The buzz is that trades will be held up while C.C. Sabathia mulls over the millions that will be thrown his way over the next few weeks, and that this fact could hold up a big trade made by the Mets. The three amigos at The Daily News go so far as to suggest that the Mets could be in on the bidding for the big lefthander, though most sources are poo-pooing that conjecture.
Here’s my question: why NOT ?
The big excuse is that it doesn’t make sense to have two starters making over $20M a year. Again, WHY NOT?
It’s OK for the Mets to have two position players hogging $35M (Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran), but it’s not OK to have two starters combine for $5M more? Especially when at least one of those two Carloses is nowhere near the best at his position? C.C. Sabathia is one of the best three lefthanders in all of MLB, with Johan Santana as #1 or #2. Having those two aces heading the rotation is not only a near-guarantee of a postseason appearance, it makes the Mets a shoo-in to get to the World Series.
Look back to the 2003 Astros, who were unstoppable in a short series with Roy Oswalt and Roger Clemens leading the way. Or a better comp — Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson of the 2001 Diamondbacks. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale of the Dodgers in the ’60s.
Of course, the Mets can get to the postseason without having two aces in the rotation. My point is that it is really hard not to be successful when you have dominating pitchers taking the ball two out of every five days — no matter who is in your bullpen and what your lineup looks like.
Some fans are expecting the Mets to sign Derek Lowe, a top closer, and a lower-tier starter this winter. Lowe is going to get at least $13M per year, if not more. K-Rod wants $15M, and a “lower-tier” starter is probably going to cost another $6-7M — though, I’m not sure who those guys might be (Randy Wolf? Braden Looper?). Right there is $35M; if you want to replace K-Rod with the cheaper Brian Fuentes you’re talking closer to $30M. If you had $30M to spend, would you sprinkle it around three guys or would you go for Sabathia and a closer?
I think the Mets can sign both Sabathia AND K-Rod, and figure out the rest from within the organization, making a few trades and signing low-risk, low-cost free agents. Why shouldn’t they be able to do so? This isn’t Minneapolis, this is New York City. The Mets have already sold out Citi Field and will be rolling in dough. The money they make from ticket sales alone will be more than double last year’s payroll, so it’s not like they can’t afford it.
Let’s look at it another way. C.C. Sabathia is 27 years old right now, and will be 28 at the All-Star break. Francisco Rodriguez turns 27 in January. Both are going into their prime years.
Compare that to other arms on the market, specifically those who will receive long-term, big-dollar contracts — meaning, 4+ years. Derek Lowe will be 36 next year. Oliver Perez, 28. Ben Sheets, 31. Brian Fuentes, 34. Jon Garland, 30. A.J. Burnett, 32. Of that group, are you comfortable giving any of them four years and $40M+ ? Maybe Ollie, but his inconsistency makes you worry. Burnett and Sheets have frightening injury histories, and are already in their 30s. Garland seems safe, but he’ll command at least 4 years / $50M — is he worth that?
In other words, who do you think has a better chance of returning full value on his contract? Sabathia over seven years, $150M, or Derek Lowe at four / $60M ? Tough call perhaps, but personally I’m not seeing Lowe as a $15M pitcher at ages 37 and 38 — I’m not sure he’s worth it at 36 and 37. In contrast, Sabathia is hands-down worth the big bucks from now through age 30 at least — that’s three years. The question is whether he’ll be an ace during the second half of his contract, at ages 31, 32, 33, and 34. Or, in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. Maybe by 2014, $20M for a middle-rotation starter will be a bargain, in which case, his salary may be right on target. After all, would you have thought back in 2001 that Jeff Suppan or Ted Lilly would get $12M a year? I’ll help you: Randy Johnson was making $12M in 2001. Curt Schilling made $6.5M, and was a year before “cashing in” on a $10M-per-year deal. Those two were the best in baseball at the time. Suddenly, that $20M / year is not so unreasonable.
Of course, there is the concern of spending all that money and then the arm breaking down. And that is a fairly legitimate concern — Carl Pavano is a prime example. Pedro Martinez is another. But, neither Pavano nor Martinez were among the best 5 pitchers in MLB at the time of their signing, and Pedro was already 33 AND had a history of shoulder problems. Both C.C. and K-Rod are healthy and youthful, and with today’s medicine, most pitchers come back from even the most severe arm injuries.
If the Mets had the cojones to sign one or both of these top arms, every other question mark on the field instantly becomes less questionable. With CC and Johan in the rotation and K-Rod closing, a platoon of Fernando Tatis and Dan Murphy in left field is quite palatable. Brian Schneider’s offense is less concerning. The middle relievers will have less innings to cover, and won’t be as overworked — that alone will make them more effective (and really, do the Mets have a better shot of shoring up the bullpen problem by over-spending on free agents, or by reducing the innings load?). Luis Castillo remains the weak link, yes, but so what, since there’s every indication that he’ll be at second base even if the Mets don’t sign a big-name free agent? And if you’re that bent on removing Castillo, fine, give a cheap, one-year flyer to Ray Durham, David Eckstein, or Mark Loretta.
