Continuing on with our 5 Questions Series, Eric Simon is the manager of Baseball Nation, and also launched SBNation's New York Mets Blog, Amazin' Avenue. He was kind enough to take the time to answer our questions about the team.
On the Ownership Situation:
MLBDD: Unfortunately, one of the most covered stories involving the team has been the unsettled ownership situation. How do you think this has affected decisions made by the team, and how do you think the situation will end up resolving itself?
ES: To some extent I believe that the Bernie Madoff clawback lawsuit hasn't dramatically affected the day-to-day operations of the Mets. It's worth clarifying that the Mets' ownership group is being sued unrelated to their involvement with the big league franchise. In other words, the Mets themselves aren't involved in the lawsuit, but the people that own the team are.
The Mets are going to drop payroll a bit in 2012 not so much because of the lawsuit, but because the team isn't profitable right now. Their payroll has been in the $140 million range for a few seasons and attendance, no doubt echoing the on-field product, has been disappointing. The Mets as a business entity need to become profitable — or at least approach profitability — in order to justify significant long-term investments in the baseball product.
I think the Mets will eventually settle the clawback lawsuit for much much less than the numbers being thrown around. It won't be anything like $1 billion and it probably won't even be a few hundred million.
My Thoughts: I get the feeling that at some point, the team will end up with some sort of new owner or ownership, as it seems like they need an infusion of capital at some point. It seems to me that the Mets should be operating in the same general spending bracket as the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox, but with attendance down that is unlikely to happen any time soon.
Read about the impending free agency of Jose Reyes, the Mets' minor leagues, and the struggles of Jason Bay after the jump...
On the First Year with Sandy Alderson:
MLBDD: It has been nearly a year with Sandy Alderson at the helm of the organization. How do you think he and his team have done with their moves so far, and what would you like to see from the organization this offseason?
ES: The evidence is inconclusive, mainly because Alderson didn't have much money to work with last offseason. He handed out modest make-good contracts to Chris Young (didn't make good) and Chris Capuano (made good) and brought in a few cheap bench players and bullpen arms. His only multi-year deal was given to D.J. Carrasco, who was terrible in 2011, but it was a relatively minor deal (two years, $2.4 million) so that can hardly be considered an egregious failure.
The Mets committed roster space to two Rule 5 picks — second baseman Brad Emaus and reliever Pedro Beato — neither of which provided much value. Emaus was dumped after appearing in just fourteen games while Beato stuck around all year but pitched poorly for the most part.
Alderson made one noteworthy trade this year, sending Carlos Beltran to the Giants for well-regarded pitching prospect Zack Wheeler. Wheeler was terrific after the trade for High-A St. Lucie while Beltran was partly hurt but mostly spectacular with San Francisco after the trade.
They also had a solid first amateur draft under the watchful eyes of player development chief Paul DePodesta and farm director Chad MacDonald, grabbing many of the best players available at their respective slots and signing their top twelve picks and nineteen of their top twenty. As for this offseason, the Mets have maybe $30 million or so to spend, so signing Jose Reyes would eat up a big chunk of that.
My Thoughts: The Beltran trade was a steal for the Mets in my opinion, but Eric is right that it is a bit inconclusive after just 1 year. The key to this first year in my opinion is that the team did not try to go out and make a splash just because they were new in their offices. While some of the moves didn't work out as hoped, none of them cost a particularly large amount of money for the Mets.
On the Impending Free Agency of Jose Reyes:
MLBDD: One of the marquee free agents this offseason will be shortstop Jose Reyes. How many years and dollars do you think it will take to sign him, and do you think he will be back with the Mets in 2012?
ES: I suspect the lowest he'd sign for is something like five years and $90 million, though I think it'll be more like six years and $120 million with the possibility that some crazy team will give him seven years and $140+ million (i.e., Carl Crawford money). He's a better player than Crawford but much less reliably healthy.
I think Reyes is too important to the franchise for the Mets to walk away from him without making an earnest attempt to sign him to a fair contract that appropriately rewards him for his talent and likely future contributions to the franchise without crippling them financially for years to come.
My guess is that they'll get a deal done, but as much as I love Reyes, he's not a sign-at-all-costs player. He derives so much value from his legs, and should those particular limbs prove unspectacular in a few years, he doesn't draw enough walks or hit for enough raw power to make up for any significant loss of speed.
My Thoughts: I wonder if there is a team out there that will go crazy and sign him to a ridiculous contract. The team that continues to be rumored as interested in a marquee shortstop is the San Francisco Giants. They could be a good fit for the free agent, but I think that any team interested in signing Reyes will have to substantially beat the Mets' offer. I think that in the end, Reyes ends up back in New York, at somewhere around 5 years/$100, possibly with a reachable option for a 6th year.
On the Minor Leagues:
MLBDD: The minor league system seemed a bit thin at the start of the season, but there were some solid performances. Is there one prospect who you feel really emerged as a top prospect, and is there one you feel really took a step backwards in 2011?
ES: Aside from the new additions, one Mets farmhand who elevated himself to blue chip this year was Dominican righty Jeurys Familia. The 22-year old starting pitcher has always had an exciting arm but he put everything together in a 2011 season where he posted a 2.90 ERA while getting his first exposure to Double-A hitters. He also managed well over a strikeout per inning while shoring up his once shaky command and allowing just a .228 average against. But the reason scouts really love him is his projectable 6'3" frame paired with his extremely strong repertoire, which features a mid-to-upper-90s fastball as well as a wipeout slider and an improved change. Expect to see Familia not only climb to the very top of Mets' farm system rankings but to the upper tier of national prospect rankings too as he possesses the much-coveted True Ace potential.
On the other end, the continued stagnation of one-time phenom Fernando Martinez was probably the most disappointing storyline in the system this year. Not that anyone should have been surprised by his three separate DL stints, but the fact that he continues to post middling results even when he's on the field with Triple-A Buffalo is not a good portent for his future as an everyday major leaguer. And at this point, now that he is no longer young for his league, it's no longer even reasonable to expect him to become a big league regular, which shows just how far the stock has fallen for a kid who once garnered comparisons to Ted Williams.
My Thoughts: It's kind of crazy to think that Martinez will still only be 23 years old in 2012, despite having played in parts of 3 major league seasons already.I'm not entirely sure what type of player Martinez turns into at this point, but if he doesn't show improvement in 2012, he may never get there. Familia is a name I had not heard a lot about, but John Sickels said his stock is rising in his review of the Mets' top 20 for 2011. Definitely sounds like someone to watch.
On the Majors:
MLBDD: One of the big free agent signees of the previous regime was the contract given to LF Jason Bay. In your opinion, do you think Bay could improve, or have we seen the best he can offer the Mets in the two years he has been there?
ES: I’m a little puzzled by Bay’s precipitous decline. He’s not *that* old and he was a very good hitter before joining the Mets. Maybe his career just hit a wall, or maybe Citi Field is messing with his head. His September was encouraging: he hit .313/.392/.563, so an optimist might be compelled to think Bay has finally turned things around with the Mets. I hope that he has, because Bay is an easy guy to root for and it’s nice when good things happen to good people.
However, if he has another awful year in 2012, the Mets might just cut ties with him altogether and not take the chance that Bay collects the 500 plate appearances in 2013 which would guarantee his $17 million option for 2014.
My Thoughts: I wonder if Citi Field could be having the same effect it had on David Wright in his first season, but with Bay it has been two seasons of poor performance. The September performance looks good, but I want to see him continue that in April 2012 before I'm ready to say he has righted the ship. Bay could also potentially benefit if the team decides to move the fences in, as has been rumored.