Watching Met finances over the coming months is going to be a fairly demoralizing exercise. Players leaving, whether by the non-waiver trade deadline or via free agency this winter, will frustrate the fan base. In the case of someone like Carlos Beltran, it will make sense, baseball-wise. In Jose Reyes’ case, it will not.
There are likely to be a pair of moments those who mistakenly believe the Mets have somehow “stabilized” thanks to the David Einhorn investment will declare victory, Mission Accomplished sign-style.
One will be if Jose Reyes isn’t traded on August 1. This is almost certainly not an indicator that the Mets will sign Reyes, but rather, a likely calculation that the difference between whatever the best offer was and the two draft picks the Mets are likely to receive when he signs elsewhere wasn’t greater than the amount of lost revenue in attendance over the season’s last two months. As a bonus, if Reyes doesn’t sign until January, say, and season-ticket deposits are due in December, the Mets could get some additional revenue from those holding out hope that Reyes returns.
The other will be if the Mets go over slot in the draft. Remember, the commissioner’s office sets recommended bonuses for each pick in the draft through the fifth round. And smart teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, and recently, Royals, Pirates and others ignore it to improve the farm system. Sucker teams follow the recommendations and end up with lesser farm systems. The Mets have always been the latter, though the new baseball ops people have gone on record saying they will become the former. And this one actually has a connection to the Einhorn money, which is earmarked for 2011’s bottom line and other short-term debt.
How does it work? Let me give you an example from last season. The Mets had pick number 152 in the fifth round. The slot for that pick was $166,500, according to Baseball America. They chose Matt den Dekker, paid him $110,000, well within the guidelines. He was an overdraft, in other words. But they got a decent outfield prospect, nothing special. A fifth-round pick, more or less.
Fourteen picks later, the Rangers selected right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm. The slot at 166 was $147,600. Grimm got a bonus of $825,000. An early second-round pick, in other words. Grimm pitched 50 1/3 innings in low-A ball, and now sports a 0.96 ERA in high-A ball. He’s averaging a strikeout per inning, and among Mets pitching prospects, he’d be right there with Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia, probably a notch below, but remember, the Mets don’t have very much other than those two in the system right now.
In short, multiply this by many rounds, year after year, and you have a very easy answer as to why the Mets’ system is consistently below average, the players it does produce tend not to be stars.
2011 promises to be different, though once again, when it happens, don’t buy into the idea that the Wilpon ownership group is solvent beyond this Einhorn cash (earmarked for short-term debt, with no real prospect of survival beyond). Remember, Fred Wilpon has detailed where that $200 million is going- to cover 2011 losses, toward team debt (though covering a small percentage of it), debt payment on Citi Field (again, a small percentage of it), and a loan from Major League Baseball due back this season. That doesn’t address the rest of the team debt, the Citi Field debt, 2012 losses, and biggest of all, any of the potential liability in the case they face from trustee for Bernie Madoff victims Irving Picard.
That does cover 2011 bonuses, though. And that does bode well for the 2015 Mets under Einhorn.