Did the Mets Spend to Win?

I read and hear many empty excuses for the Mets’ current financial problems and their inability to spend enough money to field a competitive team in 2012. Toward that end, I’d like to share two comments posted to MetsBlog on Sunday.

First, from “Hodges14

… I never hear the Yankees owners complaining that they lost $70M in a season so they can’t put a competitive team on the field for years to come. Since George Steinbrenner bought the team in the early 70s he always understood that if you make winning the priority you will sell tickets and the business can sustain itself.

Second, in reply to this comment, from “4everMets“:

You hit the nail right on the head!!!! The Wilpons are NOT interested in winning!!! Imho, they only want to be good enough to sell tix and play meaningful games in Sept. Nobody has talked about how if the Wilpons were making ALL this money through Madoff how they STILL would not spend enough to get the Mets over the top instead settling for the B or C free agent instead of spending on the sure thing. This is where they wind up wasting their money.

Please post your reaction to these thoughts in the comments.

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. Joe December 12, 2011 at 11:46 am
    Per one comment, they are interested in winning “enough” to sell enough tickets.

    I’m not on the same page as some here but find it pretty lame to “excuse” the ownership’s bad fiscal decision making. It is not quite the same thing to blaming Sandy Alderson for having limited discretion given what he has to work with. Blame the messenger, if you want, of course.

    Still, I don’t know what “competitive team” means. To me, it is not the same thing as pushing the team “over the top” to playoff level ball. The former is more middling, especially given the talent out there at the moment. The team was “competitive” until August.

    • HobieLandrith December 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm
      To me “competitive” means a legit, realistic shot at the playoffs. By that definition, the Mets were not competitive as of early May 2011. Anyone who believes otherwise is sipping the Kool-Aid through rose-colored glasses.
      • Joe December 12, 2011 at 6:36 pm
        That’s fine though “competitive” can also mean “having a good chance to compete” in games in general. \

        Tampa w/o a Boston collapse had little chance of getting to the playoffs, but was quite “competitive” even w/o that collapse. The Mets were competitive in this sense of the word in games far pass May.

        And, given ups and downs of MLB baseball PLUS the extra wild card, the idea the Mets would have no reasonable shot at the playoffs for “years to come” is not something I buy either. I don’t know that as to ’13 and ’14.

  2. hernandezhofer December 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm
    First off, the Mets were in the top five in payroll every year from 2004-2010. How are Pedro, Beltran, Glavine, and Bay secondary free agents? These guys got some of the biggest FA deals in baseball from the Mets.

    The argument is absurd. If the Mets decided that the Yankee model is the way to go, then you have to do exactly what the Mets are doing. The Yankees built from within, with young players like Jeter, Rivera, Posada and Williams, and then used free agency to supplement that VERY strong core. When the Yankees tried to buy a championship, they failed miserably – just like the Mets. The Yankees have leveraged their great teams to generate a ton of revenue to sustain that success (by paying those stars as they got older), but their success is due to player development.

    Wilpon has shown that he is willing to spend the money when it is helpful. Signing guys like Bay and KRod made things worse.

    • Mike B December 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm
      Yankees won with David Cone, Dwight Gooden, David Wells,Kenny Rogers and Jimmie Key Boggz, Tino Straw Cecil. Not to mention all the arms they got around MO.

      The “Core” only became the core because of all the Great player the Yanks put around them.

    • Izzy December 12, 2011 at 3:34 pm
      Even if one buys your logic about the Yankees building from within they did one thing that this hapless corrupt Met organization didn’t do. THEY KEPT THEI GUYS. And second of all the Wilpons didn’t spend when they thought it helpful. They spent when it was rolling in from illegal ponzi schemes.
  3. NormE December 12, 2011 at 1:10 pm
    Good points from “hernandezhofer.”
    Steinbrenner&Co. ran a very middling show until George was suspended and Gene Michael changed the organization’s philosophy. The younger Steinbrenner has not messed it up (except for the ridiculous resigning of ARod to an ungodly sum).
    Also, the Steinbrenner’s don’t bear the financial burden alone—they have partners. I don’t know how much influence these partners have, but their presence might help soften any economic hardships.

