Over the years, I have almost never supported the idea of the Mets acquiring Manny Ramirez. From those first rumblings after Carlos Beltran’s bad 2005 had three-way trade rumors sending him to Boston to the past trade deadline that saw him shifted to the Dodgers after his Boston media character assassination, I have been categorically against the idea of him in a Mets uniform. As of today, I have changed my mind, and here is the part where I explain why.
1) This is a very tentative free agent market, and the best time to buy is when you can buy low.
Almost anywhere you look outside of the Bronx, players are being given much less than they expected to get. Francisco Rodriguez entered the offseason with dreams of a five-year, $75 million contract, and he managed to barely get three and $37 million. His agent was damn smart to jump on that too, because Brian Fuentes and Kerry Wood only managed two-year deals as the best remaining relievers on the market. Another Mets target, Derek Lowe, came into the offseason with aspirations of a “Zito contract,” and the Mets aren’t expected to have to go any higher than four years and $60 million and probably will seal the deal for substantially less than that. This is the time for teams with financial resources to pull away from the rest of the pack, because nobody else at this point even seems to be willing to get into a bidding war. Remember when the Mets let Vladimir Guerrero get away in a similarly bad market in 2004 because they “worried about his back” and quibbled over matching the five years the Angels gave him? How much would his signing have mattered the last four years?
Manny Ramirez opted to chase free agency and decline his option years, thinking that he could get another huge deal in line, but his market has also slowly evaporated. The logical destinations are drying up. With the Angels uninterested, the Yankees already carrying enough DHs on the roster, the Red Sox unwilling to kiss and make up, and the Dodgers courting every other left fielder from Adam Dunn to Milton Bradley, the Mets are a logical fit in every way. Except for Fred Wilpon’s distaste for the media circus, that is. I think Scott Boras would jump to get something like three years, $66 million at this point, and the Mets could probably haggle their way down even lower than that.
2) Perhaps his defense isn’t that big a deal anyway.
In one of his pieces in Decmeber, my colleague James Kannengeiser mentioned that Manny’s defensive work was his best since 1999. I think by all subjective measures, we can agree that Manny is not graceful in the outfield. His range is limited, and he’s not going to cut off many balls in the gap. That said, what jumped out at me about James’ piece is the number 1999: the same year before Manny fled to Boston in free agency. Defensive systems have generally had problems dealing with Fenway’s left field wall, which may mean that his defensive statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. Not that I’m saying that Manny is a good defensive outfielder; I’m just saying that perhaps not the historically bad one that som statistics have made him out to be.
Moreover, defense is an issue with just about every other possible 2009 Mets outfielder of note anyway. Pat Burrell and Adam Dunn could be charitably described as “bad.” Bobby Abreu would be moving over from right-field, and his phobia of the outfield wall has become a well-established meme in any description of his play. Dan Murphy is a converted third-baseman, and Fernando Tatis has never been on the field for his glovework. Perhaps it’s time to just admit that the defense in left is going to be bad no matter what, and whoever plays will have to make up for the defecit with his bat. And I feel a lot more confident in Ramirez’s chances to do just that than those of Murphy and Tatis. The only appreciably better corner outfield target in the near future is Matt Holliday, and while the future is murky for free agent signings, I’m willing to bet he’ll still get his $100 million.
3) A logjam: why is this a problem for a big market team again?
The Mets saw first-hand how much depth matters last year. Signing Ramirez has two ancillary benefits, both of which revolve around Ryan Church. Church, who was off to a blistering start last year before getting concussed multiple times, still has plenty of trade value and is still a couple seasons from free agency. The Mets could conceivably find a match for him that would fill a different hole on the team that still needs to be addressed (like say, second base), or they could mortgage him for high upside guys like Omar did with the Oliver Perez and John Maine trades. Whichever it is, this could be done either this offseason or the next, giving Omar even more flexibility.