I’m not on board with the idea that the Mets have as many “holes” as some would like us to believe. Second base is an issue more for fans than the Mets, and is only glaring because there are solid, immovable players at nearly every other position. Similarly, the middle relief as currently constituted will be fine if managed properly. Left field is a concern, but less of a concern if the pitching is addressed. The biggest issue the Mets have is filling out the rotation. Santana and Mike Pelfrey are the only guarantees; if they added Sabathia that pushes Big Pelf to #3 and sore-shouldered Maine to #4. The fifth spot is an issue for every MLB rotation, and the Mets will be able to find someone to fill it. Carlos Delgado is staying put, and though some might prefer a catcher other than Brian Schneider, the Mets can live with him back there — especially if after adding another ace and a lights-out closer, they don’t need to score as many runs. Personally, I’d be completely fine if the “offseason overhaul” consisted of signing Sabathia, K-Rod, and a few minor low-risk / high-reward / one-year guys.
Addendum: The 2010 Free Agent Class
One last point: the best of next winter’s potential free-agent class includes Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, Brian Roberts, Carl Crawford, Vlad Guerrero, and Magglio Ordonez among position players, and Rich Harden, Tim Hudson, Cliff Lee, Brett Myers, and Mike Gonzalez among the pitchers. Those are the BEST names who might be available. While I think there’s a possibility the Mets could go for one of those bats, only Crawford will be under 30 when the 2010 season comes around. Further, I’m not sure any of those pitchers would be worth the large contracts they’ll command — none has the potential to outperform Sabathia or K-Rod from 2010-2014. In other words, if the Mets are going to spend big bucks on long-term deals, this winter is the time to do it.
*** UPDATE ***
This from our pal Marty Noble at MLB.com (hat tip to isuzudude):
A person familiar with the club’s plans, finances and, in general, fiscal responsibility, said flatly the Mets would not pursue the most attractive pitcher in the 2008 class of free agents.
The Mets anticipate the Yankees paying Sabathia significantly more than the $137.5 million for six years they are contracted to pay Santana. The Mets hardly are questioning the Yankees’ “spend money to make money” strategy. The Mets used it themselves in February. Indeed, they paid with talent as well, dealing Carlos Gomez and three others for Santana.
“I’m not sure any club can make that kind of move two years in a row,” the Mets source said.
Huh. So there you have it. If we are to believe the bean counter “familiar with the club’s plans” then C.C. is a no-go. I really love that last quote. Tell me, exactly why a club can’t make “that kind of move two years in a row” ? The Yankees, for one, do it all the time. In fact, didn’t they just give A-Rod a 10-year, $275M deal last year? Oh, but the Mets aren’t as wealthy as their crosstown rivals … the poor, destitute kids in Flushing have a much tighter budget.
But what about this comp: the Toronto Blue Jays?
2005: Blue Jays sign free-agent B.J. Ryan to the largest contract ever for a reliever – 5 years / $47M
2005: Blue Jays sign free-agent A.J. Burnett to 5 years/$55M
2006: Blue Jays extend Vernon Wells to 7 years / $126M
How about the San Francisco Giants?
2006: Giants sign Barry Zito to 7 years / $126M
2007: Giants sign Aaron Rowand to 5 years / $60M
Or the Houston Astros?
2006: Astros extend Roy Oswalt to 6 years / $89M
2006: Astros sign Carlos Lee to 6 years / $100M
Or the Chicago Cubs?
2006: Cubs sign Aramis Ramirez to 5 years / $75M
2006: Cubs sign Alfonso Soriano to 8 years / $136M
2007: Cubs extend Carlos Zambrano to 5 years / $91.5M
I realize the numbers above aren’t exactly what the Mets would have to spend in consecutive off-seasons, but take a look at those comps, the smaller markets of those teams, and maybe you can get what I’m trying to convey here. The quote that the Mets can’t dole out two huge contracts in consecutive years is nonsense, particularly after selling a record-breaking 4 million tickets an moving into profit-machine to be known as Citi Field. Further, they have $25M coming off the books by three players exiting (Pedro Martinez, El Duque, Moises Alou), and will shed another $25M next year after Carlos Delgado, Billy Wagner, and Scott Schoeneweis leave. Quick math:$50M windfall, or about one-third of a potential total contract offer to Sabathia. Unless the Mets plan to go after Carl Crawford or Matt Holliday next offseason — and according to the plan, they won’t, as Fernando Martinez and Ryan Church will be flanking Carlos Beltran in 2010 — then now is as good a time as any to reinvest the recent profits back into the “brand”.
I’m not going to argue with the mole who says the Mets “won’t” go after C.C. Sabathia. But don’t tell me they “can’t” — that’s an insult to my intelligence.