New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is set for a windfall. After earning $11 million this season, he will command top dollar in the upcoming free-agent market. Maybe not Carl Crawford money, but the type of coin that will make him a very comfortable man for a very long time.
Mets fans want to keep Reyes, but with the Wilpons looking to cut some $40 million in payroll next season, that chances of re-signing him and keeping within the supposed $100 million salary ceiling is not only hard but impossible. A poster at Citi Field summed it up nicely: "Pay Reyes now or the Mets will pay later."
Even if he earns 75 percent of what Crawford is going to make, he will still be leaving his owner $15 million in the hole for the next six or seven years. While the monetary sum is on the low end and the years probably a little high, that is still a big investment for any team to take on.
So can the Mets afford Reyes? More importantly, can they afford to not have Reyes? If they can't, how do you convince the Wilpons to pony up the extra money needed to secure his services?
Let's start with what we know. Johan Santana will be in the fifth of his six guaranteed years with the club and will earn $24 million. Jason Bay will be in the third of a four-year $66 million deal and will take home a little over $18.1 million and David Wright, who has a club option for 2013, will finish his six-year deal worth $15.25 million.
Right there is more than $57 million.
Add in R.A. Dickey's $4.75 milion contract plus the guaranteed $1.2 coming to D.J. Carrasco and the team is nearing $63.5 million.
Francisco Rodriguez will make $17.5 million in 2012 if he vests his option, something that becomes guaranteed with 55 finished games this year. If not, you can count on a $3.5 termination buyout. K-Rod with the team next season makes the payroll $81 million. If he goes elsewhere, the total committed to players is $67 million. He has finished 27 of the Mets' first 72 games, putting him on pace for 60 for the year.
So that $81 million is really the baseline right now. Barring no trades of the above six guys—two starting position players, two starting pitchers from the rotation, the closer and a right-handed reliever—that is what the Mets are set to pay to these guys.
With that out of the way, let's make some additions by subtraction. Carlos Beltran will be a free agent, closing the door on his Scott Boras-inspired seven-year $119 million deal. That's huge considering a replacement right fielder can be had for much less. Who could step in is a matter for another article, but at the low end the Mets could fill the gap with someone earning less than $500,000.
Then there's those eligible for arbitration. Mike Pelfrey, Angel Pagan, Ronny Paulino, Blaine Boyer, Taylor Buchholz and Bobby Parnell are all eligible for arbitration, but in terms of finances, Pelfrey and Pagan are the only two worth really factoring in to the equation. Pelfrey is making almost $4 million as the de facto ace this year and could realistically command anything from $6 million to $8 million in his second year of arbitration depending on how the second half of 2011 shapes out. Pagan, a free agent in 2013, could be worth another $5 million.
I don't know the thinking of the front office, and I am not going to pretend that I do, but I don't think it is too much of a stretch to say they would like to re-sign both players.
This is where we really start guessing with the numbers. For the sake of argument, let's assume both Pelfrey and Pagan play 2012 for a combined $12 million. That essentially represents a $3 million raise for Pelfrey and a $1.5 million raise for Pagan. They are numbers which could be on the high end, representing essentially a 50 percent pay rise.
So this is where the Mets would be, before you even consider a five-man bench.
3B: David Wright
OF: Jason Bay
OF: Angel Pagan
SP1: Johan Santana
SP2: Mike Pelfrey
CL: Francisco Rodriguez
RP: D.J. Carrasco
The Mets would have around $93 million of payroll tied up in one-third of what they need to fill out their 25-man roster. Virtually no infield, no back end of the rotation, little relief and no backups. Clearly those spots will be filled, but at a cost.
Even if you plug every one of the 17 holes with guys making $420,000 (a rough estimate of the lowest wages of players not yet eligible for arbitration), that adds a little more than $7 million to the payroll.
Conveniently, that would give the team a $100 million payroll, right in the Wilpons' happy zone.
