You know, Mike, a lot folks routinely complain about “bad contracts.” On a recent message board exchange about the uncertain state of the Mets organization — no hitters in the system, TINSTAAPP, and so on — I wrote:
“They must spend, that’s all there is to it.”
To which someone replied, to much greater approval:
It’s the kind of comment we hear over and over. And I just want to bang my head against the wall. “Bad contracts” are simply the nature of the beast. If you sign guys in the effort to improve the team, you are going to make mistakes. Things happen.
Exactly. Whether it be the draft, trades, or signing free agents, you want to execute as well as possible. So far Sandy Alderson has not given out many bad contracts, but ask yourself this: How many good ones has he executed? Contracts should be looked at as ratio statistics, not counting statistics. Omar was killed — rightfully — for Castillo and Perez. But he has Beltran, too, and the Delgado deal was a semi-dollar transaction. The point is he ended up failing at too high a ratio, but he was not running at 0%. And nobody is coming in at 100%.
In fact, to date Sandy Alderson has been a failure in this regard. He has signed one free-agent over $5 millon dollars, Frank Francicso. 0-1 is 0%. You can’t do any worse.
He’s signed Wright — though we both suspect that came from above.
It’s hard to know, but I have no problem giving Alderson credit for that. That was an excellent contract and Sandy got it done. I apologize, Sandy is back to .500.
In fairness, of course, signing guys has not been his mission. This conversation is more about the future path than the road not taken. Even so, Alderson has not shown much interest in improving the product on the field. This winter, Alderson made noises about Justin Upton — which would have been a bold move — and there was that curious flirtation with Michael Bourn. He claimed to have money to spend. It’s hard to gauge the level of sincerity to any of this.
The other problem with a do-nothing approach is all the lost opportunity. The Dodgers are busy spending their new TV riches and as current deals expire this trend will go on. The Phillies deal wih Comcast expires soon, they will receive a big raise. With more and more television money pouring in it is a logical conclusion that salaries will continue to rise. No one team can control the total price of player salaries and compete on a regular basis.
Not signing league average players that were available to fill in holes for the Mets for a few years will cost more in future offseasons. That’s bad money management. Worse, by not making any real moves you defeat your customer base and depress your revenue. We can see that daily at Citi Field as Matt Harvey pitches in front of intimate gatherings.
That’s the killer for me. I mean, I live with a nearly 14-year-old sports fanatic. He watches the NFL Draft, plays in tons of fantasy leagues, loves the Knicks, and so on. Baseball is his favorite sport to play. But the Mets, man, they’ve crushed him. I keep hoping that Sandy will throw up a flare, some kind of signal that the club is invested in achieving positive results. Now we’re hearing that Shin-Soo Choo might be a major target for next season. We passed on Bourn, a gold glove outfielder who signed at 4/$48 with the Indians.
No contracts might just be worse business than bad contracts. If you give out a contract in the offseason which helps sell tickets and things go wrong the won-loss record might still suffer. But those tickets are still sold. Businesses succeed or fail based on sustainable revenue, a primary emphasis on costs is the sign of a failing business.
In other words, a big contract is not an expense, it is an investment. An investment in the team, the product. The smart play is to make investments in your product on a regular basis. Making a string of bad ones is a clear path to failure, but making none will lead you down the same failed path.
I came across this tidbit recently. Nothing new, but it was stated succinctly:
“Even as individual Mets players achieve franchise milestones, the club has remained mired in fourth place in the National League East for the past four seasons. Win totals have diminished each year since 2010, dropping from 79 to 77 down to 74. New York’s salary expenditures and attendance continue to drop as well. Its Opening Day payroll has plummeted from $149 million in 2009 to $93 million in 2012, while Citi Field attendance has fallen from 3.2 million to 2.2 million in the same period.”
Seems there’s a connection? No?
Of course. And the attendance figures are only one piece of that sad story. In 2009 my season tickets in Section 420 of the Promenade had an average list price of $75 per game. Now the same seats average $35. That is a massive drop, and some punch when combined with the fallen attendance figures. Oh, and the 2012 number, 2.2 million, includes all the two-for-one deals currently in place and many other tricks to make the attendance look higher than it is. All of this with a relatively brand new state of the art Stadium. It takes a very special “Plan” to achieve these attendance levels in New York City.
The question is not “Can the Wilpons afford to spend?” It is “Can they afford not to invest?”
Fred must spend or sell.