9:54 am Jun. 12, 20121
Baseball's richest teams tend to attract great prospects. That's how it's always been.
The New York Yankees won the American League pennant virtually every year from 1947-1964, thanks in large part to their ability to stockpile prospects. The M.L.B. draft was essentially created in response to the Yankees, beginning in 1965. Free agency, which is what the Yankees are known for today, didn't come into being until the mid-1970s.
But even with the advent of the draft, teams like the Yankees were still able to game the system, drafting high-impact talent that other teams believed were too expensive in the later rounds, then signing them to top-round contracts. Other, smaller markets took advantage of this opportunity to add young talent, notably the Pittsburgh Pirates. And even the Mets, 50 years late to the party, began to do so in the 2011 draft.
The new collective bargaining agreement, however, made it harder for rich teams to game the system by paying higher-than-recommended salaries. Now, teams that do so lose draft picks.
That leaves the few prospects who aren't subject to baseball's draft, based on country of origin, as the one place teams can actually use their financial advantages to add talent.
Which brings us to Jorge Soler, a 20-year-old Cuban outfielder who is supposed to have excellent power and above-average speed.
The Yankees bid on Soler, as did many other teams, including the Phillies and the Red Sox.
But the Cubs, a well-to-do team run by Theo Epstein, a man who loves international free agency, ultimately won the bidding, which gave Soler a nine-year deal worth $30 million. Considering he'll be 29 at the end of the contract, the length of the agreement is probably a good thing for the team.
The reason presented to Joel Sherman by the Yankees for coming up short is another sign that the new collective bargaining agreement may be the strongest one yet in baseball's unending battle to level the playing field between the Yankees and everyone else. Essentially, the Yankees have strong financial incentives for getting payroll below $189 million. The Yankees already have three players signed for 2014—Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez—and $73.5 million committed to them. None of the three are particularly likely to be productive by then, particularly Jeter and Rodriguez. Add in whatever it takes to retain Curtis Granderson and Robinson Cano long-term, and payroll becomes tight.
The Mets, meanwhile, didn't bid at all.
In Soler, the Mets would have been adding the kind of elite upside talent they specifically did not grab in this year's draft. Their top two picks, shortstop Gavin Cecchini and catcher Kevin Plawecki, both signed for below baseball's slot. Now, there's a reasonable argument for doing so—teams can take money not used on those picks and go over slot on later picks, and the Mets did so at least twice, with eighth-round catcher Tomas Nido and fourteenth-rounder Chris Flexen.
But the flip side of Sandy Alderson's perfectly reasonable stance on second-generation free agent contracts wasn't that teams should be spending less money, period, or simply as much as other teams in the draft. It was that such resources should go toward players approaching or in their primes, not players exiting or past their primes.
Yet the Mets didn't even bother trying for a player who would have cost them an average of less than $4 million per year—Jon Rauch money—and provides skills that are essentially unmatched by anyone, from the major league team on down, in the organization.
Maybe Alderson's baseball operations team didn't like Soler. Or more likely, the money still isn't around for them to bother with things like adding the kind of talent they'll need to supplement those players they already had on hand.
Remember, spending money and developing your farm system aren't actually mutually exclusive paths, just because the Mets did just the former under Omar Minaya just the latter under Sandy Alderson. Their circumstances have changed. And every time a Jorge Soler comes by, the Mets are paying by not paying for him.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
The Mets look to rebound from a stretch losing six of seven, taking on a Tampa Bay Rays team Tuesday night that just swept the Marlins. Chris Young will make his second start of the season. Meanwhile, the team has the worst bullpen in the major leagues, but Sandy Alderson doesn't believe the Mets should be trading prospects for bullpen help—a strategy that makes sense, even if the Mets stay in the race, due to the high cost in talent and the relatively thin farm system he's still building up.
The Yankees moved into a tie for first place in the American League East by beating Atlanta, 3-0. Fortunately for the Yankees, neither Hiroki Kuroda nor Andy Pettitte will miss a rotation turn after getting hit with a pair of comebackers this weekend.
The Los Angeles Kings captured the Stanley Cup with a 6-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
The U.S. national team continues qualifying for the 2014 World Cup with a difficult task Tuesday night: a match in Guatemala. Euro 2012 also continues Tuesday, with Greece facing the Czech Republic, and Russia facing Poland. On Monday, England tied France 1-1 and Ukraine beat Sweden 2-1.
The Red Storm landed 6'9" shotblocker Chris Obekpa, adding a dimension missing from last season's team.