The game is trending younger which is why it was disappointing to me to actively trade for Robinson Cano for his age 36-40 seasons. But on top of the age issue is the pay issue. Cano is owed $120 million over those five seasons, with the Mariners sending $20 million to partially offset that huge number. According to Cot’s, the Mets will receive $5 million of that in 2019 and will receive $3.75 million in the remaining four years.
As the Mets face the issue of extending their ace pitchers, having another $20 million contract on the books is not a good thing, assuming payroll doesn’t go up a substantial amount. We’ve heard rumors that the Mets have “significant money” available to spend right now. Maybe they do. But we know that in the recent past it’s always been a bit of a mystery how much money the team has available at any given point. All we can do is go by what actually happens. In 2017, the Mets had an Opening Day payroll of $154.4 million and last year it was $150.6 million. You can think the payroll is going up. But it wouldn’t be remotely prudent to think it’s going up to $180 million.
According to Cot’s, the payroll for the 2019 Mets currently stands at $149.7 million. That’s with the assumption of spending $40 million on seven arbitration-eligible players, $5.75 million on 10 pre-arb players and getting $5 million from the Mariners. It does not include any insurance monies the club may receive from either David Wright or Yoenis Cespedes – those two contracts are included in full. So, maybe they have $10 million for another free agent. But it’s hard to imagine they have the financial room to add either Bryce Harper of Manny Machado. Payroll would have to go up significantly for that to happen.
So, what about future payrolls? In 2020, the Mets have $85.167 million committed (which includes the $3.75 million offset from the Mariners) to four players who will likely be on the team – Cano, Cespedes, Wilson Ramos and Jeurys Familia. That money also includes the final year of Wright’s contract and buyouts to Juan Lagares and Jason Vargas. Comparing 2019 to 2020, the Mets are paying $1 million more to Ramos and $5 million more to Familia. But they are paying $17.5 million fewer dollars to Wright, Lagares and Vargas. Still, that $11.5 million “savings” will quickly be eaten up by arbitration raises to the pitchers, including Edwin Diaz, who will be eligible for arbitration the first time.
Jonathan Papelbon holds the record for the largest arbitration award to a reliever in his first year of eligibility, with a $6.25 million salary. If Diaz comes close to his 2018 numbers with the Mets in 2019, he’ll be in that ballpark for his 2020 salary. Now, the Mets try very hard to avoid going to arbitration with their players. It’ll be interesting to see if they are able to do that with Diaz. And if they do accomplish that feat – will they do it with a long-term deal?
It will also be interesting to see if the Mets work out extensions with any of their big three pitchers. On Monday, it was suggested here that the club do this with Zack Wheeler for the idea of giving him security for cost certainty. Nowhere in the mainstream media has it been indicated that this is under discussion. It may very well be that the Mets are counting on moving on from Wheeler and using the savings elsewhere on the roster. For me personally, it will be difficult to watch Wheeler have success in his prime with another team while we get to watch Cano at the very end of his career. And pay handsomely for the privilege.
So, how will the Mets assemble their team while under tight budgetary restrictions? Generally, you count on big salaries coming off the books at a regular clip to free up money for arbitration raises and free agent signings. The Mets were set up pretty good in this area but the Cano deal is a killer on both ends. Not only did it add a monster contract for five years, it subtracted two mid-size salaries that were expiring in the short term.
Regardless, let’s look at how a team with some big salaries and a recent-Mets-vintage payroll managed to do things. Here are the numbers for the 2011 Phillies, who had 12 players make at least $5 million, including eight who made at least $10 million. And they did this with a $163.9 million payroll. Their top five players combined for $76.5 million (after a Cano-like offset), their next five combined for $51.5 million and their next five received $23.3 million
Here’s the 2020 Mets:
Cespedes – $29.5, Cano $20.25, Wright – $12 – That’s $61.75 million with two players to go. Let’s say $20 million for deGrom and $12 million for Syndergaard. That’s $93.75 million, leaving us $17.25 million above the top Phillies group. Hopefully a buyout with Wright is arranged and his money is truly no longer involved in the payroll calculation.
The next group starts with Familia and Ramos and will likely include Diaz, Michael Conforto and either a Wheeler extension or another FA acquisition. Familia and Ramos combine for $21 million. Let’s give $9 million to Conforto and $6 million to Diaz. That brings us up to $36 million. Add another $9 million to the fifth person and we’re at $45 million, which compares to $51.5 million for the middle Phillies group. We save $6.5 million but that still leaves the team $10.75 million ahead of the top 10 for the Phillies.
The next group will be fronted by Steven Matz – let’s estimate an arb award of $6 million- and Brandon Nimmo (estimated $3 million). Like Nimmo, Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will also be arbitration-eligible for the first time. Let’s say that’s $4 million. Let’s say they sign a low-level FA for $3 million. That brings us to $16 million for the group, which is a savings of $7.3 million compared to the third Phillies group. Overall, that leaves our Mets around $3.5 million above the Phillies.
But there are three other factors to consider. One is that while we’re counting Wright’s money here, he won’t be playing so there’s another salary we have to account for in this comparison. Next, the Mets will have to budget for $2.5 million in buyouts to Lagares and Vargas. And finally, the minimum wage will be higher in 2020 than it was in 2011, when it was $414,000. This coming year the minimum is $555K and it’s unknown what it will be in either 2020 or 2021, when it will be determined with a cost of living adjustment.
It’s going to be tough to match the 2011 Phillies payroll. It’s my feeling that it’s close enough to be feasible but even that is with an OD payroll $10-$15 million or so above the actual Mets’ payroll in 2017. Is that a reasonable assumption? Eh, who knows?
Things become easier in 2021 when Cespedes’ huge salary comes off the books, along with Wright’s deal. And Ramos will be owed a $1.5 million buyout. They’ll still have a bunch of high-dollar arbitration cases, including Amed Rosario for the first time. But they’ll have an extra $40 million, which is nice.
No doubt the money in any extensions for starting pitchers will be backloaded until the Cespedes contract is over. That will undoubtedly be factored into the 2020 payroll, too. But the Mets were in a position to afford extensions for all three pitchers without having to resort to this type of maneuver before taking on Cano’s salary.
And while the Mets are jumping through hoops to make a mid-market payroll work, they’ll be without Justin Dunn, who was likely the guy most able to come in and provide decent innings as a starter at minimum wage. Because Dunn went in the Cano deal, too.