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The Magic Payroll Number

Posted By Howard Megdal On September 30, 2011 @ 10:15 am In Today's Mets headlines | Comments Disabled

So much of the conversation this week, with the 2011 season over, has centered around what the team’s payroll is likely to be in 2012. Sandy Alderson has stood by a number between $100-110 million. And a number of people have taken great pains [1] to point out that hey, lots of teams can win at that level- only two of the eight playoff teams spent more than $110 million this year!

There’s a huge problem with that, however. Take a look at those rosters: how many contracts do you see akin to Jason Bay’s, who provided a 0.6 WAR this year, and is scheduled to make $16 million next year? Or Johan Santana, who provided zero innings, and is set to make $24 million next year? Not many. Detroit had about $23 million with Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, making their effective payroll around $88 million.  Texas, Milwaukee, Arizona and Tampa Bay had nothing like that. The Yankees had A.J. Burnett while the Phillies had Raul Ibanez and Brad Lidge, but again, their overall payrolls were so high that their effective payrolls were still way above $110 million.

Now, Santana may recover from a complicated shoulder surgery and pitch 200 innings. Jason Bay may regain his 2009 form. But neither one is particularly worth betting on. And you can be sure that Sandy Alderson knows he can’t build a team around those assumptions.

So effectively, the number he has to build next year’s team, even at $110 million, is really $70 million. And unlike Arizona and Tampa Bay, both of whom have build through the draft for years, the Alderson Mets have been doing that for exactly one draft. That’s not Alderson’s fault, of course- he and his crew handled the only draft they had extremely well. But that’s not going to help them in 2012.

Now, as we’ll get into shortly, it isn’t necessarily clear that outside of Jose Reyes, the Mets have many compelling reasons within this free agent class to spend the $40-50 million that will get them from next season’s commitments (Bay + Santana + Wright + Dickey + Carrasco = $60.5 million) to $110 million. That’s the other problem- those playoff teams, in addition to spending more effective payroll than the Mets even can next season, didn’t spend the lion’s share of that payroll on free agents. Now, simply bringing many of the other 2011 Mets players back, raises, arbitration, etc., will raise that number from $60.5 million to around $75 million, give or take a Pagan. But that’s still a large percentage to spend on a weak free agent class.

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