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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Money, Happiness and Success

The Mets gave Carlos Beltran $120 million when the Yankees weren't willing to give him $100 million, primarily based on Beltran's amazing post-season with the Astros two seasons ago. The Mets gave a sore-winged Pedro Martinez a fourth year on his deal, when at 33, no other team was willing to give him that. About four years ago, the Mets gave future Hall-of-Fame hurler Tommy Glavine four years when no other team was willing to go beyond three.

And now the Mets are primed to offer closer Billy Wagner, 34, more money and more years than anyone else (or, at least, more years). The Phillies have offered two years with an option year, and it may be that the Mets are willing to go four years. That's a lot of dough for a 33 year-old closer.

Let's recap a bit on the expenditures:

1. Beltran performed much below expectations, and the early school of thought is that the Mets overpaid for him.

2. Pedro delivered big-time for the Mets last year and helped put people in the seats. The Mets, a .500 team last year, drew 2.8 million. The question remains how well Pedro's arm will hold him in the remaining years of his contract. It was only a season ago that he had basically turned into a once-a-week pitcher for the Red Sox.

3. Glavine has a 33-41 record in his three years with the Mets and a bad walks-strikeouts ratio. I like Tommy Glavine and believes that he is an all-time great pitcher, but at 33 you have to believe that the Mets overextended for him.

No one will argue that Wagner is one of the best relievers in baseball. He is that. He also had a great season in Philadelphia last year, and he's pitched under pennant-race pressure. Few will argue that his familiarity tour of NYC will make much difference in his decision where to sign. Most players opt for the most money. It would appear at the moment that the Mets are willing to offer more than the Phillies, unless the Phillies determine that for public relations reasons, among others, they just have to have Wagner (perhaps the way the Mets really needed Pedro). If that's the case, look for the Phillies to compete hard to sign their free-agent closer.

The question I have, though, is how well these signings really work out. If Wagner wants a title, he might be better suited to taking less money from the White Sox or Red Sox, both of whom could use some help in that area. The Mets still have their holes and faded badly down the stretch. The Phillies had a good year and missed out on the playoffs by one game and their division title by two. The issue there is whether last season was a fluke or whether the team can build on that success. Neither team is a sureshot for the playoffs, even with Wagner.

Wagner will improve their teams, but by how much and for how long. If both teams have a "win now" philosophy, then signing Wagner makes all the sense in the world. But if they're less certain about the present and more committed to a few years down the road, they might not like the fact that they're saddled with an expensive deal for aging closer with a no-trade clause.

The Mets most recent signings have given Mets' fans the confidence that the Mets' ownership is committed to opening up its purse to sign top-notch talent. But they also should give those same fans cause for pause about whether the Mets have been spending their money wisely. The Glavine signing has been a disappointment, and it's too early to tell on the other two signings. All that said, Mets fans are expecting big things from management and the big-name signees, with or without Billy Wagner.

As well they should.

The Yankees spent over $200 million last year for a team that averaged about 34 years of age at the season's outset and didn't win the World Series for the fifth year in a row. A Nobel physicist once said, "Excellence cannot be bought, but it must be paid for." I'm sure someone else once said, "you can find excellence in all sorts of places -- if you look hard enough." Opening up the coffers is one way to create a core for your excellence, but you also must find enough complementary players to complete the team and, hopefully, some putative bargains who can grow into outright steals.

True, you won't win the World Series with a bottom-five payroll.

It's just that you're not guaranteed to win one with a top-five payroll either.


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