A glimpse at future Mets payrolls with Robinson Cano

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.

Ouch.

17 comments for “A glimpse at future Mets payrolls with Robinson Cano

  1. Pete from NJ
    December 19, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    Nice cost accounting with future financial decision making from the front office. It really is against modern thinking on how to build a ball club.

    So the team’s strategic thinking with a general manager whose forte in marketing is truly win now, bring in additional revenue and think about 2020 and beyond sometime in the nebulous future.

    A winning team in 2019 changes the conversation. A .500 means a lot of people get fired and of course a lot of sad Met fans.

    • December 19, 2018 at 2:52 pm

      We saw the Mets’ OD payroll jump from $101 million in 2015 to $135 million in 2016 after they made the World Series. Sure would be nice to make win the World Series this year and see a similar bump in next year’s payroll.

  2. Chris F
    December 19, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Nice job Brian. I think we need to have this kind of stuff front an center when discussion “long-term” relationships with anyone.

    Really enjoyed the podcast too. Your best effort at the plate yet! Fun to see you enjoying it.

    And yes, utterly and completely certifiably crazy.

    • December 19, 2018 at 2:56 pm

      Thanks Chris!

      Jon Springer on the podcast tonight, which will be the first one live on Lenny Melnick’s new podcast network. Scheduled for 9:00 and you should be able to listen live here – https://lennymelnickfantasysports.com/recent-posts/live/

      Of course, first time on the new system, so I expect some glitches…

  3. Name
    December 19, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    The trend in the last year or so is that there will also seemingly be a team willing to take on a bad contract.

    Free agents should be keen to ask for full no-trade protection (or partial no trade protection against bigger budget teams) if location is an important factor for them.

  4. TexasGusCC
    December 19, 2018 at 6:39 pm

    A complete breakdown and an outstanding one, however, you left out two details. While Cano does cost $120MM for the duration of his years here, the Mets received $20MM from the Mariners, a top reliever at a large savings and the Mariners took back $22.5MM in salary this year and $14MM next year and allow the Mets to reset their pay structure. Now, I would have kept those two and took a break on the prospects given, but the owners are in it to make lots of money, not listen to those of us without skin in the game. Too, in every deal for a top reliever, two top 100 prospects are usually given. Thus, it wasn’t a terrible deal in some respects.

    If Cano is serviceable at 3B next year, then it’s a good deal even if Kelenic is a stud. If he isn’t, then the Mets made a mistake. If Kelenic isn’t a stud after all and Cano is serviceable, we robbed them.

  5. MattyMets
    December 19, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Really nice analysis Brian and I agree to a point. While the long-term ramifications of the Cano deal are not fiscally prudent, I wouldn’t call it entirely irresponsible for the following reasons:
    1- the trade makes us a better team in the short term. Cano should be a huge upgrade at second for the next two seasons.
    2- the bargain rate for Díaz helps offset Cano’s contract. Kimbrel is looking for 5/100 and he’s in decline and no longer as dominant as Díaz.
    3- If Cano starts to decline we can move him to first or quite possibly DH, if the new CBA shakes out that way in 2021. If his production or health really falls off a cliff, we can give him the Troy Tulowitzki treatment and accept that that’s the cost of doing business.

    The key is for the team to get back to the WS in 2019 and/or 2020. No one gives a crap how much we gave up for Gary Carter because he helped us get a parade.

    • December 20, 2018 at 9:00 am

      1. The team needs to make the World Series in the next two seasons to make the Cano contract and the loss of Kelenic/Dunn palatable
      2. I disagree with this logic 100%. The Mets actively traded for Cano – they wanted him.
      3. With Peter Alonso and Dominic Smith, the Mets shouldn’t be holding a spot at 1B for an old guy. The DH right now is a pipe dream. And the only time the Mets released someone with a huge contract was Jason Bay, and they owed him about what Cano will pull down in one year. Maybe, perhaps, if the stars all align correctly – they’ll eat one year of his contract.

      But all three of those are pretty crappy ways to do business.

      • MattyMets
        December 20, 2018 at 10:41 am

        Brian, you asked for it….
        1- the success of this trade will not only be measured by the results on our side of the deal. So many other variables. What if Kelenic and Dunn flame out and never see the Majors? What if one of them goes on to a HOF career? This trade is a fascinating one that triggered a lot of discussion and will be fun to revisit in five years.
        2-You go to the store to buy ice cream and Capn Crunch. You bring $10, figuring each item costs about $5. When you get to the store you’re shocked to see the really good ice cream is $8, but lo and behold, a box of Capn’ Crunch is just $1.99 with purchase of overpriced ice cream. You leave the store with the two items you wanted and spent what you intended. Also, when the ice cream melts, refreezes and gets all gross and has to be thrown out, you’ll still have the Capn, who will last for years, provided you don’t use him every day and wrap him up tightly between servings. Come on, Brian, who doesn’t love ice cream?
        3-Jason Bay is not the only player the Mets have cut loose while under a large contract. Off the top of my head – Luis Castillo, Ollie Perez, and at least one other reliever. BVW has the Wilpons hypnotized and may have already discussed the possibility. This is a very connected and shrewd guy. He may well possess inside knowledge that the NL DH is a foregone conclusion. There’s also another factor I have not seen brought up yet. With Santana, Wright and now Cespedes the Wilpons seem to have become injury insurance experts. Perhaps there’s a similar policy in the works for Cano? Maybe he had a great big one included with his Seattle contract that carries over with a little wite-out and a few initials.

