The MLB Hot Stove is finally heating up, and the Mets and the Padres are doing their best to return baseball to its former glory.
The MLB offseason got off to a slow start following the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Teams impacted by the pandemic are looking to save money rather than spend it, so almost all of the league’s prized free agents are still looking for new contracts.
However, the San Diego Padres and the New York Mets have other plans.
Coming off their first playoff appearance in 13 years, the Padres made the first big splashes of the offseason by acquiring not one, but two All-Star starting pitchers in Blake Snell and Yu Darvish. The Padres proved they have championship aspirations in 2021 and beyond, and are not afraid to compete with the reigning World Series Champion Dodgers in the NL West.
The Mets, on the other hand, are in a different position. They have not made the playoffs since 2016, and come into 2021 under new ownership. Steve Cohen completely rearranged their front office, and made it clear they are not messing around after acquiring shortstop Francisco Lindor and pitcher Carlos Carrasco in a blockbuster trade with the Cleveland Indians. All indications suggest that Cohen and the Mets are just getting started this offseason, as they have money to spend.
While the Padres and Mets are two very different teams right now, they share one thing: they are trying to make baseball fun again.
Major League Baseball has been trying to find new ways to drive more new fans to baseball and continue to grow the sports popularity. However, the sports popularity has been steadily declining in recent years despite MLB’s best efforts. Some say the slow nature of the game is incompatible with the social media-centric youth, while others argue the home run-or-bust approach many modern hitters have makes the game harder to watch.
However, perhaps the most important factor to the game’s dip in popularity has been the lack of national star power. Superstar players are largely unknown to non-fans outside of their region. In an age where fans make personal connection to players through social media, baseball is largely devoid of a de facto spokesperson. This is unlike Lebron James for the NBA, Tom Brady for the NFL, and even Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi for Soccer.
However, the Mets and Padres are trying to change this narrative by stocking up their teams with superstars.
The Padres made their first big move in the 2019 offseason, where they signed third baseman Manny Machado to a mega-contract. Then, shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. emerged as one of the most explosive, exciting superstars in the game. In 2020, he took the league by storm and became the figurehead of a youth movement in baseball that is primed to rewrite the unwritten rules of baseball.
Since then, they have become all-out buyers in the trade market, sacrificing key pieces of their top-tier farm system for the likes of Mike Clevinger, Blake Snell, and Yu Darvish. Now, they look poised to give the Dodgers a run for their money in the NL West, and legitimately compete for a World Series.
Not only do stars like Tatis and Machado fill seats, but now every Dodgers-Padres game becomes must-see TV. They are poised to become the next blood-thirsty rivalry that can bring baseball back into the national limelight.
The Mets have star power on their team despite their disappointing results the past few years. Pete Alonso, Jacob deGrom, Michael Conforto, and Marcus Stroman can all fill seats at Citi Field. However, Francisco Lindor has the makings of a national superstar. Nicknamed “Mr. Smile” for his infectious personality and constant smile, Lindor is a five-tool phenom who can thrive under the bright lights in New York. It would be in the Mets best interest to lock him up long term so he can compete to become the “face of baseball” that has been lacking in past years.
The key to baseball returning to its former glory is having more teams take the “win-now” approach. Too often, teams are eager to trade away their superstars to avoid paying them the money they deserve. Instead, they choose to invest in their farm system, and are willing to sacrifice immediate success for the future.
Teams like the Rays and Indians have proven this approach works, but that doesn’t mean it’s fun. It is undeniable that some teams have more money than others, and small market teams can’t sign their superstars to these $300 million + mega contracts.
However, when teams get good, what is the harm in going for it? If the league had more teams going for it each year rather than stocking up their farm system for success in five years, teams would have more superstars, and competition would go up across the board.
In short, what the Padres and Mets are doing is great for the game of baseball. If more teams follow suit, the youth of America will love baseball once again.