What Scares Me in 2011

There hasn’t been a lot of news this offseason, save the change in management and organizational/philosophical changes with the Mets.  So creative Mets bloggers have to get creative with the news.  But what we can do is harp on the past, and how it affects the present.

I brought up the Bobby Bonilla deferred payments plan because there is a lot of misinformation out there on it, and I argued that it was in fact a pretty good deal on the Wilpon’s end.  If there’s a way say we can do something like to Luis Castillo or Oliver Perez, I say go for it.  What’s worse – paying out $18 million total or having it drawn it over several years?  Let’s face it: no one is going to give these guys any money or years in contracts.

But what I’ve come to realize about Alderson and Company’s tenure thus far is this: they aren’t going to go over what the payroll is now.  I can’t say that I blame them.  After all, in six years the Mets have evolved from a 4th place with a healthy payroll…to a 4th place team with a bloated and about-to-have-a-coronary payroll.

Some of the arguments I’ve gotten from other writers, and even from my blolleagues here at Kiner’s K, suggest that if the Mets are truly a “big market” team, another $15 million or so shouldn’t be prohibitive to add to the payroll.  I agree to an extent, but how much is TOO much?  I’d rather this new regime dance with the dates they came with, in the event they manage to stay healthy and perhaps overperform to get some value out of them, because right now, it’s like the real estate bubble all over again: they are underwater and need to create a market for these abandoned properties.

However, something kind of was brought to my attention today, and I’m surprised more people aren’t harping on it.  Anna Benson’s husband, former Mets pitcher Kris Benson, announced his retirement from baseball.  Some of the writers were shocked, as my buddy Sully over at Sully Baseball mentioned, it was like hearing “Katrina and the Waves broke up.”  You just assumed they did because you hadn’t heard from them in years.  What surprised me was this line in the Fox Sports article:

The beauty of my Mets contract was that I got some of that money deferred, so I’m getting paid for the next eight years.” – Kris Benson

What the huh?  Wait: did you mean that the Mets structured a contract with another player not named Bobby Bonilla to pay him to basically sit on his ass?  How does that happen?  Well, if you read my Bonilla’s Millions piece, you would see that deferred payments are pretty par for the course in baseball: you just don’t hear about them.  The reason is that if a contract is structured a certain way, they hit some kind of milestone, then it goes into effect.  In Benson’s case, I have no clue what that was.  Or if because they traded him after the first year of his contract, maybe there was some kind of clause because he spent so much time on the DL (however paying him works) he was collecting disability, being a member of the player’s union and all.

I digress.  It got me thinking about Bobby Bonilla, deferred payments, Kris Benson and his time with the Mets, and the state of the Mets Union now.  It got me thinking who might have horrible contracts that are weighing the Mets down as we speak.

I won’t go for the obvious Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.  Although to be honest, I’m sure most of us would like to – nay, LOVE – to wipe our hands of those equally abhorrent messy situations.  Though, I know I would like to see if there is some kind of deferred payment clause in their contracts if the Mets part ways with them.  I think it would be more palatable to part with $18 million time-valued money 15 years from now, as opposed to paying them outright $18 million total right now.  Especially with the following nightmares I am going to present below.  I swear, I am getting to it.  Thanks for putting up my wordiness thus far.

If you listened to the Kult of Mets Personalities podcast last night, I went off on a tangent while asked a question about Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez’ contract.  My tangent wasn’t about K-Rod, whom by the way I can without yet another headcase out of the bullpen (I’m looking at you Ollie).  It was about Carlos Beltran and the awful structuring and backloading of his contract could hurt the team more than a potential K-Rod option vesting for $17.5 million to be paid in 2012.

K-Rod is who he is.  Omar Minaya’s fingerprints are literally and figuratively all over that contract, with the unnecessary backloading of a contract to lure talent over for whatever reason.  I guess having a pitcher named Johan Santana or two cornerstones of the franchise named David Wright or Jose Reyes on the team, or playing in a big market where you know one IS more marketable, isn’t enough for players to want to come over.  No, Minaya had to give them contracts usurping more than just money and years:  it was usurping the very sanity of the franchise.  K-Rod, in my estimation, vesting at 50 innings is the least of our concerns.  How much you want to bet that if he does vest that option, they’ll let him walk a la Bobby Bonilla?

However, Matty Faz in our podcast brought up an interesting topic about a potential conundrum about the Mets making a Wild Card run in 2011.  I’m not going to say I believe it…but it could happen.  This team, warts and all last year, managed to have great pitching.  Jason Bay was struggling at the plate due to his lack of protection and schmadjustment year in New York (which I will never buy for a player who just came from Boston), and got hurt when his protection in the form of Carlos Beltran came back from his injury.  So despite all the woes, the fact was, even with an unhealthy Johan Santana, the pitching managed to keep them in the game.  Think about all those games lost on the road after the All-Star Break by 1-2 runs?  Or 1-0 shutouts?  With a healthy intact lineup, who’s to say those games aren’t going to winnable in 2011.

Moving right along, this brings me to Carlos Beltran.  I’ve been hard on him in the past, but I have even gone on record to say he’s become easily one of my favorite Mets ever, and even argued that it was he who is the “catalyst” for the team, and not Jose Reyes.  I still believe that, even though I was torn apart about that statement.

But what’s so terrible about his contract?  Yes, he’s owed roughly $20mm for 2011.  Yes, he’s been injured about 2/3 of his time here, yes even when healthy he’s played on 85% strength legs.

When he walks after this season (and he will), the Mets get nothin’.  A big fat goose egg.  And why’s that?  Oh a little simple clause in his contract (along with a terribly back-loaded and short-sighted no-trade clause) that suggests the Mets cannot offer him arbitration.

Slight problem there, for a management that values those draft picks in letting a free agent walk from the team.

I’m under the impression that Alderson may need to slash some payroll, which I totally get.  There is no reason why, even a big market team, needs to spend as much money as the Mets or the Cubs for that matter and have ZERO return on the field.  But what’s going to happen if (and very big “IF” I am aware, I’m not that much of a Mets Kool-Aid drinker) the Mets are legit wild card contenders at the deadline?

It’s a Catch-22.  K-Rod, let his option vest for all I care.  Chances are, if he performs well this year, the option vests and the Mets are on the hook for $17.5 million, they can trade him so long as they eat a portion of the contract.  That may be more palatable than just outright releasing him.

But the Carlos Beltran Conundrum is something we need to think about.  What I get from the fanbase is that all will be forgotten if they win.  And on paper, the parts suggest that after all they’ve been through since 2008, they could surprise us and make it fun to be a Mets fan again and watch them play.

But if Beltran is overperforming, and the Mets success is a cause-and-effect situation of that fact, what happens?

I think Alderson is going to have to wear an asbestos suit to fan the flames – again, it’s a Catch-22.  He’s damned if he doesn’t get value for Beltran (and a healthy Beltran can get a LOT from a trade deadline contender, even with a robust appetite from the Mets to eat a portion of his contract) – and if he does keep him, because then he really won’t get a damn thing.

I won’t even talk about Jason Bay.  Chances are, if I look something about his contract, which by contrast is equivalent to a unicorn flying over a rainbow to the other albatrosses on the team, I might find a deferred payment clause.  Good thing Bay is likable and has never been caught playing cards in the clubhouse during a playoff game.  Otherwise, that contract is another Minaytmare that Alderson is paying his dues on.

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