Fans of the old Brooklyn Dodgers, Fred Wilpon’s true love, were known for the saying, “Wait Till Next Year.” In those days, though, they would utter the phrase at the end of the season, until 1955, when Brooklyn finally defeated the hated Yankees and won a World Championship. Lately this same battle cry is being spoken by Mets fans, but in a sad twist, they often begin chanting it as early as March. It became prevalent a year ago, with the much anticipated year of 2014. No matter that when you looked at the team there were holes everywhere, the expiring contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay were going to provide the “payroll flexibility” that Master Moneyball Wizard Sandy Alderson was waiting for, and he would wave his magic wand and fill them all.
Now I’m not a fan of magic, I believe in logic and action, and I couldn’t foresee this shiny future. This is what I wrote in March 2013 about our prospects for 2014:
“I am having a very hard time seeing how we are any good in 2014, but there is an entire season and off-season to change my perception too.”
The Mets front office punted the entire winter that year, they not only didn’t sign free agents, the organization made no trades, other than to divest themselves of a Cy Young award winner due a raise. The idea that the same front office would leap into action this winter and aggressively improve the roster was hard for me to fathom. And it seemed to me that we needed more than a patch job. But there was a big unknown that had the possibility to change everything. There were whispers and insinuations that a large change in the payroll would come. That possibility allowed people to dream of free agents, and trades for some established stars, the type of players who could lead a turnaround. The answer wasn’t on the farm; other than Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud, there wasn’t an impact prospect from Double A on up.
Now that offseason is in the books, and it is June 2014. The good news is some money was spent, say hello to Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, and Bartolo Colon. The bad news is that with all the holes this team had, that was not nearly enough. Even if everything went right, shortstop and first base would be a mess. The bullpen could only be expected to be so good. To win, everything was going to have to go right. That is a plan that seldom works, and it has not worked. The All-Star break is still weeks away, and already 2014 looks over.
The bigger problem is now that we know that the team did not dramatically improve in 2014, well, it could be a very long time before it ever does. I expect it to be years before the team ever becomes relevant again. I know that goes against the grain of what the Mets are trying to sell. But let’s look at 2015 a little bit.
Yes, sure, pitchers Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard might be up by then. Matt Harvey will hopefully be healthy. And those three additions should help. But that is it, other than Syndergaard and Montero, there is not one consensus Top 100 prospect at Double A or above. And all our secondary prospects are pitchers who are destined to rot away on the farm as Sandy Alderson—the “Shakiest Gun in the East”—cowers in rooms with other GMs, unable to pull the trigger every offseason.
Now, why isn’t it going to be better with the three pitchers? I’m as happy as anyone that we have them, and think they could be fun positives. But many negatives lurk that will most likely offset their performance.
The first drawback is the players themselves. All three are question marks at this time. Two are unproven rookies (Montero has already been returned to Vegas for non-performance) and the other is a player coming off of Tommy John surgery. An extremely optimistic viewpoint would be that two of these players have good 2015 seasons, more than that and you are wearing team-sponsored, rose-colored glasses. I’m going to be optimistic and hope for two very productive players. But there is still not a real hitting prospect in sight. This ugly offense in 2014 should remain so in 2015.
Wait, I know, you think I’m forgetting something. What about free agency? That’s the rub, folks, I wouldn’t look for any help there. In fact, expect the contrary.
Nothing is more unreliable than when the Mets talk publicly about their payroll, but when Sandy Alderson keeps saying that the payroll is not going up unless revenues rise, well, I believe that. If you look at the empty seats in Citi Field, and now “limited sponsorship” specials on SNY, that does not compute to increased revenue. Payroll is going nowhere.
Now look at our payroll commitments for players under contract for 2015:
- David Wright — $20 million
- Curtis Granderson — $16 million
- Bartolo Colon — $11 million
- Jon Niese — $7 million
- Total — $54 million
The numbers for those four players rise $7 million over 2014. For anyone wondering why Chris Young was only offered a one-year contract (thankfully!), there is your answer. They needed that money to pay the four players above. As for trading any of these players, if you do, you negate any potential positives from adding Syndergaard and Harvey. Those four are actually producing at the major league level.
Next problem is players who will be up for arbitration next year: Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee, Eric Young Jr., Lucas Duda, and Ruben Tejada. This group is scheduled to make $14 million in 2014, a number of $20 million for 2015 is an extremely conservative estimate. Now we are up to a total of $74 million for nine players. If every other player on the team made the minimum the 2015 payroll will be around the 2014 level. In other words, Sandy Alderson wasn’t playing hardball with Stephen Drew. The money isn’t there.
Now, in order to create a little flexibility, the team could attempt to deal off some of the arbitration players, or one of the “Core Four.” The problem there is the production would still need to be replaced. If those players are traded for prospects, the 2015 team gets worse by design, negating any 2015 benefit to such a trade.
There is a reason that the front office pointed to 2014. They needed it all to work, guys like Colon and Young had to come through big-time. The plan, if you want to call it one, was take a shot and hope to get lucky. If the team did win in 2014, sneak into the expanded playoffs somehow, get fans to come back and spend. And then some more reinforcements could come in for 2015 and beyond.
It didn’t work. The 2014 team may actually be the worst Alderson has ever assembled with the Mets. Young is awful, and Colon has been average. Granderson has been hot and cold. Travis d’Arnaud did a bad impersonation of Taylor Teagarden when he was a prospect and has now been banished to Las Vegas. He was replaced by Teagarden, who is now very much not a prospect. He is a marginal major league player, one bad stretch from the end of his major league career. A third of the roster is made up of guys who are in that boat, a few bad weeks away from the end of their major league careers. And with no money or prospects in sight, they can’t be replaced.
So you might want to think twice before you completely lose interest in the 2014 season. Don’t be so quick to rush it away, live in the present some. Enjoy any good games and small victories that come. Because it’s hard to imagine things being any better in 2015.
I expect it to be worse.