Mets Stingy With Cash as They Eye Future
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Just down the street from the Mets' spring training facility, QVC operates a call center.
There is no truth to the rumor that the Mets did all their offseason shopping there.
An analysis of data from the MLB Trade Rumors website shows that the Mets spent $6.6 million on major league contracts to free agents, 26th-most of the 30 teams. That's less than small-market teams Pittsburgh, San Diego, Oakland and Florida gave just one free agent this winter.
This has led to some grumbling in New York, where nothing comes cheap.
But the Mets did the right thing ...
There's a big if. More on that in a bit.
This was not the winter for the Mets to spend. There wasn't enough on the market to push them over the top.
Sandy Alderson said Friday that when he was hired as general manager, there was already about $135 million committed to players for 2011.
"That put us higher than we were last year at the end of the season," Alderson said. "So there wasn't a lot of room to add payroll.
"We had a number of holes that we wanted to address, so we did it as economically as we could while at the same time trying to build in some upside."
Which meant signing players they hope can bounce back from injuries or other career valleys. For example, Chris Young and Chris Capuano, brought in to fill out the rotation, combined to win 30 games in 2005 but made a total of just 45 starts the past three seasons.
And there are plenty of returning players who have room to rebound: Jason Bay (concussion), Carlos Beltran (knee), Jose Reyes (oblique), Johan Santana (shoulder) and Francisco Rodriguez (anger).
"I think we've got a shot, I mean I really do," Alderson said. "If we stay healthy, I think we've got a great shot."
Maybe, but there seem to be just too many ifs. The feeling here is that it's as likely the Mets finish last in the NL East as third.
Of course, with a three-year-old stadium, the demands of the New York market and a perennial contender across town, the Mets can't ever say "rebuilding" or even "transition year." Even though that's what 2011 may turn out to be.
After this season, the Mets could have as much as $60 million go away, including Beltran's $18.5 million, Oliver Perez's $12 million, Reyes' $11 million, Luis Castillo's $6 million and Rodriguez's $11.5 million, minus a $3.5 million buyout on his $17.5 option. (The option vests if Rodriguez finishes 55 games, which might be the most important statistic to track this year at Citi Field.)
"It's nice that we have money coming off the books that we can redirect," Alderson said, "but what's just as important for our long-term competitive situation is the players at the high end of the system."
The Mets will need their farm system to produce, because the cleared payroll won't be a cure-all. The 2011-12 free-agent market isn't great. In fact, three of the best players in it could be Reyes, Beltran and Rodriguez. The top starters look to be Mark Buehrle, Edwin Jackson and C.J. Wilson, with a major dropoff in hitters after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
But the Mets will have some flexibility going forward. They could take a star contract off another team's hands. They could invest in the amateur market.
The Mets are on the right track, for once.
But back to that if: the Bernie Madoff mess.
The involvement of Mets ownership in Madoff's Ponzi scheme hangs over the franchise like planes flying over the ballpark.
A mediator has been appointed to try to reach a settlement in the "clawback" process. The attorney for the trustee is seeking more money back that the Mets owners put in, charging that they knew or should have known fraud was going on.
The Mets' owners dispute this, of course. But they reportedly were active in recruiting new investors, and since the essential element of a Ponzi scheme is the constant need for fresh dollars, the Mets owners at the very least look complicit.
Their defense is that they were duped.
That may eventually work in the Madoff case, but it hardly inspires confidence in their ability to run a baseball team.
Assuming the Mets can work through this -- by selling a minority share of the team or more -- they should remain one of baseball's big spenders.
"Probably at $150 (million) or approaching $150 (million) is a little high for us on a sustainable basis," Alderson said. "I don't think we need to be that high, frankly, to have the kind of team that New York would be proud of."
He's right, because one of the fundamental rules of baseball is a team can compete with any size payroll, if the money is spent wisely. But spending any amount of money unwisely doesn't work.
The best case scenario would be like the Battle of Stirling Bridge scene from "Braveheart," with Alderson as William Wallace (Mel Gibson) and the Mets' spending represented by the Scottish infantry from year 1297.
"Steady!" Wallace yells as the English cavalry charges closer and closer.
Then, finally he commands his men to pull out their spears: "Nooooow!"