Baseball is currently a buyer’s market. With the financial crisis within the United States no longer are teams willing to give players like Vincente Padilla double-figure million dollar deals to be borderline-good players. In fact, some of the biggest free agents thus far this season, such as Brian Fuentes, Pat Burrell, Jason Giambi, and Trevor Hoffman, have signed deals that would have seemed like complete steals a few years ago. While those deals may still seem like bargains for the teams signing them, the stock market’s downturn (and Bernard Madoff, now joining the likes of Jimmy Rollins as a Met fan foe) has lost some baseball owners serious money that would make one forget all about the pennies on the dollar saved in signing a guy like Hoffman for $6 million instead of $8 million.
So with the market being as it is, what have the Mets done to take advantage of it? I know Omar Minaya does not have an MBA and cannot be entirely culpable for failing to analyze a market, but such is the responsibility when you take on running a budget of over $135 million. Last year Omar Minaya spent money unwisely on guys like Matt Wise, Brian Schneider, and Luis Castillo, money that is lost (and for Schneider and Castillo will continue to be lost) and cannot be recovered. Luckily Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez, Oliver Perez, and others are now off the books and have freed up some wiggle room for Omar to spend.
But I cannot seem to wonder why our cross-town rivals have been able, during a recession, to spend lavishly on A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia, and Mark Teixeira. And while I may not agree with the money given to each player, the money being available is what I am more concerned with. It seems that Brian Cashman was able to pinpoint maybe not a weak market, but at least an off-season in which many prime free agents would be available. He was able to get money off the books this summer for numerous players, such as Giambi, Mike Mussina, Bobby Abreu, Andy Pettite, and Carl Pavano, giving him the green light to get three of the best players in the game.
Or maybe it was just dumb luck. Maybe all the money just happened to come off the books at the perfect time for the Yankees, and all those free agents just happened to be available the exact same off-season. It definitely is a possibility, and Cashman is certainly not infallible when it comes to handing out contracts (see Pavano, Carl), and he also has a larger checkbook to work with. Still, the likes of Castillo and Schneider are blocking other players from coming in.
Perhaps an interesting situation would have been to let Carlos Delgado walk, considering it cost the Mets $16 million to pick up his contract. If you let Delgado walk and sign Giambi (who actually had a marginally better 2008) for the $5.5 million he was signed to, that gives you $10.5 million more to work with when trying to get a guy like Lowe. Although replacing a clubhouse guy with a known former steroid user may cause the Public Relations department to work overtime, it may be worth the $10.5 million saved, especially if Giambi puts up good numbers again.
However, this also brings up the fact that Omar Minaya does not seem to have the ability to spend as much as he would like, despite what Fred and Jeff Wilpon have said in the media. With the Madoff scandal possibly burning somewhere between $100-300 million of Wilpon’s personal money, it is currently unknown if Omar can spend. The fact that he is offering Derek Lowe $12 million a year for three years when last year he gave Luis Castillo an overpriced deal says that he is either playing hardball with Boras or unable to throw out the big bucks. Either way the Mets may be in trouble when Frank Wren decides he is sick of getting spurned by every free agent and throws everything and the kitchen sink at Lowe.
Has Omar Minaya done a good job as General Manager of the Mets? I think so, as I do not blame him for the past two years (despite the fact that I have blamed everyone from Sarah Palin to Greg Dobb’s parents to Tim McCarver for the past two years). The collapses were more circumstantial than anything, and I am impressed with the J.J. Putz deal and assembling of some amazing players around the core of Wright and Reyes. I just hope that he is able to handle the economic situation properly and, if constrained by the possible empty pockets of the Wilpons, is able to be wise in his decisions (which he was not able to do with a nothing payroll in Montreal).