Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

Yesterday, I suggested what the New York Mets could learn from the St. Louis Cardinals in building their team. Today, let’s examine how the Red Sox were built and what the Mets can take from their approach.

The Cardinals’ philosophy of first building from within followed by judicious trades and free-agent signings has always been the traditional and preferred method.

Throwing millions and millions into the free-agent market is costly and risky. The Mets don’t have the resources of the Yankees or Dodgers to throw good money after bad.

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

ELLSBURY: Will he be too costly for Mets?

There’s pressure to win in both markets, but there’s a greater intensity in Boston – and New York – while there’s a degree of patience in the Midwest. That explains in part why St. Louis has 17 homegrown players on its roster, while the Red Sox have ten.

There was a venomous culture in Boston last season as the Red Sox, burdened by several cumbersome contracts – similar to what the Mets faced when Sandy Alderson took over – and a few cancerous personalities in the clubhouse.

“Say, could you pass some fried chicken this way?’’

The Red Sox cleared nearly $200 million in salaries when they unloaded Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers midway through last year’s disastrous 69-93 summer under Bobby Valentine. They did so because even in a lost season the Red Sox were thinking about this summer. That’s something the Mets never fully explored when they had Jose Reyes and others to dangle.

The Red Sox were far quicker and more decisive than the Mets have been in ridding themselves of too costly and ineffective players, such as Oliver Perez, Ike Davis, Francisco Rodriguez and Luis Castillo to name a few of close to numerous bad deals since 2006, the last time the Mets saw October.

Rather than sink their savings into different long-term, costly signings, the Red Sox signed a handful of productive, yet cost-effective, players in: Shane Victorino (three years, $39 million); catcher David Ross (two years, $6.2 million); first baseman Mike Napoli (one year, $5 million); shortstop Stephen Drew (one year, $9.5 million); outfielder Jonny Gomes (two years, $10 million); and dynamite closer Koji Uehara (one year, $4.25 million plus option).

None bowl you over; collectively, they helped the Red Sox win 97 games.

Boston also extended by two years and $26 million the contract of its own free agent, designated hitter David Ortiz. They also avoided arbitration by offering Jacoby Ellsbury a one-year, $9-million deal. Some signings, such as pitcher Ryan Dempster’s two-year, $26.5 million deal, didn’t pan out. He’s now in middle relief and would be a starter for the Mets.

The Red Sox also hit it with trades, including pitcher Jake Peavy, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and and former Mets first-base prospect, Mike Carp.

Boston’s success in the free-agent and trade markets was overwhelmingly successful. Although Alderson said he could have the leeway to offer a $100-million contract to one player, he would be better off in taking Boston’s approach and attempt to patch several of the Mets’ many holes.

Alderson knows the success the Red Sox enjoyed is rare and shouldn’t be expected, especially since the Mets won’t offer similar deals. However, the idea of pursuing players with playoff success – Napoli and Victorino – is a sound way to augment their present composition of youth and few proven major leaguers.

The Mets are unsettled at first base, but are kidding themselves if they think they could get Napoli by offering a slight raise. Napoli was to get a three-year, $39-million deal, but that fell through when a degenerative hip condition was discovered. He’ll likely get his three years this winter.

As for Victorino, the Mets had their chance to sign him, but now it is too late. They must consider between Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, what they might each cost, and their various baggage.

It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Red Sox attempt to retain Ellsbury, but there are already reports the Tigers are interested in either him or Choo, the latter who is reportedly seeking four years.

The Red Sox took a shotgun approach last winter, and still wound up with a $155-million payroll while hitting most of their targets. It worked because their scouts did their homework; they got lucky; and they already had a core to build around. The Red Sox were also forced to be aggressive last winter because of their restless and demanding fan base. Every year it is the same motivation for them and the Yankees.

The Mets’ fan base is already looking at 2015 when Matt Harvey returns. Few are expecting a contender next summer without him. The Mets also don’t have as good a core as Boston had and won’t come anywhere close to what the Red Sox spent, but could go as high as $100 million, maybe a little more.

Everybody in the division save the Miami Marlins will spend more. If the Mets are to emulate the Red Sox, they’ll have to dig deeper and that’s not something they’ll be inclined to do.

4 thoughts on “Would Boston’s Free-Agent Building Approach Benefit Mets?

  1. You know it is always about money.

    The commissioner forced the sale of the Dodgers and yet protects our dysfunctional owners from having to sell the team.

    If we had new owners last year this season may have been different and this offseason certainly would be.

    • You’re wrong, John, and so is Dave. If it were always about the money, we’d be watching a home game in Yankee Stadium tonight, and they’d be heading to L.A. on Friday. It’s really about smart management and spending wisely. That’s what Boston did last winter and the Cardinals have been doing for years. Since Alderson has taken over, he has turned a bottom 10 farm system to one of the better ones in baseball. The Mets now have a pipeline of high quality young arms moving toward Citifield debuts over the next several years. And he has acquired position players who could well become part of a strong core over that period as well. I’m talking about (C) d’Arnaud, (1B) Smith, (2B) Herrera, (SS) Cecchini, (OF) Nimmo, (OF) and several other less heralded prospects.

      Sandy has followed the Cardinals model to date, and I believe he realiizes full well that now is the time to make some strategic acquisitions (a la Boston) to build a winner in 2014. He needs one impact bat and a few complimentary pieces to fill out the lineup. Ellsbury (who I would love to get) or Choo may demand more in $ and years than Sandy can afford to commit, given the number of holes he has to fill. Cruz might do it, or a trade for someone like Kemp, Braun, CarGo, etc. could provide the needed pop. Another OF like Beltran or Byrd, a SS like those you mention or the meny others who might be on the block this winter, and a backup C like Buck or Pierzinski would be the fill ins that would give the Mets a potent offense. The last piece of the puzzle is a quality starter on a 2 or 3 year deal, the likes of Arroyo, Kazmir, or Nolasco, who would be the bridge until Harvey’s likely return to full health.

      • Herb: Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comment. I believe the essence of both pieces showed how both the Cardinals and Red Sox have done things the right way and not tried to buy their way out of trouble. However, money will always be an issue when it comes to the Mets. I will write later on Choo. … I disagree the last piece should be pitching as that is the most important thing in the sport. Tell me, what if Harvey does not return to form in 2015? What will the Mets do then? Depth in the rotation will go more to making them a viable team in 2014 than adding a bat.-JD