Mets' selloff coming, so who's going?
Perhaps you’ve heard: It’s been a lousy week for the New York Mets.
On Monday, The New Yorker published a story in which embattled owner Fred Wilpon criticized three of his star players — outfielder Carlos Beltran, shortstop Jose Reyes and third baseman David Wright.
One day later, a Sports Illustrated report included admissions from Wilpon that the franchise could lose as much as $70 million this year and a payroll reduction is likely in 2012.
Then came the greatest indignity of all — an 11-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.
OK, so maybe one lopsided loss to the Cubs isn’t the Mets’ biggest worry. But you get the idea. At this rate, the Portsmouth (N.H.) High School Clippers, with their record 77 consecutive victories, would be a formidable foe.
With uncertainty in every crevice of the organization, the only thing we know for sure is that the Mets will continue to make news. The $1 billion lawsuit filed against Wilpon and his interests, by victims of the Bernie Madoff fraud, has forced him to seek a minority partner. Wilpon told SI that he hopes to introduce the new investor within three weeks.
Even casual baseball fans are reminded often that their favorite team is, in fact, a business. If you root for the Mets, this reality smacks you every morning. A commonsense evaluation of the circumstances — the cash-strapped owner, the expensive (and underperforming) players, the coming payroll reduction, the losing record — leads to an obvious, unpleasant conclusion.
A selloff — for on-field talent — is coming.
Typically, baseball’s biggest in-season deals occur within days of the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. But the Mets are not operating in a “typical” fashion right now, even if there is no evidence that they are engaged in serious trade talks with interested clubs. Yet.
Yes, general manager Sandy Alderson is tasked with obtaining the maximum value (in prospects) for each veteran he trades. But the sooner Alderson moves a player, the sooner he can try to convince the acquiring team to assume all or part of the remaining salary.
Think about it: If you’re a manager, and your boss fears a potential operating loss of $70 million, dumping liabilities from the books would be a really good way to impress him.
Take outfielder Carlos Beltran, for example. He is earning $18.5 million this year, after which he will become a free agent. The 34-year-old outfielder is apparently healthy (at last) and on pace for his finest season since 2008. Chances are just about zero that he will be back in ’12. All of that makes him one of the more obvious trade candidates in the Western world.
Well, Beltran earns a little more than $3 million per month. So, the Mets owe him about $6 million between now and the July 31 deadline, and then about $6 million more after that.
It’s doubtful that Alderson could find a team willing to pay Beltran the roughly $12 million he is due over the remainder of this year; the Mets would probably need to include cash in the deal. But if Alderson waits two months to make a trade, the Mets will have paid Beltran $6 million that they can’t recoup. The motivation to save that money could compel Alderson to initiate trade talks earlier than usual.
Yes, it’s possible that the Mets could hang on to some of their free-agents-to-be and collect draft picks when they sign elsewhere. But that strategy works best in markets with patient fans, where three- or four-year rebuilds are acceptable. Do you think that describes New York?
With that in mind, here’s my assessment of the market for five notable New York players — Beltran, Reyes, Wright, closer Francisco Rodriguez and starter Mike Pelfrey — based on conversations with people throughout the baseball industry this week. I’ve also included my prediction as to the teams that will employ each player as of Aug. 1.
It’s not easy for a hitter to change leagues at midseason, because that involves learning a new set of pitching staffs. But that could actually work in Beltran’s favor.
Beltran has proven this year that he can be an everyday right fielder, despite longstanding issues with both knees. As the season wears on, though, some days at designated hitter could rest Beltran’s legs and help his bat stay productive. (He has decent numbers in 165 plate appearances as a designated hitter, so he probably wouldn’t object to some DH duty.)
The Yankees, Angels, A’s, Mariners and Tigers have had below-average production at right field, DH, or both. Yankees GM Brian Cashman knows how to add supplemental bats as the season goes along. We’re nearing the 10th anniversary of David Justice for Robin Ventura, so I’d say we’re due for another interborough trade.
Aug. 1: New York Yankees.
Like Beltran, Reyes will become a free agent at season’s end. It will be almost impossible for the Mets to lower the payroll and keep Reyes, as Wilpon all but confirmed in his public statements.
Reyes will earn $11 million this year. That isn’t off-putting, as long as he keeps stealing bases, scoring runs and hitting over .300. He would make sense for a number of teams, including Cincinnati, San Francisco, Oakland, and St. Louis (if Ryan Theriot moves to second).
On paper, at least, the team with the greatest need for Reyes would be the Tampa Bay Rays. They have the worst leadoff OPS and worst shortstop OPS of any team in the American League. But it’s not clear if they can add $3.6 million in payroll at the deadline.
Aug. 1: Cincinnati Reds.
Wilpon said in The New Yorker story that Wright is “not a superstar.” The statement was impolitic but accurate. Wright has not had a great season since 2008. His production this year was close to the league average before being placed on the disabled list with a stress fracture in his lower back.
Teams tend to avoid trading for players at the deadline if they have suffered significant injuries during the same season, and the Mets don’t know when Wright will play again. Two more reasons that the Mets will keep him: Wright is under contract through 2012, with a team option for 2013, and the Mets will need his marketability after the departures of Beltran and Reyes.
Aug. 1: New York Mets.
Rodriguez is precisely the type of reliever who is valuable at this time of year. He’s appeared in 21 postseason games, with good results: 5-4, 3.13 ERA, three saves.
But it’s not that simple for K-Rod this season. For one thing, as my colleague Ken Rosenthal pointed out earlier this week, he’s been fortunate to have success despite diminished stuff. Plus, the Mets (and other teams) are well aware of the contract clause that guarantees him a $17.5 million contract for next year if he finishes 55 games.
Because of his contract, suitors will likely want K-Rod to be a setup man. So, he should be of particular interest to teams that have soft spots in front of strong closers, such as Boston, Detroit, and Texas.
But let’s not forget one famous occasion when an established closer was supposed to become a lockdown setup man for a playoff-bound club: Eric Gagne posted a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances after being traded from Texas to Boston in 2007. He barely pitched in that postseason.
Aug. 1: Texas Rangers.
Pelfrey is probably the easiest call of the group. Yes, he’s a valuable commodity on the trade market, having reeled off a 3.56 ERA during a recent seven-start stretch. He’s 27 and won’t become a free agent until after the 2013 season. Those are plusses.
But he’s appealing to the Mets for the same reasons. The New York rotation is already thin, and Pelfrey was their Opening Day starter this year. Without him, the ’12 and ’13 seasons would look even grimmer than they already do.
Aug. 1: New York Mets.