The Mets payroll for 2016 currently stands at about $109 million, which includes players currently under contract, those earning the league minimum, and the high-end salary projections for arbitration eligible players.
While that figure is unquestionably below-market, that payroll figure is approximately the same as it was by the end of the 2015 season for all players on the 40-man roster, according to Cots Contracts. But it’s also approximately seven percent higher than their Opening Day, 2015 payroll.
And as Sandy Alderson noted on Thursday afternoon at the New York Athletic Club, their payroll is significantly higher than it was two seasons ago, and stands to grow even higher in 2016.
“Our payroll at the end of 2014 was $85 million, $86 million all-in,” Alderson explained. “I would suspect this year we’ll end up at $115 or so, or maybe higher than that, $120. That’s a $35-million increase in just two years.”
When the Mets escalate their payroll to the General Manager’s projection is unclear. Is that figure a budget set ahead of Opening Day? Is that their all-inclusive payroll for the season, including players they call-up and acquire throughout the season?
With requirements still unfulfilled on the bench and in the bullpen, it remains to be seen how that is truly defined.
But no matter what, Alderson believes the perception the club isn’t spending available monies on external talent is directly tied to one player who remains available on the free agent market.
“The idea that we’re not investing in the team I think is really misplaced, and sort of tied up in the populism involving Cespedes,” Alderson opined.
That really isn’t a totally inaccurate statement, really because the Mets have improved their situation at second base, created Major League depth at both second base and shortstop with the acquisition of Asdrubal Cabrera, and have addressed a major need on the left side of their bullpen by retaining Jerry Blevins.
Still, there are questions about how much they’ve improved their defense, especially up the middle with Cabrera and Alejandro De Aza.
And for a pennant winning team which came three wins shy of a World Championship, it’s difficult to see that they’re as good or better than they were talent-wise at the end of the season, although they’re indisputably better today than they were on Opening Day in 2015.
Certainly, Alderson and the front office are going to be putting a lot of faith in the growth of Michael Conforto and Travis d’Arnaud, and the health of David Wright anyway, but it remains to be seen if their faith in the defense of those new acquisitions is misplaced.
As for Cespedes, Alderson has been clear that he knows how important Cespedes was for the team down the stretch of the season. But he and the rest of the front office believe by having Cespedes in center field – where he is below average at best – is not ideal for the long-term.
“We know that Cespedes was instrumental to us getting to the postseason,” Alderson said. “We know Daniel Murphy was instrumental in us getting to the World Series. But I think along the way we learned a few things about ourselves, about the team, and I think the way we approached the offseason, we put some of those lessons into play. It’s not as if we’re not looking to improve the team, and if possible, in significant ways. But it has to make some sense in terms of how these pieces all fit. And even if you go back to the trade deadline, we were trying in many ways to fit a square peg in a round hole.”
In the cases of Cespedes, Alderson believes for a shorter period of time, it’s fine to try and push those square pegs into a round hole. But in the grand scheme of things over a longer period, it’s not ideal for either the team or the player.
“For two months or three months, it may make sense,” Alderson said about Cespedes. “For five years or six years, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try to do that. If we had the right, healthy player in the right position, it might be a very different story for us. This isn’t about inching up on team improvement. This is about trying to be thoughtful about it, but also realistic.”
That isn’t unreasonable, especially since others in the industry seemingly share the same sentiment about his skills at that position. The question isn’t whether or not Cespedes can or cannot play centerfield – he can at a below average rate. The question for the Mets is whether or not his value can be maximized for two years with below league average play at the position, and whether or not his bat can ultimately outweigh his shortcomings defensively in centerfield.
In fairness to the Mets, that’s a legitimate question no matter how good he is offensively.
Having said that, they signed De Aza to be Juan Lagares’ platoon partner in 2016, and he’s hardly a centerfielder, let alone a good one defensively. Certainly, De Aza doesn’t come with the same risk as Cespedes, but he also isn’t the same caliber player as Cespedes is, either.
Now, it could still make sense for longer than two months. The club had been reluctant to go beyond three years in a deal for Cespedes, and they have maintained that stance to date. But Cespedes remains unsigned, and with the Giants no longer positioned to sign Cespedes and the clock ticking to the start of Spring Training, Cespedes’ market could shrink into the Mets comfort zone in the coming weeks.
That of course does not mean the club will sign Cespedes, and it still remains unlikely, as it has really since they traded for him in late July. And if Cespedes’ market continues to shrink, more clubs will presumably become interested in him at that price point.
But for the Mets, it will be hard to ignore Cespedes’ availability at half the term of his original demand. His bat is too dynamic and transformational at this stage of his career to do that, even if he would be such a square peg.