Mets Need to Unload Some Existing Payroll First
Unless Fred and Jeff Wilpon find some spare millions lying around Shea Stadium, the only way General Manager Steve Phillips can get involved in this year's free agent market is if he is able to reallocate his resources. For every dollar the Mets want to commit to signing a Tommy Glavine, they need to move every dollar a Jeromy Burnitz makes.
The Major League Baseball magic number for 2003 is 117 - as in $117 million. Teams over that salary threshold will have to pay a 17.5% tax. The Mets 2002 40-man roster payroll came in at a shade under $110 million.
According to "USA Today" (11/13/02), the Mets 2001 payroll increased by 12% from 2001 to 2002. A similar increase in their 2003 payroll would push it up about $13.2 million - for a grand total of $123.2 million. The Mets luxury tax would be about $1.1 million. Of course, we are only factoring in a 12% increase in salaries. The higher the increase in 2003 payroll, the higher the luxury tax nut. If the Mets intend on spending their way back to the playoffs (or at least contention), it is going to take more than a 12% increase in payroll.
The Wilpons found themselves in the position of having to spend more money, especially upfront money, to buy out Nelson Doubleday. Combine that outlay of money with the fact that ownership wants to limit (or eliminate) any luxury tax the Mets might have to pay, and you see that Phillips practically has to match, dollar-for-dollar, every salary coming north with a salary going south.
This strategy tends to be risky unless you are trading year-for-year as well as dollar-for-dollar. That is why the rumored interest in Denny Neagle is most puzzling. Yes, the deal would rid the Mets of Jeromy Burnitz and Rey Ordonez, but at what cost? Both Jeromy and Rey are in the final years of their contracts. The same is not true for Neagle.
The lefthander still is owed over $12 million per season for the next three years. While the Mets might save a couple of dollars this year, they are adding payroll for the next two years while losing a "roster spot". In other words, the Mets will be on the hook for over $12 million for one player rather than approximately $16 million for two players.
This type of baseball operation has come back to bite the Mets in the past. One needs only to look at the whole Bobby Bonilla-Mel Rojas mess in 1998. While this trade came during Steve Phillips' watch, we can't directly blame him for the deal. Interim GM Frank Cashen pulled off this deal while Phillips was tending to his personal problems.
The Mets traded Rojas (who had one year left on his contract) for Bonilla (who had two years remaining) because Rojas had become a liability. In the end, the Mets had to buy Bonilla out of his contract by deferring salary from now until kingdom come - or when the new Mets stadium is built - which ever comes first.
Actually, Bonilla passed up his nearly $6 million salary in 2000 for deferred payments beginning in 2011. Bonilla will receive just a shade over $1 million until the year 2035. When all is said and done, Bonilla's original $6 million deal will net him $30 million.
Because of the Wilpons reluctance to knock the salary structure out of whack, the perception is that the Mets will dip a toe into the shallow end of the free agent pool - as opposed to diving in headfirst. If the Mets want to eliminate the idea of the organization being used to get better deals from other teams, then they need to step up and show they want to be players.
If the Mets interest in Glavine is genuine, then they need to do what it takes to sign him. Don't make a lowball offer and don't chintz on the years. The same thing goes for re-signing Edgardo Alfonzo. If they want him back, then just sign him already. If not, move on and secure a replacement. If it is going to be Ty Wigginton, then use the savings to sign Glavine and/or another offensive player (e.g. Cliff Floyd).
Glavine will not come cheaply. Various reports say the Philadelphia Phillies have made Glavine a three-year/$27 million offer. Is Glavine worth at least $10 million per year for three years? That is a question the Mets must answer. One thing to consider, signing Glavine not only is a move to improve the Mets, it would also be designed to further weaken the Atlanta Braves and prevent the Phillies from strengthen themselves.
Often these type of "defensive" maneuvers tend to come back to bite you in the end. However, the chance to fire a salvo across the bow of the Braves and Phillies might just be worth the gamble.
The Mets must decide if the potential problems with the trading of Burnitz, Ordonez and even Roger Cedeno are worth the potential problems if they remain in New York.
Each player brings their own baggage to the table. Burnitz is coming off such a miserable season that his trade value is well below what it could be. After his tirade against "stupid" Met fans, Ordonez and his $6 million plus contract will be difficult to deal without the Mets eating most of the contract - but it must be done.
In actuality, the real "stupid" people were the ones who decided to give Ordonez a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract when there was no pressure, or reason, to do so.
Cedeno is a different case than either Burnitz or Ordonez because he has four years remaining on his contract and, as a result, Phillips can take on a long-term contract without taking the hit of trading players in their final year with the Mets.
All things being equal, the Mets would be better off keeping Burnitz and Ordonez because it is advantageous to have players who entering their walk year. Players without contracts seem to have extra motivation. As I said before, trading headache for headache only works if both headaches have the same amount of years remaining on their contracts.
The problem for the Mets is that all things are not equal. Ordonez sealed his fate by shooting off his big mouth. If the Mets want to take a run at a Cliff Floyd or Tommy Glavine, a high-ticket item must go - and that comes in the form of Burnitz.
The General Manager's meetings will set the stage for the action of next month's Winter Meetings. Teams are feeling each other out about which teams will be looking to dump salary and which teams will be able to take on salary.
As things stand now, the only reallocation going on within the Mets deals with the trial balloon floated about the team moving the fences in or reconfiguring the field to take away the symmetrical nature of Shea Stadium.
Given the Mets monetary constraints, Phillips only contribution to rebuilding the Mets might be to move the Shea Stadium fences in a few feet. Frankly, the Mets are on the right track with this idea, but they need to take it one step further.
Moving the fences in a few feet is nice, but a true visionary would moves the left field and right field foul lines towards each other. Think about it. The Mets would only need two outfielders, thus saving money that can be used to improve the pitching staff. With such a narrow field of play, pitchers will be lining up to sign with the Mets.
Of course there is a down side - the hitters won't be too thrilled about the changes. When push comes to shove, pitching and defense usually win out over offense - so the hitters are damned.
While we are at it, the Mets could take a page out of Bill Veeck's book and install an outfield wall system that can be moved depending on the opponent. Barry Bonds and the San Francisco Giants are in town, push the right field wall back about 30 feet. Sammy Sosa and the Chicago Cubs are at Shea, heave ho and there goes the left field wall.
Okay, I know these ideas are crazy, but are they any more ridiculous than the Mets looking to move the fences in to improve their offense. Memo to Messers Wilpon and Phillips; if you really want to improve the offense get better players. You know, the kind that can make contact and don't always need a cab to score from second base.
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