It is easy to get lost in the small details, the many tiny moments and data points that make up a year in the life of a major league baseball team. But I wanted to take a step back, and point out a glorious arc, courtesy of Sandy Alderson and company, that some of you may have missed.
If you’ve read my book, you know that three of the many frustrations I’ve had with the way the Mets did business for years were:
1. Overpaying for relief pitching, particular lefty specialists. See Scott Schoeneweis, or going back further, Dennis Cook.
2. Failing to simply let marginal, overpriced free agents go and collecting the draft picks that result. Combine 1 and 2, and you see the team with a net loss in draft picks every year, for very little gain.
3. When drafting, the team consistently failed to go over the recommended bonus slot for each pick suggested by Major League Baseball, and therefore was unable to sign top talent with later picks.
Okay, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at what I will forever think of as the Pedro Feliciano-to-Michael Fulmer arc.
The Mets faced the question last winter: what to do with Pedro Feliciano? He was willing to come back, but wanted a two year deal at approximately four million dollars per season. Now, Feliciano had been a very good lefty specialist, but as I argued at the time, there were plenty of others who could do his job for less money. The Mets let him go to the Yankees.
So far, Mets are down a lefty specialist, but they also have eight million dollars in the coffers they wouldn’t have had. And, because Feliciano was a Type B free agent, they received a sandwich pick, which turned out to be the 44th overall pick in the 2011 draft.
Now obviously, Feliciano getting injured made the decision not to bring him back a win before anything else is factored in. And I do believe the way he was used by the Mets made him a pretty strong candidate to break down. But the key here is that the move made a ton of sense even if Feliciano kept pitching at his 2008-2010 levels.
The Feliciano role has been taken up by Tim Byrdak this year. Byrdak is holding lefties to a .671 OPS this year, a fine job. Feliciano posted a .574 mark against lefties in 2010, .594 in 2009, and .575 in 2008. So no question, Feliciano was a bit better against lefties. (Byrdak from 2008-2010 was .644, .700 and .469.) But the overall margin is extremely slight. And Byrdak is earning $900,000 this year, on a one-year commitment. That’s $3.1 million saved in 2011, with all four million that would have been committed to Feliciano available to the 2012 club.
Then in June, the Mets took a promising right-handed pitcher named Michael Fulmer with the 44th overall pick. Fulmer eventually signed for $937,500, exceeding the slot guideline of $776,700 from MLB by more than 20 percent. The Mets, in dire need of more pitching prospects, added a good one.
So… let’s total all this up. Instead of paying eight million dollars for a lefty specialist, they’ve spent $1,837,500 for a lefty specialist and a solid pitching prospect. They have more than $6 million left over to spend on other needs.
And for those who think a New York team shouldn’t watch its pennies, or that this is some Madoff-based budget cutting… you are wrong. This is how the best teams extract maximum value out of everything they spend. The advantage a New York team has isn’t that it can waste a ton of money and still come out ahead, though that occasionally happens. It is that a New York team has many more dollars to extract maximum value from. Done right, it should make a team with a larger revenue stream nearly unbeatable.
And by contrast, it should always keep the Mets from having a payroll of $145 million while struggling to stay above .500. Sandy Alderson’s treatment of the Feliciano-Fulmer Affair, repeated many times, will make the Mets a consistently elite team.