The 2020 Mets are boxed in by their current payroll

It’s never fun to write about the Mets’ payroll. So, let’s get all of the vitriol out of the way early. The Wilpons are cheap. They charge New York prices and run a Jacksonville payroll. They’re a bunch of shortsighted people who don’t understand that you have to spend money to make money. They should invest all of the insurance money they receive for injured players back into payroll. They don’t care about winning. They might as well sell the team and pocket the two billion or so they would make so the fans can get real owners in. That should about cover things, right?

Now that our little tantrum is over, let’s face reality. Given the team’s recent payroll numbers, the Mets are in a bind already with committed salaries and projected arbitration raises producing an Opening Day payroll about $10 million above last year’s mark, which set a record for the highest payroll in franchise history. And that’s before factoring in any free agent signings or pre-arb players to fill out the 25-man roster.

Prior to the Bernie Madoff scandal, the Mets payroll was among the tops in MLB. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the source for all payroll numbers in this article, the Mets’ year-end payroll ranked in the top five for seven consecutive years, never falling below fourth highest. In 2009, the year they moved into Citi Field, they had the second-highest payroll in the league.

Then came the belt tightening. The 2010 and 2011 payrolls were still high, mostly due to long-term contracts that the team could not move. But starting in 2012, the Mets ran Opening Day (OD) payrolls for three consecutive seasons that fell under $100 million. After being second in year-end payroll in ’09, they fell to 21st in 2014.

Since then, we’ve seen a rise in raw dollars spent, with an increase in year-end rank, too, although not back to the pre-Madoff days. OD payroll jumped nearly $17 million from 2014 to 2015, nearly $34 million from 2015 to 2016, over $19 million from 2016 to 2017 and has remained somewhat stable the past three seasons. The year-end payroll for 2018, the last one available at Cot’s, had the Mets with the 13th-highest mark in the majors.

The 2019 OD payroll was $158,652,231. In 2017 the number was $154.4 million and the 2018 number was $150.6 million. It’s certainly possible that Brodie Van Wagenen was promised a payroll bump for the 2020 season. But we see that the biggest bump came the year after they made the World Series in 2015. And the Mets didn’t even make the playoffs in 2019.

Cot’s has the total money due to players under contract at $128,517,000 and that includes the $3.75 million coming from the Mariners as part of the Robinson Cano deal. The Mets have 10 players available for free agency but hopefully Joe Panik and Paul Sewald will be non-tendered or given minimum-type deals. Still, that’s at least $40 million more in arbitration with only 15 or 16 – depending upon what they do with Sewald – players under contract. Right now it’s unknown what the minimum MLB salary will be in 2020. Last year it was $555,000 and the current CBA has cost-of-living increases for 2020 and 2021. Let’s say the minimum is $575,000 next year. If we fill the final 10 spots with minimum salary guys, the Mets OD payroll currently sits at $174,267,000 – or a jump of $15.6 million from last year’s franchise-record for payroll.

So, forget re-signing Zack Wheeler or importing Anthony Rendon. Nothing that adds $20 million to the payroll is a realistic expectation at this point in time. Could that happen? Sure, it’s a possible outcome but in a Lloyd Christmas, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance!” type of way. At one point, we were expecting a drop of $30 million for 2018 OD payroll and it ended up being almost the same as the one in 2017. So unexpected things have happened in the recent past.

Perhaps the way this happens is if the Mets tender the Qualifying Offer (QO) to Wheeler in order to get a compensatory draft pick and Wheeler decides he doesn’t want to sit out half the year and takes the deal. The QO is the average of the top 125 salaries in the game. Last year it was $17.9 million and it was extended to seven free agents. Two of those were unable to come to terms with a new team until after the MLB draft, when no draft pick compensation was required.

But one would think that the Mets and Wheeler have discussed this matter already and both sides know what to expect. We shall see.

Another way the Mets could add another high salary would be if they could swing a deal and get some salary relief. No, no one’s trading for Cano. But perhaps arbitration-eligible guys like Michael Conforto or Noah Syndergaard could be dealt for prospects or pre-arb guys to free up some payroll. Not quite a Lloyd Christmas scenario but still one not likely to happen unless the Mets get overwhelmed with the return.

