11:11 am Oct. 26, 2012
There's nothing unusual about a team failing to begin contract negotiations with its own players, still under contract for another year, in October. And without context, recent news that the Mets had yet to discuss length or money on potential extensions for David Wright and R.A. Dickey might seem innocuous.
But the Mets went to great lengths during the first week of October to stress how quickly they intended to move on retaining Wright and Dickey for the long-term. October was to be the key month in that effort.
Both Wright and Dickey are under team control for 2013; Wright has an option for $16 million, Dickey has one for $5 million. But with both players indicating an unwillingness to negotiate in-season in 2013, the Mets face a decision this winter: to either sign the two players to long-term extensions this winter, or risk losing them for nothing next winter.
When asked how quickly he intended to begin that process, general manager Sandy Alderson replied: "How long does [this] game last?"
More earnestly, Alderson pointed out that the situations needed to be resolved "from our standoint, the sooner the better."
Over the course of the month, stories that included leaks about the potential framework for a deal with Wright (no leak was forthcoming about specific terms for Dickey) also cited the moment in early November when the Mets would pick up the 2013 options for both players as an implicit deadline for negotiating extensions. As Jon Heyman wrote on October 9:
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.
So the problem is a fairly straightforward one. If the Mets have simply adjusted their timeline, they have plenty of time to retain Wright and Dickey, since the two are under team control for another year.
But if the team still intends to explore trades for Wright and Dickey once they pick up each player's team option in early November, then the lack of action in October is potentially fatal to those efforts.
The inaction doesn't make sense. Alderson is absolutely right that the sooner the Mets have clarity on the Wright and Dickey situations, the sooner he can build the 2013 team. Dealing them both opens up $21 million in salary for 2013, while creating the need for a starting pitcher and third baseman.
And the Mets publicly declared their desire to speak with Wright about an extension this past summer; Wright demurred, saying he didn't want to discuss an extension in season.
This public declaration of interest, followed by inaction once the player is willing to engage, might sound familiar to you. In 2011, the Mets expressed interest in negotiating with Jose Reyes in-season. Once the season ended, however, they chose not to use their exclusive negotiating period, failing to even come up with a framework of an offer until Reyes had received one from the Miami Marlins, and the Mets made sure that offer was far short of what the Marlins were offering.
It was the strategy a team would employ with no interest in actually keeping Reyes, but rather to be able to claim to fans that it tried to keep him. The reason was obvious: the Mets couldn't afford him. The week Reyes signed a six-year, $106 million deal with the Marlins, the Mets were finalizing an emergency bridge loan just to stay solvent through the winter.
The team's strategy succeeded in tarnishing Reyes (see the reaction to him among some fans at Wednesday night's Knicks-Nets game), and drawing attention from their bad-faith negotiation, which is what made his departure inevitable.
Increasingly, the pattern with Dickey and Wright appears to be following the Reyes template.
The Mets still have time to course-correct. But their declaration of October a vital month to resolve the two situations, before proceeding to waste that month without even preliminary engagement with the players in question, seems to say an awful lot about where things are headed.