I’m like most Mets fans, I’m eternally hopeful almost to the tipping point of naivete. Perhaps it’s just the way most of us have grown up as Mets fans, always believing yet more times than not, having our hearts ripped out and handed to us, Temple of Doom style. Yet our loyalty always remains as constant as the northern star.
Some of us take baseball for what it literally is, a kids game played by men. Some of us find the deeper meanings of the game and see what others can’t, don’t or choose not to. The purity of the game, the chance to sit with a son or daughter and explain to them, albeit with little understanding on their part, the complexities of the infield fly rule and the smile it puts on our face when after our detailed explanation, they simply look up and tell us they need to go potty. The Mets-doctrination begins when they’re young my friends, have patience.
Some of us go to the game itself and instead of immediately hitting the concession stands for our sickingly overpriced adult beverage or the souvenir shop, we walk towards the field and take in the smell of the grass and the sounds of team taking batting practice. Some of us keep a scorecard; yes with actual paper and pencil. Sure it’s a game but it’s more, so much more. Maybe it’s a respect for the game, the silly kids game played by grown men.
Maybe it’s just a much needed escape from our hectic, digital, caffeine fueled, time stressed lives we can resort to without fail. Where each game is a a chance at renewal- a way to express pride about your team, even in the face of a season ending collapse. This is why when I see what’s happening to the Mets right now, while I’m not as distraught as some fans, I am concerned. Concerned that as a loyal, ticket paying, SNY paying, merchandise paying fan, are we getting the truth out of this team, on all levels?
For a while now, I’ve known through a source that the team decided that they were not interested in spending more money than they already have, and that in the teams’ view, the Jason Bay signing signaled the end of the open checkbook, coupled with the revelations of the Bernard Madoff scandal and the effects that it’s had on Sterling Enterprises which operates the New York Mets.
First off, whether you believe that or not, whether you feel somehow I or anyone else, who has quoted a source who agrees with that account, has added to any hysteria regarding the view that the Mets currently have financial difficulties, I’m not here to convince you of anything. I’d rather let the situation speak for itself.
For months the Mets have needed to bolster their pitching staff, even before the recent offensive shutdown took place. A few names were out there; we all know them as well as some of our own family members at this point. The obstacles to acquire some of them were difficult to overcome since most teams today want a kings ransom for even the most mediocre of players.
From what we know, landing Cliff Lee would have cost us a major league bat – Ike Davis, along with minor league prospects and perhaps even Jon Niese. There’s no way giving up Ike Davis or Jon Niese would have helped the Mets, and I was strongly in favor of taking a chance on Lee. Arizona wanted a major league ready arm for Dan Haren; there’s no way you offer Jon Niese in that deal no matter how good Haren has been. The Astros wanted a team to assume the bulk of Roy Oswalts’ contract, perhaps pick up his 2012 option and give up minor league talent to boot. I want a gray 1968 Ford Mustang GT to channel my inner Steve McQueen but that ain’t happening either.
Knowing all of that, left the Mets with few options, but something needed to be done. Unfortunately Omar Minaya was unable to land a starter. The only possible trade, that didn’t pan out either for a few reasons, involved the Kansas City Royals who would’ve taken on the contracts of Ollie Perez, Jeff Francouer and Luis Castillo for Gil Meche, Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Guillen. In the end that deal would have worked financially since the money was close to even.
That unfortunately was the ultimate sticking point. Money. The Mets have the highest payroll in the National League and have had it since 1999, many times second only to the New York Yankees. From 1999 to 2009 the Mets have spent $1,185,097,726 dollars on salaries. That’s a lot of change, over a billion in salary. Just compare that to the Marlins who in the same time period have spent $401,104,357. Almost 3 times as less as the Mets. The Marlins won 875 games for their buck over those ten years and a World Championship. The Mets won 912 over the same span, minus a World Championship. I guess there’s an argument for the northeast cost of living in there?
Now normally, as Mets fans, we’re a bit like the younger brother to that other team in the Bronx insofar as that we never seem to match up to them in our own eyes. The Mets have an organization that is valued according to Forbes magazine in 2009 at $912 million dollars. In 2010 Forbes values the Mets at $858 million. The Yankees are at $1.6 billion.
It’s amazing when you think about it in those terms especially when we argue why it is that the Yankees can absorb bad contracts and the Mets, well, you know what I’m talking about. Not to mention each time you hear someone say the Mets haven’t spent money over the years, allow me to explain it this way.
The Mets have a team payroll of around $136 million plus another $16 million in player bonuses totaling $152 million. The revenue the Mets amassed last year was $268 million. Not withstanding the teams’ operating costs, the Wilpons put 56.7% of last year’s revenue into the team payroll. The New York Yankees have a payroll of $206 million. With the payroll you have to include player bonuses it brings it to $240 million. The Yankees revenue last year was an incredible $441 million. Taking the same approach to operating costs the Yankees put 54.4 % of their revenue into their 2010 Yankee team. Yes the Mets actually spent MORE on team payroll than the Yankees have in terms of revenue generated. Bet you didn’t know that. The real question isn’t why don’t the Wilpons spend money, it should be how they’ve spent their money. That’s not a way to absolve the Mets of any fault- I’ll get to that soon- but it does put quite a bit into perspective.
So that leaves us back to where we are now, post trade deadline. The Mets had valid reasons to turn down a trade for Cliff Lee, or Roy Oswalt, or Dan Haren. All three teams involved demanded Jon Niese and or Ike Davis and a few top tiered minor leaguers. What those teams acquired for their star pitchers can be questioned but in the end unless you’re ok with dealing Jon Niese and Ike Davis, those teams apparently were unwilling to deal. That leaves us with Ted Lilly. Lilly has $4.3 million remaining on his contract. If the Mets ate the remainder of his deal, then they may have had leverage so that they wouldn’t have to give up a bevy of minor league talent. Can you hear the crickets? It’s the sound of nothing being done. When you couple not having a deep minor league system with financial issues – I don’t think I need to draw a picture, I respect your intellect too much.
Obviously the Mets leadership from Omar on up are saying one thing when it comes to finances and the truth is somewhere in the middle of the Hudson. Whether or not there’s more going on that the Wilpons don’t wish and quite frankly don’t have to tell, at least not to us, we don’t fully know but when it walks like a duck..it’s a duck. At the very least this team should know you can’t be ambiguous in this market and escape criticism.
Remember the Mets are a privately run corporation. This isn’t General Motors who answers to the stockholders, but the Mets do owe it to the fans to be honest. Imagine Fred Wilpon holding a presser, getting up to the podium and saying essentially,
“My family has spent and continues to spend on the New York Mets. This is a team I care about more than you know, but the time has come where the coaches need to coach, the players need to play and we do have incredible players. Teams with a third of our payroll have turned out championships. So can we. I challenge my men. I challenge them to be more than what they could even imagine they could be.”
How refreshing would that be? He wouldn’t even have to break it down and explain in detail why he’s chosen to curb spending. It would be THE story in New York. Owner calls out his players and publicly challenges them to play beyond their individual capabilities.
You have to admit it’s not something you see everyday at least not with the Mets. The key is making it public but not doing so in a demeaning fashion to the players. Fred Wilpon doesn’t like to rock the boat. Perhaps this is the key time in this franchise when it’s owner can challenge himself to rock this ship in a Titanic, New York style. I challenge you Mr. Wilpon. I challenge the New York Mets.