Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has been scouring the free agent market in recent weeks, trying to acquire a shortstop, at least one outfielder, at least one starting pitching and some bullpen help.
So far, he is horrified by what he sees. According to the New York Post, the Mets are being afflicted by a severe case of “sticker shock” in the early days of free agency. The Post in particular reported that the Mets hoped to acquire shortstop Jhonny Peralta for two years and $20-25 million, but Peralta’s camp is seeking a three-year deal worth $45 million.
Alderson has somewhat backed himself into a corner, saying publicly on multiple occasions that he expects to spend freely this winter. He also said this week that the team’s payroll will increase from last season.
For that to happen, the Mets will either need to pay premiums for free agent players, or hope that their prices quickly begin to start falling.
Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, general manager Sandy Alderson and assistant GM John Ricco dined Monday evening with representatives for free agent second baseman Robinson Cano, including the rapper Jay-Z, according to the New York Post. A Mets spokesman declined comment on the report.
The Post was first to report that agents Jay-Z, Brodie Van Wagenen and Juan Perez initiated a meeting with Mets executives at a Manhattan hotel. Cano, according to the report, did not attend.
The meeting took place less than a week after Alderson publicly said he would “probably not” sign any players to nine-figure contracts this winter, making the timing somewhat curious. Cano, whose initial asking price from the Yankees was reportedly 10 years and $310 million, is a sure bet to sign the richest contract of any free agent this winter, well beyond the range of what Alderson has indicated he is willing to offer.
When asked last week if he would ink any player to a nine-figure contract this offseason, Alderson referred to the eight-year, $138-million contract third baseman David Wright signed last winter.
“We’ve been in that stratosphere once recently with David Wright,” Alderson said. “Those were special circumstances. I think it would be difficult to duplicate that again — not from a financial standpoint, just in terms of team-building. I think it’s difficult to concentrate those kinds of resources into very few players. It’s not really the way you build a quality, sustainable, winning team, I don’t think.”
Over his first three offseasons as Mets GM, Alderson has not given out a free agent contract larger than Frank Francisco’s recently-expired two-year, $12-million pact.
Cano, 31, hit .314 with 27 home runs this season for the Yankees, his fifth consecutive year with at least a .300 batting average and 25 homers. He recently joined on with Jay-Z’s new Roc Nation sports agency, which is partnered with Van Wagenen’s Creative Artists Agency.
The Mets’ incumbent second baseman, Daniel Murphy, hit .286 with 13 home runs this season. He is arbitration-eligible for the second time this winter, and should receive a contract of around $5 million.
Though the Mets are still not close to playoff contention despite playing better of late, they may (rather counter-intuitively) be more likely to buy than sell at this year’s Trade Deadline.
Simply put, the Mets do not have many pieces to sell that would be of use to contenders. Their best trade chip, starting pitcher Jon Niese, is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, sapping him of any short-term value. Closer Bobby Parnell is another desirable chip, but the Mets have already expressed a desire to hang onto him. And starter Shaun Marcum’s salary ($4 million plus incentives) and on-field struggles may prove prohibitive.
What the Mets do have a surplus of are pitching prospects, from Rafael Montero to Noah Syndergaard to Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia and others. Packaging several of them together could land them an elite outfield prospect, or even a veteran outfielder at the big league level.
“If [a high-profile trade offer] came up this year, would we talk about [the top Minor League pitchers]? That’s a good question,” assistant general manager John Ricco recently told the New York Post. “Knowing what we have now, we could go either way on it. You could basically say, ‘Hey, we’re going to see this through with pitching and just go all in that way and just try to address the hitters through free agency or lower-level trades,’ or we could say, ‘Hey, we’ve got enough, we think — with the pitching we have now — we have enough to move one of the other guys.’”
Ricco went on to say that in any event, the Mets will practice prudence.
“It’s one thing to look for somebody to help us this year,” he told the Post. “To find someone to help for the long term, it’s a much smaller universe of players. … I think it might be tougher to do a deal like that.”
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson and assistant GM John Ricco flew to Houston last week to have dinner with free-agent outfielder Michael Bourn and his agent, Scott Boras, according to the New York Post. But the meal “was more a getting-to-know-you session than a dollars-and-cents negotiation,” according to the newspaper, “at a time when the dollars and cents remain among the most significant hurdles in doing a deal.”
Alderson has made it clear to MLB.com and other media outlets that he is not willing to give up the Mets’ 11th overall draft pick as compensation in order to sign Bourn. So barring some successful 11th-hour rules appeal, it’s difficult to envision a deal happening — secret dinner or not.
R.A. Dickey’s storybook three-year run with the Mets may be coming to an end. The Mets are seriously discussing a trade of the reigning Cy Young Award-winner, according to multiple people involved in the negotiations, and could strike a deal as soon as Saturday. The Blue Jays are reportedly frontrunners for his services.
