So far this winter, the Mets have missed out on five years of John Lackey. They've seen Roy Halladay traded to the Phillies, with whom he will remain until at least 2013. Free agents from Chone Figgins to Randy Wolf have signed long-term deals elsewhere, and, with each passing day, there's every indication that the Mets won't stretch beyond four years for Jason Bay or two years form Bengie Molina.
So far, this has been the best possible winter for the Mets.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that the Mets don't have holes, or that I don't want to see the club improve them as soon as possible. Rather, it is that this winter's free agent class is filled with what look to be trap contracts. And I don't want the Mets to marginally improve for 2010 while crippling the organization long-term.
Long-term contracts are like marriage. Even if every indicator is good, they still require good planning and some luck to succeed. Go into either with a myriad of red flags, and you end up like Barry Zito, or Dennis Rodman and Carmen Electra.
John Lackey at five years, $85 million, at age 31, with elbow injuries and a declining strikeout rate the past two seasons? You really want the Mets to sign up for that?
Randy Wolf at three years, $30 million? Chone Figgins, to change positions, for four years, $36 million?
It's as if those calling for immediate gratification don't have trap contracts in their minds when they do. Never mind that the Mets can't improve second base as long as Luis Castillo and his two years, $12 million are on the books -- or that only because Milton Bradley's ridiculous deal was equivalent to Carlos Silva's ridiculous deal in terms of toxicity were the Cubs and Mariners able to deal each of them.
Some are calling on the Mets to do whatever it takes to win now.
It is even reasonable to think that it is in Omar Minaya's best interest to do this. A difficult 2010 could spell the end of Minaya's tenure in New York, and what a shame that would be -- for Minaya to act in the best medium-term and long-term interest of the team at the expense of his job.
So far, however, he hasn't done this, and Mets fans should be grateful. The free-agent options are largely unpalatable. Even Jason Bay at four years is problematic -- his defense, already terrible, is unlikely to get better as he ages, and the plan is for first base to be occupied by Ike Davis by 2011.
And for all the hype around Matt Holliday, he is a corner outfielder with a career OPS on the road of .808. Sure doesn't sound like he's worth Carlos Beltran money to me.
Fans should be grateful for this restraint, but not as grateful as they should be to the Mets for failing to take up suggestions from columnists that the team deal Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and, yes, even Johan Santana.
I suppose it is the only logical way to proceed. If you are determined to re-shuffle the team in 2010 and you've decided the free-agent and trade markets are dead ends, then dealing the stars under reasonable contracts, coming off of injuries and with trade value at an all-time low is the way to go.
Of course, the 2010 Mets simply don't have the capability to control their own fortunes through player moves. Instead, they are in the not-terrible position of needing bounceback seasons from Jose Reyes, David Wright, Carlos Beltran, Johan Santana and Francisco Rodriguez. When all five of them are in what should be the prime of their careers, none has anything considered career-threatening injuries, and each of the five plays critical positions, this speaks to a potential renaissance season for New York.
But that is precisely the point. Should they recover their peak form, the Mets will be a terrific team, and without saddling the future Mets with bad contracts. Should they fail to recover, the Mets could have signed Bay, Holliday and Lackey, and still finished a distant third or fourth in the National League East.
And what may be the best news of all for the Mets is Bengie Molina's insistence on a three-year contract. In essence, Molina has taken the Mets' irrational fascination with bringing Molina to New York and raised it a ludicrous contractual demand. He's saying, in effect, "I'll see your statement that the earth is flat, and raise you that the moon is made of cheese."
(Incidentally, I have to mention Ken Davidoff's reporting that should the Mets fail to sign Bay, Molina becomes even more important, and three years is possible. There is no baseball reason to sign Molina for one year, let alone two or three. I can only assume -- and this may seem silly-that the Mets have equated "Big Acquisition" to refer to player mass. This is not what the fans have in mind, Omar. Please don't go out and sign Molina and the late Dom DeLuise.)
Ideally for the Mets, Bay and Molina are out of reach due to their demands, and the team has to settle for one-year deals to players like Jonny Gomes and Miguel Olivo, who will provide production in 2010 without saddling the team with bad contracts for years to come.
For anyone who thinks the Mets will somehow be irrelevant if they fail to make a huge splash, or that fans will revolt, think again. The Mets, if their star players recover, will be relevant for years to come -- David Wright turned 27 Sunday, and Jose Reyes won't be 27 until June 2010.
And fans will be far happier when the true contracts worth signing up for hit the market. Be it Carl Crawford or Felix Hernandez, or someone not even on the radar, fans will be far happier if the team can go out and compete for that star, in-prime player, instead of trying to sell fans on Year 2 of the Bengie Molina Era.