The bad news is that it won't happen like that.
Veteran role players (think Willie Harris, Scott Hairston, Chris Young) tend to fetch at least $1 million, and players like Ike Davis will no longer be earning the league minimum. And it doesn't deal with the Reyes situation.
The need for free agent signings this past offseason were well-publicized, but I don't think any Mets fan would have predicted the exact guys the team brought in. I certainly wasn't expecting the likes of Buchholz and Jason Isringhausen. This will also be the case next year. You can expect half a dozen new, unexpected, low-profile names on the 40-man.
They won't be superstars and they won't in all likelihood be starters. nut they will fill a role and they will have a part to play. Similarly, players coming through the system from Buffalo and Binghamton will also likely start making an impact with the big club.
That gets us back to the problem of Reyes. Are there people within the organization who can play short? Absolutely. Are there free agents who will accept less money than what Reyes would be looking for to play the position in 2012? Undoubtedly. But is there any available shortstop in the game right now that Mets fans would pay day-in and day-out to watch as much as they would Reyes? I would say the answer is no.
The team can't afford to sign him within the reported $100 million budget, but they can't afford not to sign him. I like David Wright, I really do, but regardless of whether he is the leader of the team, Reyes is the heart of the team.
He is on his way to having a career year and even though there may be doubts about his long-term health, there is no way the club can let him go to another team. The team is in a delicate position right now, both in terms of finances and stability within the fan base, but this is one time where I would advocate spending money instead of cutting back.
I don't really care for Michael Kay, but he said something that hit home with me on his radio show the other day: A New York team cannot lose a player because they can't afford to pay him. This is the biggest market in America, and he's spot on. The team needs to find money and the Wilpons need to think of the bigger picture.
Yes, a Jose Reyes-less Mets would probably come in close to their budgeted $100 million, but the fan outcry would be unprecedented and the on-field product would be mediocre. The team isn't thinking about letting him go to save money to spend on upgrading the team somewhere else, they are thinking of letting him go to save money. Period.
Reyes means more to this team than anyone else on the roster. To be honest, he's meant more to the organization than everyone since Mike Piazza. His skill set is almost unparallelled in the sport and his value with Mets fans is on a par to any teams' superstar in any city in any sport.
In my mind there are three options:
1. The Mets part ways with Reyes at the end of the season.
2. The Mets move Reyes at the trade deadline.
3. The Mets re-sign Reyes and take the financial hit that entails.
4. The Mets re-sign Reyes but trade another high-profile player to absorb the budget hit.
The first two options are essentially the same in terms of finances. They would not be on the hook for his salary anymore. A trade would likely net a prospect or two as well as other players that may be more Major League ready. Depending on the value of the players that came to New York, as well as if any other Mets were involved in a deal, this would affect finances. Losing him as a free agent would net the club draft picks, which is pretty much a lotto ticket for 2015 or 2016.
If they go down the No. 3 route, the owners need to stump up the cash and hope he repays the club with ticket sales and wins. It's not complicated to get your head around, but it's not necessarily easy to execute.
The final option helps balance the books but comes at a cost to the team's immediate chances of success. The only realistic players you could move to free up space to pay Reyes and Wright, Bay and Santana.
You'd have to think that Santana is safe and that Bay's value has never been lower. It's tough to think about losing Wright to keep Reyes, but if the Mets are certain they need Reyes AND have to stay within a budget, they may have no choice.
There would be suitors for Wright, but between his recent injuries, the fact he would only be contracted for one year before entering free agency and the need to send enough back to the Mets in return, the number of interested GMs may not be as high as you initially think.
Look, I would love to see the owners publicly state that they are behind keeping the current core of the club, Reyes included, together and that they are willing to spend the money to make this happen. But I'm also a realist and I recognize that in this economic climate it is tough.
I can't envision Reyes playing for anyone other than the Mets, but right now I fear things could get worse before they get better.