Monday, December 5, 2011

The Jose Reyes Debacle: Don’t Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It’s Raining

The Mets have allowed a homegrown superstar to leave in the prime of his career. It's one of the darkest days in the history of the franchise, and yet the rationalizing has begun:

The Marlins overpaid for Reyes. So what? Big-market teams keep their superstars. Big-market teams laugh at the notion of the Marlins outbidding them. But the Mets are no longer functioning as a big-market team.

Besides, it’s debatable just how much Reyes is being overpaid. For all the talk about “Carl Crawford money,” Reyes came nowhere near the Red Sox outfielder’s $142 million deal. Yes, six years is a long contract to give Reyes, but if you’re willing to give him five, and an extra year gets it done, a big-market team gets it done. Sure, you have to stagger your potentially bad contracts in a way the Mets have not done up to now, but if the front office is as smart as everyone says they are, that’s certainly doable.

Reyes can’t stay healthy. Some people treat Reyes as if he’s Fernando Martinez – someone who has never been able to stay on the field. Yet from 2005-8, Reyes was practically an ironman. He led the majors in at-bats in 2005 and 2008 and finished second in 2007. In the other year, 2006, Reyes played in 153 games and had 647 AB.

After losing most of 2009 to injury, Reyes played in 133 games in 2010 and 126 in 2011, making the All-Star team both years.

Yes, Reyes comes with injury risk, but that risk was factored into his new contract. A completely healthy Reyes might well have gotten Carl Crawford money. If you project Reyes to miss a month every year and offer him 1/6 dollars less as a result, you end up with around what the Marlins gave him.

Mets management has a good long-term plan. Last year, all we heard was how the Mets needed to get out from under the $60 million in payroll that was coming off the books after 2011 from the expiring contracts of Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Francisco Rodriguez, Oliver Perez, and Luis Castillo. I praised Sandy Alderson for cutting his losses with Perez and Castillo, getting out of K-Rod’s 2012 vesting option and landing Zack Wheeler for Beltran. I also praised him for not trading Reyes at the deadline, which I took as a sign that the Mets planned to make a good-faith effort to keep him.

But during the season, the payroll estimates for 2012 kept going down. Now Alderson is talking about a $100 million payroll. Yes, teams can succeed with that size payroll, but not with Johan Santana and Jason Bay taking up 40% of it.

So now we’ll probably be told we have to wait until Santana and Bay are off the books. And, just like this year, rather than offer a chance to reinvest in the franchise, it will produce an even lower payroll. $80 million? $60 million?

Alderson says he wants to build a strong business model. He says the Mets must cut payroll because they lost $70 million last year. He also says the Mets’ woes have nothing to do with Bernie Madoff.

But how exactly did the Mets lose $70 million last year? How is it that other teams such as the Marlins are able to increase payroll as a result of moving into a new stadium, while the Mets end up hemorrhaging profits and attendance?

What sort of business model has you devaluing your product and discarding your top gate attraction?


Meanwhile, the Mets have just put holiday five-game ticket packs on sale. These discounted tickets mostly feature games during the week with teams that are not big draws. You won’t find Opening Day or the Subway Series here.

But the marketing department's thankless task just got a little easier. One pack includes the first visit of the new-look Miami Marlins. The other two games in the late April series turn up in other packs.

Wonder how long it will take the Mets to realize that they are offering discounts on games that are likely to produce three of the few big crowds they can expect to draw next year.

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