The U Files #14: The Case of Delinquent Dealing
Offering Fonzy Arbitration Would Have Made Sense
Offering Fonzy Arbitration Would Have Made Sense

Posted Dec 9, 2002


The Mets took a step towards competing last Thursday when they signed pitcher Tom Glavine, and then took a step back two days later. The Mets offered salary arbitration to none of their free agents, but re-signed pitcher Steve Trachsel.

Edgardo Alfonzo has clearly not been the same in his last two seasons as he was before. He is not the "30 Hr, 100 RBI man" people like to see at third base. Respectfully, that is not the best way to evaluate players, and there may not be so many third baseman to be found with such power.

Fonzie has much more value than a casual look at RBI would indicate. No third baseman in baseball had a higher On Base Percentage than Fonzie's .391. Among National League third baseman, only Scott Rolen had a higher OPS (On base Plus Slugging percentage). Rolen's OPS was .853, Fonzie's .851. Without Alfonzo, the Mets have nobody they can count on to provide high OBP besides Mike Piazza.

By failing to offer arbitration by Saturday's deadline, the Mets assured themselves of not signing Alfonzo, Mark Guthrie, and Steve Reed. The Mets now cannot negotiate with these players until May 1. It also means the Mets receive no draft picks as compensation when they sign with other teams. As Alfonzo is a "type A" free agent, he could have netted a team's first round pick. Reed and Guthrie would gain the Mets additional picks in the second round. The upcoming draft is strong in college talent, and a handful of high round picks would go a long way.

The Mets will not lose their first round pick for signing Tom Glavine because they have a pick in the top 15. These picks cannot be lost. Further signings can, however, deny the Mets their picks in the second round and below, as happened last year.

Signing Steve Trachsel is not a bad move for the Mets, though it dooms Met fans to another season with chants of "throw the ball." He signed for only $8 million for two years, and for his career is about an average pitcher. This certainly isn't a bad thing in the fourth spot in the rotation.

Not signing Reed and Guthrie in itself isn't a bad move; relief pitchers of their caliber are easily replaced. It does give Steve Phillips another chance to display his remarkable talent for overpaying for mediocre relievers, though. If the Mets move past the misguided notion they need something they'd qualify a "proven" pitcher, it isn't hard to find a cheaper, more creative solution.

The Mets went wrong in not offering arbitration, however. There are plenty of teams that would sign Guthrie and Reed after the seasons they had, so the risk of going to arbitration is minimal. This decision only costs the Mets draft picks. If Alfonzo went to arbitration, there is a good chance they'd wind up owing him $8 million. Though his agent claims 12 teams have made inquiries, he is making relatively high demands. It was recently asserted he asked for a two-year deal worth $17 million. Still, there are teams that may sign Alfonzo for such money: many, many crazier things have happened. The worst that could happen is the Mets would pay $2 million more for the best third baseman available than they offered, and a first round pick is at stake. It is not hard to imagine the Dodgers (for example) signing Alfonzo.

The Mets are considering several options at third base, some very bad options. Among the options are a trade for Kansas City third baseman Joe Randa, signing old pal Todd Ziele, and signing Japanese star Norihiro Nakamura. Nakamura is the most interesting option, though good stats from Japan are hard to find. He's hit over 39 home runs each of the last 3 seasons. Though regarded as an impatient hitter, I've heard he has drawn over 80 walks each of the last three seasons. OBP and slugging data are not available.

Randa simply is not a good hitter. He's put up inferior numbers in a hitter's park than Alfonzo has in a pitchers park. He'd be due $5.5 million if traded. If it makes sense to acquire a far inferior player for such money, how can it not make sense to acquire Fonzie for $2.5 million more? Ziele is only a fill in at this point, and if he is signed for any considerable sum, the same question applies.

The Mets could also go the cheap route and let Ty Wigginton start at third base.

Another move the Mets have considered is a trade of Rey Ordonez for Orioles pitcher Scott Erikson. Thankfully, Erikson only has one year left on his contract, as does Ordonez. The hurler is due only $350,000 more than Ordonez. Erikson pitched only 160.2 innings last year to an ERA of 5.55. He missed the entire 2001 season.



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3B Edgardo Alfonzo (profile)
P Mark Guthrie (profile)
SS Rey Ordonez (profile)
P Steve Trachsel (profile)
3B Ty Wigginton (profile)
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