Mets Have Payroll Concerns Already
On October 29, 2010, in the wake of the Madoff scandal, Sandy Alderson took over as the Mets General Manager. Alderson inherited a team with some big stars like Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, and David Wright. With that he also inherited a team who finished the 2010 season with a hefty $126 million payroll, which ranked sixth in the major leagues. Due to some backloaded contracts reaching their expiration, the 2011 Opening Day payroll was actually inflated to $143 million.
Alderson went to work dismantling a team that was disappointing on the field in what was the beginning of a real rebuilding process. Luis Castillo was released before the season started. Oliver Perez was not too far behind him. Getting rid of the underperforming players the fans hated was the easy part. The hard part was what ensued.
The Mets first traded Francisco Rodriguez, who was getting dangerously close to having an expensive $17.5 million option vest. Then he traded Carlos Beltran for Zack Wheeler. Surprisingly, Alderson didn’t trade Jose Reyes, who was the National League leader in batting average. Instead, he would let Reyes become a free agent, and he would recoup a draft pick when Reyes signed a $106 million contract with the Marlins.
And just like that what was once a $143 million payroll became a $95 million payroll in a little more than a year. In subsequent years, the Mets would let Johan Santana‘s contract expire and not reinvest the money. They would release Jason Bay, and again re-invest the money. Then the Mets would shop R.A. Dickey after he won the Cy Young Award. They obtained Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arnaud in exchange for him which was a sure sign the Mets were more invested in rebuilding than contending.
It was also a sign that the Mets were cash strapped due to the Madoff scandal. The payroll would reach its nadir in 2o14 when it was actually $85 million, which ranked 21st in the major leagues. A bewildered and frankly angry fan base was left wondering when, if ever, the Wilpons were going to permit the Mets to have a payroll commensurate with their standing as a big market major league franchise.
Now, over the past two seasons, the Mets payroll has gone from $85 million in 2014 to $101 million to start the 2015 season. In that offseason, the Mets actually went out and signed Michael Cuddyer to help them become a more complete team. When Cuddyer faltered and David Wright would suffer from spinal stenosis, the Mets made moves and added payroll. The team first traded for Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe (even if the Braves paid part of their salary). The Mets then acquired Yoenis Cespedes and what was a left of his $10.5 million contract. In 2015, the Mets spent a little more, but more importantly they spent what they needed to spend to compete.
In 2016, the Mets initially put out signs they were not moving off their roughly $100 million payroll when they signed Alejandro De Aza to platoon with Juan Lagares in center. It was perceived as a sign the Mets were not going to spend; it was a sign they were not willing to go the extra mile to get Cespedes. But then something happened. Cespedes didn’t find that massive deal on the free agent market. Instead, he re-signed with the Mets for $27.5 million in 2016. After 2016, Cespedes had the option to opt out of the remaining two years $47.5 million left on his contract.
With the Mets paying Cespedes a hefty salary to start the season, the Mets Opening Day payroll rose all the way to $135 million. Before Cespedes was re-signed, there was some doubt about whether it was really the insurance on Wright’s contract that allowed them to make those in-season moves, the re-signing of Cespedes calmed down a fan base that worried when or if the Mets would be willing to spend. Better yet, when the Mets had some issues scoring runs, they went out and traded for Jay Bruce.
Surprisingly now, we are back at the point of wondering if the Mets are willing to spend. The $135 million payroll was a positive step, but it is still less than the first payroll Alderson had with the Mets, and it was only ranked 15th in the majors. Cespedes is a free agent, and no one is quite sure if the Mets will re-sign him, look to acquire a big name free agent like Jose Bautista, or if they are going to stick with the Michael Conforto–Curtis Granderson-Bruce outfield. The Mets also have a number of other areas to address this offseason.
The first step was Neil Walker accepting the $17.2 million qualifying offer. With that, according to ESPN‘s Adam Rubin, the Mets current payroll obligations are $124 million. That is just $10 million under what the 2015 Opening Day Payroll was. If the Mets were to re-sign Cespedes, or another big name free agent, the payroll is going to go well past the $135 million mark.
The problem is the Mets need to go even further than that. Not only do they need Cespedes, or a reasonable facsimile, they also need to re-sign Jerry Blevins and Fernando Salas, or again, a reasonable facsimile thereof. The Mets may also want to add another backup catcher given Travis d’Arnaud‘s injury concerns, Rene Rivera‘s lack of offense, and Kevin Plawecki having two disappointing seasons. The Mets may also want to sign a veteran starter considering the health issues of their rotation and Bartolo Colon having signed with the Braves this past week. There’s a lot the Mets need to address here, and it isn’t likely that $10 million is going to cover all of it.
So again, we are back at the point of wondering how far the Mets are willing to go to compete. Will they have a payroll in the upper half of all of baseball? Do they have the funds to spend like a big market club? At this point, no one knows the answers to these questions. While Mets fans may be apprehensive, it is too soon to to pass judgment. That time will come when we see how the Mets handle the Cespedes situation.