Last weekend, the Mets signed John Lannan and Omar Quintanilla to minor league deals. Other than that, it has been a fairly quiet month for the Mets, after their early off-season acquisitions of Chris Young, Curtis Granderson, and Bartolo Colon. The main story involving the Mets right now is their somewhat passive pursuit of shortstop Stephen Drew. The common opinion is that the Mets are interested in Drew on a short-term deal, and are willing to go no more than two years. Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, is shopping his client, hoping to land a longer-term deal. And there’s always the possibility that Drew might return to the Red Sox, even on a one or two-year deal.
The Mets, reports say, like Drew, “but only to a point”. There could be a few reasons for this. The most likely is that the Mets see the opportunity to land a better shortstop in the next year or two, hence their reluctance to go beyond two years for Drew. Next year’s shortstop free-agent class (for now) includes Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Yunel Escobar. There’s a fair chance that some or all of these players may not become free agents. Looking at the list, other than Ramirez, this list of possible free agents lacks star power.
The Mets could hope to trade for an impact shortstop in the next year or two, but players such as Troy Tulowitzski (a name commonly mentioned) will be expensive, both in players needed to go the other way and salary.
Another reason the Mets may be hesitating on a multiple-year deal with Drew is the development of internal candidates to take the shortstop position. Gavin Cecchini is the organization’s best prospect at the position, but he is still a few years away, having ascended only as high as Brooklyn. Then there’s the third reason the Mets may be slow to sign Drew, the financial situation.
The Mets’ payroll for 2014 is currently projected at around $86M. Signing Drew would likely push that figure close to $100M for 2014.
We don’t know if the Mets are or are not willing to go that high. Whether or not they should is a topic for another discussion. However, it is reasonable to assume that the payroll is a factor in the Mets’ thinking, given the recent difficulties they’ve had in that area. This brings the discussion to whether or not the $86 million is being allocated as well as it could be. The Mets will be paying Bartolo Colon $10 million in 2014, hoping that the 41-year-old will come close to his 2013 production of 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA. If he does (and rumor is that he may start opening day), then the $10 million would be money well spent. However, if he does not, Sandy Alderson will be open to questions about why he chose to invest in Colon, when starting pitching (even without Matt Harvey) is the team’s strength.
The Mets could have given Rafael Montero or Jacob deGrom s a shot at the 2014 rotation. These guys may not be ready, but many argued that Dwight Gooden was not ready in 1984, and we all know what he did. Would it have been better to go with an internal candidate (backed up by Carlos Torres) and allocate the $10 million to a shortstop upgrade?
The way it stands now, Ruben Tejada will be the starting shortstop this year. Tejada’s struggles in 2013 have been well documented. His .202 average and .259 OBP were accumulated over 208 at-bats, slightly less 20% of his career. Tejada has a career UZR of 1.1, suggesting that he is an average fielder to go along with his offensive statistics.
The primary concern with Tejada is the limitation of his baseball skills (he neither hits for power nor runs well). Teams will often remain patient with a struggling player in whom they see the skills for him to develop and thrive. Does Tejada warrant such patience? Stephen Drew is not an elite shortstop. However, his 2013 slash line of .253/.333/.443, 13 home runs, and 5.3 UZR would be a significant upgrade. The Mets are aware of this, yet seem unwilling to budge and offer Drew a multiple-year deal.
We can only speculate on why the Mets are taking a hard line on Drew. There may be a trade in the works, or perhaps they’re holding out hope that Tejada can revert to his 2012 form (.289 average). However, if finances are driving their position, time will tell if they have allocated their resources wisely.
Would you have spent $10 million on Colon, or used that money to seek an upgrade at shortstop?