Years ago, when the New York Mets’ owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon were in the midst of a Ponzi scheme famously conducted by Bernie Madoff, the owners promised one thing to the fans after the franchise slashed payroll, and began a rebuild. The promise to the fans was that the Mets would spend money like a varsity club again once the fans began to show up to the games, and the team was back in contention.
Well, following a fantastic 2015 season which involved a run to the World Series and crowned the baseball team from Queens National League Champions, it’s safe to say the Mets are now in a position to win. Additionally, after a season which saw the Mets’ attendance surge to 12th in the MLB, up from 21st in 2014, it’s safe to say the fans are showing up to the games. So, entering an offseason where the Mets’ window to win has officially opened, with young starters that could cost as much as $1 billion combined on the open market. Luckily, they cost under $10 million for the Mets. A wise one would say it’s time to crack open the bank. Not to mention, the Mets’ three and four hitters in their lineup — Daniel Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes — are both free-agents, and the current Amazin’s lineup looks thin.
To no surprise, the Mets’ owners backed out of their promise.
On Tuesday afternoon, the club likely wrapped up their offseason by signing Alejandro De Aza to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with incentives to be the lefty-hitting side of a center-field platoon with Juan Lagares. The Mets’ payroll currently stands at $100.5 million, and they will likely head into 2016 with another payroll in the lower third of Major League Baseball. A New York team in ‘win now’ mode, with a payroll in the lower third of baseball, seems right? I didn’t think so.
De Aza is a solid baseball player, who hit .278 against righties last season. However, he’s a backup outfielder, and as one scout told Mike Puma of the New York Post, “The metrics aren’t pretty with him in center field.” For a team that is supposedly yearning to take it to the next level in 2016 — which would be to win a World Series — one would assume that the team in one of, if not the largest market in the United States would fill a dire need with a bat bigger than De Aza’s. The Mets had an opportunity to lock up Yoenis Cespedes, who saved their lineup and bolstered the team to the World Series after GM Sandy Alderson struck a deal to acquire him, but instead reportedly low-balled the power-hitting outfielder that was beloved and was verbal about wanting to stay in New York, with a two to three-year contract. As CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman noted, talks were very brief between the Mets and Cespedes’s representatives.
Now, it simply can’t be disputed about how much Cespedes’s offense added to the Mets, as his presence obviously made the whole team better, boosting the pre-July worst offense in baseball to statistically one of the best after he arrived. However, one can argue that Cespedes isn’t a center-fielder, which is the Mets’ outfield need, and that it’s not wise to have Cespedes in center for two seasons. Yet their front office would contradict itself when handing half of its outfield duties to De Aza, who is statistically much worse than Cespedes in center. It confirms once again the main idea of this article: The Mets will never spend money as long as the penny-pinching Wilpons are in possession of the team.
Even if the Mets didn’t want to re-sign Cespedes, no matter the cost, there were other options out there. Rockies’ slugger Carlos Gonzalez is on the trade block, and comes at a bargain at just two-years, $34-million for the impact he would have in the lineup. Dexter Fowler is on the free-agent market, and if the Mets are comfortable with De Aza defensively in center why can’t they be comfortable with Curtis Granderson there, and sign an offensive impact corner outfielder such as Justin Upton, or even Alex Gordon.
The Mets can say they’ve built a lineup with depth, and more starting options for manager Terry Collins. This idea spurted from the acquisitions of Kelly Johnson and Juan Uribe. But Uribe and Johnson didn’t even start in the playoffs for the Mets, and they needed to build depth around a big bat in the middle of their lineup, like at the deadline with Cespedes. The Mets will instead bank on a healthy Travis d’Arnaud (something that hasn’t happened yet over the course of his career), David Wright to be the player he once was (which is unlikely coming off of a spinal stenosis diagnosis). Nor can they bank on 22-year-old Michael Conforto immediately blossoming into a middle-of-the-order bat (he will need time to develop in his first full season in the big leagues). Finally, they can’t rely on inconsistent Lucas Duda to be, well, consistent.
The Mets will hope to have financial flexibility at the non-waiver trade deadline like last summer, but most traded players at the deadline are entering free agency, and the 2016 free-agent class appears to be a historically bad class. Let’s not forget the only decent offensive outfielder that is in that 2016 class is Carlos Gomez, and he may not even be on the table as Houston will almost without a doubt be a contender next year. Besides, what kind of win-now New York team banks on the trade deadline to make their team? Especially when their payroll is at close to a $100 million before opening day. Last year the Mets made three big deals at the deadline, and only added $8.3 million in payroll.
Is that what they call financial flexibility? Sigh.
Even after their putrid offseason, the Mets seem likely to be the favorites in the NL East — which includes two teams in contention and three in a rebuild — which shows how good they could have been if they actually spent some money this winter.
There’s no way for the Wilpons to dance around not spending money this winter, simply because if they don’t spend money now, then they never will. There were a plethora of options for the title-hungry, big-market Mets to spend to improve this club, but the Mets didn’t pluck a single one. The worst case scenario this offseason should’ve been signing Denard Span or Gerardo Parra to play center. Instead, the Mets walk away with De Aza, Neil Walker (a replacement for Daniel Murphy), average shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (a position maybe the Mets could’ve spent on Ian Desmond), and re-signing Bartolo Colon.
To put the Mets’ unlawfully cheap ways into perspective, the Nationals — New York’s division rival that, unlike the Mets, spends money when hoping to win — gave Daniel Murphy $37.5 million alone, which is just over $2 million more than the Mets have spent all offseason. That’s outright disgusting.
For a team blessed with an outstanding young rotation that is so cost effective and under team control, the Mets appear as if they’re willing to let those arms go to waste. The Mets even got an early Christmas gift from Michael Cuddyer, who retired and saved the club $12.5 million. Instead, the Wilpons shoveled the money from Cuddyer back into their pockets instead of spending it to improve this ball club.
Mets’ fans — that suffered through nine years of losing seasons — deserve better. The team will forever be the Yankees’ little brother, even when the opportunity came this offseason to outspend the Yankees. Wherever you go in New York City, there’s Mets’ gear being worn. The team’s October run was magical, the city shifting from Yankees to Mets in a pop, with Orange and Blue fans rejoicing as it’s finally their turn to be the baseball team of New York.
Unfortunately, the cheap, despicable owners of the Mets who call themselves the Wilpons, didn’t rejoice. Instead, they decided to restrain brilliant general manager Sandy Alderson, who I’m sure would’ve spent big money this offseason if given the funds from his bosses. Instead, they decided to back out on their promise to the Mets’ fans that they would spend money when warranted to.
After losing in the World Series in 2014, the small-market Kansas City Royals spent $68 million, almost half more than the large-market Mets have spent this winter, to improve their team.
The goal for teams in the offseason after making it to the World Series is usually to get better. Especially when you’re a team in a New York market, that has a payroll in the lower third of the league.
Instead, the Mets got worse, and it’s all thanks to the imminent extreme case of thriftiness displayed once again by the hated owners of the Mets, Jeff and Fred Wilpon.