Don’t Wait Till Next Year

sandy-koufax-fred-wilpon-2011-2-19-13-31-57Fans 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 Ray Guyagents, 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 Don Knotts. The Shakiest Gun in the West, arc track (1) t1 smallHarvey 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.

success-baby

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.

basement bertha

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9 comments

  1. I can’t say that I’m quite as far gone as Mike — hope dies so hard — but also wanted to say that was some soccer game last night in Miami. The Mets scored early, pulled back, absorbed the Miami offense, and came away with a 1-0 victory. Gotta love the World Cup.

    And, also, nice to see Wheeler get the complete game shutout.

    • Michael Geus says:

      I think it comes down to ownership. What I wanted to point out is if this team is really going to hold the line at some artificial payroll cap of $80 to $85 million that there is very little wriggle room to to improve anything in the short to intermediate term.

      There is no real breathing room to add established talent without also dumping established talent. And if the needed hitting help is on the farm it’s not going to be ready to help by 2015.

      Yesterday Nimmo and Herrera were moved to Binghamton, joining Plawecki. If all three blossom maybe 2016 looks a little better.

      But honestly, by then Wright is two years older, Granderson too. Expect regression from both. I just don’t see enough young talent in the system to do what Miami or Houston are trying to do.

      But there is a talented pitching staff, a young one. If the owners would/could make a reasonable investment the outlook could change appreciably.

      • SportSpyder says:

        I feel like the only way the Mets get butts in seats next year is to do something like sign a Hanley Ramirez. Its crazy to think that the Mets had a payroll over $140million 4-5 years ago. Now they are sitting at 50-60 million less. In the Minaya years there is no doubt he would be the top target. It probably won’t happen but if they could swing a trade with some of their pitching for a top prospect bat (Maybe Gee or Syndergaard for a Joc Pederson type guy) and sign him then they at least have a nice way to bridge the gap to 2016.

        • Thanks for your comment. I honestly think there are ways to improve the team — at least, reasonable attempts — but it’s increasingly hard to see Sandy Alderson as the GM able to make those decisions. He’s so risk-averse that he sticks with proven losers rather than attempt any kind of bold move to improve the team. The team is in a bog.

      • And therein lies the frustration. I keep falling back into my old habit of wanting to fix it, come up with solutions — trade Murphy, flip Niese, etc — and you sense that nothing meaningful will be done, as it will all seem “too risky,” in the way that TC deems playing Flores too risky, because, you know, the “win now” mode we’re all witnessing.

  2. Reese Kaplan says:

    1. Change managers. Low cost move. Wally as an interim skipper would make sense to see how volatile he is.
    2. End the misery. Ruben Tejada is at best a backup utility infielder, not a starter.
    3. Find a role for Wilmer Flores. His bat looks like it’s for real despite Terry Collins’ strategy of locking it in the freezer.
    4. Trade Daniel Murphy and a pitcher for a SS or LF. Both are black holes.
    5. Decide if Lucas Duda is part of the future or not. He’s due a raise.
    6. Bring back Travis d’Arnaud and Juan Centeno. Say buh-bye to the pair of over-30 Mendoza line catchers
    7. Understand there is a role for Eric Young, Jr. but STARTER is not it. He’s good off the bench, pinch running, etc. However, for what he stands to make in arbitration, think long and hard about whether or not to cut him loose once Papa Collins is gone.

    • Michael Geus says:

      All reasonable thoughts Reese. But in my opinion all seven of those combined do not really move the needle for this team beyond mediocre. That’s not to say they are not worth doing.

      This team needs some true stars, some serious championship caliber players. At one time not too long ago it was Wright, Beltran, Delgado, Reyes. All four of those guys were true difference makers. Two came from the system, and the other two were added, using the logical financial muscle that comes from this market.

      As long as these owners continue to negate that competitive advantage the job is very difficult to achieve.

  3. Eraff says:

    If Gee, Colon, Niese can produce the equivalent of “somebody’s Joc Pederson”, that’s a move to make. That list could be expanded to include Murphy, Duda (hey..ya never know).

    Building a Farm system is NOT building a team—it does provide material for building a team. Hey…I have 2 Catchers and you have 2 Short Stops—HMMM!!!!!

    That kind of stuff needs to happen next…soon! The next moves should put new players on the field at the MLB level immediately—or nearly immediately.

    They pitch well enough to get Lucky….they need to have a lineup Good Enough to get lucky— this is STILL a 78-83 win team. Alderson and his crew have been unapologetic about the payroll—Fine… go GM with an aggressive mindset to make it work—sitting and waiting isn’t IT.

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