Will Jason Bay's deferred money help the Mets or just the owners?
There were many reasons for the New York Mets and Jason Bay to have agreed to a divorce, which they finally did last week, with one year and $21 million still owed to Bay by the Mets.
There was a pure baseball considerations: Bay's inability to play at a mimimally competent level made it waste to put him in the lineup, and became a source of frustration experienced for fans, coaches and teammates every time the likeable Bay failed.
But more importantly, there was the opportunity to free up some money for the Mets, who are in need of it.
To be precise, there are two competing needs: the 2013 roster, which needs bolstering, and the ownership group, which is scrambling for the means to continue running the Mets.
Now comes the interesting part. Just who will get it? The Mets? Or the Wilpons?
The difference made by the Bay deal, in terms of money going out in 2013, is significant.
Sandy Alderson acknowledged last month that payroll would remain static relative to 2012, and with the money owed Bay, Johan Santana and others already, that left essentially no room for additions. Alderson acknowledged that Bay's $16 million salary for 2013 would count toward the total, as would his $3 million buyout of his 2014 option. We now know Bay was also owed another $2 million in money for his signing bonus.
Jon Heyman reports that just $6 million will be going to Bay in 2013, along with the rest coming his way in 2014 and 2015. So that's a good $15 million that the Mets won't need to spend on Bay in 2013. How much of it is going back into a team that needs it?
Early indications suggest that the answer is: not much.
Alderson described the difference in spending flexibility this way: "I think it does give us some more flexibility, but I frankly can't tell you how much, and it's not just a function of the numbers. It's a little more complicated than just the straight numbers. It gives us some more flexibility, but I can't tell you how much at this point."
But let's be clear. Had Bay not agreed to the buyout, the Mets were on the hook for $80.5 million to six players: Bay, Johan Santana, Frank Francisco, Jon Niese, David Wright and R.A. Dickey. Bringing back Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell and Josh Thole via arbitration was going to cost the Mets another $8.5 million, according to one estimate. Simply completing the roster with minimum salaried players would have gotten the Mets to $96.2 million.
So assuming the Mets planned no other additions prior to this restructuring (a benefit of the doubt which gives them the best chance to show the Bay money was invested in the team) it will be easy to see exactly how much of the Bay savings go into helping the Mets get better in 2013, and how much is simply going back to ownership. Functionally, this means anything short of $111.2 million (keeping Bay's 2013 portion of the salaries constant, for easy estimation) represents some of Bay's money going into ownership's pockets, or to their creditors, rather than toward payroll. After all, the new collective bargaining agreement sets limits on both draft spending and international spending, so the Mets can't pretend the money is going into some kind of ground-up plan.
And if the idea is that the money is being set aside for 2014 and 2015, well, the claim has been that the only reason the Mets can't spend more on their current roster is the amount of dead money on the books. Jason Bay has always been the prime example of this.
Now much of that dead money is gone. This is good news either for the Mets or the Wilpons, but probably not both.