11:20 am Dec. 5, 20113
If you had any doubts about just how feeble the Mets' financial condition is at the moment, just look at what happened this weekend: Jose Reyes, their franchise player and the finest shortstop in Mets history, was bought up by the Florida Marlins, an organization that is currently under investigation by the S.E.C.
As hard as it may be to believe of any team that plays in a market as big as New York, the Mets are no longer in the Marlins' league when it comes to being able to afford players like Reyes. Their ownership group, led by Fred Wilpon, is too busy just trying to hang on the team, as it grapples with the after-effects of its deep financial involvement with Bernie Madoff.
The fact that Reyes left this way—rather than, say, after having been made an insanely lucrative offer he couldn't refuse from the Yankees or the Red Sox—is particularly sad.
The Marlins and Reyes reportedly agreed to a six-year, $106 million contract with Reyes late Sunday evening, taking the 28-year-old shortstop from the only team he's known he was 16. The contract the Marlins agreed to with Reyes, however the Mets try to spin it, is quite reasonable.
The Marlins had originally offered six years, $90 million for Reyes, back in mid-November. The Mets claimed their failure to make an offer during the period of time, post-World Series, when they still held exclusive negotiating rights with Reyes, was due to an unwillingness to bid against themselves.
But once Florida bid, the Mets never made a formal offer either. Instead, they let it be known they'd be willing to go as high as five years, $80 million (which is, if you're keeping score at home, is fewer years and less money). And when the Marlins increased their initial offer to get the deal done, the Mets responded by declaring themselves out of the running.
We are not likely to hear much about Reyes now from the Wilpons, Fred and his C.O.O. son, Jeff. Once again, it will fall to the overqualified, underfunded general manager Sandy Alderson to explain the latest disappointment.
"Well, you have to draw a line somewhere,” a sober and at times visibly irritated Alderson told reporters late Sunday night. “And based on our experience—not just with Jose, but with multi-year contracts generally—and not just with our multi-year contracts, but all multi-year contracts generally, we decided that there were some conceptual limitations to where we would go.
"One of the reasons we held back for so long was to see where the market might take Jose. One of the reasons we had more communication recently than before was because there was at least some indication that perhaps the market hadn't gone where some people had anticipated. If these current reports are true, the market may have accelerated considerably beyond where it may have been a week ago, or four days ago."
But Alderson, a respected veteran, is entirely too intelligent to have thought, at any point, that he had a reasonable chance of retaining Jose Reyes if the Mets' maximum offer was five years, $80 million. Injuries had limited Jose Reyes to 126 games in 2011 and 133 games in 2010. But shortstops with the skills of Jose Reyes simply aren't rarely available as free agents in their prime years. According to Fangraphs, Reyes has already had four seasons worth $22.5 million or more to the Mets; his 2011 checked in at $27.8 million in value.
The last free-agent shortstop as valuable as Reyes to hit the open market played in 129 and 148 games in the two seasons prior to hitting free agency. It was Alex Rodriguez, in 2000, who then signed for ten years and $252 million. Carl Crawford, whose offensive abilities are similar to Reyes' and who plays at a less important position, left field, signed a contract last year for a year longer that what Reyes just got, making around $3 million more in salary per year. Derek Jeter signed a contract to play shortstop across town last year for the same annual value as Reyes' deal, even though he was nine years older, and hadn't put together a season equal to Reyes' 2011 since 1999.
In other words, if Alderson had really valued Reyes at 5 years and $80 million, but no higher, there could only have been two reasons he didn't trade him in July: Either he believed the value he'd receive in return wasn't greater than the pair of compensatory draft picks the Mets will receive now that Reyes has signed elsewhere; or ownership had instructed him not to trade Reyes, hoping instead to extract whatever value it could from the tickets the team would sell by holding onto Reyes for a few months more.
The former is awfully unlikely; shortstops hitting .341, as Jose Reyes was at the the trading deadline, are valuable commodities. What seems obvious now, if it wasn't at the time, is that the Mets' decisions about Reyes were all about short-term money.
Even as he expressed impatience with the recurring Madoff-Mets storyline, Alderson seem to admit as much.
"Bernie Madoff and his specter are always referenced in these situations," he said. "I don't really think Madoff has that much to do with it. But when a team loses $70 million irrespective of Bernie Madoff or anyone else, that's probably a bigger factor in our approach to this season and the next couple than anything else."
Naturally, though, the collapse of Bernie Madoff is what compelled the Mets' owners to cut spending, leading to losing on the field, leading to depressed ticket sales, leading to the loss of $70 million. Alderson went ahead and let everyone know while he was at it—with his throwaway phrase, “the next couple”—that he doesn't expect Wilpon's Mets to emerge from austerity mode anytime soon.