GMJ, Risks, and Sunk Costs

Mike Puma of the New York Post indicates that the Mets are "reluctant to eat the $1.8 million remaining on Gary Matthews Jr.'s contract." See below: Say what? On January 22, the Mets decided to take a risk when they traded Brian Stokes for Gary Matthews Jr. The Mets' rationale was that Carlos Beltran could miss a significant part of the 2010 season, and while the team wanted to move forward with Angel Pagan as the starter, the team believed it needed an insurance policy for Pagan due to his injury history. However, as Matt Cerrone of Mets Blog said:

In the team’s view, the Mets could have signed a free-agent outfielder for, say, $2 million per season, or they could have traded for Matthews Jr., who will only cost them $1.25 million per season. They apparently were not satisfied with the current crop of free-agent outfielders, and so they chose to make the trade instead.

To me, I don’t understand how that, plus giving up a pitcher, is better than, say, re-signing a guy like Jeremy Reed, who just signed a minor-league deal with the Blue Jays.

Buster Olney, writing for, wrote the Mets were "seeing something in him that other teams are not seeing." Quoting an anonymous talent evaluator for a major league team, Olney wrote that "Matthews is a player to be avoided. Slow bat. Declining range. And above all else, a player who wants to be a regular and will be an unhappy distraction in your clubhouse when he's not in the lineup every day," while another executive called the move "baffling." Rob Neyer of said "One might argue that the Mets just gave up something for less than nothing." I agreed with these commentators when the trade went down, thinking to myself, "Is GMJ really that much better than Jeremy Reed and Cory Sullivan?" And couldn't Stokes PLUS the cash difference between Stokes' contract and GMJ's contract be better utilized to improve the team?

Now that it's halfway through May, and I can't help thinking that the team would be better served with Jason Pridie of their AAA Buffalo Bisons team (or any other back-up centerfielder) in place of GMJ. In seeking to insure themselves against an injury by Pagan, the Mets committed to paying GMJ's a portion* of GMJ's contract, gambling that GMJ might still have value even though he turns 36 years old on August 25. Fine, but it hasn't worked out that way. GMJ has struggled mightily, and by all accounts appears to be finished.

* - Cerrone, quoting John Heyman of, indicated in his post dated January 22 that the Mets were assuming $2.5 million of Matthews' contract. Some other reports have indicated that the Mets assumed $2 million of Matthews' contract, and not $2.5 million. I have not seen anything to indicate that the Mets assumed less than $2 million, so I think we can comfortably assume that the Mets owe GMJ somewhere between $1.8 to $2.2 million for the remainder of this year and next year.

However, what is even more worrisome than the questionable allocation of resources and the squandering of Brian Stokes, who could have been used as a trade chip even if Minaya and Manuel didn't want him in the Mets bullpen**, is the fact that the Mets refuse to concede that they've made a mistake. If you take a chance and assume a risky player's contract, do it with the knowledge and foresight that this individual may not pan out, and the team could be forced to eat that money. The money to be paid to GMJ is a sunk cost - a cost that has been incurred and cannot be recovered. Keeping GMJ on the team will not allow the Mets to escape this obligation. They can either keep hoping that GMJ turns his season around (which is apparently their plan), or they can eat the money, and pursue a different, more viable option. In this instance, it would appear that the Mets could learn from the Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market team. On Saturday the Rays released Pat "the Bat" Burrell, because he hadn't provided them with much of a return on their 2 year/$16 million investment. The Rays did this EVEN THOUGH they still owe Burrell approximately $7.5 million of the $9 million he is due this year (the contract is slightly backloaded). It's frustrating when a small market team like the Rays is able to recognize when a cost is sunk, and in this case, eat $7.5 million, but the Mets, a team with a much larger revenue stream and payroll, refuse to make a necessary roster move because it will result in them eating approximately $1.8 million. I realize that the Mets' attendance is down dramatically this year, but this is unacceptable, especially considering when compared with other teams like the Rays, and their attendance issues. The Mets cannot rescind the GMJ trade no matter how badly he plays. They also cannot escape their obligation to pay GMJ, no matter how poorly he plays. The seemingly obvious course of action is to "bite the bullet," release GMJ, and find a competent fourth outfielder.

** - this is not to imply that Brian Stokes was or is going to be a candidate for the Rolaids Relief Man Award, or any other accolade that is awarded to an exceptional reliever. He is a somewhat useful middle reliever. But unlike GMJ, he had some trade value as of this past winter (the fact that Stokes has not performed well this year is almost irrelevant; the Mets could have sold high and turned Stokes into something other than GMJ during the offseason).

Whether Jason Pridie is better than GMJ I cannot say. But if he is not, there has to be another inexpensive option in their minor league system or a player who can be acquired for someone relatively cheaply. Quite simply, GMJ doesn't appear to be a major-league outfielder at this point***, and the Mets should not keep GMJ on the major-league roster simply because they owe him $1.8 million or so.

*** - I am aware that GMJ went 2 for 2 including a two out RBI on Sunday against the Marlins. However, I do not think this means that GMJ is worthy of being the Mets fourth outfielder - even a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut.

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