    Since the ouster of Doubleday the Wilpons (and Katz) have owned the whole shebang. In down times they feel a greater burden.
    Another difference is that the younger Steinbrenner son seems a lot sharper than the young Jeffy Wilpon.

    One could argue that the Wilpons main priority has been ownership, while the Steinbrenner group wants to win just as much owning the team. In other words, the Wilpons would like to win but are not as driven to achieve it as the Steinbrenners.

  4. Kranepool December 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm
    It seems to me that we can all agree that the Wilpons hae been dreadful owners. Fred is nice, but clueless. Jeff is less nice and even more clueless. They clearly mean to hang onto their ownersip and control no matter what. Arguing they should spend more money is useless. They won’t (and maybe can’t). They have to go, but won’t until they have no choice. So let’s play the ypung guys to develop our talent for 2014, then hope attendance drops below 2 million and the Wipons get tired of being the most reviled family in the greater New York Metropolitan area (wresting the tile from the Dolans).
  5. BCA December 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm
    well if they develope talent better and more consistantly we don’t have these conversations. I think a good farm system implemented by some key smart free agent signings, you can be in the playoffs a lot more. “smart” is the key word. The Mets have not done this well and their signings of late have been pretty bad. All in all the Wilpons don’t know how the put the right people in the right places making them clueless most of the time. Lucky in others. A more hands on ownership someday would be nice. The we would have more consistant winning teams. Unlike now. Another building process.
    • Joe Janish December 12, 2011 at 10:33 pm
      i would argue that a LESS hands-on ownership would be nice. The Mets’ ship began sinking the day Jeff Wilpon became intimately involved in on-field baseball operations / player and coach personnel. Further, the huge contracts handed to Jason Bay, K-Rod, and other “big splash” free agents were the result of directives passed down from ownership.
  6. Rob December 12, 2011 at 6:37 pm
    I have an observation that is slightly off point, but nonetheless germaine to the discussion. In the last week we’ve been subjected to press conferences where free agent player (Reyes, Pujols, Wilson) thanks his fans for their years of following, tells them that it was the hardest decision in the world to leave the only team they’ve ever known, and observes that the deal offered by the signing team showed too much love to pass up…so sayonara and god bless. We’ve also heard from the team GM’s that losing the player was “just business,” recognizing that the game is really just a business and nothing more. This got me to thinking. We as fans become emotionally invested in the game of pro baseball, primarily at the behest of the team and the players. The team tries to get us to buy season tickets and player jerseys, promotes the club by enticing fans to come out and see “Player X or Player Y” and generally tries to invoke an emotional devotion to the club. The players do the same thing…they sell their jerseys, give away their autographs and strive to become a household name with each of their fans because fan love equates to selling tickets. Yes…production matters, but let’s assume that the players that become household names are the players who invoke the most fan affection.

    This goes on for so long as the players are under contract. Come and see us, they say…root for us…wear our jersey and show us the love, they say.

    Then comes contract negotiation time and all of a sudden, the fan love and devotion that every team and every great player has promoted for all those years goes right out the window in favor of the “it’s just business” excuse. It’s just business that Reyes signed with the Marlins and dissed his fans for a few million more; it’s just business that the Mets didn’t try to sign him to a larger contract; it’s just business that Pujols left St. Louis, the only place he’s ever known…where fans have treated him like a god among men…for the sake of tens of millions of dollars more than the hundreds of millions of dollars that he would have made had he stayed; it’s just business that St. Louis didn’t show him more love by paying him a few million more per year.

    The fans are asked to become emotionally invested in every great player that a team develops…then those same fans are asked to just sit helplessly by while everyone ignores the emotional investment and just factors in the money…because that’s what the game is all about today…the money. But that’s not what’s they say it’s all about when they’re getting us to buy the tickets and the caps and the jerseys and the pictures…its about the love.

