Sandy Alderson's spending plans don't add up
It's June, so naturally, Mets fans are focused on the offseason.
With a caveat about the reliability of Alderson's specifics in the past, which have regularly been rendered inoperable by sharp declines in the state of ownership's finances, let's take a closer look at the budget, as Alderson laid it out.
From Joel Sherman's Tuesday column: "It was Alderson’s best guesstimate that the Mets are committed to roughly $55 million next year with raises on long-term deals for David Wright and Jonathon Niese, and increases for arbitration eligible players likely to be retained including Daniel Murphy and Bobby Parnell and — depending how you calculate it — the buyout on Santana and deferrals to Bay."
OK, let's stop you right there. Bay and Santana? Really?
It has been an article of faith that the reason the Mets couldn't spend on players like, say, starting outfielders that wouldn't draw the derision of the team's own general manager, because payroll was right up against a self-described ceiling of $90-100 million. But the payroll was only remotely close to that high in 2013 because we were apparently counting all of Santana's $25.5 million 2013 salary, his $5.5 million buyout, Bay's $6 million to be paid in 2013, and the $15 million in deferred money to be paid to Bay in 2014-15.
Take away the non-2013 portion of that money, and the Mets have a 2013 payroll right around $80 million. (It's less than that, really: $3 million of David Wright's $11 million 2013 salary is also deferred.)
Alderson is double-counting.
Even so, $55 million would mean counting all of the Santana buyouts, Bay's deferred money (collectively, $20.5 million), Wright's $20 million 2014 salary, Jonathon Niese's $5 million, and $9.5 million for arbitration salaries paid to Daniel Murphy, Bobby Parnell, Dillon Gee, Justin Turner, and if they are kept, Ruben Tejada and Ike Davis. That sounds reasonable. Let's estimate roughly another ten players at the league minimum through pre-arbitration contracts, including the best bargain in baseball, Matt Harvey, costs another $5 million.
It also leaves $40 million for seven players if the Mets check in at $100 million, $30 million if they reach $90 million. That's the range Alderson put payroll at the moment. Where that money has magically come from (a zimmo real estate market?) is anything but clear.
But let's play along for a bit longer.
The math gets even trickier. If they need to stretch that $30-40 million to sign three outfielders, a first baseman, a shortstop, and depending on the health and development of Travis d'Arnaud, a catcher, that money will disappear fast. One coveted free-agent target, Shin-Soo Choo, is a good bet to earn an annual salary of $15-20 million just by himself. And an overheated free agent market, between fewer players hitting free agency and 29 other teams with more money to spend thanks to television revenue, promises to force prices up.
And if the Mets enter 2014 counting on, say, Lucas Duda in left field, Tejada at shortstop and Davis at first, they have fewer holes to fill via free agency. But they also have an untenable defender in left field, a badly regressing shortstop, and a first baseman who hit .161 and got sent to the minor leagues. So these aren't so much holes filled as placeholders retained.
Alderson himself acknowledged much of this, pointing out to Mike Francesa that neither Duda nor Tejada were part of what he saw as the core of the team. (A vaguely infuriating game is going back and forth between the 2013 quotes from Alderson and other leaked comments from team officials on Tejada this season, and how everyone spoke about him right after the Mets let Jose Reyes get away.)
Alderson also said that he plans to be active in the trade market, the solution he touted last August before ... not making any major trades.
This isn't just a failure of Alderson: You need to trade excess assets, and while the Mets have a number of starting pitching prospects, they don't clearly have many more of them than rotation spots, unless Gee, Jeremy Hefner and the free agent to be Shaun Marcum (who would also eat into that newfound salary bounty) are all being counted on in 2014 as well.
And if you can't add players via trade with significant contracts, you are adding younger, pre-arbitration hitters ... who cost much more in talent than the Mets can likely give up without decimating their pitching prospect stash, certainly more than once.
Even this scenario relies on ownership either coming up with $320 million, or convincing J.P. Morgan Chase to push back the due date on the $320 million debt due in June 2014 without increasing the interest rate and simultaneously allowing a ton of new spending ("We can't pay you now, but is it okay if we give Shin-Soo Choo $80 million before we do?").
But even by Alderson's own calculations, even if that windfall is somehow available, it will be virtually impossible to fix the Mets this winter. And even his new projections of $90-100 million are a walking back of the leaked figure to the Daily News back in March of $125 million. That was for "the right players," though.
This is the same game Alderson played last year. He told Francesa that the reason he hasn't added players this season is due to the dearth of quality available in April, May and June. That would make more sense without the context of knowing Alderson described the need for major changes this way, last August: "So we need an infusion of players, productive players, players who are going to hit for power."
He joked about the outfield in November. This position player problem isn't some recent discovery, even to him.
How the Mets get the right players with even their own newly altered figures, to improve a team on a 63-99 pace: that's the mystery.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
It sure looks like Jason Kidd will be the next coach of the Nets.
CC Sabathia struggled in a 6-4 loss to the Athletics.
The New York Cosmos have themselves a national television deal.
The Red Bulls play the Revolution in U.S. Open Cup play Wednesday night.