Jose Valentin Re-signed Quickly
The Mets slightly stunned some people by signing Jose Valentin so quickly in the free-agent season, and one must wonder which of two issues caused the immediacy — 1. the November 12th opening of the market for free agents or 2. the apparent loss in the Daisuke Matsuzaka sweepstakes. Or a combination of both?
It’s possible the Mets signed Valentin to avoid a bidding war for the 37-year-old infielder; supposedly there were some teams interested in him as a starting shortstop. Off the top of my head, the only team I can think of would be the Cincinnati Reds, who traded their shortstop as well as half their starting lineup for an injured middle reliever during the 2006 season. However the D-Mat auction might have affected the signing as well, for a number of reasons.
First, the Mets knew what they were bidding — reportedly around $38M — and they also must have had a budgeted number for a D-Mat contract. The Mets might have been banking on being the high bidders, then wrapping up D-Mat for a specific total cost, and planning the rest of their 2007-2008 budget around that investment. A bidding team could plan the dollars out pretty well, considering that D-Mat’s only option is to go back to Japan — something he probably doesn’t want to do, regardless of Scott Boras.
However, by losing out on D-Mat, the Mets’ planned budget goes out the window. While the “plan B” being talked about in the papers is going after Barry Zito, the real secondary plan is more complex.
Put it this way — let’s just for example say that the Mets planned on spending a total of $75M for Matsuzaka ($38M in bid, $37M for a 3-year contract). Knowing that money is earmarked, you now start figuring out what you’re going to spend for a second baseman, a left fielder, another pitcher or two, and various role players. If the Mets planned to spend $75M on D-Mat over three years, they may have also planned to spend $10M over three years for a second baseman, and $25M over three for a leftfielder, for a total of $110M. So maybe they banked on getting, say, Adam Kennedy for 2B and either Carlos Lee or a combination of players (via trade or free agency) to fill left field. Again, this is just an example — the numbers are merely thrown out there for illustration.
But by losing out on D-Mat, the budget and the plans go out the window — assuming the Mets are targeting a big-time starting pitcher (as Matt Cerrone noted, the high bid establishes this assumption). Now, instead of spending $110M over three years for three players, they might need to spend the whole kaboodle on one player — most likely Barry Zito. To adjust the plans, you spread the $110M over five-six years and start looking at short-term solutions for second base and leftfield.
So instead of a 3-year deal for a younger guy like Adam Kennedy or Mark DeRosa, you wrap up Jose Valentin for one year and hope to grab somebody like Mark Loretta on another one-year deal to platoon with him. You do the same with left field — maybe sign Uncle Cliffy and Moises Alou to incentive-laden one-year deals. Rather than locking up a younger player at pitcher, 2B, and LF for several years, you get the ace first, then figure out the rest on a year-to-year basis, always maintaining flexibility (i.e., no long-term deals). Plugging in Valentin immediately means you have at least half of a platoon at either LF or 2B, and also establishes what’s left to spend early — always a valuable advantage.
If that’s indeed the way the Mets are working, then we very well might see Zito at Shea in 2007 (and at CitiField in 2009). However, it’s likely at the expense of spending dollars on youth for 2B and LF. This isn’t such a bad plan, considering that Lastings Milledge or Carlos Gomez may be ready to step into the outfield by 2008, and neither Kennedy nor DeRosa would ever be confused with Ryne Sandberg.
The key to the whole “plan”, of course, is to get Zito, which, considering his agent Scott Boras, may not happen until January. Therefore, it would not be surprising to see the Mets make a few more quick signs of veterans like Loretta, Floyd, Alou, or Ryan Klesko, before the winter meetings in December. By then, they’ll want to concentrate on one target — a starting pitcher — and decide whether they’ll have a shot at Zito or will need to make a trade for a similarly skilled ace.