October 28, 2010

Cleaning Up New York’s Mess

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When the New York Mets fired general manager Omar Minaya at the end of the season, many numbers were bandied about as pundits attempted to explain how a team that was one win from the World Series only four years ago had fallen so quickly. With the team’s G.M. search finally coming to an end after the hiring of Sandy Alderson, it’s now time to start thinking ahead to what he can do to bring this struggling franchise out of exile. Alderson — the winner of the Mets’ version of an October pennant race — will have the unenviable task of solving a puzzle where the only number that matters is 50.5 million: the amount of money in immovable expiring contracts on the 2011 payroll.

Cutting the Dead Weight

The $50.5 million discussed above comes from the combined 2011 salaries due to Oliver Perez, Carlos Beltran, Luis Castillo and Francisco Rodriguez. This figure doesn’t even include the $22.5 million due to Johan Santana, who will likely miss the beginning of next season, or the $18.125 million that Jason Bay is slated to earn. The most movable contract of the group belongs to Beltran, who is due just over $20 million in the final season of his seven-year deal. Trading Beltran for a high-priced pitcher who has fallen out of favor with his own club (Dice-K anyone?) would fill a gaping hole in the rotation and allow Angel Pagan to slot back into center field. While Rodriguez still has some value and can be shipped out to a contender down the stretch — no, the Mets will not be a contender in 2011 — Perez and Castillo are incapable of earning spots on any 25-man roster in the majors. If neither can regain their form over spring training, then the dead weight must be cut before either gets a whiff of regular season action.

Starting a Youth Movement

One thing that Minaya left in New York was a large group of young players like Ike Davis, Josh Thole and Jenrry Mejia, who will remain under team control for at least the next five years. As complements to Bay, Jose Reyes and David Wright, these players have had the chance to blend into the background and rise through the farm system. The rise of Mike Pelfrey and Jon Niese in the rotation with youngsters like Mejia, Matt Harvey and Brad Holt climbing through the system has provided hope that the pitching staff will be an impressive unit of young arms for years to come. The Mets can potentially take the field on opening day next year with eight of their nine starters under the age of 30 — a marked improvement from years past.

Finding a Leading Man

The Jerry Manuel era is finally over in Queens. After two and a half years of Manuel’s bizarre musings, it’s time for a clean break from the loose atmosphere that the former manager employed. With Alderson now at the helm it likely won’t matter one bit who he names as his manager. The original mastermind of the Moneyball line of thinking would act no differently from how his disciple Billy Beane was portrayed in the Michael Lewis bestseller. Beane’s managers in Oakland have always been his puppets, holding no real authority with every call being handed down by the front office. This was obvious when Beane let manager Art Howe leave Oakland for the Mets, knowing full well that he could replace Howe with someone else who would carry out his orders. However, the presence of a no-nonsense manager like Bobby Valentine or Wally Backman would be a nice fit in a clubhouse where the inmates have typically run the asylum.

Putting it all Together

The most immediate area of concern for every team other than the Giants and Rangers is outlining a strategy for the offseason. It will certainly be tempting to go out and spend big bucks on top free agents like Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee, but isn’t this what put the Mets in the hole they’re trying to dig out from? As I would also suggest to Congress, it’s time for an across the board spending freeze. Read my lips: no new free agents. That $50.5 million mound of immovable contracts has rendered 2011 a year for rebuilding in Queens, and that’s a reality that must be accepted. This is a year for the team’s young talent to blossom while the unsightly contracts of the Minaya era come off the books. So I guess what I’m really saying is go enjoy football season Mets fans, we have a long journey ahead of us.

Original Author: Evan Rich