December 5, 2011
BASEBALL: Signing With The Fishes
So the Marlins have signed Jose Reyes to a 6-year, $106 million contract (with no no-trade clause). What does this mean?
1) It's almost impossible to evaluate whether it makes sense for the Mets to decline to match the Marlins' offer. As I've been saying for months now, the one piece of information Mets fans most need to evaluate the team's moves is the one we don't have reliable access to: the true financial condition of the team. Without that, everything we say is speculation.
2) That said, given the size of the Mets' market compared to the Marlins', and given that Reyes was a popular, homegrown player with strong ties to the community and (until now) a great fit with the dimensions and layout of Citi Field, it's almost certainly the case that Reyes was worth a good deal more money to the Mets than to the Marlins. Reyes' loss is a grievous blow to the Mets, who will likely be unable to meaningfully replace him in a market so short on quality shortstops (count me still a skeptic about Ruben Tejada as a hitter; at best he'll be adequate). But he may, at the same time, be terribly overpriced for the Marlins if their spending spree and new ballpark don't turn them overnight into a team able to run big-market nine-figure payrolls on an annual basis. A team with a $125 million payroll can afford to pay $17.5 million to a dynamite player who averages 120-130 games per year (Reyes averaged 133 games a year overall from age 22-28, 98 a year the past three seasons); a team with a $65 million payroll can't, because it won't have the flexibility to build around Reyes (think of the Rangers pitching staffs during the A-Rod era). And the $60.4 million payroll the Marlins shelled out in 2005 was the highest in franchise history; the average Marlins payroll over the past 19 years has been $35.6 million. Maybe that was all a multi-decade poor-me act designed to get them to the current status of having a taxpayer-funded stadium (now under SEC investigation, see here and here), but only time will tell if Jeffrey Loria is now ready to run the kinds of annual payrolls needed to justify a luxury item like Reyes, the baseball equivalent of a high-end sports car that's often in the shop.
3) Evaluating how Reyes translates into the new park is more complicated. He hit exceptionally well at Citi Field relative to scoring levels at the park, but the Mets are - in light of his departure - remodeling the place, and the new park in Florida is untested.
PS - Using the metric I was playing with on Friday, Reyes in his career has reached base 1699 times as a Met, third on the team's all-time list behind Ed Kranepool and David Wright, and he's scored 43.3% of the time, or 40.4% of the time if you exclude home runs - a rate that would put him among the elite of all time. Among the Mets to reach base more than 1000 times, the only other guy above 32.5% (excluding homers)? Mookie Wilson at 38.8% (lowest was Jerry Grote at 19.7%, even below Rusty, Kranepool, Piazza and Keith Hernandez).
This trade is the most upsetting thing to ever happen to me as a sports fan. This is worse than losing the World Series to the Yankees, or the doldrums of the early 1990s. We've turned into the Kansas City Royals.
Anybody trying to defend this as a baseball move is missing the point - that Jose Reyes money isn't going to be invested back in the team. It's going to pay down the Wilpon family's billion dollar debt.
Alderson claimed the team lost $70 Million last year? That's a lie. The team is profitable. The Wilpons lost $70 Million last year, and they're using the Mets profits to pay back their loans.
We have to lose our most exciting player in a generation, and my favorite athlete in all sports, because the Wilpons need to keep the money for themselves? That's not right. Bud Selig should have stepped in a long time ago and forced the sale.
This deal will be a loser for everybody. Even if the SEC doesn't send Loria to jail, by June the Marlins will have 300 fans per night again. They'll have a fire sale within 3 years and Reyes will end up on the Tigers or Cubs. What a disaster for everybody involved.
Alderson said last night that the Mets lost $70 million last year. I don't know if that's true, nor the degree that SNY profits offset Mets losses. But assuming there is some truth to it, then even without the Madoff mess, the owners would have to be exceptionally, exceptionally wealthy to fund ongoing losses like that. Which the Wilpons aren't.
IMO, unless the Wilpons sell (which seems unlikely), the only thing to do is look forward to a few years of bad teams until the Santana/Bay/Wright contracts expire, and then do a total reset of the team.
A.S., there's not a chance the Mets lost $70 Million. They made over $125 Million just on tickets, plus concessions & merchandise, plus $25 Million annually from Citibank for the name of the stadium. And that doesn't even include national tv revenue and the money Bud Selig is giving them to allow them to meet budget each month. Not to mention what they make on SNY. They're using accounting tricks - they've mixed up their non-baseball debt with the Mets finances.
There's no chance the Wilpon finances improve. Their debt is reported as anywhere from a few hundred million dollars to over a billion. Selig needs to force them to sell before they gut the entire team.
