Recently, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, for the first time in years, met with reporters and willingly answered questions about payroll. The younger Wilpon essentially towed the company line that not everything is about having one of the top payrolls in the league. Additionally, he stated that the payroll for the 2018 club was not set in stone, with the New York Post’s Mike Puma quoting him as saying, “It’s an ongoing dialogue.”
This essentially confirms what we’ve known for a while now, that the budget is flexible. When we first heard this news back in the height of the Bernie Madoff controversy, it was presented as if the owners would change their minds on a whim, deciding one day the budget was XX and the next week it would either go up or down (depending on nothing seemingly baseball-related) to YY, instead.
Now, in at least this offseason and last, it seems like the owners establish a payroll level but are open to the idea of spending more, if the GM and others in the baseball department can make a convincing case on why they should. Last year the budget was exceeded so the club could bring back Yoenis Cespedes. Perhaps this year they can be convinced to up the bar if the price on, say, Jake Arrieta falls to an acceptable level.
The knee-jerk reaction is to claim that everything that the Wilpons do is bad. But let’s try to look at this objectively. Let’s take the Mets and the Wilpons out of the equation and look at this style of management in different scenarios, starting with non-baseball ways.
Let’s say you’re a teenager again. The parents of Kid A have established that his curfew is 11 p.m. and if he breaks curfew, even for a time as little as five minutes, he’ll be punished. Meanwhile, the parents of Kid B have established a 10:00 p.m. curfew. However, if the child comes to the parents on a case-by-case basis, the curfew can be adjusted. If there’s a dance that’s going to run past 10, he can ask for an extended curfew. Or, if a known child with pre-approved parents is having a party, the kid can seek an extension so he doesn’t have to be the first one to leave.
Which is better – the firm guideline with no flexibility or the earlier deadline with allowances for special circumstances?
Okay, you’re an adult again. You have two job offers on the table. The first one requires you to be in your office at 9 a.m. every morning, no exceptions. The second one wants you to be in at 8:30 a.m. but makes allowances for doctor appointments, bad weather or child care emergencies – provided you give your boss some advance notice.
Which offer would you take, assuming all other things were equal?
Let’s say you’re a general manager of a baseball club. The owner of Club A gives you a set payroll, regardless of what your current roster is and how many additions you have to make or which players may be available. Club B gives you a lower payroll but if you can make the case – because of circumstances – why you need more, he can be convinced.
In a vacuum, it seems like most would pick option B in each of the three above scenarios. Assuming that’s true, it means we would value the flexibility and the ability to have input into the decisions over a better initial starting point.
Of course, turning back to the Wilpons, some will never accept anything other than a top three payroll, like it’s a divine right bestowed by the creator. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to imagine the current version of the Mets operating with a budget on par with the Dodgers and Yankees, even if Sandy Alderson was so convincing that he could sell snow to Eskimos.
If you’re one of those “divine right” people, nothing anyone says is going to change your mind. No doubt you’re going to say something about paying New York prices and that entitles you to feel this way, regardless if you’re a season ticket holder or not.
Or maybe you’ll take the position that the best way to make money is to spend money. That’s a much more reasonable viewpoint, so long as the things you are spending money on are, you know, worth spending on. Is Eric Hosmer worth more than the $140 million he’s allegedly already turned down? My answer would be a resounding no.
For the benefit of anyone who may not be clear on the subject, my opinion is that the Mets’ payroll should be higher than it was last year. But there’s a difference in “should be higher” and “woefully inadequate if not on par with the Yankees.” There’s a distinction to be made between spending money and spending money wisely. Just because Jonathan Lucroy was good in 2016 doesn’t mean he’s worth signing to an eight-figure contract in 2018.
My view is that a payroll with a lower baseline but one that is flexible if circumstances are right forces financial discipline that is, quite frankly, much needed in the industry. Again, in case anyone is unclear, my view is that the baseline for the Mets should be higher than it is now. But that’s said from a fan without access to detailed financial statements from the Wilpons, either for the Mets or the rest of their business holdings.
Back in 2010, I wrote an article saying that I wished Nelson Doubleday still owned the Mets. While he passed away in 2015, that sentiment still holds true today. Hopefully the team would have went to a better-funded group or individual than the Wilpons and Sterling Equities once Doubleday passed.
I don’t like the way the Wilpons assumed an equal stake with Doubleday. I don’t like the way they became majority owners. I don’t like the way they partnered with Madoff. I don’t like the decision to build a stadium for the Mets and have it honor the Dodgers. No doubt there are other items on the list of things not to like about the Wilpons.
But the concept of a flexible payroll is simply not one of them. Perhaps this is nothing more than a rejection on my part of totalitarianism. The idea that the owners should deliver a firm payroll with no wiggle room seems … antiquated. The Mets’ flexible payroll encourages smart spending and allows the GM to make the case that this is the right time and the right player to invest in and expand payroll.
Now, if only reporters with access to Alderson could get him to explain his thought process in which players are worth advocating for more payroll and which aren’t – that would be illuminating.
This article is marked with a double-asterisk in the headline, meaning it’s fair game to complain about the payroll and/or the owners. I appreciate how here in the new year everyone has quit complaining about those two things in every thread, regardless if it was on topic or not. But this is the appropriate place for those types of comments. As outlined in the Comment Policy, the double-asterisk is the signal that this is an article where these type of remarks are acceptable.