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?
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Yahoo Sports: A different Mets team
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Hotfoot: Angel Hernandez
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