I am trying to decide if I think the New York Mets offseason was a success or a failure. Or a successful failure. Hiring former agent Brodie Van Wagenen was a big move that is the complete opposite of the safe and steady hiring of his predecessor Sandy Alderson. Best of luck to you Sandy in your fight against cancer. But this is a move that the Mets ownership never usually makes.
Hiring an outside of the box personality like Brodie who was on the other side of the table just a few months ago could signal a fresher outlook and new ideas on how to improve this team. The fan base can simply say if you want to improve this team then start spending money like a team should spend when New York is in the front of your team name. After all the Yankees spend money all the time and yet some would argue they haven’t won a World Series since 2009. So is spending money guaranteed to bring a championship to this franchise?
What is the biggest problem this franchise has? That certainly is a loaded question. There are many things wrong with the Mets. For one this ownership does not consistently spend money. According to thebaseballcube.com the Mets overall payroll has topped 150 million just twice and that was for the 2017 & 2018 seasons and surely this year it will again top 150 million. In comparison the cross town Yankees have been over 150 million every year since 2003 with 9 of those years topping the 200 million mark, yet winning only one World Series. Even the mighty Yankees have tried to save money but still their payroll will be at least 20 million more than the Mets. That equates to one top player or two very solid players.
The Mets are a bit of a snake bit team too when it comes to free agency. Getting burned by a big free agent contract is something of the norm for this franchise. Jason Bay comes to mind among others. Even when the money is spent correctly it still backfires. We all know the 2015 trade deadline acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes gave the Mets that one power hitter they desperately needed. It propelled the Mets into the World Series, a series they should have won. Bringing back Cespedes was the right move. It had to be done and the contract he signed was for 3 years with an opt out clause. Sure it was for a lot of money and he could hold the Mets up again which he did but with the Mets pitching the window was now to win. After the 2016 the Mets re did his contract paying him at that time the most money ever for a position player tying him with Alex Rodriguez. The return the Mets got was Cespedes playing in just 109 games combined in 2017 & ‘18 and possibly missing half the season or more in ’19. Oh you can bet in 2020 he will be healthy as he looks for his last payday.
It is for this reason the Mets are understandably gun shy to sign big players such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado who were available this past off season and are in the prime of their careers. You can argue this and Met fans do on a daily basis that you have to keep signing big contract players until you strike gold. Remember all the talk when Hall Of Famer Vlad Guerrero wanted to play for the Mets and we heard how scared the owners were of his supposedly bad back. Vlad continued his hall of fame career as a member of the Los Angeles Angels. Remember AROD and the 24 plus 1 talk when he was a free agent who wanted to play for the Mets when Mike Piazza was still a productive player. AROD went on to sign with the Texas Rangers before eventually getting traded to the cross town rival Yankees. It is a consistent theme with the Mets that they don’t go for it and when they do it never seems to work out.
Once again this franchise is at another crossroad. Jacob deGrom just had a season that won him a Cy Young award and despite the lack of wins his other statistics bring back memories of Doc Gooden’s historic 1985 Cy Young season. He will be a free agent after the 2020 season. Zach Wheeler who had a great second half will be a free agent after this season. Noah Syndergaard should be poised to have his first big season. All three players need to be paid to keep them in New York. Brodie being the former agent to both deGrom and Syndergaard knows that all too well. But his is now on the other side of the phone. He was told to be patient by Met ownership when his job was to get his clients the most money. Now he is part of that ownership group telling his former clients to be more patient for their new contracts.
Brodie Van Wagenen is a very good talker. He enjoys to be in front of the camera. He likes to deliver his message in the same smooth way as he dresses. Brodie is always well dressed. He has said the Mets will be in on every free agent. That was not true. He has promised big things and changes in how the Mets as an organization think about putting together a roster. That was not true. He has said the Mets are the team to beat in the National League East. He better say that. But in reality the Met fan base does not believe this. Just look at what the Philadelphia Phillies have added this offseason. Look at how young and stocked the Atlanta Braves are. Even the Washington Nationals despite losing Harper still have a good roster. The fact is Brodie spent the entire off season trying to bring in all his old clients.
When I look at the finished body of work and we can all assume that now in mid-March this is what the Mets will look like on opening day. I will be honest. Brodie did some very good things. If you want to be completely fair about it. It might not be the blockbuster moves like signing Harper or Machado would have been. It might not result in a playoff appearance which is what any fan base should want. Yes, many Met fans would say they would have done things differently had they been in charge. What fan base does not say that.
But I can say for the first time in many years I do see a layer of depth that this team has not had in a long while. In past years when injuries do happen to the roster when the Mets had to dip into the minors for a replacement it was always a player who no one knows about who does not belong in the majors even for a cup of coffee. This year it’s different. Brodie stocked the minors with players who are legitimate major league experienced players that can hold the fort down until the injured players return. However, when it comes to the starting pitching he has not done that. There are still players out there that can either fit this bill or even be contributors on the major league team right now. Is it hard to believe that maybe they strike gold with one of these players?
One of Brodie’s old clients who was brought in used to play for the Yankees Robinson Cano. He also was suspended for 80 games last year for PED use. But he has a career track record that says he will still be a good player for well that’s the question here. The Mets traded away one of their top prospects so the Seattle Mariners could get rid of the last 5 years of Cano. While I do think he will be a good player for 2 of those years the Mets could be stuck with an aging player for 3 years at 20 million a year. Lost in the shuffle was the acquisition of Edwin Diaz in the same trade. Diaz who had the most saves last year is an electrifying young pitcher who is making no money right now. In the process the Mets were able to shed some dead wood in Anthony Swarzak and Jay Bruce. Make no mistake this should be a good trade for at least 2 years. Then it may become Diaz vs the Mets prospects who are now Mariners.
