Mets are NOT Spending Enough Money

To quell the legions of fans screaming for a better product on the field, the latest talking point in the media and blogosphere is that the Mets’ problem is not that they don’t spend enough money, but that they don’t spend it wisely.


While I agree the Mets do not spend their money wisely (*cough* Oliver Perez …. *cough* Luis Castillo), they also do not spend enough — not for a New York City baseball team with a brand-new ballpark and their own TV network.

The Mets’ 2010 Opening Day player payroll was right around $126M, which was about $23M LESS than their 2009 payroll and $12M LESS than that of the Phillies’ 2010 payroll and about $18M less than the Cubs’.

Yeah, yeah, I know — spending doesn’t necessarily equate to winning (just ask Peter Angelos). And yes, there are teams that spend a lot less and do much better. But those facts are convenient excuses, and irrelevant to the argument. Why? Because again, the Mets are based in New York City — the most expensive and lucrative location in the country — and have a brand-new park and cable TV network that are equivalent to cash machines. Those three assets alone mean they should not be outspent by “second city” teams in Philadelphia and Chicago (or Boston, for that matter).

As Scott Boras aptly pointed out:

”The Mets have a network and they have an infrastructure there that is a juggernaut economically,” Boras said in promoting a possible match between his client and the team. He added, ”The Mets can sign any player they want to sign if they so choose to.”

Further, every good businessman knows you have to spend money to make money. George Steinbrenner knew that, and turned a $9M investment into a multi-billion-dollar empire over the course of 30 years. He also won a few world championships along the way — which in turn resulted in more money. It’s a beautiful cycle: spend, win, make more money, spend more money, win, make more money, etc.

But before we blame Fred Wilpon for not being George Steinbrenner, let’s take another look at that $126M payroll. Why is it so much lower than last year’s? Was it the plan to spend less in 2010? It is amazing how short memories can be, but thankfully we have microfiche and other high-tech devices to research the archives.

From the Star-Ledger, October 5, 2009:

Per Brian Costa:

Wilpon scoffed at a suggestion that the team’s payroll will go down next year. He said ownership has not set an exact number, but he expects the team to be major players in the free-agent market.

Jeff Wilpon:

Ownership is dedicated to delivering a championship-caliber team. It is our belief Omar and Jerry have the expertise and deserve the opportunity to help us get there. Once again, we’ll be providing Omar with one of the highest payrolls in all of baseball to address our needs.

Doesn’t payroll have to go down though?

Wilpon: No, it doesn’t have to, because the revenue is not necessarily less. If we do a good job of putting a product on the field, the fans will come back, and we’ll have the proper revenue to support.

If you can remember all the way back to this past winter, the Mets made one major free-agent acquisition: Jason Bay. Why only one, after all the big talk about being big spenders? Because the “plan” was to spend more money after the season began — to see how things were going, and then add the necessary pieces as needed.

Perhaps you remember this quote from MetsMerized Online:

The Mets may be able to hold teams over a barrel this summer because they will have available dollars to take on contracts. The only other team who may have that flexibility is the Yankees. So, for all of us screaming about why the Mets did not just pay Joel Pineiro or Jason Marquis or sign Ben Sheets, remember that the 2010 season is long. It’s a marathon not a sprint. Something bigger and better may be on the horizon. Spring is hope. Let’s just hope this is truly the situation. If it is not the situation and the Mets are close and don’t make a sensible deal for decent help at the deadline or before, Met nation will revolt. Are you listening Mr. Wilpon, Omar, et al?

But that was just a theory / hope posted by a blog. Maybe something from a bonafide journalist will seem more “real”, such as this tidbit from the NY Daily News (April)

The Mets know they need pitching and, according to sources, they will have the payroll flexibility to add a top starter if they remain in contention.

But hey, if you really believe the problem is more about the way they spend their money, make sure you know what you’re talking about — because it goes much deeper than the obvious, simple acts such as overpaying Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, or refusing to draft over slot. And it isn’t as simple as saying “the Mets are spending $130M, and that should be more than enough”. Guess what? It’s NOT enough, because the team is stinking up the joint and part of it is because of the expensive contracts of those two gentlemen Castillo and Perez. There comes a point where every team, no matter what their payroll, has to bite the bullet and release a high-priced, bad contract. The “small market” Detroit Tigers did it two years in a row with Gary Sheffield and Dontrelle Willis. The Angels did it this year, swallowing their pride and $20M to shed Gary Matthews, Jr. How can two teams with inferior resources such as those afford to do the right thing but the big-city Mets cannot?

From Ken Rosenthal, January 2010:

The Mets, multiple industry sources say, do not function like most clubs. Their unique style would be fine if they were building championship teams. Instead, they’re coming off a 70-win season and losing out on free agent after free agent — except for one, left fielder Jason Bay, who seemingly lacked a better option.

Ownership, rather than giving Minaya a set budget, weighs the finances of each acquisition separately, forcing the team to run down its priority list one move at a time. The paint-by-numbers approach, which inhibits multitasking and creativity, would work against any GM.

There’s no argument from me that the Mets could have spent their money more wisely, and the above quote gives us an enlightening reason why they haven’t. But at the same time, that’s not an excuse for refusing to add to the budget. If the argument for not adding a few arms and/or another bat at the deadline was that the Mets needed to hold on to their prospects, then why didn’t they add the arms in the winter through free agency? You can’t have it both ways, and you can’t tell me they didn’t know in December that they would want to preserve their farm system through July. The resources are available — the question is when, or if, Jeff Wilpon will follow his assertion that “ownership is dedicated to delivering a championship-caliber team”.