What's the point in even developing prospects if we'll have to sell them as soon as they become eligible for free agency, Kansas City Royals style?
In the interest of missing the point of the article, I would argue that the Rangers weren't hampered by the ARod contract when it came to paying for pitching. Their payroll during that time hovered in the $95 million neighborhood...they just chose to spend pitching dollars on guys like Chan Ho Park, Kenny Rogers, John Rocker etc. Would have to go back and look at other available free agents at the time, but I don't think their failure to put together a staff was because of lack of resource but rather inefficiently spending them. This was also the era of people believing that you just couldn't pitch in Arlington, so attracting and signing top FAs was extremely difficult.
In the short term, this will obviously set the Mets back in an increasingly competitive NL East, but the fact is that they've tried to build with big name free agents for too long, and given the financial straits of the owners and club, now would be the ideal time to burn the thing down and invest what resources they have in building up a farm system and starting a youth movement. Keeping Reyes wasn't going to make them a contender, and the other pieces just aren't there. In the long term, ripping off the band aid quickly may be for the best, but that entails a savvy front office who puts in the right plan and is allowed to execute it. That's the Rangers corollary that Mets fans should be looking for.
I agree completely that what did in the Rangers was the Park contract. That said, the A-Rod signing - while I still think it made sense for them - reduced their margin of error, which they proceeded to blow on Park.
RHS: it's not like we're getting back prospects for Reyes or that the money on him will be spent on other players. We're getting a sandwich pick, a third round pick (or fourth, if the Marlins sign Pujols), and the money that would have been spent on Reyes will immediately be used to pay off non-baseball-related debts that the Wilpons have.
I thought the moves to get rid of Beltran & K-Rod were the right thing. They saved money on players who had no use on a non-playoff team, and we got a nice prospect back in exchange for the Beltran rental. And if the Mets had traded Reyes for a couple of nice prospects and then spent the extra money on a quality free agent this time around, the move could be defended. But that's not what is happening.
You can't have a New York baseball team with a sub-$100 Million payroll. And the idea of a team from a major city letting their most beloved home grown player in 25 years go to a division rival in his prime for nothing? That's unheard of. There's simply no precedent for this. It's a pathetic. Other than the baseball strike, it's the single biggest blemish on Bud Selig's career resume.
I don't think it is possible to burn the whole thing down right now. Nobody is going to take Santana's contract or Bay's contract (at least not without the Mets paying most of the salary, which defeats the purpose anyway).
I think you've got to simply play out the string on the Beltran/Wright/Reyes/Santana/KRod/Bay era. Trade the big contracts if you can, otherwise just let them go and don't replace them. It started last year and might take a couple of more years. Maybe in 2014 you can start to think about improving hte major league team again.
So if they trade Wright, your plan is to have a $30 Million payroll in 2014 and hope the prospects pan out? You really think it's acceptable for a team in New York to do that?
I'm all for developing the prospects and not giving any of them away for established talent. We're not in a "one more trade could make the difference" situation where we trade away the next Scott Kazmir or Phil Humber (not that either of those two were THAT successful, but they were highly prized prospects when they were traded).
But we can keep all of the prospects without giving away the most exciting player in baseball, and without resigning ourselves to 65-75 win season for the next 3 years.
If Reyes was brought back, and another $10 Million in salaries was added wisely, and the team somehow found a way to not be the most injured team in baseball for the fourth straight year, it's not implausible that the team could have made a playoff run. The 2010 and 2011 teams were both in the playoff hunt, despite major injuries early on, before the injuries eventually piled up too high.
Having Reyes and a competitive team would mean 30-50% higher attendance than what they're going to have next year when absolutely nobody shows up. I know I'm not giving the Wilpons another cent.
I like watching Reyes play, but in the old Rickey saying, "We finished last with you, we'll finish last without you." And as Pirate ownership did in retaining Kiner (as opposed to Rickey picking the tradees); Reyes walked with nothing in return. That said, if the Marlins managed to get Pujols (they did offer him 10 years today), then not only will the balance of the league shift, but Met fans will honestly not feel as bad. Because Reyes was good; Pujols just might be the greatest first baseman in history (just remember Gehrig couldn't field, Foxx was good, Albert is very good) and as Underwood wrote, if Pujols goes to Miami, then St. Louis will know how England felt when it lost India. Schadenfreude will bond the two towns, but St. Louis will lose bigger.
I don't buy Reyes being here boosts attendance. He helps you get a few wins, but pitching and power hitting gets you more, and winning puts fans in the seats, not a somewhat exciting but erratic shortstop.
Jeff, you wish you were the KC Royals. They are stacked with hot young players with more in the pipeline.