November 5, 2013

Mets Hot Stove: Less Could Mean More

Photo Courtesy of @Lets86It
The Mets enter this winter with more holes than their theoretical bankroll of $50MM could ever hope to fill.  More importantly, a legitimate case can be made that the personnel simply isn't available via free agency to reconstruct the team in a way to make them a legitimate contender.  That said, I expect the Mets to be very active this winter, but in a very calculated way.  Less means more...

Its a philosophy that could drive the fanbase insane, but in keeping with the front office's philosophy over the past several seasons I still don't expect any massive contracts.  Think more along the lines of "a penny saved is a penny earned".  Sandy Alderson knows that this is the winter everyone has been waiting for, but don't expect him to abandon his pursuit of constant payroll flexibility and an avoidance of abusively bad contracts.  Let me explain.

Of the thirteen players who received qualifying offers, I'd be surprised if the Mets were interested in more than Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson.  The outfield is the team's weakest link and these players represent the safest potential quality acquisitions on the market.  Both can play multiple positions, represent an offensive upgrade at whatever position they ultimately land and neither will cost an arm and a leg.  But here's the rub...  I could see the Mets leaning towards Granderson (whom I believe is the better power upgrade, but weaker overall player) because he will take a shorter contract for less overall money.  Whereas a bidding war for Choo's services could yield a guaranteed five year deal upwards of $80MM, Granderson may be had for a more reasonable three years (potentially with an option) for a little more than half of that.  While we can argue the merits of signing the older of the two players, bringing in Granderson on that type of deal allows Alderson to re-enter the market in three or four years to reinvest that money in a younger player.

I believe the same scenario may play out at shortstop.  The two names who've come up most often are Stephen Drew and Jhonny Peralta.  Drew was the recipient of a qualifying offer from Boston, immediately making him the more expensive of the two (and also costing the Mets another draft pick if signed).  Furthermore, as the younger player Drew is likely to land a longer deal.  The difference could look something like this: Drew at 4 years/$40MM versus Peralta at 3 years/$27 million.  On the annual, Peralta represents only minimal savings but Alderson's interest is as much the longer term health of the organization, as it is the team on the field next year.  Once again, a move towards the shorter contract upgrades the position in the short term while ensuring the Mets are back in the market with the money off the books sooner than later.

What it comes down to is that regardless of what the Wilpons mutter to the press, every dollar remains precious in Queens.  Saving a few million at these positions could be the difference between packing it in for the rest of the winter and dipping back into the market to fill another position.  Lets not forget that the Mets plan to be active in the trade market as well.  If they bring in the power bat they covet via trade, it too will carry an elevated salary.  Should things go well next season, maintaining payroll flexibility could be the difference between a deadline acquisition and staying the course.

While I'm not necessarily advocating this route, I still believe the front office will look to stretch the almighty dollar as far as it will go.  It has its merits, as it avoids being locked into the long lasting bust contracts we've become all too familiar with.  The Mets are poised to have their most active winter in recent memory, but don't expect them to swing for the fences.  This is the long awaited start of the rebuild, so don't anticipate the final pieces to be put in place.  Expect Alderson to spend, but you have to believe he's going to do it his way.

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