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January 5, 2009
  
The Case for Manny

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.


17 Responses to “The Case for Manny”

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  1. Comment posted by grex in austria on January 5, 2009 at 4:12 am (#914970)

    nice piece.

    if’ve said it all offseason long: GET MANNY!

  2. Comment posted by WilmerWillArriveSoon on January 5, 2009 at 6:34 am (#914972)

    Yup, we can write all we want, but I just ain’t getting any vibes whatsoever that it’ll happen. First and foremost we need Lowe; then we can think about Manny. And we honestly don’t need Orlando Hudson.

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  4. Comment posted by MetsFanSince71 on January 5, 2009 at 6:53 am (#914973)

    now that the Dodgers are shedding Andruw, indications are they’ll probably increase their offer to Manny

    I want Manny, Minaya craves Manny - but I truly believe if Omar had the green light, he would be a Met by now

    it’s unfortunate the Wilpons want no part of Manny in their new stadium

    Manny + Lowe on the ‘09 Mets = WS appearance

  5. Comment posted by Wal-man on January 5, 2009 at 8:11 am (#914977)

    Perhaps we need to let our voices be heard with something the Wilpons will understand. Hey, Money talks!!!

    Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I’d be willing to pledge $5.00 toward signifying that this move is wanted by lots of real Mets fans. I think it is the right direction to go in. Maybe I’m not alone here.

    $5.00 isn’t going to pay his salary, or break me, but maybe it gets attention when it comes to making a point. Pretenders will not invest this amount for a gag, and compared with the price of seats at Citfield, this amount is nominal.

    If this sounds dumb, I’m sorry, but I really want the Wilpons to take us seriously. Some meaningful act may be needed, on the part of Met’s fans, in order to be heard.

    We could collect the money in a public fund, so that it gets donated, on behalf of the fans, to our charity of choice. We could even vote on the benefiting charity. This is not about paying for Manny, but about opening channels of communication between Mets ownership and the real Mets fan base.

    I hope that such a commitment from the fans will not be wasted on Fred Wilpon, et al. Pleasing your fan base has to be high on your list, even if you are in the game for the financial benefits alone. I don’t think this is the case with the Wilpons, but it doesn’t matter.

    This move will motivate me and raise my level of enthusiam, which in turn will put my fanny in the stands even more than in the past. This will be our statement and commitment, if we make this move.

    Maybe I’m delusional.

    Is this something that Mets Geek can set up, and move forward with? Unless we do something, this discussion may be nothing more than whimsical fodder. I’m ready to act, and put my money where my mouth is.

    How about you Mets Geek?

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  7. Comment posted by Mike Newman on January 5, 2009 at 9:42 am (#915002)

    Hey Chris,

    I agree with your entire article except for points three and four.

    With Church being in his “prime” and coming off concussion problems which have seriously hampered a number of players and even ended careers, his value is very little. No “high upside” guys are in the Mets future for Church. As I’ve been saying all along, his first two months were the exception, not the rule for what you can expect from him.

    Additionally, a number of high ceiling prospects were taken in the 2nd round last year and there’s always a number of high ceiling talents who slip due to signability issues. With the Mets having a shaky system as is and a couple of so-so to downright bad drafts, every pick is important unless the Mets decide to start going over slot on players.

  8. Comment posted by mr.bmc on January 5, 2009 at 10:34 am (#915042)

    Freddy & Jeffy are not incentivized to sign Manny because they believe Citi Field will be full every night. They won’t see the 3000 bump in ticket sales that the dodgers received.

    But… That’s just the regular season and making payroll. The post-season bank is where the profit is.

    The Mets - assuming they sign Lowe - project to win ~91 games.
    The Phillies roster projects as an 89 win team.

    Are you comfortable with a two game lead over Philly?
    Me neither.

    Manny will add 2-3 wins over Church/Murphy/Tatis (if you believe the numbers on fangraphs.com). Making the Mets prohibitive favorites (again) at 93 wins Signing Manny changes the complexion of the entire division. The Braves fold earlier, the Marlins put off augmenting their core another year, and Manny gets to pepper the outfield seats at Citizen’s Band Box with souvenirs.