So, it looks like the Mets will have to find a cheap way to replace Wheeler’s 195.1 innings. Like, say, if they still had Justin Dunn, who got his feet wet in the majors last year with four starts. Of course, if they still had Dunn, they wouldn’t have Cano’s $21 million plus on the docket and they could make a competitive offer for Wheeler. And they could see that stud center fielder fewer than two years from the majors coming, too.

18 comments for “The 2020 Mets are boxed in by their current payroll

  1. October 1, 2019 at 9:55 am

    Brian you know I’ve been complaining about this throughout the year. I’ve given this some thought so here goes. The same way the Mets traded for Cano and Diaz as a package they must seek out a partner to take both. Addition by subtraction. Second package Cespedes and D.Smith the same way. This frees up 55 million or so more than enough to sign FA ‘s Rendon and Cole.

  2. CrazyMetsFan
    October 1, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Respectfully disagree.

    You are forgetting the massive amount of money they got from Cespedes injury. Probably 75% of his salary.

    He doesn’t even have a spot on this team anymore. Jeff says they still count it towards total payroll, but this team can win next year if they spend. And winning = money. If he doesn’t realize that, he’s a moron.

    Why would you trade Syndergaard when his value is at a pretty much all time low? The return they get for him would be paltry and he’s needed in the rotation.

    Conforto is one of the most underrated hitters in the NL. Sure his average doesn’t look nice, but his OPS is .857. His 126 wRC+ was good for top 20 in the NL. That put him ahead of Bryce, Blackmon, Trea Turner, and a bunch of other guys.

    How about trading higher value guys, like Wilson Ramos. He can hit, but the pitchers clearly don’t like pitching to him. Also, you could trade Ramos and save the salary which would free up money for Wheeler.

    If Wheeler signs for 5/75, which is about what most people peg him at, i say do it. He’s a good value signing and would make an excellent 3/4.

  3. Rob
    October 1, 2019 at 11:13 am

    Dont disagree but what team takes those packages? Who thought Diaz would be this bad and after all the time out what does Cespedes have to offer. I dont see anyone taking cano after year he had.

  4. Mike W
    October 1, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    Ship out Lowerie. That’s 10 mil. I’d say ship out Ramos too. But, then we need a catcher.

  5. Chris F
    October 1, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    And when reality sets in, out goes sanity…

    As you know, this has been a concern of mine here for some time as 2020 silly season antics approach.

    The reality is dead on. Its so dead on, I dont even see the Mets in play for managers like Maddon or Girardi, who gonna run 5+M$ a year.

    The Mets have not, and will not sink insurance money back into the team. These are sunk costs regardless of the insurance. Furthermore, insurance is not free. It is also necessary to consider the debt load on Citi Field, which is a massive financial drain according to plenty of articles. My guess is that any recovered costs from insurance returned to Sterling Mets goes right into servicing debt load.

    Baseball Ref has the 2020 situation of guaranteed, arb, and Others (needed to fill 25 man roster) contracts sitting at 184M$. Its 188M$ if they choose to exercise options (unlikely). In any event lets call the OD payroll at 180M$ fixed this moment. Thats reality.

    The team will need some flexibility for mid season acquisitions. Lux tax limit for 2020 is 208M$. I dont think theres any chance the team even approaches that for OD payroll. I think you are looking at maybe 10M$ in FA breathing room. Any changes are gonna be bad for bad contracts, rule 5 pick ups, and low level trades.

    Blondie said it best as Brian quite rightly points out. Folks are “Dreaming” if you think Cano or Ces are trade-able. No team would be stupid enough. Smith isnt Pete Alonso, and Ces may not even be able to play.

    If you think 2020 looks grim, wait til you see what 2022 has in store when all the arb contracts blow up, on top of Cano and deGrom.

    When people say send off so-and-so, theres some intrinsic belief that there is a team willing to eat dollar for dollar the signed contract.

    Send out Lowrie? Youre gonna eat 95% of that
    Ces? Might as well outright, as no team would pay a dollar
    Ramos? 50%

  6. October 1, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    What about Noah and Cano to SD for Myers and Morejon?

    • October 1, 2019 at 2:26 pm

      The odds that Cano gets dealt are worse than Lloyd Christmas ones. Even if you somehow found another sucker willing to take him, Cano has a full no-trade clause that he allegedly was only willing to waive to go to New York.

      • October 1, 2019 at 3:53 pm

        oh haha…..I guess its welcome back, Cano!

