No, it’s not because they wanted Santana on their team, it’s because they see the signing as a reminder that the Mets still have a hole at shortstop. No, really.
Mets fans excel at spurious relationships. Last month, when the Baltimore Orioles signed outfielder Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract, Mets fans immediately compared it to the one-year, $7.25 million deal the Mets agreed to with outfielder Chris Young. Never mind that in November, when Young signed the deal, Cruz was still looking for a five-year contract in the neighborhood of $75 million. Never mind that Cruz has one skill — power — that is in decline. Sandy Alderson should have used his crystal ball and waited four months to sign Cruz at a discounted rate.
Now, the correlation without causation is, the Braves had a need in their starting rotation, and they filled a need in their starting rotation. The Mets have a need at shortstop, but are too poor or incompetent to fill it.
The Mets came into the offseason with a payroll limitation of $85-$87 million, per Jeff Wilpon (despite the rosy contradictions painted by him and his father about their money woes being behind them). After signing Young and Curtis Granderson because they had needs in the outfield, and RHP Bartolo Colon because they had a need in the starting rotation, they reached their payroll limit.
The fact is, the Mets had a lot of holes to fill, and on a limited budget, it’s difficult to fill them all.
Now, it is possible the $85-87 million payroll is a soft cap, and they may look to add another player if it makes financial sense. Alderson has hinted as much during the offseason. They may still sign Stephen Drew — if they don’t have to overpay in dollars or years — and they may still trade for the Seattle Mariners‘ Nick Franklin — if they don’t have to give up too much of their stockpile of young pitching in return.
If they can’t make either move, they will take their chances with the increasingly hopeless-looking Ruben Tejada, the veteran Omar Quintanilla, or the rookie Wilmer Flores. Flores has hit at every level, but does not have the range to be an above-average shortstop. However, he does catch everything he gets to, which is more than even Tejada can say for himself right now.
They may not come up with an ideal solution at shortstop in 2014, but the accusation that they never find ways to fill positions of need is wrong. They still aren’t spending like the New York Yankees — no one does — but there are signs the Mets are shaking free of the Bernie Madoff shackles.
Until they leave their debt completely in the past, they’ll have to continue to be creative with their roster.