Royals Review, an SB Nation site, recently held a simulation where 30 fans were GMs of MLB clubs and were given the choice to run their team as they saw fit. This is a great idea and while it’s not anything to take too seriously, it’s always interesting to see more real-world constraints built into a model. It’s one thing to say – go trade for Matt Kemp! Yet, it’s another thing entirely when you have to deal with another person in making a potential deal happen. Anyway, here’s what the Mets ended up doing in this exercise:
New York Mets
• Traded P Jon Niese and 2B Daniel Murphy to the Rockies for P Juan Nicasio, P Drew Pomeranz, IF Josh Rutledge, 3B Pacheco and P Wilton Lopez
• Traded OF Brandon Nimmo to the Braves for 2B Dan Uggla, P Cody Martin and $10 million
• Traded OF Lucas Duda to the Mariners for 3B Ty Kelly
• Signed OF Shin Soo Choo to a 7 year $137 million deal
• Signed P Scott Baker to a 1 year $3 million deal with up to $6 million in incentives
• Signed OF Marlon Byrd to a 2 year $12 million deal
• Re-signed P Latroy Hawkins to a 1 year $2.5 million deal
• Signed P Jason Frasor to a 1 year $2 million deal
• Signed P Daisuke Matsuzaka and P Mike Pelfrey to minor league deals
Recommended Budget: $90 million
Projected Simulation Payroll: $92.4 million
While I’m not a fan of four of the first five items (and the sixth is now impossible) it’s nice to see a scenario where the Mets end up with Choo while staying within a reasonable budget. Of course “reasonable” and “what I expect to actually happen” are two different things. Recently, Sandy Alderson stated that he did not expect to sign anyone to a $100 million contract.
This fits in well with an earlier MetsBlog update in which Andy Martino is quoted as saying that the Mets are more interested in Curtis Granderson than Choo or Jacoby Ellsbury. Each of these three outfielders will require surrendering a draft pick so they are equal in that respect. Additionally, all would play an outfield corner unless Juan Lagares was included in a deal. The ability to play a corner definitely helps Choo and probably helps Granderson, too.
All three have had recent injury problems. Choo played a full season in 2013 and Ellsbury logged 134 games and 636 PA. Granderson was limited to 61 games last year. In addition to having the most-recent injury problems, Granderson is also the oldest of the three players under consideration here.
Let’s take a look at the last five years, focusing on fWAR:
Ellsbury – 2.1, (-0.2), 9.1, 1.4, 5.8
Granderson – 2.6, 3.5, 6.7, 2.3, 1.4
Choo – 4.8, 5.9, 1.3, 2.4, 5.2
Ellsbury was injured in both 2010 and 2012 and has been all over the map in the three years he’s been healthy. Granderson was injured in 2013 and was a 2.5 to 3.5 fWAR player except for 2011. Choo was hurt in 2011 but was very consistent production-wise in ’09, ’10 and ’13.
Which one of these three should the Mets target? The only reason to prefer Granderson is if you believe his age and recent injury will keep his demands to a shorter-term contract at a lower annual rate. There’s something to be said for buying low on a player but is that really the path to take when you are investing heavily in the free agent market for the first time in years?
Of course, it remains to be seen how heavily the Mets invest in the free agent market. The conventional wisdom is that the Mets will have $30 to $40 million to spend on new acquisitions this year. If given a chance, bet the under on that amount. The idea that ownership is going to reinvest all of the money coming off the books back into payroll seems optimistic.
There’s a game being played on the field and there are two other games being played by ownership. The first is trying to remain in control of the team by refinancing existing debts to due dates further down the road. The Wilpons so far have been very successful with this game. The other – although related – money game going on is to see how little they can invest in payroll without incurring an open fan revolt.
The Mets could stomach a $100 million contract with David Wright because they calculated that to let him walk would be suicidal. Now they’re calculating that the fan base will be okay if they pass on the upper level of free agent talent due to money concerns. They can point out the big dollar contracts that failed because there are plenty of them.
But there’s nothing magical about the $100 million contracts. There are no shortages of deals for a lesser amount that have blown up on clubs. Neither the Luis Castillo nor Oliver Perez deals are recalled fondly, even though the two combined were for far less than $100 million. But ownership is betting they can win a PR war with the big round number.
This gives them a built-in excuse not to chase the best free agents available. And then they can say they were outbid for the next class of available players. Is this overly cynical? Perhaps but let’s see how the next few months play out before passing final judgment.
Even if the Mets do acquire a second-tier FA like Granderson – wouldn’t you rather that they step to the plate and at least try to get the best players? It’s fine to pass on Robinson Cano since second base is not a position of need. But when there are two options for a leadoff-hitting outfielder and you remove yourself from the bidding before it even begins – it just seems counter-productive.
The idea is to win. There’s no trophy given out for the team that has the lowest dollar-to-win ratio. This does not mean to throw discretion out the window. No one is suggesting to sign Choo for 5/$150 or Ellsbury to 10/$200. There’s a point where it makes no sense to continue bidding on a player. But the arbitrary $100 million figure is PR and nothing more.
Ownership is under no obligation to announce its spending plans in any way, shape or form. However, they are always at risk of alienating their fan base when it comes to how they handle this particular issue. The Wilpons have made it clear they think their best chance of retaining the most fans is to mislead, obfuscate and outright lie about their ability to maintain certain levels of payroll.
The old myth is that you cannot rebuild in New York. That’s always rang hollow to me. Everyone has to rebuild at some point and you can win more loyalty with the truth than with lies. Everyone understood when Donnie Walsh stripped down the Knicks in an effort to get LeBron James. That James signed elsewhere is beside the point. There’s no benefit to being the #7 or #8 seed in the NBA playoffs – it just means you’re on the treadmill of mediocrity. The vast majority of fans understand this.
There’s also no value in winning 70-80 games in MLB. But that’s where the Sandy Alderson-era Mets find themselves. They either need to spend to get better or go the route of the Houston Astros and blow it up and start from scratch. Signing David Wright – along with the pitching talent the Mets possess – made it clear which direction the franchise should go.
If the Mets truly have $30 million or more to spend on payroll, then they should go out and spend it to maximize the wins for the 2014 club and not worry about how much they spend per win. And if they don’t have the money, they should be honest and say that it needs to go to pay off debts. The fan base will understand that, too.