When the off-season started, there was a lot of speculation about how much money the Mets had available for free agency and how they would choose to spend that cash. Many people looked at the various weaknesses of the team and advocated for a “spread the wealth” approach where the squad would seek to fill several holes with players who would not attract top salaries. Some wanted to spend the majority of money on a particular position. Nearly everyone hoped that the club would add some pitching, as there seemed to be a nice collection of free agent talent available at various prices.
The Mets opted to spend most of their money to import a big bat. By far, the richest contract given out by the club this year was to Jason Bay, who the team hopes will essentially replace the production that Carlos Delgado provided for the 2008 squad. Aside from that, nearly all of the moves made by the Mets were low dollar transactions, mostly to address the bullpen, bench and catching position.
It is easy for critics to take the contracts that players signed for elsewhere and say that the Mets should have gone for the “spread the wealth” approach. Some point out that the Mets could have gotten Bengie Molina, Adam LaRoche, Orlando Hudson and Mike Cameron and still had money left over for a pitcher compared to the money that the Mets spent on the players they did (along with what they allegedly offered to Joel Pineiro). This would have had the added benefit, critics like to point out, of not having a likely $65 million in expenditures to Bay clogging up future payroll.
The big point people are missing is if the Mets were in play for these players, the cost of their contracts would have gone up. Also, there is no guarantee that these players had any interest in playing for New York, either. We know that Molina would not have signed the deal he did with the Giants because the Mets offered him a one-year deal with a vesting option and he turned it down, only to sign a one-year deal with San Francisco.
But that point aside, what would have been better for the team – pooling the majority of available cash in one marquee player or spreading the wealth around among several different options? Fortunately, we will have a chance in real life to see how the “spread the wealth” plan could have worked for the Mets, as that is exactly what Brian Sabean and the Giants opted to do this offseason.
While the Mets added a big slugger in Bay and made a bunch of smaller moves, the Giants went for several players, signing Molina, Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. Additionally, San Francisco extended Freddy Sanchez on a two-year deal in what was essentially a free agent-type contract. The Giants acquired Sanchez at the trading deadline last year and held a club option for 2010. His new contract calls for less money in 2010 ($6 million versus $8 million). We can even throw in Juan Uribe here, as San Francisco re-signed him to a one-year, $3.25 million deal.
The Giants spent more than the minimum to fill catcher (Molina), first base (Huff), second base (Sanchez), left field (DeRosa) and super sub (Uribe). In total, they allocated $34.75 million to these players, with $22.75 million due this year and $6 million apiece in 2011 to DeRosa and Sanchez.
Clearly, these are not the same exact players that the Mets would have targeted had the organization gone for a “spread the wealth” plan this offseason. But what the Giants assembled is not unrealistic of what to expect to end up with when you look to sign multiple players on short-term deals. Plus, it is hard to imagine the Mets doing much better, coming off a losing year and having a somewhat questionable reputation as a desirable landing spot for free agents this offseason.
If Bay produces over the next several seasons like he did for the Red Sox in 2009, most Mets fans will probably be happy with the signing. Hopefully the existing options at the other positions justify the team’s faith, making the decision to pool the free agent dollars for Bay look even better. And even though it is not a perfect match for what the Mets might have done otherwise, the Giants will at least give an indication of how it might have worked out if the Mets had “spread the wealth” this offseason.
As for the Giants, this is standard operating procedure. Following the 2003 season, Sabean turned down the chance to add Vladimir Guerrero to a team that already had Barry Bonds. Instead, he spent the money on numerous players. Here’s how he justified the decision in a chat on MLB.com:
shaundarbie: Did you ever make an offer for Vladimir Guerrero?
Sabean: In a word: No. If we had signed Guerrero or [Gary] Sheffield, we would have been without [Jim] Brower, [Scott] Eyre, [Matt] Herges, [Dustin] Hermanson, [Brett] Tomko, [A.J.] Pierzynski, Feliz, [J.T.] Snow, [Jeffrey] Hammonds, [Dustan] Mohr and Tucker — obviously not being able to field a competitive team, especially from an experience standpoint, given our level of spending.
Guerrero went on to post a 5.6 WAR season in 2004. He followed that up with a 5.1 season in 2005, both marks significantly better than what the Giants got from any of the numerous players Sabean opted for instead. I like Bay’s chances to out-produce any of the players the Giants signed this season and am confident that the total WAR of Bay plus what the Mets field in the other positions outperforms what the Giants get from the same spots.