Reese Kaplan -- Alternate Histories for the NY Mets


The author Harry Turtledove is known as the master of alternate history (or alternative history if you’re more a fan of British classifications for such things).  His books pose questions like, what if the Nazis had won the war…what would have happened?  Let’s apply some alternative history thinking about the New York Mets:

What if they paid down the salaries of the players essentially given away in the fire sale?

Lucas Duda, Addison Reed, Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce combined to earn $60 million annually, so for the two months or so of them being off the Mets payroll it saves the team about $10 million.  That’s not chump change by any means, but wouldn’t spending that $10 million by paying the down the salaries have increase the return in trades?  Let’s take the most recent lackluster relief pitcher obtained for Neil Walker, Eric Hanhold.  Now for all I know Hanhold is a standup guy, a credit to his community and an all-around good egg.  However, what he ISN’T is a top baseball prospect.  He’s been in organized ball for 3 years and accumulated a record of 10-20, with a 5.01 ERA and a 1.510 WHIP.  His strikeout numbers are ho-hum as well.  About the only positive on his resume is the 2.8 walks per 9 IP.  His “improved” .286 BAA doesn’t inspire much either.  Now suppose the Mets had paid all of Neil Walker’s salary obligation for the final two months of the season – a total of $2.87 million.  Do you think the Brewers might have coughed up someone with legitimate major league potential for that amount?  I sure do.  I also think there would have been a lot more suitors for Neil Walker if the receiving club knew it wasn’t going to cost them anything to acquire him.  Instead you have Milwaukee footing the bill for the salary but the Mets get a player in return who is probably worse than a freshly signed draft pick.  The newbie still has potential.  This guy is three years into his career and showing nothing that says future MLB ballplayer.  Extrapolate this line of thinking to every one of those transactions and it becomes painfully clear that this short-sighted salary dump is going to come back to haunt them because even if the full $10 million was surprisingly pumped back into next year’s payroll, you would have dumped five star quality players for what it would cost you to pay for a single one in return. 

What if they’d drafted better?

In 2011, Sandy Alderson chose Brandon Nimmo who, despite his recent success, finds himself on the bench once again.  Later in the draft were names like Jose Fernandez, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Sonny Gray.  In 2012 Alderson went with Gavin Cecchini.  Later teams drafted Coey Seager, Michael Wacha and Lucas Giolito.  In 2013 he took Dominic Smith (which still looks like a promising selection), but still on the board at the time were Aaron Judge and Corey Knebel.  In 2014 he took Michael Conforto.  Finally he gets one right.  Trea Turner was still there as well.  In 2015 he took the surgically repaired Anthony Kay.  Then Justin Dunn.  Are you sensing a pattern here?  Suppose he drafted better…

What if they retained the likes of Justin Turner and Daniel Murphy?

Enough said.

What if they parted ways with Terry Collins after three losing seasons to start his Mets career? 

This one is a little harder to predict.  It is clear, however, that they made the 2015 World Series on the bat of Yoenis Cespedes and the arms of Tyler Clippard, Addison Reed and others, not on the lineup pencil of Terry Collins.  He’s the man who gave 81 games at SS to Ruben Tejada worth negative WAR.  I could go on, but you’d have to think that someone else at the helm in 2014 might have pushed a bit further and perhaps brought them into the playoffs then. 

What if they traded David Wright instead of signing that contract extension during the “We have no money” Madoff scandal year?

In 2011 the Mets did not yet have a final verdict in the Bernie Madoff case and were not sure whether or not those people who benefitted from the scheme would be forced to pay restitution.  As a result, they were operating under extreme austerity, yet mad the curious business decision to extend David Wright for what is considered an 8-year, $138 million contract.  Even the structure of the contract with a reduced salary in the first year was a result of the financial constraints under which the club was operating.  Current health issues aside, at the time of the signing they could likely have gotten 3 or more top 10 prospects for David Wright and saved average annual value of $17.25 million allocated to pay him.    How would the team have fared had they done that?  Well, Wright since 2012 has delivered an average of just 79.5 games per year for a five year period.  It’s cost the Mets a pro-rated amount of that salary for that health-related time he’s been on the DL, but how much further along would the Mets have been in their plans to be perennial contenders had they gone the prospect route and allocated those payroll dollars to solving other problems?

I could do these “What if?” questions all day, but they’re depressing.  None of it is 20-20 hindsight.  Even the Wright situation was prefaced with a criticism of the business decision that was made given the parameters facing the club at the time.  The health problems merely compounded its negative impact.  Alternative history often relies on 20-20 hindsight, but these decisions are not second guessing after the fact.  They were clearly articulated before the cards were dealt.  


Robb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robb said...

that 2012 draft hurts, bc he could have drafted the other shortstop (corey Seagar) instead of the one he did.

Mack Ade said...

Didn't I use to write a yearly post called 'What If?" :)

What if............... :)

Thomas Brennan said...

There is always the Wright mystery, as to how much of his 8 year deal the ins. co. will have paid. What if we had the total clarity of having another healthy reliable 3rd baseman?

The real question if, for us older guys...what if we had rooted for the Yankees instead?

Hobie said...

Alternative histories are fun--the butterfly effect of Bobby Thompson popping up could have been the arrest & conviction of Lee Harvey Oswald for the attempted murder of Maj Gen Edwin Walker. Maybe not.

But it's all 20/20 hindsight because we forget our 1st guesses that went wrong, only the "I told you so" guesses stick. Nimmo, yeah I was scratching my head too--never heard of him (with my fave, George Springer, gone a few picks ahead I was aiming at local kid, Joe Panik, or switch-hitting catcher, Blake Swihart--what do I know.) The guys that drafted OOB Danny Hultzen (#2!) or Taylor Jungmann had cracks at Fernandez, Gray & Bradley (& Nimmo!) too.

Interesting too is the better return to for dumped salary, but it takes two to tango. Do we know for sure that Milwaukee said, "no we'll pick up the salary, you can't have Corbin Burnes or, for that matter, any of out top 30?" What would the comments be if SA bit on a Detroit offer to fund Cespedes remaining 2015 salary for a Wilmer Flores sweetener?

The innate pleasure of being a baseball fan, no matter how frustrating, is that the pace of thing--game, season,draft, hot stove-- allows us to play out alternate scenarios pre- and post real time events. The folks here at Mack's Mets add to that pleasure. Thank you.

Reese Kaplan said...

SA was on record stating he was dumping salary to fulfill a promise he'd made to the Wilpons. Paying down salary was probably not even an option.

Thomas Brennan said...

Hobie, I heard a Cabrera deal was wrapped up until the unnamed team insisted on Victor Cruzado as part of the deal. Not true, of course, but I hadn't written a thing involving VC lately, so I created some fake news about your favorite guy :)

Truly, the fact that the Mets could see some 17 year old kid in Wyoming like Nimmo, not have him turn into a complete flop, and actually have him doing pretty well right now amazes me.

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