The Mets have had many terrible slogans over the years, weak attempts to draw fans to the ballpark to watch a crappy team. In 1998 the motto was the admittedly catchy “Show Up at Shea.” In 2003 it was “Experience It” (“it” apparently referred to a 66-win team). On the heels of a rare playoff appearance, the 2007 slogan was “Your Season Has Come,” a declaration that Mets management has been selling to fans ever since without delivering on the promise. But next year, Matt Harvey is back. The pitching staff is loaded. The good news: Your Season Has Come! The bad news: It looks a lot like the past few seasons.
When the Mets brought in a new front office after the 2010 season, one of the new employees, Paul DePodesta, said assembling the Mets roster would be like “Moneyball with money.” If you’re a Mets fan, you can’t read that today without cringing. DePodesta was referring to his days in Oakland with now-Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, when the Athletics consistently made the playoffs despite a low payroll. It turns out that DePodesta should have left out the “with money” part and added that nearly every other franchise had started playing some version of Moneyball. The Mets under Alderson’s staff have simply been a low-budget, low-win team. They’re the East Coast Padres.
The Mets’ $84 million payroll, eighth-lowest in baseball, isn’t changing under current ownership. Ever since Bernie Madoff—who has done far more to damage to the Mets than Chipper Jones—robbed the team’s ownership of its riches, fans have been told the on-field product would not be affected. Until now. Alderson has all but admitted the team will not sign a high-priced free agent this offseason. The honesty is refreshing but disappointing, since that’s exactly what the Mets need.
David Wright will get $20 million next season; Curtin Granderson $16 million. Alderson “joked” that if they added another player in that range, the rest of the roster would be made up of “22 dwarves.”
Why does management dwell on the two guys making big bucks? How about all the team’s incredibly cheap talent? You know who isn’t arbitration eligible until 2016 and not a free agent until 2019? Harvey. Zack Wheeler, Juan Lagares, and Travis d’Arnaud won’t be free agents until 2020. Throw in promising young players like Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Wilmer Flores and you’ve got the potential for a good chunk of the starting rotation and three key defensive positions locked up for the near future for cheap.
The Mets are not far from playoff contention. They finished with a positive run differential this season. Next year, with Harvey back, there won’t be a better starting rotation in the National League: Wheeler figured things out in July and has a 2.80 ERA from then on; deGrom is the likely Rookie of the Year; Jonathan Niese, Bartolo Colon, and Dillon Gee are above-average if not spectacular; Noah Syndergaard is a top prospect who led his AAA league in strikeouts this season. The bullpen improved when washed-up veterans were dumped in favor of young guns Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia, who strike out batters as often as their names are misspelled.
The offense was far behind, however, and even with bounce-back years from Wright and Granderson it will enter the offseason with holes in left field and shortstop. The free agent crop is thin at both positions, and the better players are going to cost money the Mets don’t have. Even if they ride or die with the homegrown Flores at short, where is the outfielder coming from? Unless the Mets are willing to give up a king’s ransom, teams are unlikely to part with inexpensive young stars (see: Stanton, Giancarlo). And so the Mets will likely add, according to Alderson, “one or two veterans.”
Will those players—think Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer, who will be 36 next year—be enough to put the Mets over the hump? Alderson publicly says yes, but you have to think he and his former Oakland colleagues feel misled by Mets ownership. It’s Moneyball without money, and Mets’ fans season has not yet come.