Brodie then went full bore after JT Realmuto, another one of his ex-clients. The Mets were going to have to trade for him as he was a part of the Miami Marlins. Let’s just say the cost of obtaining this very talented player was off the charts. But Brodie still kept on trying to bring him in. Trading for Realmuto would have created another hole on this team. Luckily he finally came to his senses and signed Wilson Ramos for 2 years to be the catcher. That is a solid pickup as well as the re-signing of Devin Mesoraco which also means that putrid combination of Kevin Plawecki and Travis D’Arnaud won’t be starting the season on this roster. Plawecki was traded to the Cleveland Indians and D’Arnaud is still injured.
The fan base was clamoring for the Mets to sign Machado. So Brodie signs yet another one of his ex-clients in Jed Lowrie. It was not the splashy move the fans wanted but make no mistake about it. Lowrie is a good baseball player. He can play 3B, 2B and 1B. He has some pop and is versatile defensively. Of course the Met bad luck shows its ugly head as Lowrie immediately hurts his knee early in camp and is questionable to start the season in the majors. The player he was going to compete with Todd Frazier also is hurt and might not start the season in the majors too. So it’s time to see how good Brodie was in adding depth as for the first time the Mets are actually prepared to at least hold down the fort.
For the bullpen aside from Diaz the Mets brought back Jeurys Familia. This is a good move as he will not be the closer but a set-up man who has proven he can pitch in New York. The rest of the bullpen additions were very solid as they now have proven big league pitchers to choose from.
The one weak area is the starting rotation. On paper 1-3 is great. The 4th starter is Steven Matz who we keep waiting for him to live up to his potential. The 5th starter is Jason Vargas who is a holdover from Alderson’s regime. We all know that every team sees injuries to their starting rotations at some point of the season. As this team is still built around the starting rotation they are not in a very good position to weather a couple of injuries to the top 5. With pitchers still on the market such as Gio Gonzalez and to a bigger extent Dallas Keuchel, Brodie can hit a home run if he brings one in.
As for the holdover offensive players the Mets are really for a lack of a better word betting on themselves here. Take the outfield to start with. With Cespedes out for who knows how long the three players from last year are now penciled in for major at bats at least to start the season. Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo figure to get the lion’s share of the work. Juan Lagares who always seems to be hurt will have to fight off Keon Braxton, Rajai Davis and Carlos Gomez. All are expected to be to be on the opening day roster with Frazier and Lowrie expected to begin the season on the injured reserve.
Throughout the Winter we were told of the Mets going to find playing time for last year’s upstart Jeff McNeil. If I had a nickel for every Met player who had a big a couple of big months when the season was over I would have a whole of nickels. In all seriousness the Mets never strike gold with a player like this. McNeil figures to start the season at 3B because of the injuries allowing players like Davis and Gomez to make the roster.
There is another Davis on the roster. They acquired JD Davis from the Astros who can play all the corner infield and outfield positions. Here is more of the depth I was talking about and another player that can play multiple positions. I know JD does not have a great major league track record. But he does not have anything left to prove in the minor leagues. Let’s see if he gets a shot early in the season.
There is even depth at shortstop. Amed Rosario is heading into his second full season as the starter. But Adeiny Hechavarria is a more than capable backup. McNeil can also play the position. In fact, McNeil is listed all over the depth chart except at catcher. While he is not known as a defensive player it’s the high on base percentage he showed last year that has the fans looking forward to seeing him play more.
The elephant in the room is Pete Alonso. His 40 plus homers across two levels of the minor leagues last year has Met fans salivating to see him start the season at first base. Alonso was not a September call-up so this season he will be making his Major League debut. But when? The kid is really raking in Spring Training. But will the business of baseball have him start the season in the minors so the Mets can get another year of control on the young slugger. It makes all the business sense in the world but not what the fans want. My gut says he starts in the minors and gets called up when the Mets have secured the extra year.
Perhaps what is making that decision a little easier is the re-emergence of Dominic Smith. He was just 2 years ago thought of as the future at 1B. Well he got out of shape and hade some lateness issues that rightfully so turned the Mets brass off. Now sensing it’s put up time or shut up he is stroking in the spring to a tune of an over .400 batting average. A good competition never hurt anybody.
What do you think? If the cards fall absolutely right this team can be really good. But a lot of cards need to fall just right. I talked about the depth and that is important but the starters still need to stay reasonably healthy especially the pitchers. One of the biggest mistake the Mets always make is putting a lot of faith in unproven players. Bringing in Cano ensures you don’t have to worry about McNeil playing every day. Cano should be fine this year. Rosario must take a big step this year to be the player the Mets hoped he would be. It’s clear to me that Smith or Alonso will be manning 1B this year. Both are unproven. There is a lot of potential for this to blow up on the Mets and then dare we say start to trade off pitchers like Wheeler and possibly deGrom or Syndergaard. I do have confidence with the collection of players on the roster for the outfield that it can be a solid group. But you would still like to see a player like Conforto make the big step to becoming a star.
What am I predicting for this team? If this team avoids major injuries I think they will go as far as the starting pitching can take them. So I am going to say 89 wins. But if Cespedes does come back this year all bets are off.