They overpaid, but they had to. The only way to save any face from last season’s disastrous trade deadline deals was to lock up Benson to a long-term pact.
This is exactly the type of reasoning that’s prevented the Mets’ front office from digging itself out of trouble. There is little disagreement that 2004’s trades for Victor Zambrano and Kris Benson – for whom the Mets gave up their top two pitching prospects and a top catching prospect – were ill-conceived. Why compound the issue by overpaying? I realize that the front office didn’t want to enter the 2005 season with nothing to show for parting with Matt Peterson and Justin Huber, but couldn’t the management find a smarter way to spend $22.5 million?
Benson is a solid number three pitcher and a good number four. However, this is a guy who hasn’t had an ERA under since his second year in the league. His career ERA is 4.28 and he hasn’t shown himself to be a dominator. At 30 years of age, Benson is unlikely to improve dramatically. Both Shea Stadium and Rick Peterson have been good for pitchers in the past and it’s possible that a favorable park and an excellent pitching coach could help Benson squeeze a bit more out of his talent.
Victor Zambrano, who will turn 30 this season, missed a good portion of the 2004 season with elbow problems. When healthy, he had electric stuff – so electric, in fact, that he often didn’t know where his pitches were going. Despite never having started as many as 30 games in a season, Zambrano has twice walked more than 100 batters. Although his contract is far better than Benson’s, the consensus is that the Mets sacrificed too much (Scott Kazmir) in acquiring him. And with Tim Hudson – an established, but still young ace, on the market, the Mets lack the pieces to acquire him. Had they approached Billy Beane with Kazmir, Peterson, and Huber, perhaps Hudson would have called Shea home.
To add insult to injury, reports indicate that the Mets are on the verge of signing Pedro Martinez. (The latest update: Pedro will sign a 4-year contract for $56 million if the Mets don’t insist on an MRI during his physical.) A few years ago, this would have been a coup for New York. But in recent years, Pedro’s performance has declined from historically great to merely better than most of his contemporaries. More worrisome is that he is 33 years old with a flayed labrum and a sensitive temperament.
A couple of years ago, the Mets overpaid for another Hall-of-Fame quality pitcher. In 2005, Tom Glavine, a 39 year-old southpaw coming off two mediocre years, will earn close to $11 million. Just 38 wins from 300, he will be backed by a Mets offense that was one of just five to score fewer than 700 runs in 2004.
The 2005 incarnation of the Mets will be young on the left side of the infield and grizzled everywhere else. Just a year ago, the team committed to rebuilding, but the front office seems to have changed course. This constant changing of direction has left the organization in flux with a roster stocked with a bunch of overpaid veterans, each of whom was signed to “put the team over the top.” The Mets fans, like any fans, want a competitive team. However, the fans seem far more willing than the management to endure a few tough seasons watching young players establish themselves. Management’s efforts in recent years have done nothing to improve the team though, and fans suffer through terrible seasons watching declining veterans take the field.
A year ago, the Mets offered a 28 year-old outfielder entering his prime a 3-year deal between $35 and $40 million. They refused to go higher because there was concern about this player’s back. In 2004, a healthy Vladamir Guerrero won an MVP for the Anaheim Angels. Were the Mets wise to be wary of Guerrero’s back problems? Absolutely. However, if the rationale for not offering a fourth year or paying a bit more was fear of injury, why are they willing to give an older player – who isn’t even an everyday player – a bigger, longer contract? In a perfect world, or at least a world in which the Mets have a good GM, the Mets might have Tim Hudson heading their rotation and Vladamir Guerrero in right field. For the same price, it looks as if they’ll have Kris Benson, Victor Zambrano, and Pedro Martinez.