        • December 20, 2018 at 11:21 am

          1. Trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano was a terrible trade. Now, Kamir didn’t have the career he could have had due in part to injuries. But the fact that Kazmir didn’t turn into a HOFer didn’t make the trade any better. At the time of the deal, Kazmir had so much more trade value than what the Mets got for him. Even the Mets’ GM at the time acknowledges that now. You can’t seriously say that this is the best value the Mets could have received in return for Kelenic in the 2018-19 offseason.

          2. The problem is that the Mets should never have been in the market for Cano because of his age and his contract. Now, if they were so gung-ho on Diaz that they had to take Cano, that would be one thing. But the Mets viewed Cano as an item worth having and worth trading for, not as a cost of doing business to get Diaz. The Mets viewed Cano as – well, I don’t know if he’s Cap’n Crunch or ice cream in your scenario. But they didn’t view him as dog turd.

          3. The amount of money owed the players you listed is nowhere near what the Mets would owe Cano if they released him with multiple years left on his contract. When they cut Castillo they owed him $6 million dollars. The equivalent with Cano is if they cut him on August 15, 2023 – the last year of his contract. They owed Perez $12 million. That would be the equivalent of releasing Cano on June 30th of the final year of his deal.

  6. TJ
    December 19, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Brian,
    Nice analysis. I will say that the Wilpons have created more accountants in the last ten years than the top 100 colleges. These guys, through deceit and doubles speak have the majority of the fanbase and virtually all of the press obsessed over even nickel and dime and where the limit is.

    Once again this offseason we are subject to veiled references and doublespeak. BVW was outmaneuvered financially on the Cano deal. Given the inclusion of Kelenic and the lack of a trade market for Cano, he should have gotten back millions more to protect the Mets financially from those final two seasons. Nonetheless, this is actually the type of behavior that a big market team should exhibit. Looks at the other payrolls on Cots and you’ll see tons of risk down the road.

    We as a group seem to be infatuated with what their cap is this offseason, and Fred and Jeff have actually trained us well…everyone is assuming a payroll of $155 million give or take, and guessing at the insurance offset. Now, given their style, even with the young and handsome frontman Brodie pitching the plan, I will only believe spending when I see it. Of course, spending is no guarantee of assembling a good team, but when done wisely, it is both a way to improve as well as a way to show commitment to paying customers, that are charged top rates.

    What we seem to know is that they are not in the market for either big free agent. Some portion of the fanbase is hoping/wishing they are laying low for Mr. Harper, but given the history that is a long shot at best and perhaps delusional. So, I will say they have had a solid winter so far, overpaying on Cano/Diaz but making prudent signings with Familia and Ramos. From here on is where they can put their money where their mouth is. If Brodie thinks they are a 90+ win team now, and/or the division favorites, he is nuts. If he thinks the Braves and Phillies are done, he is nuts. The need is still there for quality additions to and 5+ more wins. If he does this, and they compete and/or win the division, they will be able to afford a $180-$200 million payroll for the next few seasons, and they will be able to work around the dead money just like the other big boys do. It is no time now to get short arms and bottom feed. Mr. Brodie says he is always aggressive, well let’s see it. Add some talent and push up to the $170 million neighborhood. It still won’t be top 5.

    • TexasGusCC
      December 20, 2018 at 12:38 am

      “I will say that the Wilpons have created more accountants in the last ten years than the top 100 colleges.”

      Awesome line TJ!

  7. Mike Walczak
    December 19, 2018 at 8:35 pm

    I think Van Wags is far from done. I think he has an ace up his sleeve. Center field, maybe. Another reliever, yes. But dont be surprised to see the Mets pick up another starter. Can’t see them starting the season with Vargas as their number five.

  8. December 20, 2018 at 12:06 am

    The Coupons have never reinvested their insurance money back into the team. If they had this years payroll would of been higher, I’m wondering Brian which team(s) have reinvested their BAMTECH money from last year? I don’t think a single team has upped their payroll significantly to reflect that. That’s 50 million in the Coupons pockets to help them pay down their debt not reinvested in the Mets. I’m sure there’s more money available for our new GM. But for what? Pollock? God I hope not. He’s missed 50+ games each of the past two seasons. Trading TDA only saves you 4 million or so.If BVW was going to hit a home run then he just might of well gone after Trout and trade the farm for him. At least there would of been money to sign him to a long term deal.

    • December 20, 2018 at 9:01 am

      If the Mets owners used that money to pay down debt, that would be fine. If they used it to line their pockets and buy a third yacht, then not so much.

    • Name
      December 20, 2018 at 12:45 pm

      You can’t seem to let go of the bamtech money. What did you expect owners to do with it? Spike their payroll $50 mil one year and then bring it back down?

      Businesses aren’t impulsive like human beings. If you find $20 on the street, you may quickly go to the store and buy something with it, but a business that comes upon an unexpected windfall is going to think very hard about how to best utilize the money, and most likely it won’t be to spend it all right away.

  9. December 21, 2018 at 12:22 am

    Which is exactly my point Name. Why then should Met fans expect payroll to go if the team makes the playoffs? That’s an unexpected windfall and did the teams payroll go up? I think not. As I said each team received the money but it went to the owners who will decide how best to utilize their new found wealth. But
    because of our owners cash difficulties in the past I thought (I know unrealistic) just maybe this year the payroll would reflect their new found wealth.

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