    Manny’s salary will pay for itself with a regular and post season tickets.

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  10. Comment posted by Chris McCown on January 5, 2009 at 10:59 am (#915061)

    With Church being in his “prime” and coming off concussion problems which have seriously hampered a number of players and even ended careers, his value is very little. No “high upside” guys are in the Mets future for Church. As I’ve been saying all along, his first two months were the exception, not the rule for what you can expect from him.

    Additionally, a number of high ceiling prospects were taken in the 2nd round last year and there’s always a number of high ceiling talents who slip due to signability issues. With the Mets having a shaky system as is and a couple of so-so to downright bad drafts, every pick is important unless the Mets decide to start going over slot on players.

    I agree that Church’s trade value isn’t what it once was, but I don’t think a solid corner outfielder with plus defense and under team control for 2 years is anything to scoff at. I can see a number of teams trading for him. They won’t be giving up Lastings Milledge to do it, but I don’t think a B guy or a decent MLB player is out of reach. Take the Mark DeRosa trade, someone in that range could really help the Mets out at second.

    As far as the drafts, well…we’ll just have to agree to disagree on that one. I am aware that guys slip because of signability issues but guys will slip with signability issues much further than the second round. The Mets could take their pick of most of those guys anyway. The Mets are either going to sign “signability” guys or “slot” guys independently, regardless of where they pick on the board. I think there is a greater chance that they reach for signability guys if they are bereft of high round picks, which is why after we’ve lost our first rounder I don’t see it mattering all that much. So it really boils down to “is the fifty-sixty something best slot pick better than Manny Ramirez.” In my mind, the answer to that is “No.”

  11. Comment posted by vjwhitmore on January 5, 2009 at 11:54 am (#915086)

    Great article.
    I would even take it a step further with the acquisitions. In addition to Lowe / Manny / Orlando Hudson, I wouldd also try to get Sheets because of the plausible questions about Maine’s health, and if healthy…
    that would give a rotation of:
    1 Santana
    2 Lowe
    3 Pelfrey
    4 Maine
    5 Sheets
    Sure it’s RH heavy, but could be lights out…

  12. Comment posted by MightyJoeOrsulak on January 5, 2009 at 1:02 pm (#915115)

    My only quibble is that getting rid of Castillo isn’t gravy. Castillo was the worst nominal starting second baseman in MLB last year. The Mets can’t afford that.

    Luckily, they won’t have to, because Castillo will gt hurt and the Mets won’t have Easley and Argenis, but (hopefully) a capable backup. The backup should usurp Castillo’s starting role eventually, leaving Castillo a useless player, with replacement offense, incompetent defense, and no value as a pinch-walker. The Mets have to sign a backup 2nd baseman under the assumption that he will eventually become the starting 2nd baseman in 2009.

    And I want no part of Hudson. Too similar to Luis. Premature decline and recent injuries. And Castillo in his prime was actually superior to Hudson.

  13. Comment posted by Wally Dykstra on January 5, 2009 at 2:58 pm (#915166)

    Problem with Manny is you need to overpay grossly and give him a lot of years for him to be happy. If events conspire to allow the Mets to sign him for a rationale sum over a short period, Manny will be offended and will misbehave during the year to try to extract a salary increase and extension.

  14. Comment posted by argonbunnies on January 5, 2009 at 3:05 pm (#915176)

    My gut says that someone (Giants?) will give Manny a stupid deal, and someone (Brewers?) will give Lowe a stupid deal, and the Rangers will offer Ben Sheets some piddly contract with no competition.

    I’d go for Sheets.

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  16. Comment posted by Chris McCown on January 5, 2009 at 3:06 pm (#915177)

    Problem with Manny is you need to overpay grossly and give him a lot of years for him to be happy. If events conspire to allow the Mets to sign him for a rationale sum over a short period, Manny will be offended and will misbehave during the year to try to extract a salary increase and extension.

    Sounds like someone bought the Red Sox-sponsored media burials.

    I won’t begin to believe that Manny is a perfect citizen (that shoving incident with the traveling secretary is pretty bad) but he’s a professional. I don’t buy that he quit.

