Even after adding Wilson Ramos and Robinson Cano, Mets GM Brodie VanWagenen said Tuesday that he'd like to add another infielder or outfielder (or two) to the roster.
"We're not as concerned about left-handed or right-handed now, we just want to have complementary pieces," he added.
Like most Mets fans, I hear, "Add," and I think free agents Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, A.J. Pollack and Mike Moustakas. However, as SNY's Andy Martino reported Tuesday night, the above more likely means spending on multiple in-between players to add depth and round out to the roster.
Unlike during previous offseasons, there has been very little reporting on the team's winter budget and their expected payroll for 2019. The number has so far been a mystery, which is furthered by Van Wagenen being a first time GM.
That said, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Mets are already projected to have a $167 million net 40-man payroll next season.
To add A.J. Pollock or Mike Moustakas, let alone both, the Mets would be uncharacteristically close to the luxury tax, while making it very difficult for Van Wagenen to acquire players by trade during the summer. Harper or Machado would obviously do the same, even if backloading their deal and trading Todd Frazier and/or Juan Lagares.
For what it's worth, Pollock and Moustakas would each add a projected three wins, according to FanGraphs.com. Harper would add six.
By committing $15 million the next three- to four years to get Pollock or Moustakas., Van Wagenen would add just a projected few extra wins. The thing is, assuming he can spend it, the above would leave the Mets super close to the luxury tax threshold and limit their ability to make acquisitions during the season.
How can the Mets fit Harper if they can't fit Pollock and Moustakas? Van Wagenen needs to continue to be creative and return to thinking like he did when representing Yoenis Cespedes during his first contract negotiations with the Mets.
If you recall, Van Wagenen got the Mets to give his client a three-year deal that paid $25 million each season. The deal also had an opt-out clause after its first year. And when Cespedes used the opt-out to again become free agent, the deal called for him to be paid an additional $2.7 million for his one year of service.
This seems counterintuitive, but it actually gave Cespedes an incentive to opt out and get the Mets off the hook for the deal's remaining $50 million, while still keeping his bat in the lineup through 2016.
I've heard from people familiar with their approach that Boras and Harper are open to the above type of creativity. The thing is, does the former-agent, now-GM Van Wagenen feel as creative about high-priced free agents as he did when repping Cespedes?
If he does, he should offer Harper a 10-year, $350 million contract, which is more than MLB insiders expect him to get from other interested teams.
During the deal's first four years, though, I want Harper to be paid just $120 million, with the $15 million in 2019 going up to $45 million by the fourth season. Then, similar to the Cespedes framework, I'll let Harper opt out, at which point he can be a free agent again at 30 years old. If he does opt out, he gets an extra $10 million for his final fourth season. If he doesn't opt out and chooses to stay with the Mets for the final six seasons, he'll be paid on average just under $40 million every year.
The above would make him more affordable the next two years, it pays him a lot during the third and fourth year (and when Van Wagenen's payroll drops), and there's an incentive for him to opt out and return to the free agent market while still in the prime of his career.
By adding Harper, who would play right field, the Mets would add another projected five to six wins to their FanGraphs.com total, putting them one away from the Nationals. And with Harper earning just $15 million in 2019, Van Wagenen should have enough money in his pocket to make short-term, around-the-edges additions to make up that missing victory.
By comparison, adding free agent OF Adam Jones and reliever Andrew Miller would likely mean spending $20 or so million and with not as much commitment, but also for fewer projected wins. That said, two lesser signings would allow for more additions this winter and/or this summer, plus keep Van Wagenen further away from the luxury tax.
I'd prefer Harper, though. I realize he's brash and powerful, and colorful with his comments. He can be embarrassingly egotistical and was literally choked by a teammate during a pennant race. There are clearly risks associated with bringing him to New York for such a large sum of money. However, by signing him, not only does it make the Mets better with an MVP-caliber threat, but it would plant a new flag on top Citi Field stating they're again open for business and serious about winning under Van Wagenen.
The above was impossible to pull off during the previous decade. However, while it may still be improbable, if Van Wagenen has showed us anything during the last 60 days, it's that anything is possible with the right amount of leverage, leg work and creativity.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!