On Tuesday the website MLB Trade Rumors (MLBTR) released their annual arbitration projections. This is the seventh year they’ve done it and while not exact, it gives us an excellent estimate of what players will get if they go through the process. Of course, the Mets typically settle with their players before arbitration, which can certainly influence their salary.
Last year, the Mets had 10 arbitration-eligible players. They settled with nine of them, with only Wilmer Flores going through the process. He became the first Met to have his salary determined through the process since Oliver Perez in 2008. In arbitration, the player files for one salary and the club another and the three-person panel hears arguments and picks a winner. The result is final; there is no appeal.
Flores won his arbitration case, landing a salary of $2.2 million. The Mets had filed a figure of $1.8 million. It’s a bit surprising they weren’t able to settle, especially given the Mets’ long history of avoiding the process. Of course, we don’t know what numbers both sides were talking about before arbitration. It’s certainly possible Flores’ camp was asking for $3 million and the Mets were offering $1.2 million. Part of the arbitration rules state that previous bargaining is not admissible evidence during the hearing.
Here’s what MLBTR had for its estimates in 2017 for Mets players who were arbitration-eligible and what they ended up being paid last year. The players are listed in order of service time, going from most to fewest. And all dollar figures are in millions. Recall that only Flores went through the process. The rest were settled before the hearing.
The surprising numbers belong to Reed and Familia, who both settled for significantly less than the MLBTR estimate. It could be that the model doesn’t do a particularly good job on relievers. Or it could be that the unknown factor of each of their roles coming into the year due to Familia’s likely suspension had both relievers’ camps unsure. Or it could just be a coincidence that the two that were off the most were both relievers.
With that in mind, here are the estimates for the 2018 salaries for arbitration-eligible Mets. Again, players are listed in order of service time and dollar figures are in millions:
It’s hard to imagine the Mets tendering Aoki. Milone seems like a long shot, too. And it’s up for debate if the Mets would be interested in bringing back Robles for a seven-figure salary. But that leaves a minimum of eight players that the Mets have to either settle with or go to arbitration.
The 2017 salary estimates totaled $43.325 million while the actual expenditure by the Mets on those 10 players was $38.9 million or 90 percent of the estimated cost. If we apply that same discount to the eight MLBTR estimates for 2018, we get the Mets on the hook for $38.34 million.
We know the Mets have very few long-term contracts already on the books. There’s Yoenis Cespedes at $29 million, David Wright at $20 million and Juan Lagares at $6.5 million. If we add those three players to the discounted total of the MLBTR estimates for eight guys, that brings us to $93.84 million. But there are also two club options that the team is likely to pick up. Jerry Blevins at $7 million and Asdrubal Cabrera at $8.5 million. Adding those two in and we’re at $109.34 million.
Depending on how you view Wright, that’s the salary for 12/13 players on the Opening Day roster.
No one knows what the 2018 Opening Day payroll will be. Last year it was $154,437,460 and Sandy Alderson indicated that he went above what was originally forecasted to reach that number. Coming off a year where they didn’t make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine that number going up. The most likely outcome is that it will go down. Let’s say $150 million for a nice round number, knowing full well that might be optimistic.
That leaves roughly $40 million to fill 11 or 12 slots. Now a great many of these will be at or near the major league minimum of $545,000, so that helps the crunch. The starting first baseman, shortstop and one outfielder, the backup catcher, at least one backup infielder and backup outfielder and at least two relievers. But not knowing the roles of players makes it hard to get much firmer than that. Is Flores a starter or reserve? Same question for Lagares. What are the roles for Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman? Are the injured starters ready to open the season or will they require a DL stint, meaning another player – and salary – has to be added to the equation?
Since we’re optimists here, let’s say that all of the injured players besides Wright are ready to go on Opening Day. Furthermore, let’s say that Lagares is a starter and Flores is a reserve. That leaves the following players at or near minimum wage:
Assigning those nine each a salary of $550,000 brings us to $114.29 million for 21 players. Or roughly $36 million for four spots – two relievers, an outfielder and either a 2B or 3B, depending on where they play Cabrera.
Now you can certainly make different assumptions but they’re not going to make the numbers any more favorable unless you make Flores a starter or decline the options on Blevins and/or Cabrera. And if you have the Mets in the market for a starting pitcher, that only makes it tougher.