    So what can I conclude about this game today? It’s a sham. It’s a fraud on all of the millions of fans who have been induced to fall in love with their favorite players on their favorite team, hoping that they’ll stay together for the lifetime of that player’s career…only to be told at the height of that career that it’s just business when that player bolts for another higher-paying team.

    How does this fit into this discuss? Does anyone believe after the events of the last week that any of these teams give two shakes of a lambs tail about what the fans think? Does anyone think that they care at all about the time and money that each fan has emotionally invested in the team? Does anyone think that anyone factors any of that into their “negotiations” and deliberations? I don’t think so. And where winning comes into that equation? That’s open for debate. I’d argue that the emotional investment is there because the fan wants to see his team win. If the owner is unwilling to spend money on the favorite player, he’s ignoring the fans emotions and by the same token doesn’t care about winning…because it’s just business.

    I’m thinking long and hard over this offseason as to whether I’m a pro baseball fan anymore. I can’t invest that kind of emotion and love in a team and its players if they’re just going to let the players go like it doesn’t matter to us…because it does. And maybe they’ll never recognize that…and maybe I’m just naive. But I thought baseball was supposed to be more than just about the money.

    • Joe Janish December 12, 2011 at 10:39 pm
      Rob, well said.

      The irony is that Bud Selig — through the new CBA — is applying all sorts of changes to the game that ultimately make it more similar to NBA and NFL in terms of promotion, in that the focus will be on the individual / superstar player. Because hey, that’s what “the studies” say is effective marketing of pro sports. Go figure.

    • argonbunnies December 12, 2011 at 11:05 pm
      Money and winning do have some overlap. As a fan, I try to seek that overlap out, and invest there. That means every player gets a window. Once they’re over-valued, it’s time to move on.

      I will miss Jose, but I miss winning more, and I wouldn’t sacrifice the latter for the former.

      That you can’t win with a roster full of overpaid players is just fair competition, it seems to me. Teams that spend smarter than us deserve to beat us. Especially — especially! — when we spend more than them.

      Think on your hatred for the Yankees, and you will know this to be true.

  7. Bill December 12, 2011 at 7:23 pm
    A really good piece. And of course much of the hate expressed for the Wilpons is just that emotion dumped on the presumed “guilty” party.

    I do think that most owners really want to win, and often that desire to win leads them to stupid decisions. Take for example the Rangers signing A-Rod to a contract that sank the team. The signings by the Marlins and the Angels may accomplish the same thing. So not only are the fans subject to this emotion, but the owners are, too – they are sure that this time they’re really buying a World Series. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work out that way.

    So here’s a question. Give the Wilpons and Alderson the benefit of the doubt. If they really think that the actual competitive value of Reyes justifies only a shorter, lower-value contract than the Marlins think, would you rather they pursue a path that in the judgement of the baseball people gives them the best opportunity to win games over the next 6 years, or would you rather they had signed Reyes for 6/$120 million and live with the consequences in terms of just hoping to be .500?

    There’s really good precedent for this: think about the Red Sox letting Johnny Damon, perhaps their most beloved player (by the fans), go to their most hated rival. Yet Epstein’s moves lead to them winning World Series again without him, and maybe the decision to let him go was the correct one. (The same can be said for trading Nomar in 2004, by the way.)

    Overall, I think the “business” and the “baseball” decisions are more completely intertwines than your description. At some point, if you want your team to win, they are the same: you want management to evaluate correctly the true value of the player, and not to exceed that no matter what Scott Boras says. Unfortunately, the Mets have made some bad decisions – mostly by signing average or above-average players for star money, and neglecting to build the farm system – and maybe now they’re going to correct that.

