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Payrolls Out Of Balance

Mike SteffanosTuesday, July 18, 2006
By Mike Steffanos

A couple of days ago I explained my feelings on what the Mets should be doing at the trading deadline. Specifically I was mentioning why I would be leery of taking on a big salary like Bobby Abreu's to bolster an offense that was already strong. I felt like the Mets needed to allocate resources to locking up Wright and Reyes long term and trying to land a top pitcher such as Barry Zito. I understood what Abreu could bring to the team offensively, but I felt the cost was excessive.

Back in November when Omar Minaya traded away Mike Cameron for Xavier Nady, I felt that the Mets were making a mistake in clearing out a popular and versatile veteran for a younger player who seemed to be a one-dimensional platoon candidate. It looked like a salary dump, pure and simple, but I've come to realize that it was a smart business decision. Minaya thought he could get the same offensive production out of the younger and cheaper Nady, and that's pretty much how it went. Cameron's defense wasn't as valuable in right field as it was in center, and Minaya was able to land Endy Chavez as the quality fill-in for Beltran that Cameron was the year before.

The salary flexibility that players like Nady provide allow for contracts like those handed out to Wagner, Delgado, Beltran and Pedro. I have no doubt that Abreu will be an offensive upgrade to Nady, and a defensive upgrade on every ball that's 20 feet or more away from the wall. I'm just not convinced that he will provide $15 million dollars worth of upgrade. Some of you have countered my opinion with the thought that Fred Wilpon could certainly afford to go up a few million dollars in payroll, and of course you're right. I can't help but to seriously question, though, just how many top-tier salaried ballplayers you need to have on a team. It just reminds me of the approach that the Yankees started pursuing after winning in 2000, where all of a sudden they had to field a freakin' all-star at every position. How has that worked out for them?

Some have opined that Pat Gillick would accept second-tier prospects for Abreu just to clear his salary. You may indeed be right, but I find this somewhat hard to believe. Gillick is desperate for pitching, and I don't understand why he would give up his one solid chip for anything less than the top pitching prospect that he craves. If he can't get anyone to cough one up at the deadline, why wouldn't he hold onto Abreu -- who is signed through next season -- and roll the dice again in the off-season when he might have a better chance of landing what he truly needs. If I was him, that's how I would play it. The Phillies aren't a small-market team looking just to clear salary.

I do think that the Mets payroll should and will go up significantly in the next few years, but I believe it's important how it goes up. The reason that the Phillies are considering trading Abreu at all is because their salary structure is so out of whack. Their opening day payroll was around $88 million. Abreu is making $13 million and Pat Burrell $9.5 million, just about a quarter of their payroll. Abreu is slated to make $15 million next year, while Burrell bumps up significantly to $13 million. They also had to give the White Sox $22 million to take Jim Thome and his $12.5 million owed for this year and $14 million next year. The Phillies went overboard stacking their payroll to their position players. Gillick has got to clear someone out of there and bring things more into balance. His position from day one has been pitching is the huge need.

I think part of the reason the Braves have struggled so mightily this year is the fact that their payroll is skewed weirdly. Despite the whines from the fans and some players, their opening day payroll was over $90 million, which is far more than several teams that have fielded a more balanced and competitive team this year. Keep in mind that key players have also given the Braves a discount to remain with the club. The Braves are paying Mike Hampton $13.5 million, Andruw Jones $13 million, Larry Jones $11 million (reduced from $17 million so the club could sign players), Smoltz $8 million, Renteria $8 million (Boston pays some), and Tim Hudson $4 million. Most of their money is going to a few guys, which is why their bullpen is all kids and retreads.

The Mets will be able to afford a payroll higher than both the Phillies and Braves, but I think the same principles apply. On a team that's already loaded with superstar (or soon to be superstar), position players: Delgado, Reyes, Wright and Beltran, I think Abreu is a luxury. I'd much rather see that $16 million per year in 2007 and 2008 spent on upgrading several positions, pitching, or locking up Wright and Reyes to long-term contracts with the Mets. Sure, I know the Mets have a couple of years to do that before either player makes his 6 and is eligible for free agency, but there's a couple of good reasons not to wait -- you can do it cheaper when the player isn't a potential free agent, and you avoid even flirting with the p.r. disaster that letting one or both get away would bring. Besides, I'd rather give the money to someone who's already proved he can handle New York, which is why I hope the Mets continue to see their prospects as something more than bargaining chips, but rather the future of this team.

