By Ross Kelly, CBS Local Sports
While the Royals are set up for the present and the future, the Mets are constructed to win….now. Their second-half star, Yoenis Cespedes, and their postseason star, Daniel Murphy, are both free agents at year’s end and neither player is expected back in a Mets uniform. It’s certainly not because the team doesn’t want them, it’s because the team simply can’t afford them.
Not counting those arbitration-eligible and those in pre-arbitration, the Mets only have five players under contract for the 2016 season but those five (Wright, Granderson, Cuddyer, Niese, Lagares) will account for over $60 million in total payroll. While Wright may no longer be a player worth a $20 million salary (which he’ll make each of the next three seasons); just like Jeter in pinstripes, Wright’s clubhouse and off-field value makes that figure tolerable. Granderson at $16 million is also acceptable given his two-way performance this year but he’s older than you would think and you hope the soon-to-be 35-year-old can put up similar numbers next year. Lagares may have regressed this season but his glove is irreplaceable and his 2016 salary ($2.5 million) is right in line with his value. That leaves us with Cuddyer and Niese.
I still can’t fathom why the Mets gave a 36-year-old Cuddyer $21 million over two years. He will make $12.5 million next season to be a fourth outfielder/backup first baseman? He came off three successful seasons in Colorado thanks to being…in Colorado. The Mets’ analytics staff must have not checked his home/away splits over those years as he had a .923 OPS at Coors Field and a .777 OPS on the road and it’s not like Citi Field is exactly hitter-friendly. Also, he’s not adding anything defensively and hasn’t posted a positive dWAR since 2002. He’s definitely more suited to a DH role at this point in his career but he may be 40 years old by the time that hits the NL. The Mets best hope is that he gets off to a hot start next season and can make himself trade bait for a contending AL team around the trade deadline. Otherwise, he’ll be one of the charter members of MLB’s “Keep Getting’ Dem Checks” lineup.
Jon Niese is a homegrown Met, having been with the franchise since he was an 18-year-old in 2005. He became part of Mets’ lore by witnessing the birth of his son via FaceTime in the clubhouse just minutes after pitching in a game. He’s also been solid-to-the-core as evident by his career 61-61 record. But what Niese is not is a $9 million player which is what he’s due next year. No number 5 starter is worth $9 million and that’s what Niese’s likely role will be next year after deGrom, Harvey, Syndergaard, and Matz (so long, Bartolo!) That doesn’t even factor in Wheeler who projects to return around June following Tommy John surgery. Niese’s high cap hit will make it difficult for teams to want to trade for him and it’s not exactly like he’s been a difference-making pitcher throughout his career. The only good thing about his contract, from the Mets’ view, is that there is a buyout option of just $500,000 for the 2017 season. There is roughly a 99.99% chance the Mets will execute a buyout as opposed to paying Niese the $10 million he would be owed in 2017.
You can’t discuss Mets’ contracts or payrolls without bringing up Bobby Bonilla’s deal. A player whose contract is now more talked about than his playing career; Bonilla only has 20 more seasons of deferred payments coming his way courtesy of the Mets. He’ll again get his check of $1.9 million from the Mets in 2016 but will have to make plans for another source of income when the deal expires in 2035. But Bonilla isn’t the only former Met who’ll be collecting checks as a senior citizen as Bret Saberhagen has a similar deferred deal that runs through 2028. He’ll collect only $250,000 per year from the deal which amounts to $6.35 million for a guy who last pitched for the team 20 years ago. To put the cherry on top, there’s one more ‘dead money’ contract out there and this player happens to not only still be active, but he’s playing for the crosstown rival. Carlos Beltran’s $119 million contract signed in 2005 has $22 million in deferred money to be paid out from 2012-2018. Beltran is due $3.1 million in each season and combined with Bonilla and Saberhagen; those three account for over $5 million in dead money in 2016, 2017, and 2018.
So if you see Cespedes swaggin’ in someone else’s outfield next year or Murphy going on another October homer spree in different colors; don’t blame the players, or Sandy Alderson. Blame the previous regimes for their poor structuring of contracts.