If we knew at the conclusion of the World Series that ownership was going to allow Sandy Alderson $140 million or so to spend on payroll for 2016, the views of his offseason moves would have been a little different. Is it really that big of a deal if he spent $18.5/$25 million for Asdrubal Cabrera to duplicate the production they could have got from Wilmer Flores for a fraction of the cost? Not when money wasn’t the big issue it had been in previous years.
Sure, we might wish for a more established bullpen or a better righty bench bat or more reliable defensive reserves. But it’s not like the bullpen doesn’t have solid arms and legitimate upside. And if your main problems are with subsections of your bench, life isn’t too bad.
While it’s still fair to either ask questions or criticize the individual moves of Alderson this offseason, he’s assembled a team on paper that seems ready to challenge for a return trip to the playoffs. And with the power arms in the rotation, they are seemingly well set to make a deep run should they make the postseason. All of us are looking forward to making the playoffs in back-to-back years for just the second time in franchise history.
While the immediate future looks bright, the good news is that we can see how the team is set up for continued success. Previously, it was all pitching coming up ready to help from the minors. Now we can see the hitters on the horizon, with low-cost replacements on the way for 1B, 2B, SS and potentially RF. Just like the cheap pitching now allows for free agent imports for offense, we can envision a scenario down the road where cheap offense allows the team to extend some of the current pitchers.
One area where Alderson has definitely improved on from his predecessor is, to borrow a phrase from basketball, spacing. While sometimes Alderson’s insistence on nothing but short deals can be maddening, there’s no doubt the value in regularly having money coming off the books, especially if you’re willing to eventually let young guys play and do some shopping in places other than the discount racks.
Do you recall Alderson’s first offseason? Opening Day payroll in 2010 was roughly $126.5 million and it went up to roughly $142.8 million the first year under Alderson. But the reason it went up was because of backloaded deals, not any spending sprees for the new GM. After consecutive sub .500 seasons, the team needed to be able to bring new blood aboard. But along with the Madoff mess, the Mets had to deal with salary increases to Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana and David Wright, along with typical arbitration raises.
And to make matters worse, there wasn’t any significant salary coming off the books. There were only two players making a seven-digit salary on the club at the end of 2010 who were cleared from payroll in 2011. They were Kelvim Escobar ($1.25 million) and Hisanori Takahashi ($1 million) and if finances weren’t tight, they probably would have retained Takahashi.
Compare that to what Alderson has created. At the start of 2015 the money from Bartolo Colon, Daniel Murphy and Jerry Blevins were scheduled to come off the books at the end of the campaign. Combine that with the mid-season acquisitions with expiring deals and the unexpected retirement of Michael Cuddyer and there was a fair amount of money for Alderson to re-invest, even if the payroll stayed at last year’s Opening Day mark of $101.3 million.
Looking ahead to 2016, we see the salaries of Neil Walker, Colon, Alejandro De Aza and Blevins will come off the books. Potentially Yoenis Cespedes, too. After 2017, the money from Curtis Granderson, Cabrera, Antonio Bastardo and Lucas Duda becomes available. This isn’t a happy coincidence. This is planning from the GM’s office to make sure a repeat of the 2010-11 offseason doesn’t happen again.
Players acquired by both Omar Minaya and Sandy Alderson led to the team’s World Series appearance in 2015. Players from both GMs will also play a role in the fortune of the 2016 club, too. And that’s how it should be. Meanwhile, Alderson’s contract goes through the 2017 season and there’s a decent chance he retires at the conclusion of that deal, when he’ll be 70 years old.
No one can say how the farm system will be at the end of 2017. One thing to keep in mind is that no one was jumping for joy at the end of 2010 when Minaya departed about the state of affairs in the minor league system. And now we belatedly give Minaya credit.
But even with uncertainty surrounding the minor leagues, it seems likely that Alderson will leave the overall system in much better shape than what he inherited. The 2010 team finished under .500, the team had great name recognition but the stars all had injury concerns, payroll was maxed out and the farm seemingly had little to offer.
The next GM will not be without his problems. He’ll likely inherit the Wright contract but even that has a silver lining. Unlike the deals to Bay and Santana, the money owed to Wright actually goes down, going from $20 million in 2018 to $15 million the following year to $12 million in its final year of 2020. And of course he’ll have to deal with retaining the stud pitchers.
Yet with both the blueprint and the foundation for success already in place, John Ricco or J.P. Ricciardi or whoever replaces Alderson should be walking into a good situation. That is unless the Mets win the World Series in 2016 & 2017, setting up unreal expectations. But we’ll call that a good problem to have.