Monday, August 24, 2009

Will It Be "Bye Bye Billy?"

Last week, I wrote that I was fine with Omar Minaya's decision to keep Gary Sheffield with the Mets for the rest of the season. Billy Wagner, though, is a different story.

Wagner's tenure with the New York Mets must end before the waiver period expires on him tomorrow. He has no future with the team, not with Francisco Rodriguez signed to a multi-year deal and locked in as the Mets' closer. He is not going to be happy as a set-up man - no matter what some fans want to believe - and the Mets aren't going to pay a set-up man $8 million anyway. (Yes, that means JJ Putz won't be with the Mets in 2010, either).

The Boston Red Sox helped out by claiming Wagner on waivers last week, paving the way for his departure. Even if a trade cannot be struck by tomorrow, the Mets can simply let Wagner go to Boston without compensation, saving themselves money for the rest of the year and avoiding the $1 million buyout fee of Wagner's contract in the off-season.

The ideal route for the Mets to go would be to broker a deal with Boston for a decent prospct, but it appears that Wagner himself might be standing in the way.

Wagner has a no-trade clause in his contract, which means he can veto any deal the Mets and the Red Sox try to strike. Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Wagner's agent Bean Stringfellow is asking the Sox to guarantee that they won't pick up the $8 million option on Wagner's contract for next season. Stringfellow is also asking Boston not to offer Wagner arbitration when he becomes a free agent; doing so would likely force Wagner's new team to forfeit draft picks to the Red Sox upon signing the new contract.

Boston, quite reasonably, is balking at the request. It's doubtful that they would want to pick up Wagner's option anyway; the Mets will surely decline it if he remains with the team. However, if Wagner is terrific in September and October, the Red Sox may decide they want to exercise the option, if for no other reason then to use him as a trade chip.

If Wagner is declared a Type A free agent, Stringfellow is also asking the Red Sox to voluntarily forfeit two high draft picks so that Wagner's new team won't lose out on them. At some point, Boston General Manager Theo Epstein has to wonder if it's worth picking up $3.5 million in salary and/or trading a prospect to the Mets for a player that is insisting to be allowed to leave at the end of the season without any compensation to the Red Sox.

Minaya is in the uneviable position of trying to author a trade while also trying to convince Wagner to waive his no-trade clause. The one thing he simply cannot do is pull Wagner back if a deal cannot be struck; payroll relief is reason enough to part ways even if the Mets cannot bring back a prospect in return.

With rumors swirling that the Mets' payroll is going to be slashed going into 2010, the way Minaya handles the Wagner situation will be an insight into the club's finanical future. Letting Wagner go without compensation would be the right thing to do, but it will also indicate that the Mets are in a more precarious financial position then they've been letting on.


TW said...

You feel that salary relief, for what amounts to a fraction of the 3.5 mil (i assume he has been receiving paychecks all season), is better than offering arbitration you know Wagner won't take and receiving two picks? Your opinions on how badly the Mets draft aside letting him go without compensation seems foolish.

Jack Flynn said...

Billy Wagner is making $10.5 million this season. The $3.5 million figure I quoted represents the approximate cost of his remaining 2009 salary ($2.5 million), plus the $1 million buyout Wagner is owed if the Mets do not pick up the 2010 option. I agree that, if the Mets were paying only one-fourth of $3.5 million, there might not be the same urgency for salary relief.

The Mets won't pick up the option, but they also won't offer Wagner arbitration. If they do so, and Wagner doesn't get the interest he expected on the free agent market, he may be tempted to take the deal and guarantee a final payday. The Mets do not want to pay as much as $8 million for a set-up man, which Wagner might command in arbitration.