New York Mets: Sandy Alderson Can Take a Page from the Kansas City Royals
Fans got what they wanted when the Mets replaced Omar Minaya with Sandy Alderson as general manager. They got it again when Terry Collins took over for Jerry Manuel.
Not done spoiling their fans, the Mets then set fire to $18 million and released the much-maligned Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo, the pair best representing the failures of years past.
Yes, you could say Mets fans have gotten everything they wanted this offseason—except a contender.
Maybe the Mets can surprised some people this season if things go their way. But how often has that happened?
The future of the Mets is certainly not hindered by an unwillingness to change; surely the Mets have demonstrated a desire to enact the change necessary to turn things around. But their future is held back by something much more difficult to combat.
Just choose your area. Second base? The starting rotation? The bullpen? Jose Reyes? How do those work for you?
Not good enough? How about the simplest of all, the Mets' bank account?
If Alderson is going to get this team to turn a corner, he's going to need a plan.
Releasing Perez and Castillo? That was only step one of a very long process.
And while most Mets fans would expect a team with a top five payroll to be big players in the free agent market in years to come, that may not be a realistic option.
Alderson has already made it very clear that the payroll is "significantly higher" than he'd like and most of all, he wants flexibility. If the Mets are going to lower payroll, whether it's because they want to or have to, what are we talking about? The Mets payroll will be between $140-150 million this season. So are we talking $120 million? What about $100 million?
If Alderson is going to have to do a lot with a little, or at least much less than his predecessor, he needs to find new ways to improve this team other than handing out big contracts.
Who should serve as his inspiration?
How about the worst team in the American League, the Kansas City Royals?
For all the suffering and disappointment Mets fans have had to endure in recent years, they don't know anything about having a bad team in town.
From 1976 to 1985, the Royals were the blueprint for baseball success, winning six Western Division titles, culminating in a World Series win.
The Royals stayed in the picture through the early 90s, but hit a wall in 1994. They reduced payroll from $40.5 million (fourth highest in baseball) to $18.5 million in 1996 (second lowest in baseball).
Now, the Mets won't be dropping payroll THAT much, but you get the idea.
Since winning the World Series in 1985, the Royals haven't been much more than a laughingstock. But, as one Royals executive recently told ESPN The Magazine, "Get your jokes in now," because the Royals are blessed with the best farm system in baseball, making their time in the basement a bit easier on the fans, who can keep their eyes firmly set on the team's bright future.
Patience isn't something most New Yorkers are familiar with, but that's exactly what Royals' general manager Dayton Moore has preached since taking over in mid-2006. At that time, the Royals farm system was devoid of talent.
Alex Gordon, Billy Butler and Zack Greinke were all there, but Greinke was traded this offseason, having contributed a Cy Young award in 2009 but not much in the win/loss column, while Butler and Gordon continue to be the brightest stars on the team, which isn't saying much.
Choosing to simply plug holes on the major league level with low-level free agents and minor trade acquisitions, the Royals instead focused heavily on player development. They have shown a great willingness to pay out large draft bonuses and sign over-slot players, something the Mets have refused to do in recent years and exactly what they must begin doing.
What would the outlook of the Mets be if they had prospects like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer in their minor league systems? What about a Wil Myers, John Lamb or Mike Montgomery?
Sure the Mets have produced solid prospects in recent years, guys like David Wright, Jose Reyes, Mike Pelfrey and Ike Davis. But nothing like what the Royals have coming down the road.
The Royals have a record nine prospects on Baseball America's top 100 list for 2011.
Hosmer received a $6 million club bonus when the Royals drafted him in 2008. Hosmer hit .338 with 20 home runs, 86 RBI and a .406 OBP last season in two minor league stops and could find his way onto the major league roster at the end of this season.
The Royals gave Moustakas, the No. 9 prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, a $4 million bonus. What did he do last season in the minors? He hit a rather pedestrian .322 with 36 home runs and 124 RBI.
I know what you're thinking—hardly an impact prospect.
Myers, Lamb and Montgomery are all within the top 20 prospects in baseball.
They represent quality prospects the Mets can only dream of producing.
The Royals rank fifth in baseball in draft bonuses at $37.8 million. That's right, Mr. Alderson. For the low, low price of just $38 million, you too can have the best minor league system in baseball.
OK. It's not that easy, but you get the point.
Other than Mike Pelfrey (2005) and Ike Davis (2008), not one of the Mets top draft picks from the last decade have had an impact on the major league level.
Have you heard from Phil Humber, Kevin Mulvey or Eddie Kunz lately? Me neither.
The Mets spent just $3.1 million on the 2009 draft, the lowest figure in baseball.
Over the last five drafts, the Mets have spent just $20.6 million on bonuses, the second-lowest total in baseball.
Last year, the Mets redeemed their draft by selecting right-hander Matt Harvey in the first round, but didn't give any player over $400,000 after that.
A lack of depth in their farm system has had greatly affected their major league operations. They don't have the prospects to complete a trade for any high-impact free agents, nor do they have the prospects to replace injured starters with any sort of reliability.
For example, if Carlos Beltran begins this season on the DL, free agent acquisition, Scott Hairston, is most likely to replace him, and not "top prospect" Fernando Martinez. Alderson does like Lucas Dude quite a bit, but seems unwilling to use him to replace Beltran, who does seem on track to start on Opening Day.
Couple all of that with a reported $50 million in net losses in 2010, and the Mets have a recipe for disaster.
If Alderson is going change the culture of the New York Mets, he needs to start small. Let's call them "minor" changes, as in, the minor leagues. Signing draft picks to large bonuses is a risk, but if there's one thing the Mets know about, it's handing out big money on risky players.
There's no difference between writing a big check to a draft pick and writing one to a free agent, except the amount is much smaller for the former by comparison.
And if the Mets are going to be lowering payroll in years to come, some of that money needs to be redirected towards scouting and development.
Alderson has already started this process, bringing in J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta to join him in the front office, as well as replacing scouting director Rudy Terrasas, who hadn't done much in five drafts to distinguish himself, with former international scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chad MacDonald.
Alderson seems to have a plan, and much like Royals general manager Dayton Moore, must try to get fans to add the word "patience" to their vocabulary.
Not an easy pill to swallow, but the results can be quite satisfying.
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