  7. TJ
    October 1, 2019 at 4:10 pm

    Well, I lean more towards the Chris F take, and like everyone else, I am an addicted payroll manager. So, anyone even hinting at trading Cano, Cespedes, Familia, or Lowrie should have their head examined. Not that it couldn’t happen, although Cano and Cespedes have no trade clauses, but because if they did manage a deal they’d have to take back dead money too.

    All that being said, I don’t see them quite as hamstrung as most do. Yes, there are problems and holes, but less holes than last year. Additionally, as we saw in last offseason’s bullpen market, spending is generally not the answer (Kimbrel, Kelly, Robertson, Familia, etc.). Our shiny GM now has a year under his belt. Given their assets, both in personnel and some payroll, there is a formula to add 5-7 wins. They just need to figure it out. The correct addition of two quality arms could do it.

  8. NYM6986
    October 1, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    Don’t see us as that hamstrung. Do not sign Lagares or Frazier. Move Familia if you can. Fill in some better BP arms – if you can find any – and hope Cepedes comes back. His impact bat throws them over the top. Otherwise spend the money on Rendon. Win games and increase the attendance and it pays for the increased salary. Why is that such a hard concept? Add 5,000 to each home game at an average of $100 for tix and concessions adds $40.5 million to revenue. 2020 will be bright!!

    • Chris F
      October 1, 2019 at 8:47 pm

      The Nats offered Rendon 30M$/yr AAV today. Id make a friendly wager that Rendon wont be a Met for any reason, at any cost.

    • Mike W
      October 1, 2019 at 10:01 pm

      I want a starter and relievers. Forget Rendon.

      Let’s see what BVW can do. I bet not too much.

      If Callaway is canned, we will see into the crystal ball if 2020 when we see who the next manager is.

  9. Rich
    October 1, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    I’m not a Cano guy. I’ve tried to warm to him because no one can question his professionalism or commitment to the team. He has become a leader to a lot of the younger players. Taking the lead doesn’t make necessarily make you a good leader but that’s not the point here. The point is a 25 million dollar bad contract is something only a few teams can eat and we’re not one if them. And when you cant eat it you get the exact situation the author has mentioned. I’ll pile on with:

    Had the closer worked out they’d be in the playoffs. But now he may be damaged beyond repair and has no value.

    Had you just not included him in the Cano deal you’d still have Kelanic and the deal wouldn’t look so bad.

    On the bright side Alonso and McNeil basically fell out of the sky. No one could have predicted their impact 18 months ago and where would the Mets be without them?

  10. October 2, 2019 at 7:30 am

    This payroll news is not good. I don’t see the Mets adding any significant parts via free agency, but maybe a couple via trades. Teams will call and call on Thor, but Mets need the arm if Wheeler goes and should not sell low on him. Dom Smith is a nice player and a good personality on the team, but is an attractive piece for someone else to start him. Packaging Familia and Dom to maybe the Rays for good BP arm and CF, possibly ? Cespedes, Lowrie, Cano, those are all bad contracts that put the team in a bad place. If the Mets can get a BP piece like Will Smith via FAgency and another good player or two by trading Dom and Familia, it may be as good as it gets. Switching catchers Ramos for Grandal would be ideal, but doubt it happening. Grandal has put himself in position for a big payday and what could Mets get for Ramos right now ? The 5 to 6 more wins Mets need will have to come from inside / organically somehow…new manager ? Matz steady improvement ? More of JD Davis ? Righted up Diaz ? Amazing Cano turnaround ? Dreamin….dreamin’ is free.

  11. TexasGusCC
    October 3, 2019 at 12:17 am

    Why is everyone complaining about Cespedes? Last year in a 1/4 of the season without any leg strength, he had a .821 OPS and has been above .800 since coming to New York. There are other excess pieces as well, like Lowrie and Dom Smith. Smith is not a left fielder; trade him for Jackie Bradley, or keep Nimmo in CF and trade Smith for something else. Trade Lowrie; he’s 36 and coming off an injured season. Literally!

    P.S.: Cespedes has a no-trade clause too! Good luck.

    • October 3, 2019 at 8:20 am

      Why is everyone complaining about Ces? Since he signed his current contract he’s played 119 out of a possible 486 games

      • Chris F
        October 3, 2019 at 11:35 am

        Indeed. what a fabulous ROI. That’s 25% of games!!!

        Lowrie has as much trade value as Jason Bay did.

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