By Mike Vorkunov
While the money flowed around baseball this offseason, the Mets have mostly been observers. As of Saturday, signing Yoenis Cespedes still appears like a possibility for New York, especially now that the main competition for his services, the Orioles, have reportedly signed Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million deal.
But pitching is the most expensive commodity in baseball, as evidenced by the $200 million-plus deals David Price and Zack Greinke each signed. And, in that regard, the Mets own the biggest bargain in baseball: a young, highly talented, highly cost-efficient starting rotation.
Despite five dominant or potential aces in tow, the team's payroll was roughly $110 million last season -- or the amount it took for the Tigers to sign Jordan Zimmermann just weeks after the Mets rode their young staff to the World Series.
In Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Steven Matz, the Mets have an unmatched collection of pitching talent. When Zack Wheeler returns from Tommy John surgery this summer, it will only grow more potent. And yet, for all that, those five pitchers were paid about $2.5 million in 2015, a fraction of their actual value.
"Everybody knows the old adage that pitching wins, but I'd like to think that teams looked at what we did this year and a dominant rotation and how far it could take you," Mets assistant general manager John Ricco said.
The Mets, of course, realize the resources they have and the upper hand it grants them. General manager Sandy Alderson's plan, according to Ricco, was to have a laddered approach to salaries and avoid long-term deals. Though the Mets have this staff, they continue to be judicious with contracts, eschewing multi-year contracts this offseason with Daniel Murphy and, so far, Cespedes, though they've reportedly been open to bringing him back on an one-year deal.
"As far as the cost certainty of our guys, that's certainly an advantage but the clocks ticks on that," Ricco said. "You can't sit around and think that's going to last forever. We're going to enjoy that for a little while here but eventually that's going to change. We'll have to continue to -- with Sandy's leadership -- think about how we're going to put the team together over the next 3-5 years with these arms, knowing we have them for at least that long."
The Mets are so saturated with starting pitching that they were able to trade Jon Niese, a 29-year-old left-hander with a career 3.91 ERA, in December to get their new second baseman, Neil Walker. They re-signed Bartolo Colon to a one-year, $7.25 million deal. Matt Harvey agreed to a one-year, $4.325 deal to avoid arbitration, which is nearly one million less than set-up man Addison Reed will earn.
According to Fangraphs, the four young aces (Harvey, deGrom, Syndegaard and Matz) were actually worth $106.2 million last season when converting performance into dollars expected in free agency. That's value.
So what could they make on the open market? Half a billion total? It's not that far-fetched. Not if you consider that the top five pitchers that signed this offseason -- Greinke, Price, Johnny Cueto, Zimmermann, and Jeff Samardzjia -- netted $753.5 million guaranteed. With deGrom the oldest of the group at 27, Harvey just 26, Wheeler still 25, Matz a 24-year-old rookie, and Syndergaard only 23, it's not crazy to think of the contracts they could amass in free agency.
"I don't spend too much time thinking about it because it is what it is," Ricco said. "We've got our guys. Certainly we know what the value is but the most important thing for us is trying to win. Again, use the resources available to us to put together a winning team. Also, you recognize what the cost is because that can effect, one, how long you keep them -- if you're going to move one or more of them in a trade -- and two, if you're going to try to lock them up - what a deal might look like for one or more of them, a multi-year deal that buys out free agency. To ignore what that is, in terms of that total dollar amount doesn't mean too much to me."
The Mets have not yet tried to lock up their young pitchers for the long term. Harvey entered arbitration for the first time this winter, while Wheeler and deGrom are a year away. Trying to get those guys on extensions before their prices go up exponentially might not be a bad idea. But, for now, the Mets should make the most of the roster they have: It's money in the bank.
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Mike Vorkunov is a freelance writer in the New York City area. He's covered the Mets' run to the World Series, Rutgers' path to the Big Ten, and bowling -- once. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Vice Sports, and The Star-Ledger. He can be found on Twitter at @Mike_Vorkunov and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org