  17. Comment posted by tm on January 5, 2009 at 3:46 pm (#915193)

    Right now, taking into account raises for arbitration eligible players, the Mets payroll is about $125 million ($15 million less than it was opening day last year). They still need to add a minimum of one more starter (hopefully Lowe). That puts them at about $140 million, the same as last year. Add in a utility infielder (gotta have a backup SS/2B), a second LHP for the ‘pen and possibly another SP to compete for the 5 slot, that’s maybe another $3 to 5 million. Maybe they go with guys on minor league deals and save a few bucks. New stadium or not, in this economy, does anyone think they’re going to add another $20 million on top of that to sign Manny? Doubtful.

    Realistically, they sign Lowe (maybe Tim Redding too), pick up a utility guy like Cora and bring in a couple of leftys on minor league deals. Unless Omar can move some payroll (Castillo) whichever starter they wind up with will probably be the last major move of the winter.

  18. Comment posted by Ed in Westchester on January 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm (#915230)

    Sounds like someone bought the Red Sox-sponsored media burials.

    iirc, his teammates voted him off the island as it were. After years of standing behind him.
    and pushing an elderly man is flat-out awful. He’s lucky he wasn’t suspended for that.

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  20. Comment posted by Mike Newman on January 5, 2009 at 7:01 pm (#915325)

    Chris,

    2nd round in 2008

    Destin Hood was taken by the Nats and was arguably the best athlete in the entire draft

    Kyle Lobstein is a very projectable lefty with the Rays.

    Anthony Gose has insane wheels and throws 90+ from the left side

    Xavier Avery might have been the fastest player in the draft

    Tyson Ross was a college guy who dials it up to 97.

    Dennis Raben projects as a 30+ HR corner.

    This doesn’t even mentioned Dykstra’s kid, Spruill from the Braves who just blew up, or Tanner Scheppers who went back to Fresno State.

    A 2nd round pick is very valuable with advanced scouting and the ability to see so many more guys in showcases.

    As for Church, I think you implied Church’s value is similar to DeRosa. DeRosa was significantly more valuable than Church in 2008 and had more positional value. I mean I’m not sure Church is much better than Reed Johnson who was signed for very little. Church is a good defender, but teams want guys who hit in corner outfield spots.

    I do agree completely with your assessment that losing a 2nd round pick too might force the Mets to go over slot. Either that or they go heavy in the international market again.

  21. Comment posted by littlefallsmets on January 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm (#915563)

    All of this overlooks Manny’s age.

    Dude’s a freak insofar as the fact that he hasn’t fallen off the face of the Earth yet, sure, but that doesn’t mean that he couldn’t next year.

    Better to put that money into getting a good pitcher, an actual factual second baseman and eating alla that money on Minaya’s Folly in disposing of the Mets current “second baseman”.

    I mean, a single set of quotation marks don’t seem like enough for Ol’ No Knees. The Mets current “”second baseman”".

    If you’re asking me which bat needs to be upgraded over more, one of the outfield corners or second base, for God’s sake, second base.

    Not to mention the fact that Manny would be nearly all of the FA money left on the table. There’s something to be said for spreading out that risk between three signings, you know, instead of one.

  22. Comment posted by Wally Dykstra on January 6, 2009 at 2:50 pm (#915765)

    Sounds like someone bought the Red Sox-sponsored media burials.

    Come on now. Up above you say “Manny Ramirez opted to chase free agency and decline his option years” but in fact it was the Red Sox’ options which were declined and they were declined because Manny appears to have deliberately misbehaved (and possibly even tanked his play) to avoid having those options exercised. He forced the Red Sox to trade him and conditioned his waiver of his no-trade clause on their dropping the options so he could cash in on the free agent market. Then once he got on the Dodgers and had free agency in his sights, he went on a tear. Coincidence? Perhaps, though I think the more pernicious interpretation is more likely and certainly in keeping with his reputation for being rather selfish. It’s hard to do business with a guy like that and I can certainly understand why Fred Wilpon might tell Minaya to forget it.

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