On Opening Day last year, the New York Mets’ payroll came in just north of $150 million according to Cot’s Contracts. That number placed them in the middle of the pack and resulted in another fourth-place finish. Enter Brodie Van Wagenen, former agent and first-time general manager, who was tasked with repairing the team’s roster while maintaining a reasonable payroll that will likely reside in the $155-$160 million range on Opening Day.
Van Wagenen made his first big splash when he landed Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners. In doing so, he strategically chose to absorb $100 of the $120 million owed to Cano—who is still a solid hitter despite his age—over the next five years while acquiring a young, electric arm who is under club control for four more years. It’s a risky move, but one the new GM is well-equipped to make since the team had zero money guaranteed to players following the end of the 2020 season.
One of the focal points of the trade was the $20 million the Mariners are including in the deal. According to Cot’s contracts, the money will cover $5 million in 2019 and $3.75 over the final four years. In the short term, Van Wagenen was able to lower the team’s current payroll figure. The Mets entered the offseason with approximately $92.5 million in salary commitments. In packaging Jay Bruce ($14 million) and Anthony Swarzak ($8.5 million) as part of the deal while adding Cano’s $19 million, the club saved $3.5 million in 2019 while adding a shut-down closer and an impact bat.
Last week, the Mets tendered contract offers to seven of eight eligible players. When factoring in the arbitration raises listed on Cot’s Contracts, the payroll would rise to a little over $129 million for 13 players. When adding in club-controlled players like Brandon Nimmo and Amed Rosario, the 2019 payroll comes in at roughly $136 million, a number which includes the entire cost of Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright’s contracts. That affords Van Wagenen up to $24 million to spend when working off a realistic estimate of $160 million.
Mets 2019 Payroll
|*Arbitration Estimate from Cot's Contracts|
In 2020, the Mets will shed Todd Frazier from the payroll and will also likely not exercise the team options on starter Jason Vargas and center fielder Juan Lagares. Other notable free agents include Travis d’Arnaud and Zack Wheeler, both of whom have been with the team since 2013. The recently-acquired Diaz will be entering his first year of arbitration and should be due for a significant raise, as will Nimmo and Robert Gsellman. At this time, the Mets have about $64 million in guaranteed commitments for next season, with 11 arbitration-eligible players on the 25-man roster. Cespedes and Wright’s contracts will also officially come off the books at the conclusion of the 2020 season, which leaves Cano as the only player under contract going into 2021.
In the long-term, the possibilities are endless and the Mets have the opportunity to positively shape their team starting with the current offseason. One of the main areas the club will need to address is their starting pitching. After Wheeler, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz will become free agents in 2021, 2022, and 2022, respectively. Locking up their young starting pitchers — at the very least, the reigning Cy Young winner — should be one of Brodie’s main goals this offseason.
Beyond the rotation, Michael Conforto, Nimmo, and Rosario are arbitration-eligible through 2022, 2023, and 2023, respectively, and could also be considered for team-friendly, long-term deals in the not-too-distant future. The lack of commitment should also encourage the team to make to make a big splash and sign Bryce Harper or, at the very least, spread the money around and sign a number of players that can fill a multitude of needs.
The question of payroll is constantly looming over the team’s head in the post-Madoff era, and it’s understandably an issue that surfaces whenever the team makes a big roster move. Luckily, a lack of long-term commitments should afford Van Wagenen the opportunity to continue to act boldly this offseason as he shapes not just the short-term (2019, 2020) roster, but the long-term plan as well.