NYP: Why can’t the Mets contend with a reduced payroll?

In his column for the New York Post, Kevin Kernan wonders why the Mets can’t become a contending club with a reduced payroll, considering the A’s were able to do so under their budgetary challenges.

“To be successful the front office has to make like Beane and pull off a series of great trades just as Beane did, starting with the one he made three days after Christmas, stealing Josh Reddick and two minor leaguers from the Red Sox for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney,” Kernan writes.

According to Cot’s Contracts, the A’s payroll was $52 million in 2012, and they paid about $553,000 for each of their 94 wins, while the Mets – with around a $94 million payroll – paid nearly $1.3 million for each of their 74 wins.

Michael Baron, Contributor

Kernan’s proposal is easier said than done. There’s no question Billy Beane is incredibly resourceful and creative, and Sandy Alderson must adopt some of his own creativity and advance his Major League roster this winter. But here is a glaring problem: The A’s do not have major financial albatrosses eating at their roster on an annual basis. The Mets, on the other hand, owe $50 million (which is the entire Oakland A’s payroll, by the way) to both Jason Bay and Johan Santana in 2013, and another $30.5 million to four other players before raises to others through arbitration, potentially extending both David Wright and R.A. Dickey, and adding new talent to the roster. With a budget of around $100 million for 2013 (which is not a small number), it’s incredibly difficult to find that necessary value for the roster in it’s current condition. Of course, if guys like Bay and Santana had fulfilled the promise which came with their contracts, the discussion might be different right now (and the Mets would probably be winning more games).

Are there values out there? For sure. And, it’s clear even modest improvements – especially behind the plate and in the outfield – will make the team more sustainable over a long season. In addition, with a starting rotation which has gotten deeper, the Mets can most certainly contend if those modest improvements are made. But the Mets have continually been forced to operate in this top-heavy model which showed once again in 2012 is impossible to compose a balanced and deep roster. That goes for any team in the game, as no team can operate with an unlimited budget and simply outspend underperforming salaries.

A payroll number is just that: a number. It’s not about $150 million or $50 million, or big market or small market spending. It’s about investing wisely both internally and externally, distributing the resources evenly over the entire roster, and finding value within players. In fact, its almost unreasonable to associate expectations with how much a team “spends.” Yes, a lot can be reflected in a given payroll number including an ability to invest in the team, and fairly or unfairly the Mets need to show that ability now. However, it almost never equates to winning. Why? there are countless examples of teams who invest modestly in their Major League roster and contend every year, and plenty of teams who invest heavily and don’t contend.

The model has shifted towards building from within around a core philosophy (which the Mets have defined both on the mound and with the bats), finding value (as opposed to haphazardly signing free agents) for each roster spot and ensuring there is an equal return on both investments. Over the years, the Mets have clearly not found consistent values in their external investments, especially via free agency. But this is why, regardless of any financial challenges they are faced with, they have shifted their philosophy towards internal development. Perhaps as their current payroll obligations start to expire and their system matures to the hilt, they will be able to operate with a more efficient payroll and allocate their resources both effectively and evenly across all 25 roster spots.


Since 2002, the Mets have invested around $1.3 billion in team payroll, have had four seasons of .500 or better, and have made the playoffs once. Meanwhile, over that same span, the A’s have invested around $635 million in team payroll, have had seven seasons of .500 or better, and have made the playoffs four times.

From a value perspective, according to Fangraphs, Jason Bay, Johan Santana, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Andres Torres, and Mike Pelfrey earned a total of $54.55 million in 2012, but combined for a 2.8 WAR. David Wright earned $13 million in 2012 with a WAR of 7.8.