It’s funny, many of us tend to ignore the obvious. During his tenure here with the Mets, by far the single-biggest decision that Sandy Alderson has made was to sign David Wright to an 8 year, $138 million contract.
A while back I noted a column that listed Sandy’s 5 best moves — a list that included trading Marlon Byrd and signing Bartolo Colon — and yet ignored the Wright signing. Dumb, but telling: It was his quietest move because nothing changed on the field.
We overlooked it the other day, while comparing the work of Theo Epstein and Sandy Alderson. We failed to mention the Wright signing. Obviously, Theo did not have a David Wright. But I wonder: Do you think Theo might have traded him?
If Wright was to be traded it needed to be done quickly and decisively. Omar Minaya had him signed to a great contract, which would have made his value in November 2010 off the charts.
If the Mets traded Wright, they conservatively would have landed a couple of top prospects, while cratering at the ML level, leaving them in better position for the draft. Of course, that would have meant a real rebuild. Maybe the bottom would have dropped out with fan support.
The bottom dropped out anyway. Fans left the building in droves, especially once the more exciting Jose Reyes was allowed to leave via free agency. I guess ratings and attendance would have been worse in 2011, but after that I don’t see any difference. When I went to games last year the place was a ghost town, it has not been like that in Flushing in thirty years. If any moves were made that would have had the team lose more games it would have had no effect on the revenue line. Fans are smart here, they know there is no difference between winning 75 games or 65 games. There are playoff contenders and there are playoff pretenders. Since Reyes and Beltran were exiled there has been no doubt which of those the Mets were.
But David Wright is still here, and should still be a premium player in 2015-1017. Though here we are and our best hitting prospect, Wilmer Flores — possibly our only hitting prospect for a while — is a third baseman without a position. Zach Lutz can’t find a way onto the field. And Murphy is best at 3B.
I’m not arguing that Wright should have been traded. Or that the Wilpons would have ever allowed it. (The feeling here is that they ordered the signing, fearful of the backlash.) But it’s interesting to wonder if the organization would be in better shape today if they moved David Wright back in 2010.
A thought puzzle: Let’s say we got two functional prospects out of the haul, two young guys on the field right now. That’s conservative, realistic. You also have the financial savings. David is going to make $20 million this year. Suddenly you have that money to spend on other things.
There’s one problem with the hypothesis. Where would that money go? It’s not like the K-Rod, Beltran, Reyes, Bay or Santana dollars were totally replaced. Not even close. Instead the team’s payroll goes down annually. In other words, it’s hard to analyze the Mets moves with logic. The ownership mess hangs over every move.
So you could have two young guys on the field now, and that might be it.
I think it’s fair to assume the same payroll budget. Wright is getting $20 million. That’s money that could have gone elsewhere. Sandy had it and spent it on David. He might have spent it on something else. I don’t see them at a $68 million budget.
When the payroll number was at $140 million I couldn’t find anyone who could envision $85 million, including me. Yet here we are. Every spending decision by this team is analyzed in depth, and in isolation. I’m less confident than you that our payroll would be at $85 million without David. Maybe it wouldn’t be at $68 million, maybe it would be at $75 million, who knows with this bunch. I do know that Wright is the face of this franchise and will potentially break every offensive team record. His contract will pay for itself, which made it an easier sell to insolvent owners and their conservative creditors. Just because the team keeps acting like New York is a small market doesn’t mean it is.
And also, the two players we picked up might have flamed out in the minors. There is a weird assumption with a lot of people in the Mets fanbase these days that all prospects become productive major league players. They don’t. So, we could have ended up with no David Wright and nothing on the field. When you look at Baseball Prospectus Top 100 list from February 2011 many of those names include current star players. They also include many busts. If we look at the Blue Jays, the team we eventually made the Dickey trade with, their top two prospects at the time were pitcher Kyle Drabek, #14, and catcher J.P. Arencibia, #38. It’s hard to imagine either of those guys helping the Mets much in 2014 and beyond.
My point is the prospect end of it is always a gamble, the only sure thing in these deals is the star player being dealt away, and the cash being freed up. But with the Mets there is the added issue of whether the Wilpons would have reallocated David’s salary. Given our owners I can see why Sandy held the popular Wright.
Sandy is not an aggressive GM. And at times, he’s brutally stagnant. The moves he makes tend to be the ones that he’s forced to make. I think he had to sign Wright, and I think he had support for it at the top. The Wilpons live in fear of WFAN exploding, that’s when they act and heads roll.
When Sandy did sign Wright, it was to a fantastic team-friendly contract. Wright was scheduled to become a free agent this offseason. Look at what the Mets signed David for, and compare it to the Choo and Ellsbury deals.
- David Wright, eight years, $138 million
- Shin Soo Choo, seven years, $130 million
- Jacoby Ellsbury, seven years, $153 million
Would anyone in their right minds trade Wright for either of those players?
No, absolutely not. OTOH, a small-market team would trade that kind of contract, for a player on the wrong side of his peak years, for young, affordable talent. The Mets kept the face of the franchise, but by doing so missed an opportunity for a creative rebuild. To your other point, yes, not all prospects turn out. But neither do all big free agency signings. In the end, the Mets zigged, but it’s interesting to wonder what might have happened if they had zagged.
To be clear: I think David Wright has been a great Met, a wonderful player. I also feel the Wilpons have squandered his best years. To even consider trading him, you would have had to make it strictly between the lines — ignoring the fans, publicity, revenue, storyline, etc. And obviously, you can’t ignore all of those off-the-field factors, since that’s part of what you are buying with the $138 million. Call it “good will.” It’s rarely just a baseball decision. Because strictly baseball, I don’t think it’s a deal that Sandy normally makes.
By the time Sandy addressed Wright, three years after becoming GM, it was too late to do anything but make the best deal he could with David. That is not a complaint from me. One, Sandy made a great deal with Wright. Two, David is a once-in-a-lifetime player, the chances of trading David and getting back players who ever truly replaced him is remote. Wright was once again the best player on the team in 2013, and shows no signs of slowing down.
As this franchise once again focuses on winning, the task is less daunting knowing we have one cornerstone in place.