When is it the right time to lock up your young talent? The time to strike while the iron is hot and so is this team: well that time is now. With the apparent financial woes of the New York Mets ownership behind them, the moment to retain members of this elite pitching staff for the future has come.
It is no secret that the Mets’ owners were involved in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme Scandal crippling what was once their real estate fortune and subsequently hindering the daily business abilities of the New York Mets.
The Wilpons estimated making $162 million off of their initial investment with Madoff while losing $178 million in other funds in association with Madoff. Originally the Wilpons were found obligated to repay $300 million back to the victims of this Ponzi scheme. This greatly affected how the team was run.
The owners would have to take loans out from Major League Baseball itself to continue to run the team, let alone try to invest in any high-priced talent. As court hearings progressed, the Wilpons would begin to receive good news and better news. They were found to only have to repay the $162 million profit that they had allegedly earned.
Then, as a part of a settlement agreement with the trustees, the Wilpons would owe 48.802 cents on the dollar, which roughly equals $75,132,440. Also, the payment can be made in two installments and could even get reduced again.With this new lease on life the ownership of the New York Metropolitans immediately began to reinvest in the team and payroll increased.
High-dollar contracts are expiring, soon to be coming off the books, freeing up funds for the future. These high-priced veterans like Curtis Granderson, Neil Walker, Asdrubal Cabrera, Bartolo Colon and even possibly Lucas Duda would have all paved the road for young up and coming prospects to take over for them at their respective positions.
It’s worth noting that Yoenis Cespedes signed a 3 year/$75 million deal making his average salary $25 million per year, and also has an opt-out clause in it for the end of the 2016 season. If taken, one could presume former Gold Glove Award winner Juan Lagares would take back duties in center field. Lagares has actually shown up to camp in what might be the best shape of his career: losing 20 lbs. in the off-season while focusing on getting healthy and in peak performing condition. Juan Lagares might be looking at a breakout year even with a lesser role.
Granderson in RF will most likely be replaced by prospect Brandon Nimmo when Curtis’ contract expires after the 2017 season. Granderson earning $15 million a season in exchange for Nimmo’s rookie contract in the $500,000 neighborhood only starts the trend of replacing aging expensive talent with cost-effective homegrown prospects. Neil Walker’s $10.55 million/one year deal ending after the 2016 campaign, is just a place setting for top prospect Dilson Herrera and another rookie contract.
Asdrubal Cabrera’s tenure with the Mets will end after the 2018 season saving the team $9.25 million compared to his impending replacements Amed Rosario, Gavin Cecchini, Matt Reynolds or even Wilmer Flores (none of which at that time will be making in the millions). Fan favorite Bartolo ” Big Sexy” Colon re-signed only a one-year commitment with the team ending after the 2016 season for $7.25 million due to the return of Zack Wheeler who is slated only to earn $547,000.
Which brings us to Lucas Duda, whose arbitration eligible, not long-term contract currently sits at $6.725 million and set to become a free agent in the 2018 season. The Mets have 1b Florida State League player of the year 2015 Dominic Smith who can un-seed Duda and man the helm at first base.
***Alejandro De Aza signed a 1 year/$5.75 million deal which was thought at the time to platoon with Lagares in center field, but with the return of Yoenis Cespedes he has become nothing more than an expensive bench piece. He has been highly speculated in trade rumors and will most likely be dealt for probably nothing more than salary relief. Most recently speculated the Texas Rangers were a possible destination for De Aza with LF Josh Hamilton battling injuries, however, they just signed former SS and Washington National Ian Desmond to play some LF for them.
The departures of these higher-valued contracts yield financial flexibility to spend money on other areas of the team: the pitching staff aka the strength of this ball club and the rotation that is the envy of all baseball. Starting pitching doesn’t come cheap, attempting to keep all members of the “Five Aces” pitching staff consisting of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler has some experts speculating to cost a billion dollars. Now with having the lineup riddled with the young cheap talent the team may just be able to keep if not all, most of this staff together. Across the diamond, the Mets’ near future could appear as:
1b- Dominic Smith
2b- Dilson Herrera
3b- David Wright
SS- Amed Rosario
Lf- Michael Conforto
Cf- Yoenis Cespedes / Juan Lagares
Rf- Brandon Nimmo
Aside from Wright and Cespedes / Lagares, the rest of the team will be making closer to the bottom tier of baseball’s pay scale – most likely adding up to be around or less than $4 million total. Add in roughly $47 million between Wright, Cespedes, and Lagares, (totaling $51 million now) and if the Mets’ payroll floats around $125-135 million, that leaves $74-84 million for bench help, bullpen, and rotation.
This would allow those temporary unused funds to be allocated in the direction of what could go down as arguably the greatest rotation in baseball history. Now if Cespedes does utilize his opt-out clause, that would be an additional $25 million that would be freed up to be dedicated to pitching. Easily this is enough to extend one or even two starting pitchers long-term deals. Now imagine if the team flirted with a payroll somewhere around the $150 million range, which would probably be enough to lock up four of the starting five for the future.
Jacob deGrom was the first to come out publicly and state his willingness to discuss a long-term extension with the team, all while realizing his age would factor against him in the terms of that contract. deGrom has also, as a means of protest, refused to sign his $607,000 contract for this season. Doesn’t really mean much besides the statement itself. These are elite pitchers and should be paid as such. Jacob deGrom was Rookie of the Year after going 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA and striking out 144 batters in his first year in the bigs.
deGrom followed up his rookie campaign with an all-star nod while being in the Cy Young award picture. Jacob deGrom is out-performing many of his peers but like most of this next wave of dominant young pitching in MLB, they are compared with the best in the game but aren’t paid for them.
This trend of young underpaid elite pitching feeling undervalued isn’t just a Mets’ issue. Fellow starting pitching of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cy Young contender, Gerrit Cole, came forward expressing his displeasure with the current contract situation. Slated to make roughly $541,000/this year, Cole was one of the best pitchers in the National League a year ago, but will be making less than a Mets’ pitcher returning from Tommy John surgery. Zack Wheeler, who didn’t pitch at all last season, will be making $547,000 for the 2016 season.
Most recently Matt Harvey has come forward saying how he is open to extending his stay with the Mets as well. As a Scott Boras client, this is unheard of. All Boras’ clients test free agency and are sold to the highest bidder in a feeding frenzy. Foregoing this fairy-tale for a front-line starter is a future no one would have foreseen.
Speculation and curiosity have made estimate figures circulate the media while trying to imagine what type of deal it would take to get this done. Offers estimating from three years to as many as seven and anywhere from $75 million to more than $200 million- estimates can be found suggesting what it would take to keep the Dark Knight of Gotham Matt Harvey in his orange and blue uniform for the foreseeable future. But that is just it, these are just estimates. What would it take to keep Harvey a Met?
This rotation, as Sports Illustrated portrays it as the “Billion Dollar” rotation, very well might take just that to ensure that all the pieces stay together. Is it worth it? Having what could be the greatest starting pitching rotation that the game has ever seen and under team control for many years, is that worth it? The fans that will be able to pour into the stands each night knowing that they are witnessing something special, all the while having a legitimate chance to win each and every game, is that worth it?
As these “Five Aces:” Harvey, deGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, and Wheeler continue to mature, hone their skills and hit their primes; leading the New York Mets to an ever-so-eluding World Series Championship or even multiple, is that worth it? One way or the other, a history of mistakes begs the question from management: will this era of Mets’ lore forever be remembered in history as the team that spent all the money it had to keep its young pitching core united? Or as the team that let some of its pieces breakaway, only to leave fans and historians asking: What if?