On the day the New York Mets introduced their $13.7-million-per-year first baseman, they reached agreement to pay their new closer $10.7 million while hoping to pay a new catcher about $8 million a year and continued to talk about a certain $19-million-a-year outfielder from Boston. The obvious question, after you get past wondering whether the Mets will end this winter as the team to beat in the National League, is where is all this money coming from?
It's too simple to assign the Mets' spending to the regional sports network the club will launch next year. What the network has done is altered the Mets' philosophy, imbuing a sense of urgency into their planning. As chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon put it, "We want to put an exciting product on the field and on the network. Obviously, waiting for the minor league system to produce is not as exciting."
The Wilpons own 65 percent of the network. "Based on the way they run their other businesses," said one Mets insider, "they will run it as a stand-alone business to be profitable in its own right." Translation: the Wilpons don't want to take from one pocket to put in the other.
Indeed, Wilpon explained that the Mets would be spending like this regardless of the launching of the network. He did allow that the network gives the budget "a little more room."
If the Mets aren't throwing around cable money, then where did the loot come from? First of all, it's not as much of a payroll leap for New York as it seems. The Mets spent $101 million on payroll in 2005 (third in baseball behind the Yankees and Red Sox) and expect to spend between $115 million and $120 million in 2006, which should keep them third and still far from the luxury tax threshold.
Much has been made about the so-called loophole that allows any first-time violators of the luxury tax in 2006 to enjoy a tax-free season. But remember, the tax threshold for 2006 is $136.5 million. "No way,'' Wilpon said, will the Mets even come close to that number. The loophole is a moot point.
New first baseman Carlos Delgado, closer Billy Wagner, a catcher to be determined (likely Ramon Hernandez or Bengie Molina) and Red Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez, who remains on their radar, would cost about $51 million on an average annual value basis. (Privately, the Mets say they won't take on Ramirez without significant salary relief, either with Boston eating some of the $57 million due him over the next three years and/or the Red Sox taking on some Mets' salaries in a trade, i.e. the $22 million still owed Cliff Floyd and Kris Benson.) Here's where the Mets are getting some of the non-TV revenues:
$30 million coming off their payroll. Money that went to Mike Piazza, Braden Looper, Doug Mientkiewicz, Mike Cameron, Roger Cedeno, Mike Stanton and others is being reinvested in players.