But people involved with the negotiations said Friday evening that nothing was imminent. For at least one more night, the Mets expected Dickey to remain in their employ.
The Jays, who possess surplus catching and outfield depth, have long been considered natural trade partners for the Mets, and now appear to be closing in on his services. Some combination of catchers Travis d’Arnaud or J.P. Arencibia, in addition to outfielder Anthony Gose, could land Dickey.
MLB.com reported late Friday afternoon that the Rangers, long considered serious suitors for Dickey, are no longer in the running. And despite rampant speculation that Josh Hamilton’s arrival in Orange County could prompt the Angels to trade some of their outfield surplus, a deal with the Halos appears no more likely now than it was at the beginning of this week.
With Zack Greinke off the free agent market and James Shields gone from the trading block, teams searching for top-tier starting pitching have one obvious place left to look: New York, where R.A. Dickey remains available.
He won’t come cheaply. Apparently general manager Sandy Alderson was not bluffing when he said last week that he is looking for a “difference-maker” in exchange for Dickey; various local and national reports indicate that Rangers top power prospect Mike Olt, for example, would not be enough in a deal. FOX Sports speculated that the Blue Jays could entice the Mets with a package of catcher J.P. Arencibia and center fielder Anthony Gose, but not with Arencibia alone.
If the Mets do not find a package they like, they can still simply keep Dickey and try to extend him for a reasonable price — the knuckleballer is reportedly seeking no more than two years and $30 million. But the Mets have made it clear they are willing to deal him, and offers may increase now that other top options are off the market.
Despite public optimism from COO Jeff Wilpon, the New York Post quoted an anonymous source Tuesday in saying that the Mets are only a “50-50” bet to ink third baseman David Wright to a long-term contract extension this winter.
The source told the Post that Wright “is less than thrilled with the length of contract and amount of guaranteed money the Mets have offered,” which “could set up a game of chicken between Mets brass and Wright’s agents.”
“Part of it is [COO] Jeff Wilpon tries to win every negotiation, he doesn’t go for the middle ground,” an anonymous source told the paper.
Later Tuesday, Wilpon appeared publicly in Far Rockaway, Queens, and said he is more optimistic than he was two months ago that the Mets will be able to re-sign Wright and pitcher R.A. Dickey.
“Certainly it’s gotten better because there’s conversations going back and forth,” Wilpon said. “So when you look at it from the end of the season when you didn’t really know how they were going to accept, or look at how we were positioning things and they were positioning things, there’s more optimism.”
Both Wright and Dickey are under team control for one more season.
Unprompted this week, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson mentioned Jon Niese and Dillon Gee as trade candidates in addition to R.A. Dickey.
But not everyone is up for grabs. The New York Post reported that Ike Davis is unavailable and Daniel Murphy is “unlikely” to be traded, as the Mets do not know how they would replace the offense of either player. If the Mets strike a significant deal, it will be drawing from their strength — starting pitching — to plug up holes in their lineup.
If the Mets make any move prior to Tuesday’s deadline, it will likely involve outfielder Scott Hairston, the only player on their roster generating significant interest from other clubs. Hairston could bolster a contender’s bench with his power right-handed bat.
Of course, Hairston also knows this, which is why he has been trying his hardest to block out trade rumors. Until his agent contacts him, Hairston said, he will do his best to keep his focus on the field.
“It’s kind of hard to ignore them,” Hairston said. “I have friends that send me texts every day. Right now, once I get to the ballpark I just focus in on doing my job that given day. I know a lot can happen in the next few days, but I’m a Met now, I’m happy to be a Met and I’m enjoying my time here.”
General manager Sandy Alderson has said that he will not trade Hairston for a low-level prospect. But he did not rule out dealing Hairston for a piece that could legitimately help the Mets in 2013 and beyond. As a pending free agent, Hairston may be playing out his final months with the Mets, anyway, giving them added incentive to deal him.
Though blockbuster trades — Zack Greinke, anyone? — receive most of the attention around Trade Deadline time, role players such as Scott Hairston can also make significant impacts on pennant races.
To that end, the Mets have been fielding offers for fourth outfielder Scott Hairston, one of the league’s best bench bats against left-handed pitching. General manager Sandy Alderson said last week that he does not want to do anything to hurt his team prior to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. But if a team approaches the Mets with an offer of a valuable chip under team control, they may not be able to say no. Hairston will be a free agent in three months, anyway, and his strong season may price him out of returning to Flushing.
Hairston could be a valuable bench bat for a contending team. He is batting .308 with nine home runs and a .958 OPS in 120 at-bats against left-handers, and owns an .836 career OPS against them.