Predicting Mets Offseason Activity
What can we expect from the Mets this offseason? There’s been a lot of speculation, but let’s try to make a deduction based on the information we have. The two main factors are available money and available players that match team needs.
Part I: Will they have money to spend?
With a couple of long-term contracts coming off the books, it appears the team will have more of a budget for free agents than they have in several years. Currently, their payroll sits at $93 million, according to Cots. $15.125 million of Jason Bay’s salary and $20 million of Johan Santana’s salary will come off the books after this season comes to an end. David Wright will get a $9 million raise in 2014, and Jon Niese will get an increase of $2 million.
So, according to my admittedly limited math skills, the Mets should have an extra $24.125 million that they didn’t have last offseason. The big question is, how much of it, if any, will they spend on players?
Back in Spring Training, Mets owner Fred Wilpon declared an end to the Mets money woes.
“It’s all in the rearview mirror,” Wilpon said. He made the statement after fending off a lawsuit by a trustee trying to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. “… The family is in great shape. The family really is in great shape. Sometimes luck is the residue of design.”
However, it’s hard to trust Wilpon when he talks about money, based on history. Back in 2008, when the Madoff scandal first broke, his son, Jeff (Also, the club’s COO) claimed their losses would have no effect on the team.
“The individual partners lost some money at Madoff,” he said at the time. “But it doesn’t affect the Mets. It doesn’t affect the Citi Field project. It doesn’t affect SNY or any of our operating businesses.”
That assertion turned out to be dead wrong.
Since the Mets signed Jason Bay prior to the 2010 season, the Mets have not inked a major free agent. They’ve shopped in the bargain bin to fill out their roster. Their payroll went from $149 million in 2009, all the way down to its current sub-$100 million dollar state. And they don’t plan to take it back to those levels anytime soon.
In addition, the Wilpons are still under a pile of debt. They know how much they owe, and they apparently have a payment schedule, but they still owe a large amount of money. According to this article by Howard Megdal:
U.C.C. filings confirm that the $320 million debt due against the team in June 2014 is an active debt. And Wilpon and his partners already owed $450 million against their 65 percent ownership stake in S.N.Y., due in 2015. Their latest loan, an additional $160 million secured in December, added to that total.
That’s why it’s easy to doubt that the Mets will be bigger spenders this year, despite the money coming off the books. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, the only people who know the true state of the Wilpons’ finances are the Wilpons.
Part II: If they have money to spend, who will they spend it on?
The Mets need bats. A power bat, particularly in a corner outfield spot, is something they desperately lack at the moment. Lucas Duda has some pop, but not as much as some expected he would (or at least, it appears that way at the moment), and Ike Davis’s long, hitchy swing all but guarantees dramatic inconsistency at the plate. When David Wright is healthy, he’s a 25-homer guy, but mostly a gap-to-gap hitter.
But the Mets haven’t had a consistent, reliable cleanup hitter in several years. The bad news is there aren’t going to be many of them available on the free agent market. The player who probably fits that bill the most will be Hunter Pence. He rebounded from a subpar 2012 (.743 OPS, despite 24 homers), to a more Pence-like .845 OPS this year. His 162-game average of 25 home runs would be fine for the Mets. The uncertainty lies in his age (31 next year) and how much money he’s looking for (he’s currently on a 1-year, $13.8 million contract with San Francisco).
Another name that continues to be strongly linked to the Mets is Shin-Soo Choo. Choo currently is the center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds, but is a better corner outfielder, which is probably where Choo would end up, should the Mets grab him.
Choo is a high On Base Percentage guy (.422 this year) with some pop (162-game average of 20 home runs, 21 home runs this year, playing his home games in a hitter’s park) and some speed (average of 20 stolen bases per 162 games). Ideally, he’d be a leadoff guy, which the Mets also need. They like Eric Young, Jr., but they see him more as a fourth or fifth outfielder going forward.
If they can’t get Choo, they may go after Jacoby Ellsbury, who’s hitting .299/.355/.424 with 52 stolen bases this year. Ellsbury would be a good fit for Citi Field, but his injury history is suspect.
With Ruben Tejada taking a step back this year, the team also has a glaring need at shortstop. Either Yunel Escobar or Jhonny Peralta would be an upgrade, but each carries significant baggage. The Mets found success this year with former PED-user Marlon Byrd, but they only had to pay him $700,000. A guy like Peralta would probably require a larger salary.
Depending on whether or not Matt Harvey will need Tommy John surgery (which we should find out this week), the Mets may choose to pursue a veteran starting pitcher, which was suggested by GM Sandy Alderson himself on a recent radio interview.
The Mets have a core of hard-throwing, young starting pitchers like Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee (more finesse than hard-throwing), and Jenrry Mejia, with more on the way (Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard should make their debuts at some point next year). Any pitcher Alderson acquires will probably be a stopgap, like Shaun Marcum, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Aaron Harang were this year.
Some speculate that Alderson could take a cue from the Boston Red Sox and sign several mid-level free agents rather than going for the big splash. That would be especially important since injuries are a fact of life, and the Mets need depth. But it seems like all of the free-agents-to-be are mid-level this year. Players like Ben Zobrist, Byrd, and Kendrys Morales could end up making more than they’re worth. Not that they’re bad players, but it’s shaping up to be a seller’s market out there.
One thing we know, Alderson despises long-term contracts, but views them as a necessary evil. We also know that long-term contracts, even if they make sense at the time, can strangle a ballclub in the long run, especially if they were paid for with money the team really never had (See Part I).
The Mets could look to trade for a front-line bat, but the farm system, while improving, still isn’t deep enough to “trade from strength.” Would you want to trade a Syndergaard or Montero with the possibility that Harvey will miss most or all of 2014?
Part III: The outlook
There are several factors that will determine how aggressive the Mets will be this offseason: Harvey’s surgery, how some of the young players finish out this season, and how much spending money the team really has.
While the team is in a position to improve, no one is under the illusion that the Mets are one of those clubs that is a piece or two away from a World Series in 2014. With that in mind, the Mets will probably not be inclined to overspend or give up too much in a trade. But if Fred Wilpon is telling the truth about his bank account, the Mets will at least be more active in the free agent market than they have been in the post-Madoff era.