By agreeing to pay at least $25 million to Yoenis Cespedes for 2016, Sandy Alderson essentially pushed his team's spending back to where it was before he joined the franchise in 2011.
Similarly, for the first time since Alderson took control, the Mets will spend more on players than the average team and along the same lines as the Cardinals, Rangers, Nationals and Cubs...
The funny thing is, he's been telling us for years that this is what he was going to do...
In 2011, one year after he'd been hired, and after cutting the team's payroll from $142 million to $95 million, I had the following conversation with Alderson about his budget and spending strategy...
Matthew Cerrone: Why can't or won't you spend as much as the Phillies and the Red Sox, let alone the Yankees? Is it a business strategy? Is it a limitation? Or, just a general philosophy? What's the reasoning behind it?
Sandy Alderson: Well, considering where we are with respect to revenues, in order for us to approach a break even proposition, we have to keep our payroll within a lower range than it has been in the last few years. Now, as the team performs better and the revenues increase there is an opportunity to increase payroll. And so, where we are now is at a point of trying to bring our expenses, including most importantly payroll, in to line with our revenue. And, once that's done, and if we improve our performance, we'll see a higher payroll.
Matthew Cerrone: I think what people assume is that you should spend first, build a winner and the revenue will follow. Personally, I don't see the evidence for that. For instance, I look at the Phillies and the Red Sox and I see their core as homegrown players. And then, when they started winning, they started to spend. Is that what you're hoping to do?
Sandy Alderson: Yes. I think what any team would prefer is that they begin to win with a more modest payroll and then you sustain that cycle of winning by increasing your payroll to accommodate the players that are gaining in experience -- and thus becoming more costly -- that are already with your team, and at the same time participating in the free-agent market. Now, what the Mets had done in the past was participate pretty extensively. So, in part, we have to rebalance, because you can only have so many players on your team making $15 to $20 million, which is why the farm system becomes so important to the success of any team, including teams in 'big markets.'
Matthew Cerrone: There is also the assumption that, because of the legal situation and financial limitations surrounding the franchise and ownership, that this is why you're cutting payroll. It sounds to me like what you're saying is that, regardless of that, you'd be doing this anyway, because this is your approach.
Sandy Alderson: Well, it's not my approach. It's the typical approach. And, I think if you go back to the teams that have sustained their success over a period of time -- even teams with access to big revenues -- that's the model. And, we're in the early stages of implementing that same approach.
In regards to spending as a percentage of revenue, the Mets have been toward the bottom when compared to top rivals the last few years. However, this year, according to Forbes, the Mets project to be in the upper half, spending around 50 percent of revenue on player salaries and roughly the same as the Nationals and Cubs.
I never wanted the Mets to give Cespedes a guaranteed five-year deal, which is what he rejected from the Nationals. And, had he taken it, Mets spending in 2016 would likely have been exactly as it was in 2015 -- and the yelling and screaming about spending by fans and media would have raged on. However, thankfully, Cespedes took a lesser guarantee -- though roughly the same money -- to rejoin the Mets. And, with that, the payroll argument is less heated...at least for now.
It remains to be seen if signing Cespedes still leaves room in the budget to improve the roster this summer. Last season, the Mets added around $15-20 million to their payroll throughout the year, including trading for Cespedes, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, Tyler Clippard and others. I don't think they'll need as much help this time around... at least I hope not. I think they addressed their roster depth quite well, specifically with Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera. If they're looking for anything in July, I bet it's a bonafide reliever or another corner infielder.
The good news is that Alderson has shown this winter that he's not allergic to spending money and increasing payroll. This is no longer the debate. Instead, the new debate will center around how far he and ownership are willing to go to retain his young players, specifically his top pitchers. In the above quote from 2011, he mentions creating room in future budgets to be able keep impact, homegrown players. So, we know it's in his plan. However, has it played out in a way that it's also in his budget?
Thankfully, we don't need to answer this question for at least another year or two.
Matt Harvey is under team control through 2018, after which he can become a free agent. Zack Wheeler can be a free agent after 2019, and Jacob deGrom the season after that. Noah Syndergaard and Steve Matz will not be free agents until 2021.
In the next year or so, I suspect we'll get a clue or two about how Alderson intends to handle this pending situation. In the case of deGrom, will he offer a cost-controlled contract extension? In the case of Harvey, will he try to trade him before he gets to free agency? Time will tell...
In the meantime, I'm happy to exhale, end arguing about finances and simply enjoy the show. In 12 seasons writing MetsBlog, I can't remember a time like this, when most fans are essentially on the same page, accepting reality and looking forward to baseball. This is a fun looking team that I expect a lot from in 2016. And, I'm glad it's getting off to a peaceful and positive start.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | About Me) started MetsBlog.com as a project in college, generated 300,000,000 page views and 30,000 posts in 10 years, partnered with SNY and turned his hobby into a career. In 2011, SNY hired him to be Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for their network of team sites, video content and podcasts.