that allow them to compete with franchises who can triple their payroll. However, it's also about how those big market teams weren't always the brightest, shelling out huge, long-term contracts to overrated free agents.
When a big market team starts thinking analytically that's when small markets really get into trouble. We saw this with the Boston Red Sox in the early part of the last decade (side note holy shit 2003 was almost 15 years ago). When the Sox hired Bill James and Theo Epstein, it represented a philosophical shift in the way the team would operate. No longer would they simply rely on a big payroll to compete. They were going to be smarter, and it worked. Boston won three championships over the next 10 years.
Now it's nearly 2018, and every team has an analytics department. Both big and small markets are operating... "smartly". This is bad news for baseball. Well actually not for everyone. Not for fans of the Yankees and Dodgers, who (aside from the Angels miraculously landing Shohei Ohtani) are having the two best off-seasons of any teams, regardless of market size. Here's why:
Without a doubt the biggest story this winter has been Giancarlo Stanton getting traded to New York. It's still tough to believe how he basically FELL INTO THEIR LAPS HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?! The Marlins trading Stanton to a team like the Yankees is like the guy in your fantasy football league who doesn't know what he's doing and he trades Alvin Kamara for 50 cents on the dollar to the owner who already has Antonio Brown, Todd Gurley, and Rob Gronkowski. If the Stanton trade happened in a fantasy football league there would hundreds of comments in a Facebook group thread trying to get it vetoed. It's that ridiculous.
Now let me take you back to Opening Day 2016. The Yankees lineup was OLDDDDD, featuring Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann in the 3-6 spots. Only one of those guys (McCann) is even still playing. A couple are already managerial candidates. We know what occured next. New York rebuilt faster than anyone else could've imagined, and by October 2017 they had a 3-2 game lead in the ALCS, falling one win short of the World Series. Unfuckingbelievable.
Even if the Yankees didn't do much this off-season, 2018 was likely going to be another step in the right direction. In an ideal world the kids (Judge, Sanchez, Severino, Frazier, etc.) would continue to develop as the front office set its eyes towards Manny Machado and Bryce Harper in free agency a year from now.
But then what happened? Well, the Marlins fucked themselves over is what happened. The Yankees didn't even go into this off-season planning to make a Stanton run, but how could they resist? Over the next 10 years the 6'6 monstar is owed $295 million. He's 28 years old. Let's compare that money owed to some other 10 year deals given out semi-recently:
All those guys signed deals when they were over 30, so the extra money owed to Stanton shouldn't seem that bad. But wait! The Yankees aren't even paying $295 million since Miami is still covering some of the deal! New York is paying $265 million!!!!!!! AND THEY DIDN'T HAVE TO GIVE UP ANY TOP PROSPECTS TO PULL IT OFF HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?!?!
[takes three deep breaths]
Harper was going to be looking for $400 million next year. Same for Machado. So $265 million for Stanton looks reasonable. And now NYY won't be desperate for Bryce or Manny. The Stanton deal wasn't a trade. It was a swindle. And if that wasn't enough Brian Cashman signed CC Sabathia to a reasonable one year deal. He also was able to move Chase Headley's contract, clearing the way for the franchise to get below the luxury tax. More on that in a bit...
The Dodgers had been quiet until Saturday, when they sent Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson, and $4.5 million to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for Matt Kemp. Well, really the teams just traded the contracts of those players. Back in the day a Gonzalez/Kemp trade would've been a MAJOR blockbuster but in December 2017 it was a move made purely for financial reasons.
For the Braves, this was all about getting rid of the Kemp contract a year early. They'll take on more money in 2018 with the players they received, but they're all free agents after this year. Whereas if they held on to Kemp they would have another $20 million on the books in 2019.
And for the Dodgers, this was about one thing: the oh so sweet free agent class of 2018. This off-season has been a big one for MLB...but next year...next year is going to be for baseball what the Lebron James led free agent class of 2010 was for the NBA. It's going to change the fortunes of multiple franchises for years to come.
What the Dodgers did was take a bunch of expensive one year contracts, bundled them together, and traded them for an expensive two-year contract. With Kemp they're essentially spreading out money they owe over two years instead of paying all those other guys this season. Why would they want to do this? Well, they've gone over the $197 million luxury tax threshold in FIVE straight years, and if they can get below it before Opening Day they'll face a lot less penalties during...the free agent class of 2018.
WHAT THIS MEANS
What this all means is that (assuming they stay under the luxury tax) New York and LA are going to be BIG TIME players in free agency next year. They were going to be big time players no matter what...but now they won't be facing nearly as harsh penalties for spending big, meaning they may just blow some teams out of the water with offers to Harper, Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and others. 15 years ago this may not have been the case. Big market teams may not have also had the luxury of having smart, analytically minded people running things. Now they do, and that should be scary to the rest of baseball.