Commentary

Meet the middle-market Mets?

Letting Reyes walk because of payroll constraints would be step in wrong direction

Updated: November 29, 2011, 4:49 PM ET
By Adam Rubin | ESPNNewYork.com

Jose ReyesNick Laham/Getty ImagesMets need a big-market payroll so the front office can make a baseball-fueled decision with Reyes.

There has been no shortage of phrases over the years spoken by New York Mets personnel that have taken on lives of their own.

"Skill sets" is how Fred Wilpon referred to Steve Phillips' qualifications.

"Carl Crawford money," also courtesy of Wilpon, is what Jose Reyes won't be getting this winter.

"No light at the end of the tunnel," is an oldie but a goodie from Cliff Floyd.

But the most relevant phrase at this point, or at least No. 1A alongside the well-publicized Crawford line, is what Paul DePodesta said upon joining the organization as general manager Sandy Alderson's lieutenant last offseason. DePodesta referred to the Mets' situation as "Moneyball with money."

Well, not quite.

It's just Moneyball.

And, as a result, it is more likely than not that Reyes departs as a free agent this offseason, despite a genuine interest from the shortstop in remaining assuming a competitive bid.

The bottom line is this: Alderson has acknowledged the Mets' payroll will be between $100 million and $110 million in 2012. And, the GM added, it may start below that range to allow for in-season spending as well as amateur signing bonuses (which arguably do not belong in the payroll category).

Are we still in New York?

No one is suggesting the Mets ought to re-sign Reyes if a team out there is willing to give the shortstop seven years, $154 million. You have to draw the line somewhere.

But it is worth asking this: Will the ultimate decision with Reyes be influenced primarily because other teams value Reyes' services differently than the Mets and have a greater tolerance for any injury risk? Or is the decision based primarily on payroll constraints, with the Mets operating like a middle-market team?

Consider it this way: If the Mets' payroll were $140 million or $150 million again next year, would they really be having a debate about whether to re-sign Reyes, assuming he can be signed for five or six years guaranteed?

Are we really debating whether the Mets are better off with Reyes or heir apparent Ruben Tejada at shortstop next season?

There will always be the Pollyanna viewpoint that the team that won the World Series this year had a $110 million payroll, so a championship can be achieved at that level.

Well, did the St. Louis Cardinals have one player who earned $22.5 million and did not appear the entire season, as the Mets did with Johan Santana? And can it be argued that a team with a $140 million or $150 million payroll has an advantage over a team with a $110 million payroll assuming equally shrewd GMs?

It is hard to fathom a scenario in which an owner provides a budget to a GM, and the GM says, "No thanks, we'll spend significantly less." Maybe the GM is cautious with that money and doesn't blow it all in Year 1, but the GM invests it.

Alderson has spoken often about payroll flexibility. He already is hampered by Jason Bay, David Wright and Santana collecting a combined $55 million in 2012.

By definition, payroll flexibility increases the moment the owners allow for a higher payroll.

No one is advocating reverting to the reckless spending days of Alderson predecessor Omar Minaya, when the back end of contracts were disregarded, leaving dead weight Alderson is dealing with now.

But is Reyes' contract really where the line will be drawn?

There's a cost to doing business in the big city.

At some point, you have your farm system regularly churning out talent, which is the ultimate end game here, and which the current front office seems to understand. At that point -- assuming prospects Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Jeurys Familia are the real deal -- you use your financial might to sign complementary talent and you never risk losing those players one day as free agents.

But what about the interim? Shouldn't New York teams be able to keep their homegrown stars?

Minus Reyes, 2012 has the potential to be pretty ugly.

If the ultimate verdict with Reyes is a calculated baseball decision, so be it. But shame on the Mets if he departs and it is primarily payroll-constraint induced.

Adam Rubin has covered the Mets since 2003. He's a graduate of Mepham High School on Long Island and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He joined ESPNNewYork after spending 10 years at the New York Daily News.
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