The money crunch that allowed Jose Reyes to walk uncontested to the Miami Marlins rightly received plenty of attention during the offseason.
The projected $52 million payroll slashing will undermine the New York Mets in more subtle ways, too.
Despite the franchise’s renewed emphasis on the farm system, the minors largely will not start producing a meaningful type of infusion for the major league squad until 2013. So that means the Mets needed to sign free agents during the winter to provide depth in camp as a hedge against injuries, and to ensure a strong regular-season bench.
Now, Tim Byrdak is headed for surgery to repair a torn meniscus, which will sideline him into the season. And David Wright’s rib-cage issue has not improved, so he received an “ultrasound-guided” anti-inflammatory injection.
The replacement for Byrdak likely is unheralded Garrett Olson or Chuck James. The solution for a shorter-term Wright absence, while not yet projected, probably would be Justin Turner, with middle-tier prospect Zach Lutz as an alternative. (Longer term, Daniel Murphy could slide to third.)
And what happens if a member of the Mets’ rotation goes down? There’s no John Lannan or Chien-Ming Wang sitting around to plug into the rotation, as is the case in Washington, which goes beyond five deep after adding Gio Gonzalez and Edwin Jackson. With the Mets, you’re talking most likely about 41-year-old Miguel Batista, with Chris Schwinden, Olson and Jeremy Hefner as alternatives. Prospects Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are promising, but are not polished enough yet.
Meanwhile, in addition to Byrdak, Scott Hairston likely will open the season on the disabled list because of a left-oblique strain. And there’s no Rick Ankiel in Mets camp, to again use Washington as an example. In fact, the only other righty-hitting outfielder in camp is utility man Vinny Rottino.
You could see this development coming. There was still plenty of offseason left when general manager Sandy Alderson acknowledged he would not add any more free agents that cost more than $1.5 million.
Beyond handing Frank Francisco a two-year, $12 million deal and setup man Jon Rauch a one-year, $3.5 million deal, virtually no money was thrown around all winter.
Principal owner Fred Wilpon might try to suggest that’s just Alderson being Alderson, and that the GM prefers a fiscally conservative route. And that would be hogwash.
Ronny Cedeno received $1.5 million. Hairston re-signed for $1.1 million. Batista agreed to a minor league contract. And that was pretty much it, aside from the trade that sent Angel Pagan to the San Francisco Giants in a near-salary match for fellow center fielder Andres Torres as well as right-handed reliever Ramon Ramirez.
Alderson has said plenty of players may shake loose from other camps in the final week of spring training as a result of a stipulation in the new collective bargaining agreement.
Very generally, certain free agents with major league experience who signed minor league contracts must be given a $100,000 retention bonus if they’re not going to make their employers’ Opening Day rosters. Otherwise, they must be cut loose five days before Opening Day.
The Mets suggest this may produce promising players. But you know who qualifies for this stipulation in Mets camp? Batista.
Essentially, the Mets have to tell Batista he will make the major league team five days before Opening Day. Or they have to give him $100,000 for the right to send him to the minors. Otherwise he's a free agent.
So the type of player other teams would be cutting loose is a Batista type for which they were not willing to pay $100,000 to hold in the minors.
And those are players who could capably fill the bench on the Mets’ major league squad?
During the telecast of Sunday’s rain-shortened Grapefruit League game between the Mets and Miami Marlins, Rottino was asked why he signed with New York. He delicately answered the question. Rottino explained that his agent advised him that in most cases it is wise to re-sign with the team that calls you up in September, as the Marlins did with Rottino last season.
But, Rottino added, in more tactful terms than these: He looked at the Marlins’ bench candidates. And he looked at the Mets’ bench candidates. And, well, the better opportunity was to defect to the Mets on a minor league deal.
Smart move by him and his agent.
Yet the same motivation Rottino had for choosing the Mets -- lack of depth -- is one of the factors that could undermine the club in 2012.