I'm on board with Sandy Alderson's strategy for rebuilding the Mets and I understand the need to get out from under the bad contracts of the previous regime. But when the Red Sox leave the Winter Meetings with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez while the Mets take home Ronny Paulino and D.J. Carrasco, it feels like Charlie Brown on Halloween getting only a rock. Tightening the belts in for 2011 will be worth it - as long as they can be loosened again in 2012.
It's not a problem for a well-run big-market team to have some bad contracts. Look at what the Red Sox paid the following players in 2010:
John Lackey: $18 million
J.D. Drew: $14M
Mike Lowell: $12M
Daisuke Matsuzaka: $8M
That adds up to $54 million for players worth a lot less than that. And only one of these players (Lowell) came off the payroll after 2010 - Drew is signed through 2011, Matsuzaka through 2012 and Lackey through 2014.
But the Red Sox also have plenty of top players who are comparatively underpaid. Here are some other 2010 Red Sox salaries:
Jon Lester: $3.75M
Dustin Pedroia: $3.5M
Clay Buchholz: $443,000
And the overpaid Red Sox players at least provided some production. Lackey won 14 games while Dice-K won nine. Drew hit 22 homers. Lowell filled in at first after Kevin Youkilis got hurt and ended up starting 38 games there.
Compare that to the Mets' bad contracts for 2011. Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo do not belong on a major-league roster. Johan Santana will be lucky to make it back by the All-Star break, and even then is unlikely to be in ace form. Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay are big question marks. Francisco Rodriguez has significant off-the-field issues and is coming off an season-ending injury to his pitching hand.
These six players are owed an astonishing $86.5 million for 2011:
Johan Santana: $22.5M
Carlos Beltran: $18.5M
Francisco Rodriguez: $11.5M
Jason Bay: $16M
Oliver Perez: $12M
Luis Castillo: $6M
Even the Red Sox would find these numbers hard to write off.
I continue to defend the Beltran, Santana and Rodriguez moves. All three have performed at a high level when healthy. None was considered an injury risk when signed, and nobody foresaw K-Rod's off-the-field issues. Signing any starting pitcher to a longterm deal is a risk, as whomever signs Cliff Lee will find out.
If this list consisted of only those three players, it would add up to $52.5M, slightly less than the $54M on the earlier Red Sox list. And the Mets would still have an extra $34M to play with.
The problem, as always, comes down to the zero value of Perez and Castillo. And at this point, the Bay signing doesn't look too good, either. Even if Bay makes a great comeback, he has a long way to go to be worth $16M next year.
Last year, the Mets needed a righthanded power-hitting outfielder. Bay was available and would cost almost half of much as the other top OF available, Matt Holliday. I liked the Bay signing at the time.
But in hindsight, the Mets would have been better off spending more to get Holliday or passing on both of them. Holliday will likely end up justifying his contract much more than Bay will because Holliday actually is a great player, while Bay is, at best, a very good one.
The Mets needed a starting pitcher when Perez was a free agent, and you know the rest.
But just because the Mets ended up with some very expensive rocks doesn't mean they should avoid all big-name free agents. As the Red Sox have shown, it's possible to incorporate big-money acquisitions into an overall strategy that leaves your team with a lot more treats than tricks.