It’s no secret that the New York Mets are not a fiscally sound organization. This has played havoc with the on-field product for half a decade now at least, and will continue to curtail large free agent signings for some time to come. That may be for the benefit of the team, though. As more and more young stars are being locked up early, less and less talent hits the open market, and the cost of doing business on that market is spiking. The Mets, therefore, will need to lock up some of their own young talent in order to become a consistent contender. Let’s take a look at who might be the first to get such a deal.
The Mets haven’t offered many extensions in the recent past. David Wright’s eight-year, $138 million signature was the last meaningful extension since Jon Niese’s relatively small deal the year prior. Before that, it was the Oliver Perez disaster of 2009. As of now there are only four players (Wright, Niese, Curtis Granderson, Michael Cuddyer) who the Mets know for certain what they are paying going into 2016. Bartolo Colon, Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell will all be free agents. Both Colon and Murphy are likely to be wearing other uniforms by year’s end. Parnell is still a mystery of sorts, after returning from two major injuries back to back. Even if he proves to be a stud closer again, he will probably price himself out of New York, or at least Queens.
So the likeliest extension candidate would be someone entering arbitration. Dillon Gee is earning $5.3 million and is up for arbitration again next year. Of course he might not be a Met by the end of this week, let alone the year. The other players going into arbitration following 2015 are Lucas Duda (3rd time), Ruben Tejada (3rd time), Jenrry Mejia (2nd time), Juan Lagares, Anthony Recker, Jeurys Familia, Carlos Torres, Josh Edgins and Matt Harvey (all 1st time). Most fans would see this list and immediately suggest Harvey is the player to extend, and there isn’t much to fault that argument. If patience is Sandy Alderson’s best virtue though, he might want to hold off on that one.
Harvey is returning from Tommy John surgery, and there is still the possibility that he won’t come back to form in 2015. While none of us hope for that, the only silver lining to that scenario is that his first arbitration hearing probably won’t cost the Mets an arm and a leg. If Harvey does pitch strong, then an extension might be in order. With Scott Boras as an agent and a penchant for the high life, Harvey isn’t likely to give the Mets any sort of discount, and it might be more beneficial for the Mets to listen to trade offers sooner rather than later. But that is slightly off-topic.
So a Harvey extension might be in order, but it will cost tons, so there is no rush. Of the rest of the players, Carlos Torres, Ruben Tejada and Anthony Recker seem inclined to be cut loose rather than extended, or at least signed at minimal expense. Josh Edgins is a valuable piece at the moment, but his cost probably won’t skyrocket, and relievers hardly ever get extensions. Similarly, the only way Familia or Mejia would receive a sizable deal is if one of them proves to be the future closer for the next couple of years, but even then the Mets might just let arbitration define their worth for another year or two before considering a longer deal.
So that leaves Lagares, Duda, and perhaps Harvey, depending on your viewpoint. The Mets have only $35 million dollars delegated in 2017 for Wright and Granderson, but then that year Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores will be entering arbitration as well, and the aforementioned players will probably see some pay increases. As you can see, things are going to get expensive quickly. It behoves the Mets to try and lock up one or two players in the meantime to team-friendly extensions before they severely break out. Lagares will be the cheaper option, as Duda’s 2014 season was a sign of things to come. Duda’s 2015 salary is anticipated to be around $4.25 million, and if he repeats last year’s stats, he could see another sizable pay raise.
Granted, Lagares has had injuries and still has some offensive work to do. But if the Mets strike now they might sign him to a theoretical six-year, $30 million contract. That is simply an educated guess and not meant to be bulls-eye accurate, but something similar would keep a dynamic defensive player under a reasonable contract, and save money that could later be allocated to keep Harvey, Wheeler or d’Arnaud when it’s their time to get paid. Likewise, Duda has some work to do against lefties and until he replicates last year’s stats, he might be signed now at a slight discount. Meanwhile, Dominic Smith is still quite a ways from replacing Duda, and no one else in the system looks to have the same power potential the big man presently offers. Signing Duda to a three or four-year deal at say, $7-9 million a year might be enough to keep him in town. Both extensions would start in 2016, when the Mets look to have $25-28 million coming off the books, so these new financial burdens would be negligible. These might be rose-colored extensions, but neither player at this point in their respective careers’ would seem justified in expecting much more.
Extensions are risky business, and even if the Mets could get both players at reasonable rates, those contracts might end up being overpays. But when Cuddyer is getting $21 million for two years, better and smarter risks should be taken. The Mets have the ability now to save money for years to come, and keep as many of their bright young players in place to be competitive for the long haul. That seems a better plan than continually overpaying aged veterans and hoping the farm can keep spitting out enough controllable talent to make up the difference. Besides, one or two of those talented young players will probably have to be shipped off to restock the farm at some point, and keep costs low. As the Mets minors are filled with more majors-ready pitchers than positions players at the moment, Duda and Lagares don’t assume to be the guys sent packing. (Hence the Harvey trade mentioned earlier.)
We all know the constraints Alderson and his team work under, whether he admits it or not. It’s a very complicated business keeping a team competitive when you’re handcuffed by rising costs. Extending players now means getting them cheaper and opening up options for the future. Holding on to Lagares and/or Duda could be the building blocks of a very strong house. Let’s just hope the homeowners have the wherewithal to recognize a good investment when they see one.
Oh, wait, I forgot who I was talking about.