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.