Following a flurry of trades and signings at the annual Winter Meetings in Orlando, FL, the Mets walked away with a new middle reliever. Fans are understandably disappointed (okay, furious in some cases) as the team clearly has some glaring holes that need to be filled following the mid-late season salary dump of six veteran players. Chief among them are a leadoff hitter and a #5 hitter to protect Yoenis Cespedes in the lineup. Ideally those two also occupy center or right field, second or third base, and really super ideally, one of them can also play first base if needed. This could be achieved by a smart front office if they a) had a stockpile of minor league prospects (we don’t) or b) had a significant amount of money to spend (we may not).
The Mets began the 2017 season with a $155 million payroll, which ranked them 11th or 12th among all major league teams (neck and neck with the Mariners depending on where you look). That would be fine if we were a mid-market team from, say, Seattle, but this is the Big Apple, home to Citi Field and its $30 parking passes and $11 cans of Budweiser, not to mention our cross-town rival Yankees who spend money like the Real Housewives of New Jersey on a European vacation. As last season was winding down, talk turned to preparing for 2018 and GM Sandy Alderson tried to justify his salary dumps of valuable veteran players for a station wagon full of marginal minor league relievers, he led the media and fans to believe he’d have in the neighborhood of $30 million to spend this off-season. Thus far we’ve spent $7 million, while kicking the tires on a number of hitters ranging from washed up hasbeens to 30-somethings with something left to give. Do we really have $23 million left to spend or is that a miscalculation? How did we all arrive at that number?
Let’s do the math.
As it stands this team has exactly two expensive players under contract for this season – Cespedes ($29 million) and David Wright ($20 milllion), plus another three under contract – Asdrubal Cabrera ( $8.25 million), Jerry Blevins ($7 million) and Juan Lagares ($6.5 million). That totals $60.75 million. Tack on projected arbitration salaries for Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, Wilmer Flores, Jacob deGrom, Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Hansel Robles totaling $42.4 million (based on Cot’s formula which is often a little high) and another 10 players on rookie contracts totaling about $6 million and that brings us to about $119 million, or $36 million below where we started last year. Tack on $5 million for those ridiculous deferred salaries for Bobby Bonilla, Brett Saberhagen and Carlos Beltran, and while we’re at it, let’s subtract $15 of the $20 million owed to Wright as insurance will likely pick up that tab. That brings us to $109 million. Now add $7 million back for our big Winter Meetings acquisition, Anthony Swarzak, and we stand somewhere in the neighborhood of $116 million, $39 million below where we started last season.
$39 million should be enough to sign two impact players from among the second tier of remaining free agent fits – Jay Bruce, Lorenzo Cain, Todd Frazier, et al. with a few bucks left for another useful arm. So there are two plausible explanations for Alderson poking around in the clearance section – A) the Mets’ ownership is looking to cut payroll and move from the middle of the pack to the bottom third with no real hope or plan to be competitive this season or B) it’s a tactic to wait out the market and Alderson will pleasantly surprise Mets fans with shrewd moves to make us competitive again. Given that this window of arbitration talent will soon be closing as will this period of sharing a division with three rebuilding teams, let’s cross our fingers that the answer is B.