The almighty dollar has become an important motivation for the New York Mets over the past few weeks. The Mets have traded away four veteran players on expiring contracts as their season spiraled out of control, but none of them brought back the kind of prospects who could have a huge impact on the team’s future. The big priority for the front office appears to be offloading the remaining salary these veterans would have earned over the remainder of the season, a move that drew major criticism in the Jay Bruce trade. Bruce, the Mets’ best hitter, was sent to the Cleveland Indians for a converted infielder who was a 30th round draft pick and the Indians picking up the tab on the rest of Bruce’s contract. While the deal has been blasted as a straight up salary dump, the Mets can redeem themselves in the court of public opinion if they re-invest that money into their 2018 roster.
The first three trades the Mets made, which saw Bruce, Lucas Duda, and Addison Reed shipped out, saved the team just under 11 million dollars. The Mets picked up some salary in a deal that sent second baseman Neil Walker to the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday, but they still saved roughly two million dollars by shipping him out of town for a player to be named later. That brings their total savings to about 13 million dollars, an amount that could still increase if the Mets are able to move Curtis Granderson and/or Asdrubal Cabrera prior to the August 31st deadline. The Mets have also been recouping money the entire season from the insurance on David Wright’s contract. Wright, who is earning $20 million this year, has yet to play a game as he deals with a nebulous shoulder injury. The insurance on Wright’s contract will pay the Mets 75% of his salary if he doesn’t play a game this season, so that could be another $15 million dollars the team can bank for the future.
If you combine that $28 million with another $65 million coming off the books in expiring contracts, the Mets should have a ton of money to improve their team this winter. According to Cots Baseball Contracts, the Mets have only $58.5 million on the books for 2018, a decrease of nearly $100 million dollars from their Opening Day payroll this season. That figure doesn’t account potential option pickups for Jerry Blevins (a slam dunk) and Cabrera (a decent possibility), but those two deals would only add $13.5 million to the payroll. Wright’s $20 million dollar salary is included in the current calculations, but if he opted to retire instead of trying to come back from his various injuries the Mets would obviously save that money as well. The Mets do have a decent amount of players in salary arbitration this year, including four starting pitchers and key relievers A.J. Ramos and Jeurys Familia, so figure they are going to spend another $25 million in arbitration contracts.
With that in mind, the Mets would have roughly $70 million left to spend to improve their ballclub over the winter. The Mets do have a lot of needs, including a third baseman, outfielder, second baseman, and depth in both the rotation and bullpen. $70 million can go a long way towards filling those holes, especially if they opt to keep Cabrera to fill one of the infield holes. If the Mets are comfortable using Michael Conforto in center field next season, that opens up a lot of options for them to fill a corner outfield spot, such as re-signing Bruce or adding J.D. Martinez. Mike Moustakas would make a lot of sense as a third base option, but if the Mets add a slugging corner outfielder they may opt for a lower cost solution at third like Eduardo Nunez. Nunez doesn’t offer as much pop as Moustakas, but he is a versatile player who offers some speed and contact skills, areas the Mets are lacking in right now.
Those two moves would allow Sandy Alderson to throw the rest of his dollars at arms for the bullpen and rotation. The rotation arm would probably be an older veteran who can eat innings, perhaps in the C.C. Sabathia mold, so it wouldn’t be a high cost proposition. The bullpen market isn’t very deep, but the Mets need to go out and spend some cash to add a high caliber late inning arm to team with Ramos, Familia, and Blevins. Adding a guy like Pat Neshek or Jake McGee is essential, and Alderson should go against type and offer a multi-year deal for one of those proven arms. That would give the Mets cover beyond next season, after which their three best relievers will be free agents, and fortify the group for next season. Alderson could then look for veterans on a one year prove it deal, like former Met Tyler Clippard, to try and catch lightning in a bottle and round out the group with a young arm or two.
With all of that money at his disposal, there is no question Alderson could improve the Mets drastically this winter. The big question surrounding the franchise remains whether or not they will actually spend this money or put it in their pockets. Mets’ owner Fred Wilpon has earned his “Freddy Coupons” nickname for cutting corners to try and save a few bucks, especially in the immediate fallout of the Madoff scandal, but he has spent more money over the past few years to try and help the Mets get over the top. Wilpon will need to put his money where his mouth is and give Alderson free reign to spend all of that money to improve his roster for 2018, which could be a big year for the Mets with several key contributors set to reach free agency following the season.