(Bumped from FanPosts. --Eric)
Even if Sandy Alderson thought meeting/topping the Marlins offer was a good baseball decision, he all but admitted what we all know anyway -- the Mets (or, perhaps more accurately, the Wilpons) couldn't afford to make that kind of offer. At present, it's a strange, sad tale, reflecting terribly on this team's ownership and former front office personnel. But what does it mean for the future? Here are some thoughts.
1) The Mets won't be competitive for at least two more seasons -- and likely more.
The team obviously won't be much of a contender come Opening Day, 2012. So that's one season. I was hopeful for 2013 -- the extra wild card, the beginning of the Phillies decline, and the emergence of our young pitching prospects lent hopes. But that's basically gone now.
While all three of those supporting reasons are still true, two things no longer are. First, the Mets won't have Reyes, and it's not clear that they can fill that production elsewhere any time soon. Second, while the Phillies will be declining, they'll still be good -- and the Braves may be good, the Nationals may be too, and now the Hanley/Reyes/LoMo Marlins (who are still looking to spend more!)... yikes.
If there's a silver lining here, it's that Alderson can now make moves to restore financial sanity to the team without having to worry about boobirds complaining that he's not in it to win it. However:
2) The Mets financial state is going to get worse. Maybe much worse.
Alderson noted that the team lost $70 million, although over what time period (last year? the last 3 years? fifteen minutes ago in a stupid bender in Atlantic City?) was unstated. Either way, this money is independent of any Madoff losses, which haven't been incurred yet as the team hasn't yet been subjected to a successful clawback action.
Now that the Mets are clearly not a very good team, and that there isn't even Jose Reyes to come and watch play, the Mets revenues may take another hit. While Alderson is going to do a good job in lowering payroll, he's probably coming close to his lower limit given the Bay and Santana (and Wright) contracts. The Mets fiscal condition simply is not going to get better by cutting costs alone.
To make matters worse, the team is probably already insolvent. Even if only $20 million of the budget shortfall was last year (and it was probably much more), consider this: (a) the team is already running a huge loss to due lower than typical revenues; (b) and even before that, they took out an emergency loan from the league (c) which they recently requested an extension on paying back; (d) efforts to sell a part of the team fell flat mostly due to lack of interest from buyers, even though the asset has a huge consumption value even from partial ownership; (e) and now, the team is looking to add even more debt through a strange "friends and family" offering. If this were the Dodgers or the Rangers, it's pretty clear that Bud Selig would have forced a sale and/or bankruptcy.
Insolvency (or the brink thereof) plus a lower revenue forecast typically leads to some sort of restructuring, but form some reason, Selig isn't making that happen. The solution seems to be Alderson, but again, there are limits to what he can do. I wonder how long MLB allows this to continue, and fear that as it does, things get worse, not better.
Why worse? Because today feels like an inflection point -- the point where less die-hard fans stop caring because hope is so hard to see. At some point, you start losing fans beyond repair. (Why am I going to spend $100+++ to take my six and four year old to a Mets game this year? And if they don't go to Mets games now, how will I get them to go in three years? Five years?) The team's value -- not their revenue, but the enterprise value -- is beginning to erode quickly.
3) What happens to David Wright?
David Wright won't be traded this off-season -- but only because losing him while also losing Reyes (in division, at that) would tank revenues entirely. First, there's the face of the franchise aspect. But also, the Mets are hoping, somewhat, that Wright (and Bay?) rebound with the new walls, adding some spark to an otherwise extinguished team. Combined with Ike Davis, the two (three?) could be a formidable tandem producing dramatic homers from a club which in recent years has seen few of those.
But Wright is going to earn $16m in 2013. And the Mets aren't going to be good then, either. To make matters worse, Wright will probably get a contract similar to Reyes' when he hits free agency, and with his defense already in massive decline, he clearly won't be worth it to a team which is likely on the fringes of being competitive (at best) in 2014.
The fan reaction from the Reyes loss -- "why didn't you trade him?" -- is both expected and incorrect. If the team had traded Reyes at the deadline (or before, when he was healthy), fans would have been outraged. Doubly so if he had signed for $90/5 with another team, which was at least a reasonable possibility at the time. But now, Alderson can use this reaction to soften a Wright trade: "We don't want to have another situation like we had with Reyes." Simple.
I expect David to be traded sometime after the Mets exercise their option.
4) How long can we wait for the new core?
Reyes is gone, and I believe that Wright is out the door soon -- but even if I'm wrong, he's also now the face of the old guard. I kind of find it poetic that Reyes leaves the Mets on the same weekend that Pedro Martinez makes his retirement official, because in 2005, I saw the Mets as Pedro, Beltan, Wright, and Reyes -- even though Mike Piazza still called Shea home. I realize that Piazza was a shell of his former self by that point, but I can't help but feel like Wright will be playing that role in 2013, a ghost of Mets teams past.
That is, if 2013 sees an emergence of a new core. Ike Davis is already here, and if he's healthy -- I cannot believe we already need that caveat! -- that's great. Who else becomes a pillar is anyone's guess. Maybe Reese Havens stays healthy (!) or Lucas Duda becomes a 40 homer threat. Of Wheeler and Harvey and Mejia and Familia, hopefully two stick. With peripheral players like Daniel Murphy (if he can play second) and Ruben Tejada and Jon Niese and an hopefully ageless RA Dickey, maybe it's not so bad.
But unfortunately, that's not the Mets of 2012. The 2012 Mets are Wright, of course, but Bay and Santana and Pelfrey and Pagan (for whom hope wains). And that is probably what we'll see in 2013, give or take, as well. The new core is probably two years out, not one, and that transitional year may be tougher than we're prepared for.
And that scares me.
5) Will the Mets make a Vince Coleman mistake?
And that's why.
When Darryl Strawberry left after the 1990 season, it wasn't about the money as much as it was ego -- I think most of us (if were were old enough to remember, and i barely was) expected him to leave even if the Mets matched the top offer out there. Reyes is different, of course -- you have the feeling that he would have stayed, but the Marlins gave him 20 million or so reasons to move.
The Mets' idea of a make-good here was Vince Coleman, and it was the first of many disasters. I'll not recount it; it's simply too painful to have to dig up repressed memories. And while the Mets won't do that this year, and they probably won't next year, they may the year after, with Young Guns 2.0 coming in and David Wright potentially going out. I doubt it -- for a lot of reasons (they won't have the money and they hopefully will have Sandy Alderson still), but fear is hard to shake.
So, in summary, we're in Hell?
No, we're not. It definitely fees like it today, but this is merely Purgatory. If the fears above become true, yeah. Hell. But there is certainly a chance at redemption -- many, in fact. Perhaps the new fences and a ton of luck may Davis, Duda, and Wright a 100 homer tandem (and for a ton more luck, include Bay and another 30). Maybe the Mets magically regain fiscal solvency while retaining the cool head of Alderson; or maybe Selig finally forces a sale. Perhaps Pagan and Murphy battle it out for a batting title while Tejada and Josh Thole become above-average regulars. Maybe all four of the Young Guns 2.0 become solid-at-worst MLB starts with a true #1 in there, too. Maybe.
But getting there, either way, is going to hurt.