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The Mets, Yoenis Cespedes, and Insurance

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The Mets can and will take advantage of the insurance on Yoenis Cespedes’s contract.

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at New York Mets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

On Wednesday, our worst fears were realized, as it was announced that Yoenis Cespedes will undergo season-ending surgery, starting a recovery process that will stretch close to the midpoint of next season. It’s another tragic tale for the Mets, with a big star suffering a devastating and perhaps career-threatening injury. Allison McCague did a great job diving into why the Mets bare all the blame for this mess, so I’ll refer you to her for analysis of the medical aspects of this debacle.

Instead, let’s take a moment to analyze the financial implications of the injury. We know that Cespedes’s contract, like David Wright’s, is insured. The exact numbers haven’t been reported on, but the insurance on Wright’s contract pays back 75% of its value while he remains on the DL, and it’s reasonable to assume that the insurance on Cespedes’s contract pays out at a similar rate.

The Mets’ payroll currently sits at $152 million, which ranks 12th in the majors. That’s already inexcusably low for a New York team approaching the end of a contention cycle—for more on that, read this article from the preseason. Account for getting $15 million of David Wright’s $20 million back, and the Mets’ payroll falls to a below-league-average $137 million. An unsurprising yet infuriating detail here is that Jeff Wilpon considers this chunk of payroll spent anyway, and will not reinvest money from insurance into the team.

For a moment, remain pessimistic, and assume that both Wright and Cespedes miss the entirety of 2019. It’s also safe to assume the Mets will not be increasing payroll, though I’ll at least give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they spend around $150 million. Account for getting 75% of the $29 million owed to Cespedes and $15 million owed to Wright back and suddenly the Mets’ payroll is $117 million, which would be the 9th-lowest payroll in baseball.

There’s no need to go into a discussion of how or why the Mets should and need to spend—there will be plenty of time for that in the offseason. For now, just remember that when the Mets cry poor and say they’re spending enough to be competitive that they’re recouping almost 20% of their payroll that will not be reinvested into baseball operations—a decision that falls squarely on the Wilpons. If this isn’t the sort of behavior that draws the legitimacy of an ownership group into question, it’s hard to know what is.