Posted by Reese Kaplan at 8:00 AM
The benefit of hindsight is that it’s 20-20, so as a follow up to the last piece in which I chronicled the many successes and failures of Sandy Alderson’s tenure, what could have been done differently to put the club onto a faster track to competitiveness and/or financial stability that would enable them to spend like a big market team?
I was the lone wolf howling about the whole David Wright debacle when they announced they were considering signing him to an enormous extension. He’d come off an opening season in 2009 at Citifield in which he hit .307 but with only 10 HRs and 72 RBIs. He rebounded pretty well in 2010 with a slash line of .283/29/103 though his strikeouts skyrocketed to 161. The 2011 injury plagued season was another bad one for Wright as he hit only .254, the lowest mark of his career, slugged 14 home runs and drove in 61. In 2012 he had an up year again, with a .306/21/93 mark, a tad off his power numbers for his career, but certainly respectable.
During the 2010/2011 off-season the whole Bernie Madoff mess came to light and it pushed the Mets from large market darlings to feasting on crumbs and table scraps when it came to personnel. Granted, there were a number of bad contracts doled out by Alderson’s predecessor, Omar Minaya, including Luis Castillo, Oliver Perez and the ongoing payments being made to Bobby Bonilla. However, it soon became clear to everyone with the salary dump of Carlos Beltran the Mets were pretty much broke.
Consequently when the 2012 off season arrived it was amazing, puzzling and stomach churning that the club would reach out to reward Wright with the largest contract in team’s history in the vain attempt to create their own Derek Jeter-like legacy. His 7 year extension was valued at $138 million, just shy of $20 million per year for the duration. Now had he continued to hit as he did in 2010 for the next few years consistently, then perhaps you could make the case it made sense. However, the club was obviously mortgaged to the hilt and this one contract would hamstring them from pretty much any other significant efforts to improve the club.
So what if they had gone in another direction at the end of the 2012 season and instead put David Wright on the trading block as pretty much any other small market budget team would do when a home grown star was no longer deemed within the budget? Look at Minnesota right now fielding offers for Brian Dozier. It’s a well-worn business practice that could create an alternate history for what unfolded in the subsequent years.
Carlos Beltran was a fading star with arthritic knees who netted a single prospect – Zack Wheeler – as a late season rental. He was five years older than Wright, earning the same money they would eventually give Wright, and most felt he had at best a year or two left.
What then could Wright have netted in trade? At age 29 in his prime and considered healthy, it would be reasonable to assume he could have landed the team 2-4 young players or top prospects. As a frame of reference, let me cite a few trades.
In 2003 the Montreal Expos were fighting for a pennant and sent three young prospects to Cleveland for a much more svelte 29 year old Bartolo Colon and non-entity Tim Drew (career record of 2-4/7.02 ERA) for Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips.
That same year the Twins traded rising catching star A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for Francisco Liriano, Joe Nathan and Boof Bonser. While Pierzynski has had a long career as a hitting-first catcher, Liriano and Nathan provided a lot of quality for many seasons.
In 2007 the Atlanta Braves sought to fortify their lineup for a pennant drive so they approached the Texas Rangers for 27 year old Mark Teixera who found greater stardom later with the Yankees. All they gave up were Elvis Andrus, Netafali Feliz, Matt Harrison, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and minor leaguer Beau Jones. All Texas did was win two straight pennants, and the following year the Braves made it worse when they shipped Teixera to the Angels for immortals Casey Kotchman and a minor leaguer named Stephen Marek.
In 2008 the Baltimore Orioles robbed the Seattle Mariners when they peddled sore-armed 29 year old pitcher Erik Bedard to the northwest and obtained Adam Jones, Chris Tillman and George Sherrill.
Of course, the one that hits closest to home is when the Mets parlayed a Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays for Noah Syndergaard, John Buck, Travis d’Arnaud and Wuilmer Becerra.
It is therefore reasonable to assume that a healthy 29 year old David Wright could have netted the Mets at minimum two high quality inexpensive players and saved them most of $138 million.
Now, assuming the Mets had said two quality players and an extra $20 million or so of payroll money for the next several years, what could they have done differently? Rather than cobbling together a team of with players like Andres Torres, Omar Quintanilla, Mike Baxter, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Bobby Abreu they could have been in on both the $9.5 million Jose Abreu and the $9.5 million Yulieski Gurriel? Suppose they'd kept Justin Turner. Suppose they'd kept Daniel Murphy. That would be in addition to whatever they netted for Wright.
This game could be played all day, but if the club mixed in some younger players and greater cash flow, would it have been easier to entice more complete ballplayers to Queens than Frank Francisco, Antonio Bastardo and Curtis Granderson? Would they have gotten to the World Series sooner than 2015 had they taken this approach?
What do you say?