(Posted: 12/9/11; e-mail update 12/10)
More than ever this year, best buy hot stove season is deficit-spending time in baseball. Even the Yankees and Red Sox are talking about the $178 million limit after which the 18 percent luxury tax kicks in. The Mets are having a particularly painful struggle dealing with the deficit challenge. And we know how the deficit-reduction game is tying up Team USA.
Skipper Obama’s effort has been stalled by player differences as to the proper strategy. He wants to spend more rather than cut to create jobs and get money flowing. Players who swing from the right say that’s the wrong way to go and won’t go along. We have to choke up, sale they say, and learn to play little ball. The Mets have opted, so far, for that cautious approach. They let their expensive (almost $20 million a year) star Jose Reyes leave, and declined to offer $5 million-per pitcher Chris Capuano more than a year’s contract; so he, too, left.
The dilemma the Mets now face parallels perfectly what could happen if little ball becomes the ultimate USA game plan. GM Sandy Alderson says the Mets lost $70 million last year and need increased ticket sales to get the team back in the black. But Reyes was a big reason people bought tickets. How can you hope to fill the CitiField seats without him? You trust that David Wright, Ike Davis and Jason Bay will benefit from moved-in fences and that newly added relievers Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco and Ramon Ramirez will provide an improved bullpen. Even if everything clicks, the 2012 Mets are clearly destined to be at or near the bottom of their division. You don’t draw fans competing at that level.
As the Mets need ticket-buyers, Team USA needs increased consumer activity. Neither can get a rally started because, in the words of Paul Krugman, “Short-run deficits aren’t a problem; lack of demand is.” Krugman concedes that the deficit could become a serious long-term problem; a jobs-creating, demand-building stimulus now, he says, can help obviate that possibility. A lot depends on whether the divided USA team comes together to make such a rally happen.
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Southern Splurge: The Marlins, 28th on the list of 2011 club payrolls – $57 million – have already committed $41 million – to their three star additions, Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle. Their 10-year $275 million offer to Albert Pujols, had it been accepted, would have meant allotting close to $90 million of the 2012 payroll to four players. The Marlins – reportedly now pursuing Prince Fielder – are determined to make a $pectacular $plash as they move into their new ballpark.
Craving Change: On MLB-TV Tuesday night, five of six craving-for-news panelists at the GM meetings in Dallas – Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci, Larry Bowa, Dan Plesac, and Matt Vasgersian said they thought Pujols would sign with the Marlins. The lone dissenter: Kevin Millar, who correctly thought the Marlins offer wasn’t generous enough, and that the Cardinals would re-sign their franchise player. Millar was right about one thing – the money – but not about Pujols’ eventual team: the Angels (who now have three first basement – Albert, Mark Trumbo and Kendry Morales).
Carlos in the Cold: With the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan, the Giants – his most likely destination – seem to have lost interest in re-signing Carlos Beltran. Considered the number 5 most coveted free agent at the start of the signing season – after Pujols, Fielder, Reyes and A.J. Wilson – Beltran will still attract big bucks from one of the wealthier teams, but at a lesser level than he surely hoped. His age (35 this April) and injury-prone legs have compromised his value, at least until now.
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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org are welcome, and only they can be addressed by the skipper. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)