In the event that the team decides to stick with Church, why is having Dan Murphy as a super sub a bad thing? It worked out alright for Kevin Mitchell in 1986. Murphy could spell Carlos Delgado and David Wright a few times a month while also taking reps at second base when our fly-ball heavy pitchers are on the mound. Not to mention his ability to play the corner outfield slots, also; Church has yet to have 500 at-bats in a season, something which should not be lost on those looking to pencil in completely solid numbers out of right-field. Should Fernando Martinez break into the picture sooner rather than later, Church could be dealt at the trade deadline to fix whatever leaks have sprung up, provided he’s still healthy. At worst, signing Manny gives the team the potential to have an actual bench, and at best, it provides flexibility over the next two years. This concept of flexibility leads to things like “not being so desperate for an outfield bat that Trot Nixon starts to look good.”
4) We’re not losing an additional first round draft pick to do it.
Having already donated their first rounder to the Angels, the Mets would only lose their second-round pick. Seeing as how they’ll probably end up with two picks anyway from the team that signs Oliver Perez—not to mention how the value of second-round picks pale in comparison to earlier picks—there is no real stab at the future.
Moreover, this experience would enable the Mets to try something new and daring with their available draft funds: going over slot for players that slip in the draft instead of minding Bud Selig’s archaic and foolish draft recommendations. I think we can all agree that this would be a welcomed turn of events.
5) Exploit that new TV network and stadium for all they are worth.
Matt Cerrone of Metsblog brought up the idea of spending like the Yankees. I think while his idea of “emotional op-eds” is kind of right, in that it would be very easy to rail against the Mets for not going after the Yankees spending methods because the means are now the same, it isn’t exactly the same scenario because the Yankees are setting the market. This was a very unique free agent class in that it’s very likely the Yankees will sign the three biggest contracts in it. That doesn’t mean that the Mets exploiting a down market where the rest of the teams are gunshy makes them anything like the Yankees at all. Let’s invent some reasonable compromise figures for his scenario. I’ll give Manny two years and $44 million with a vesting option, Lowe three years and $42 million, and Orlando Hudson something like four years, $35 million.
The total value of those contracts comes to $121 million; add in K-Rod’s three-years, $37 million and you have $148 million committed to four key offseason acquisitions, or $13 million less than the Yankees individually guaranteed CC Sabathia and $59 million less than they guaranteed Mark Teixiera. This is not spending like the Yankees at all. This is exploiting a down market in a down economy for good players. Oh sure, the short-term payroll would balloon a bit, but the Mets figure to dump about $30 million in payroll during the next offseason (Delgado, Billy Wagner, Brian Schneider, and the declining of Putz’s option, not to mention the possibility of unloading Church). Of those, only Delgado, assuming he doesn’t decline this year, would be a huge blow to the Mets’ chances if lost. Putz is nice, but a luxury. Perhaps his option could be picked up and he could be dealt as well. Either way, the 2009 market could very well rekindle an orgy of spending as teams realize profits by sitting on their hands this offseason, which would lead market prices to go back to where they were in 2007. Taking the additional bill this offseason would not hurt the Mets too much due to the new financial boons, and they gain nothing by waiting.
And for the record, I do not support signing Orlando Hudson at anything resembling $35 million.
6) Don’t allow complacency.
Which we’ve been over. The Mets are a pretty good team now. They’d be better still with Lowe, and they’d probably be the preseason NL favorite with Manny. Addressing second base and exiling Castillo without having to pay big bucks for it would be gravy.
This offseason is the perfect storm for the Mets. There are a lot of very capable supporting players on the market in positions that they need to field, the core is in place for the near future, and the market has broken in a way that they can uniquely exploit it at a still reasonable price while the rest of the teams are crying poor. This is no time to worry about the economy or to give in to peer payroll pressure. This is no time to worry about how Jose Reyes’ high five celebrations lead other teams to get mad at them and how adding another hot dog like Manny might make them even more motivated to beat the Mets, or other trivial nonsense and back-page fodder. This is the time to use your resources to get the best team on the field for next year that you possibly can. Adding Manny to the Mets would be the punctuation mark on the statement that the Mets are not willing to let last season happen again.