I respect the opposing position elegantly stated in the comments by Ryan from Always Amazin' and others. Certainly if the Mets acquire Abreu, I'll root for him as hard as anyone will. I just believe there are better things to spend on. I'm not trying to change your thinking, just explain mine.

Gotham Baseball: The crazy market
Mark Healey, who put GB on the map last winter reporting trade rumors, updates us on why starting pitchers aren't changing teams. After listing the insane demands of some teams, Healey quotes a NL scout on why Omar Minaya may switch his goal to getting an outfielder like Abreu:

(Mets GM Omar) Minaya has no patience for this overpriced marketplace. If he's going to deal kids he wants back quality, not quantity. Besides, every time he calls a team about a specific player, (in addition to asking for) that kid (Lastings Milledge), they're trying to throw in guys that they signed a year ago to look competitive -- and now can't afford -- and make (Minaya) give up the kid AND take back the (bleep) player too!

He wants to make a deal, but the rest of the teams are making it hard to do so.

I don't know, maybe it's just me, but if the demands for pitching were so insane, I'm not sure that I'd use second-tier pitching chips like Brian Bannister to acquire an outfielder. Their value may be much higher in the long run by developing them into major-league pitchers. Even fourth or fifth starters or solid relievers have an inflated value in today's market. Especially when you start looking at the OF options below Abreu, are they enough of an upgrade to the serviceable Nady to be really worth anything of value?

Metstradamus: Hall Of Hate
Metstradamus profiles the 2006 inductees. Hey, us older guys -- can we try harder to get Dick Young in there next year?

Newsday Mets Blog: The Faith Healer Episode
David Lennon posts an explanation for yesterday's strange story.

Yahoo Sports: A different Mets team
Jeff Passan reports on why this New York Mets team is different from some that went before.

Hotfoot: Angel Hernandez
Hotfoot points us to a video of our favorite ump doing what he does best -- creating controversy. I have to admit the bit with the hat was actually funny.

Mets Geek: Reds Pitchers
Andrew Hintz profiles the starters the Mets will face in Cincinnati.

More Mets Stories:
SportsSpyder Mets
Pro Sports Daily Mets

Comments (11)

I still dont think the Mets will get Abreu. They dont need him. Nady and Heilman are 2 I think will probably go. If they trade for Peavy (post a few days ago) I wouldnt be happy. Omar allways liked Vazquez and I could see him back in NY... MY bet is on small trades this season but what do I know. I'll take a big pitcher anyday....

If they trade Nady, they'll need someone to play outfield. I'm not sure that they saw enough from Milledge to trust him to be the everyday RF the rest of the year and playoffs. I don't see Nady going anywhere unless they get one of those OF's mentioned back. Heilman might go for a starting pitcher, but Vazquez is really overpriced for what he brings to the table ($12.5 million next year). If they are going to trade Heilman for a starter and it's not Zito or Willis, I'd rather see them roll the dice with Heilman in the rotation.

In some part you have contradicted your own logic.

1. Omar has gotten great low cost back ups for all his positions. as such Nady has lost time to endy and it has been quoted that milledge is staying. Also one thing you missed above is Cammy's injury which drove down his value and the doubt nady could play every day. At the time Nady was as good as Omar could get and he was pressed to cut salary to swing the Delgado deal.I think nady was a bridge to milledge. I also think Nady is gone. Nady is a ML performer with power (and - defense)For someone like the O's who have asked for him, he slots as a RF/DH. I can also see him in SF. (see Metsblog/NY Post)

2. Also note; Now Matsui (8M) are ejected 2B is an issue. Jose has anchored it but doubts remain because Jose cant hit lefties. Enter 23yr old ruben Gotay who is CHEAP. Why get a CHEAP 2nd baseman? You said it. So you can get an expensive pitcher (Schmidt?).

