The Wall Street Journal's Brian Costa offers three things the Mets can learn from how the Texas Rangers succeeded despite their financial difficulties.
1. Don't be afraid to trade a franchise player, if the timing is right and the market is strong.
2. Don't skimp on the draft.
3. Find value where others don't see it.
All three of his suggestions are valid, particularly the second one. It's a disgrace, as Costa points out, that the big-market Mets are next-to-last in spending on draft picks over the last five years.
But there are a couple of problems with Costa's explanation of his first suggestion:
The first major step in the Rangers' rebuilding process was trading Mark Teixeira to the Braves in 2007. Now, two of the four prospects the Rangers acquired in that deal, shortstop Elvis Andrus and pitcher Neftali Feliz, are vital (and inexpensive) components of their present and future.
The equivalent for the Mets would be trading David Wright. We're not suggesting they should do that, but if they find themselves out of contention in July, they would have to ask themselves: Are we another year away from competing for a championship? And if not, would trading Mr. Wright now make us more likely to compete for a championship in 2013 and beyond?
The Rangers' haul for Teixeira was one of the great acquisitions of prospects in recent history. How many times does a team land not one, but two impact players in such a deal? I can only think of one recent example off the top of my head - Montreal's trade of prospects Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips for Bartolo Colon. And that trade had the mitigating circumstances of Montreal facing contraction, compelling Montreal GM Omar Minaya to mortgage the future to try to win immediately.
Even if the Mets manage to land one prospect that quickly pans out in a trade for Wright, it won't be long before that player needs some big money as well. After the 2008 season, the Rockies traded franchise player Matt Holliday for a package including prospect Carlos Gonzalez. Just two years later, Gonzalez finished third in the MVP balloting and recently signed a seven-year, $80 million deal.
Trading someone like Wright is only worth it if the Mets plow the savings into helping the team. The goal should be to land players like Gonzalez, and then pay to keep them around.
The contracts for Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo are a waste of money. Carlos Beltran is likely to be quite overpaid this season. The jury is out on Jason Bay.
But just because the Mets have made some bad choices and have had some bad luck with many of their big-money contracts (I still think the Beltran deal was worth it, since he lived up to it when he was healthy), doesn't mean that all big-money deals are automatically bad. If the Mets are going to be a big-market team, they must have a big-money payroll.The financial uncertainties surrounding the Mets should mean that the Mets may face temporary spending difficulties. It can't mean that big payrolls are suddenly bad, as Sandy Alderson appeared to imply recently. Alderson was supposedly brought in to spend money more efficiently, not to spend less of it.
The Mets also need to think about their history and how few homegrown stars have played most of their careers with the team. Maybe a franchise player shouldn't be untouchable, but those "face of the franchise" players can still get fans out to the ballpark when the team is out of contention.