    • Joe Janish December 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm
      I think you brush over a key point: competitiveness. Based on what we’ve seen of the Wilpons since they stole the team from Nelson Doubleday, they’re not really competitive. They’re happy with whatever results, so long as they sell tickets and make money. It’s only when ticket sales drop, and/or public perception becomes negative, that they have acted — always in knee-jerk fashion. In short, their operations are motivated by avoiding negativity, rather than pursuing excellence.
  8. BCA December 12, 2011 at 8:04 pm
    Excellent piece Rob. I believe this has happened to all sports. I find myself removed from the Mets and baseball more so than in the past. I’m a passionate baseball fan but more and more I see its all about the money/business. Therefore, I just can’t get as much into it. I don’t go to the games. I don’t order MLB package like I used to. Its just too out of control. Too big a business. More for the rich and less for the common folk like it used to be.
  9. argonbunnies December 12, 2011 at 10:41 pm
    If I owned a baseball team, I’d have some opinions on how to run it, but ultimately I’d hire people who were experts to do it for me. When they asked me for money to spend on my team, I’d look around at the rest of the league, and say, “Which of these teams are successfully competing, and how much are they spending?”

    Then I’d give my baseball people an amount of money in the upper range of that scale. “Here’s more money than the Braves have. If we can be almost as smart as them, we should be just as good as them, right?”

    When my employees failed to win titles with my ample money, I’d replace those employees.

    This seems like what the Wilpons have tried to do. They just haven’t been smart enough and ruthless enough to replace the right employees at the right times. Wishing for them to choose more wisely is totally reasonable. Wishing for them to spend more is asking them to be irrational.

    Put it this way:

    If you saw an employee wasting your money, would you respond by giving them more money to waste?

    • Joe Janish December 12, 2011 at 10:57 pm
      Except the Wilpons have NOT trusted their employees to do their jobs — quite the contrary, in fact. Your last sentence seems to allude to the common misconception that the Mets’ current state of affairs can be blamed on a scapegoat named Omar Minaya, and that’s not the truth. Nelson Doubleday said it best, when he pulled a Nostradamus and said in July 2003:

      “Mr. Jeff Wilpon has decided that he’s going to learn how to run a baseball team and take over at the end of the year,” Doubleday told the newspaper. “Run for the hills, boys. I think probably all those baseball people will bail.”

      Jeff has made and signed off on all the big decisions (and many small ones) for the past 10 years. He’s executed personnel changes based on his personal baseball “acumen” and the trusted advice of lunatics such as Tony Bernazard. That said I sincerely hope you are not intimating that the Wilpons are merely cursed with the bad luck of not knowing how to choose good front office people — they’re incompetent owners who can’t help themselves from playing with the team as if it were a toy or hobby. Not unlike George Steinbrenner, except that George was hell-bent on excellence and winning, while the Wilpons simply are enthralled with the idea of being sports moguls.

      • argonbunnies December 12, 2011 at 11:14 pm
        I don’t think hiring the wrong people is a curse. I think it’s incompetence, and deserves… well, whatever negativity incompetence deserves. Mocking the Wilpons is fine by me!

        Further, I didn’t intend to blame this all on Minaya. Whoever was the team’s CFO probably did more harm to the organization than any GM could. That was a truly incompetent selection. (Though, to be honest, I have hated Minaya ever since the second I read about the Ring/Bell/Owens/Lindstrom for Nothing trades.)

        As for Wilpon interference, I have no idea who to believe. Every word spoken on record says they have no more input than any other team’s owners. Every whisper to the contrary might either be the real truth or reporters making stuff up to grab eyeballs. Given the New York media coverage, I would be stunned if ownership was never accused of meddling, regardless of whether or not they actually did. Years of Steinbrenner proved it’s a juicy topic. In fact, I think the Meddling Wilpon storyline increased 10,000% post-George.

        So I’m just going by the payroll numbers. To me, those look like a well above average attempt to put dollars behind the desire for victories.

  10. Anthony December 13, 2011 at 11:12 pm
    Lets face it- the Wilpons could care less about winning; the spent money and it didn’t work out so now they are reverting back into penny pinchers… they have let this franchise become a joke