By Mike Steffanos
I know I've said this before, but recent events compel me to restate this: if I wanted to be a Yankees fan I could have been one.
With the Yankees recent signings of C.C. Sabathia, J.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, some in the local media are proclaiming that the Mets must go on some sort of similar spending spree to "prove" that they belong in the same city as the Yankees. Typical of the genre is this article penned by the Post's Mike Vaccaro last week:
... [the Mets] should at least start acting like they belong in the varsity league by addressing their lingering needs - starting pitching and more stick - with the most tried-and-true method possible.
By spending their money. By acting like they belong in the same sentence - or the same city - as the Yankees. By not conceding and meekly accepting their place as after-thought, also-ran, and permanent kid brother.
I understand that, as a Mets fan, I am supposed to read Vaccaro's (admittedly effective) inflammatory prose and start screaming at the top of my lungs for Fred Wilpon to start spending like Sarah Palin set loose with someone else's plastic in a Neiman Marcus. Instead, I find myself annoyed by the transparent effort to manipulate my emotions with this crap.
The truth of the matter is and always will be that the Mets need to put a winner on the field. If they do, everything else will take care of itself. If they don't, they can spend untold millions on players and it won't change a thing.
This idea that the Mets have to compete with the Yankees in everything they do is a conceit of many of the local columnists, that the Mets can only measure up by trying to out-Yankees their rivals across the river. The problem with this thinking is that the Yankees themselves have proven over the last eight seasons that you can spend a lot of money and not win anything.
I know a lot of folks are pissed off by the Yankees spending spree. I can't say it bothers me all that much. I think the Yankees took a mighty big risk by tying so much payroll into so few guys.
Still on the hook for 9 years of Alex Rodriguez' $275 million contract, the Yankees take on $161 million over 7 years for Sabathia, $180 miilion over 10 for Teixeira and $82.5 million over 5 for Burnett. Combine this with the remnants of large contracts owed Derek Jeter (2 more years), Mariano Rivera (2), Jorge Posada (3), Johnny Damon(1), Hideki Matsui (1) and Robinson Cano (3 + 2 option years), and you have a lot of money tied up in a few guys.
If it works -- and nothing less than a championship will matter after this spree -- Cashman and the front office are geniuses. If not, they'll be cannon fodder. If nothing else, I'll give them credit for cojones. If your object is to buy a championship, don't do it halfway. Everyone is going to hate you anyway, you might as well go all in.
I don't need the Mets to try to go dollar for dollar with the Yankees to satisfy me. I want to see them run the club intelligently with a mix of player development, trades and smart agent spending. While mistakes have been made, for the most part they seem to be doing a decent job of balancing the different approaches.
That doesn't mean the Mets shouldn't spend this winter. I'd like to see them do what it takes to get Derek Lowe to sign on the bottom line. If they land Lowe I would still like to see them pursue a contract with Oliver Perez. The way the market is shaping up, it's not out of the realm of possibility that both could be signed. A rotation of Santana, Lowe, Maine, Pelfrey and Perez would be pretty solid.
If they can't come to a reasonable deal with Ollie, a veteran like Randy Wolfe or Pedro (given the right contract) should be signed for the fifth slot. I'd rather see Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell start off the year in the minors, developing their game and providing the Mets with some reasonable quality depth when needed.
I'd still also like to see them land a right-handed 1B/OF type with some pop, and they'll also need a backup infielder capable of providing depth at 2B (particularly if they do start the year with Luis Castillo) and spelling Reyes at shortstop.
If they sign Lowe and Perez they will not have a first or second round pick, and they'll need to offset that by spending in the Latin American market to get some fresh high-ceiling quality into the lower levels of the farm system. Even if Perez does sign elsewhere, bringing back a first or second round and a sandwich pick, they should still look to be aggressive in that regard.
Let guys like Vaccaro fuel the fire as much as they want. The Mets don't need to take part in some sort of juvenile financial pissing contest with the Yanks. They need to be smart, and they need to win. Making the playoffs this year is important after two straight disappointments. Spending money wisely with a purpose is the best way to achieve that.