Everything you need to know about the Mets plan & approach going forward

Matthew Cerrone , Lead Writer

The most common questions I get from Mets fans deal with money, payroll and why the Mets do (or don’t do) what they do. I get random trade proposals and suggestions for free agent signings, none of which are likely to happen because they do not fit within this team’s overall strategy.

So, here’s that strategy, as I understand it…

First Generation Contracts

I alluded to this yesterday, but it should be clear to everyone by now that Sandy Alderson believes in building a consistent, winning franchise around young, homegrown talent that he keeps in house with the first long-term contract extensions of their careers, like he started last year with Jon Niese. For lack of a better term, I’m calling these ‘First Generation Contracts,’ for reasons that will become more clear later in this post.

For instance, it’s my understanding that when the Mets are back consistently contending for a playoff spot, say 2014, 2015, #FingersCrossed, roughly half of his team’s payroll will be going to guys like Ike Davis, Niese and Matt Harvey, among others, all of whom will likely have signed contract extensions that bought out their arbitration years and some free agency years. This is why there are rumblings the Mets could try to lock up Ike next winter to a deal similar to what Billy Butler signed with the Royals, a deal that would buy out his last two arbitration seasons, 2014 and 2015, as well as 2016 and 2017 (which is when he would have been eligible to be a free agent).

The rest of the team’s payroll will consist of newer, younger players making the league minimum – say a Brandon Nimmo – plus necessary veteran free agents on short-term deals to be depth, role players, and ‘stop gaps,’ or to fill a void.

Second Generation Contracts

I’m not sure where David Wright fits in to all of the above, since Alderson often talks about not wanting to sign guys to ‘second generation contracts,’ as he calls them, i.e., the second long-term contract of a player’s career, which is what Jose Reyes was seeking last winter and what Wright is seeking now.

Why? Because, as I understand it, Sandy and his assistants see little historical evidence that these deals ever end up benefiting the team. Sure, there are cases that have worked, but for the most part teams end up regretting second-generation contracts because they often reflect what a player has done and not what he’s realistically expected to do. As Ted Berg said to me yesterday, Carlos Beltran’s deal with the Mets is probably the best-case scenario… and Mets fans weren’t exactly satisfied with his time in blue and orange… and that’s sort of the point – for every Beltran or Matt Holliday, there’s an Alex Rodriguez, Jason Bay and countless guys who did well, but did not come close to meeting expectations.

However, in the case of Wright, I sense Alderson understands that part of David’s next deal has to be for what he has done, not just on field but also from a public relations point of view. He knows Wright has gone above and beyond for the organization (during a rough time in the team’s history) in every way they’ve asked. Plus, in public, Alderson has acknowledged that a team must also consider legacy, ‘face of the franchise,’ and retaining players that fans have a strong, emotional connection with, and that all has a price and a place for certain players. It seems, to him and Ownership, Wright is one of those players.

This is why I think Alderson is making an exception and considering a second-generation contract for Wright; but it’s also why I don’t expect him to overpay, because he’s not going to want Wright to occupy an inappropriate percentage of future payrolls.

At best, Alderson has told me before it’s acceptable to have three or four – at most five – guys on a roster making tens of millions of dollars per year, but it’s never wise to have more than that, and always foolish to have a small group of people eating up most of your payroll (as the Mets do now). In other words, after this season, there is a space for a $20 million Wright, especially in New York City, but never three or four Wrights making $20 million each.

So, what about this winter and 2013

Yet again, I don’t expect much. It’s not that Alderson doesn’t wish to make big changes, or will not try, it’s just – in talking to people around the game – I don’t see how it happens in this trade market – and with a reported $5 to $10 million to spend on new talent – and without adding to payroll beyond 2014.

Instead, based on talks with people familiar with the team’s thinking, and based on how people are reading this market, I expect to see Kirk Nieuwenhuis starting in center field on Opening Day, and I think there’s a very good chance Lucas Duda is again in left field (unless he’s traded, which is possible). I now expect Jason Bay to be on the roster, but I won’t be surprised if he’s cut before June. I also expect Josh Thole and Kelly Shoppach to again pair up behind the plate, or at least someone similar to Shoppach with Thole.

Sure, I think there is the potential for a blockbuster trade, such as packaging Jon Niese, Duda and prospects for an established outfielder. It’s also possible RA Dickey gets moved for a small group of top prospects, assuming a reasonable contract extension can’t be worked out. However, right now, I think those two will be the extent of any big moves that can be made… and they may not even happen.

In terms of free agents, I expect the Mets to only sign guys to two-year deals or less, so to keep future budgets open to eventually lock in guys like Davis and Harvey, etc., while also working this winter to sign Wright to a long-term extension.

In other words, this winter I expect more of the same, such as signing two or three relievers (some guaranteed, some on minor-league deals), with similar additions to the bench, such as Shoppach, all while keeping one eye on Niese, Duda and Dickey and the trade market. Otherwise, I think Alderson will continue to position his roster and budget for what he has planned for 2014 and beyond.