In other words, putting his money where his mouth is.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. Ryan August 2, 2010 at 11:14 am
    Excellent piece, Joe. That last Rosenthal quote sheds light on why so many pictures of Omar Minaya shrugging crop up when you google him. Clearly, the Wilpons have their attention focused in other places and haven’t taken a keen look at spending the Mets money efficiently.
  2. Jeff R. August 2, 2010 at 11:29 am
    I do not want to overlook the fact that when the Mets do spend the money on high-profile players, they do not live up to their pre-Met performance. Castillo and Perez are not the examples to look at. I would look at Bay, K-Rod, Santana, etc. They are stars until they arrive here.

    I do not know the reasons for this, but it doesn’t seem to happen to most other teams. For example, when the Yankees sign Sabatha and Texiera, they dont seem to skip a beat.

  3. wohjr August 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm
    B-E-R-N-I-E M-A-D-O-F-F

    (you knew I was popping up to say that when you wrote this post…)

  4. Mike August 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm
    How has Santana been a problem exactly? Sure he’s not a Cy Young pitcher anymore, but really he’s been as good as one can reasonably expect. Bay could come back next year and have a Beltran type season from 2006. We all agree that KRod is a waste.

    Jeff I think your point is that the Yankees seem to always sign guys and they perform while the Mets don’t. To counter your argument I’ll say Piazza vs Giambi. Piazza was great, Giambi was not. My point is that good teams typically have players that perform to expectations. The Mets have been bad and that leads to guys under performing.

    The vibe around the Mets seems to be changes this off season. I would not be surprised to see Beltran gone. Castillo and Perez cut. I think the Mets are actually finally sticking to their guns and going young and homegrown. I think they will get more pitching this off season and try to work in more young players. The advantage of that with a NY team is that you are supposed to have money to spend on trades and FAs to complete your roster, but this is clearly a wait and see thing now.

    Good work Joe.

  5. alexSVK August 2, 2010 at 4:02 pm
    Not to nitpick, but the difference b/w 2009 and 2010 budgets is by far not $23M. Assuming you have the two figures, $149M and $126M from Cot’s contracts, it’s worth noting that the $149M includes $14M for Gary Sheffield, out of which the Mets were only responsible for $400k. Taking this and a few other corrections (Schoeneweis, Sanchez, Wagner) into account, the 2009 budget was appx. $136M, i.e. the difference is appx. $10M. Much less than the $23M mentioned above, but still significant to raise questions.
    • Joe Janish August 2, 2010 at 4:47 pm
      Alex, thanks for not nitpicking. 🙂

      After looking again at Cots, I see a figure of $139.6M that subtracts the Sheffield, Schoeneweis, and Sanchez contracts ( … so the difference may be around $13M.

      Bottom line is that the payroll in 2010 is less than it was in both ’09 and ’08, and revenues had to have increased with the new park, SNY, and RA Dickey jersey sales. So there should have been room for another free agent over the winter or big-time trade pickup in-season — and/or, there should have been no problem releasing Oliver Perez outright.

      • alexSVK August 2, 2010 at 5:24 pm
        Concerning the numbers, I also took the liberty of subtracting $2+M from the 2009 payroll that the Mets saved by dumping Billy Wagner. Hence, I believe the difference is closer to $10M (i.e. $11M) than $13M.

        Still, I agree that the exact figures are not important here. What’s more important is that the Mets are being cheap and it’s hurting them now and possibly in the future. Just a few recent examples include: (1) sending Wagner to BoSox and thereby losing the 2 first-round picks in the draft; (2) not signing Pineiro when his asking price dropped to 2y for $16M; and (3) not signing Y.Maya few weeks ago. And yet, somehow, there was enough budget to give Cora $2M with a $2M vesting option.

        • Joe Janish August 2, 2010 at 11:07 pm
          The Wagner trade really got my goat. As much as I like Chris Carter, in reality the Mets had no need for Carter and were never going to give him a fair shot at winning the 1B job in ST — so WHY? WHY? WHY? As you point out, they could’ve had two #1 picks rather than a 25th man.

          Also, after they struck out (pardon the pun) with Lackey, Pineiro, Wolf, etc. — why not use that money for either Maya or Aroldis Chapman?

        • benm August 3, 2010 at 12:12 pm
          Yea, signing JPienero as a stopgap for 2 years and Chapman and waiting to get Carl Crawford this off-season could have been much more sensible. Pineiro replaces Perez and having chapman/meija/harvey all coming up would be nice. Crawford/Beltran for a year/Pagan would be a nice outfield.
  6. Timo August 3, 2010 at 10:24 am
    WOHJR is right!
    wohjr says: August 2, 2010 at 12:10 pm :
    B-E-R-N-I-E M-A-D-O-F-F
    Sterling METS is getting sued.
    Maybe this is the reason for the lack of spending. Hopefully the Wilpons lose all their money and have to sell the Mets. Then things would change for the better (hopefull)
  7. George Costa August 3, 2010 at 6:11 pm
    Nice Cheap Met Owners… I wonder if they ask for free samples at the local supermarket?