11:20 am Oct. 10, 2012
On Saturday, the New York Mets expressed urgency to get David Wright and R.A. Dickey, the team's best position player and pitcher, signed up long-term, indicating that they hoped to have deals in principle agreed to by the World Series.
The initial offers to both players, however, don't indicate much urgency at all.
Either the Mets are going to need to come up with more, quickly, or their offers are no different than the team's pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero back in the winter of 2003-04: window-dressing in lieu of an actual acquisition.
Consider what Jon Heyman is reporting the Mets offered David Wright: "somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million."
Now, this is awfully vague, but let's give that reading all the best possible imputations to maximize what the Mets are offering.
Let's assume that keeps Wright's $16 million for 2013 as-is, and exists on top of his 2013 deal. If that $100 million (again, we don't know how far below $100 million "the neighborhood" stretches) is spread over six years, he'll be getting essentially no raise over his current salary. Over seven years, that's an average cut in pay over 2013's salary. Over five years, it would be a bump to $20 million per year, but five years simply isn't close to as much as he'd likely get on the free agent market.
To get a sense of what Wright's value is likely to be, consider that he's coming off of an elite defensive season at a premium defensive position, along with a 143 O.P.S.+. Moreover, he is just 29 years old, and that season is right in line with his career O.P.S.+ of 135.
Joey Votto, at age 28, following a 2011 that saw him finish with less total value than Wright in 2012 and an M.V.P. vote finish, sixth, likely at or below where Wright will land, signed a ten-year, $225 million extension. Votto plays first base, a less demanding defensive position with more talent around to fill it.
It's hard to fathom Wright getting anything like half as much as Votto did.
Heyman cites Ryan Zimmerman, the Washington Nationals' third baseman, as a comp for Wright. Zimmerman signed a six-year, $100 million extension this spring. But Zimmerman was coming off of an injury-plagued 2011 that limited him to 101 games, rather than a near-M.V.P. season. Moreover, Zimmerman's career O.P.S.+ of 121 is solid, but a good deal below Wright's 135.
As for Dickey, Heyman cites a Mets source as looking to extend Dickey for "no more than two years." He also cites a rival G.M. as saying Dickey could command $15 million per year in annual salary, but adds the Mets "aren't believed to be thinking anywhere near that ballpark."
The result of such thinking is almost certainly seeing Dickey pitch in a different ballpark. Though Dickey's age, 37, works against him, that he is a knuckleball pitcher works in his favor. And more to the point, he's been quite durable while pitching at an extremely high level for three years now.
Last season, C.J. Wilson hit the free agent market following a strong season in 2011. It was just his second full year as a starter, and he pitched fewer innings, at a higher x.F.I.P., than Dickey did in 2012. He then received a five-year, $77.5 million contract from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
That's the ballpark pitchers like R.A. Dickey are signed in, whether the Mets like it or not.
Also, Heyman wrote:
"The Mets may give talks about a month, until the point where they will pick up the two players' options in early November. If there are no new deals done by the time the team picks up the options (Wright's is for $16 million, Dickey's is for $5 million) the Mets may consider trades for the players. But particularly in Wright's case, the Mets might have to be overwhelmed to pull the trigger on a trade."
If the Mets cannot extend Wright, that last sentence is almost certainly intended to prevent teams from lowballing them. The race will be on to either deal Wright, or lose him, like Jose Reyes, for nothing.
Still, the pomp and circumstance surrounding comically low offers brings to mind not Reyes, who never received one at all, but Guerrero, the premier outfielder who was a free agent following the 2003 season. Guerrero had received a five-year, $65 million contract offer from the Baltimore Orioles, but appeared reluctant to sign it.
Sensing an opportunity, the Mets swooped in, and after stories in the press about a possible offer, came up with one: for three years, $30 million guaranteed, or less than half the guaranteed value of the Orioles' deal.
"If that's the case, it's not going to get it done for them," a source close to Guerrero said at the time, stating the obvious.
Unsurprisingly, Guerrero did not become a Met, and ultimately signed with the Angels for five years, $71 million. You know, his market value.
If the Mets are to avoid that fate with their two best players, they'll need to show the kind of urgency in increasing their offers to Wright and Dickey that they never did with Guerrero. Otherwise, the Mets are simply rushing to get the doomed-to-fail contract negotiations over with so their real work of trading Wright and Dickey can begin.