Published on March 7th, 2013 | by Josh Chapdelaine0
Should New York Follow Chicago and Tampa Bay’s Leads? Yes, But Not Yet
The Chicago White Sox inked 24-year-old All-Star Chris Sale to a five-year, $32M extension with two option years that could bring the total value to $60M over seven years. The deal is similar to that of Tampa Bay’s Matt Moore, who in 2011 signed a five-year extension worth $14M with three option years that could bring the maximum value of the contract to eight years and $40M.
While Tampa Bay needs to maintain their longterm credibility through incentive-laden contracts due to financial constrains pertaining to their market and fan base, the New York Mets don’t necessarily face the same challenges. According to Fred Wilpon, payroll will increase as needed in the future now that the club’s financial troubles stemming from the Bernie Madoff fiasco have finally subsided. However, baseball is a business and one of the keys to business is to be aware that past performance is not indicative of future success. The ability to spend money in baseball doesn’t directly correlate to winning. Just look to the 2012 Miami Marlins, 2011 Boston Red Sox , and multitude of teams that have tried an aggressive “win now” push. That’s not to say that acquiring free agents isn’t necessary; However, it’s a venue that should be used to supplement a core of talent rather than to exclusively try to glue together a team.
Tampa Bay has been the module of excellence in this area, although to a much smaller scale. In a geographic location that wouldn’t render the club financially solvent, they would theoretically have the resources to maintain their current structure but on a grander scale. Big market clubs started to take notice of the credibility of the system several years ago, and are now aiming to replicate it. Through Sale’s extension, the Sox guaranteed that they’ll maintain control of a top quality pitcher for up to seven years at a price well below market value. Although the contract covers Sale’s arbitration years, the deal also eats up valuable free agents years. If Chicago chooses not to retain Sale beyond the length of the contract, they’ll have maximized his value in both dollars and years.
Similarly, the New York Mets have made it no secret that their formula to winning in this rebuild will be through a pitching-rich farm system. Last year, the Mets made their first long-term pitching investment when they extended Jonathon Niese to a 5-year, $25.27M deal that holds two club options for 2017 and 2018. The deal has been praised by many, and rightfully so. According to Fangraphs, Niese was worth $11M in 2012, or the value of his most expensive club option in 2018. The deal was given to Niese after accumulating 370 quality big league innings, with peripherals to suggest that he should improve. When one factored in age, ability, durability, past performance, and potential future performance, the deal made sense on nearly every account.
This season, the Mets have not awarded any extensions to their starting rotation. In fact, Niese stands alone in the rotation as the only one with guaranteed money in 2014. That’s not to say that the Mets find themselves without options, because they certainly have many available and coming through the pipeline. Dillon Gee would appear next in line to receive an extension if one were to look at the precedent set with Niese’s extension. Through parts of three big league seasons, Gee has compiled 303 innings and has actually performed better than Niese over that period of time. Perhaps if Gee hadn’t suffered an unfortunate injury and continued his successful 2012 campaign he would have been an extension candidate, but it’s wise to wait Gee out for the time being because of the same injury.
Next to Niese, Gee will be the most established starter currently on the roster in 2014. Matt Harvey will follow as the third-longest tenured member of the staff next year, and a strong performance in 2013 will bring attention to a potential long-term deal being completed. The 2010 first-round pick is seen as a future stopper in the rotation, and Zack Wheeler will be following him every step of the way if things go according to plan (do they ever?). However, the time to extend Harvey and Wheeler won’t come until it’s a guarantee that both transition smoothly to the Major Leagues. Unlike the Tampa Bay Rays, the Mets don’t find themselves in a position where they’ll need to play the odds and hope that Harvey and Wheeler turn out strong. If both, or one, produce well enough to warrant an extension throughout the course of the next several seasons, $2-3M more per year shouldn’t have a financially crippling effect. As Mets fans have seen far too often (Jason Bay, Bobby Bonilla, Pedro Martinez, Tom Glavine Mo Vaughn, etc.), there is risk with any contract. It’s not to say that it’s fair to compare a 23-year-old top prospect to a 33-year-old who’s looking for his last contract, but pitching is volatile and the Mets are building to be financially flexible with a deep farm system. Essentially, they’re hoping to replicate the success of both the Tampa Bay Rays and San Francisco Giants.
Should the Mets look into extending their starting rotation before their arbitration years make them expensive? Yes, absolutely.
But only once they’ve earned it.
Photo Credit: Michael Baron