Talk about trades. What is this rumor about. Mets and Royals to swap 2B. Keppinger and Gotay. Keppinger .297 vs Gotay .264, Kepp. is 26 and Gotay is 23. Is that the reason. I like Keppenger, I thought he could fit in on this team and if not I thought he can be a trade piece. But if this rumor is true, why a swap like this?

Ed, I don't believe I've contradicted my logic at all, I just don't think you agree with everything I've said. I don't think the Mets trade Nady this year unless they bring an OF back. I don't think they see Milledge as ready this year. He'll be the LF next year unless they trade him. Nady has given them a lot of production for the money, especially from the 7 hole. The big question on him is if the wrist holds up, but Milledge is insurance -- unless they trade him.

Schmidt scares me, he had a strong May and June but has struggled in July so far. (17 IP, 10 ER, 21 H, 11 K, 6 BB) They don't need another fragile older (34) pitcher on this staff.

When did I say I'd be against getting a cheap 2B in any of this? You lost me on this one.

Rev, I've heard others are involved in the trade with the Royals, but who knows? They've obviously given up on Keppinger internally -- whether that is a smart decision is something that will be answered when some team gives him the shot that the Mets just won't.


damn. here's the link that galvanizes my (old) theory. Also I can see the Oliver Perez wrinkle too, but with the Mets happy to keep Gotay/ahern at 2B.

MY WRINKLE is Kansas should put Ahern at SS and move their SS to 2B, then bring up Alex Gordon. for more see mlbrumors.com

Amen on your skepticism regarding Abreu's potential for fitting into a Mets clubhouse, lineup, and payroll snugly.

Any Mets fan knows from the trial and error (mostly error) of past trades that being a good, or even a great, player doesn't always translate into doing it under the microscope that is the Noo Yawk media. There are dozens of examples, but let's just pick one, who also happened to be a Phillies second baseman.

Juan Samuel.

Nuff said.

Actually I was making the point that the Mets are going from 8M down to 300K at 2B. Then as SS and 3B $$$ go up, Milledge is 300K at RF instead of Cammy (7M) and Nady 1.5M.

Bannister and Pelfrey are 4&5 next yr (with Maine/ Soler/Devaney/Humber in tow)at 300K.

I think Floyd could resign in this trend (2yrs 10M).

I think the Mets will let Milledge and Chavez have RF in Aug if the right deal for piching comes along. Again I think Nady's production and salary make him a great target. Interesting thing blogged on Metsblog is the A's have the LOWEST production at 2B.

Could it be Omar gets Gotay and then sends him with Nady and Heilman for Zito. The Mets lost little with Chavez/Milledge in place of Nady and in fact are more exciting playing with speed and defense.

THE METS NEED PITCHING!!! Traxx, Ohern, are pitching grenades and Glavines late down trend is not rolaids friendly. The market is weak and full of injury suspects to include Schmidt, Armas Jr and Perez. But we need someone, Schmidt is a FA next yr.

As my son would say....'snap',

• The A's are apparently still willing to do the deal they originally offered to the Mets for Barry Zito: the lefty for Lastings Milledge and Aaron Heilman. "That would hand the Mets entrée to the second round,'' one competing GM said. Still, the Mets aren't biting.

• Diamondbacks starter Miguel Batista (8-5, 4.94 ERA) is on the Mets' radar. However, Arizona, only three games out in the NL West, is reluctant to trade its second-best starter.

Ed, sorry it took so long to answer. Had to do some work outside in 97 degree heat and it kicked my ass. I've been in the A/C for 2 hours and I still feel light-headed.

You're right that I forgot to include Matsui's contract in money coming off next year. I'll defer to you on the rest, you're more on top of the rumors than I am.

I've heard speculation that Schmidt might be able to get a 4-year contract in the current market. I wouldn't go there with him, they've gambled enough on Pedro and Wagner.
Nostra Dennis, good point on Samuel, although I don't see a repeat in Abreu to that degree. I do hate trades within the division, though.

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