Why The Mets Don’t Need A Fire Sale: A Response to Joel Sherman


A few days ago, Joel Sherman wrote that the Wilpons might need a fire sale in order to hold onto their financially struggling franchise.  He goes onto write how the Mets should explore trying to rid themselves of all their high cost options, which includes “not only the free-agents-to-be, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, but also Jason Bay, Francisco Rodriguez, Johan Santana and, yes, even seeing what would be available for organizational icon David Wright.”  Sherman and I agree on one thing: that it would be in the best interest of the franchise if the Wilpons just sold the team, but it appears like they are not going to go down that path.  Despite the Mets dire financial straits, a fire sale is not necessary.

Indeed, the Mets can cut payroll, improve the bottom line and maybe even compete without trading the cornerstones of their franchise.  My argument only looks at the data available to me-player contracts (sadly, the Wilpons won’t give me access to their books, and I don’t know everything about the team’s finances)-depends on some what-ifs, but it is still entirely possible.  Let’s take a look.

First, I would like to credit Cot’s Baseball Contracts for this data-they are wonderful.  According to Cot’s, the Mets payroll is slated to be just under $135 million this season.  Following this season, the Mets will no longer be paying Luis Castillo (six million), Oliver Perez (12 million) and Beltran (20 million).  Furthermore, if he is used in such a way where he doesn’t finish 55 games, the Mets can avoid paying Frankie $17.5 million and simply buy him out for $3.5 million.  As of now, the Mets only have about $66 million committed in 2012.  That figure doesn’t include raises for arbitration eligible players and re-signing Jose Reyes (which as I pointed out, needs to be done).  Let’s say the Mets sign Reyes and backload his contract, paying him around $15 million in 2012, $17 million in 2013, and $18 million for five more years.  Mike Pelfrey will probably get a raise through arbitration, as will Angel Pagan (Ronny Paulino and Taylor Buchholz are also technically arbitration eligible after next season, but I’ll assume they wind up elsewhere).  If Pelfrey, who is making about $3.9 million this season, performs well, he could receive around $6.5 million in 2012.  Pagan, who is owed $3.5 million this year, could receive around $5.5 million.  That puts the Mets at around $96 million, which I’ll round up to $100 million after signing some other free agents.  That is significantly lower than this year’s payroll, but probably still not low enough for the Wilpons given the current situation, nor does it allow for much new talent building.  If the Mets trade Reyes, payroll could be reduced to around $80 or so million, but I still don’t think that is necessary.

The long term puzzle is what to do with Wright, who is owed $29 million over the next two seasons with a $16 million option for 2013 ($1 million buyout)-a very affordable price for one of the best third baseman in the majors.  Wright will likely command somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million per year-will the front office be willing to dish out that kind of money to a player entering his thirties?  If the contract could be held to five years, then absolutely-I’d even go a sixth year because he’ll probably still be an effective hitter down the road.  In addition, the end of the 2013 season is still two years away, and the team’s financial situation could be very different by then.  In trading Wright, the Mets would probably receive a great bounty of major league ready players and prospects, but trading the face of the franchise comes with great consequences (just ask M. Donald Grant), and the Mets should be able to hold onto the third baseman.

If the Mets are in contention, and I mean fully in the playoff race, odds are they will keep the talent that is working, even the higher priced players, and revenue should increase due to increased ticket sales, TV ratings, etc.  However, if the Mets are out of the playoff picture by the trading deadline, they will probably try to rid themselves of their higher priced soon to be free agents.  Assuming Perez and Castillo are cut before the season, those players include Beltran (if he’s healthy and playing) and K-Rod (nobody is going to take on Bay’s or Santana’s contract yet).  However, there are many more names the Mets could trade.

Sandy Alderson did a great job this off season finding low risk, high reward players.  If these players perform well, they could prove highly valuable in the trade market, given their low cost and lack of long term commitment.  Included in this list are Chris Young, Chris Capuano, Tim Byrdak and Paulino-guys who don’t figure into the team’s long term plans but could be valuable components to a contender, especially Young and Capuano if they regain their prior form.  For example, Young would be a great fit in St. Louis, assuming they don’t add another arm before the season begins and they are in contention at the season’s halfway point.

Another interesting name is Pagan.  Despite being the team’s MVP last season, I would be very tempted to trade the 29 year old center fielder.  His value has never been higher, and is still under control for 2012.  The Mets have a few in house options in center, including Fernando Martinez (who has mostly been playing right but could play center) and Kirk Nieuwenhuis, that could be given the job and would cost much less than Angel in the near future.  Trading these some of these low cost players would allow the Mets to clear some payroll while also helping to stock the farm system.

So there it is.  An all out fire sale is not necessary, and likely impossible due to the contracts of Bay and Santana.  The Amazins can maintain the cornerstones/building blocks of their franchise, Wright and Reyes, while clearing out some payroll this season (trading Beltran and K-Rod) and adding depth to their farm system (trading guys like Young and Capuano if they’re out of contention).  Whether things will play out this way is yet to be determined, but despite the bleak financial picture, the Mets don’t have to start selling off the team