Defending the Mets’ Mess

The Mets’ trade deadline strategy seemed a bit dysfunctional. They traded pending free agent Asdrubal Cabrera for an upper-level pitching prospect, which seems like a good idea. However, that was basically the one positive thing the Mets did. They also traded Jeurys Familia, but the return was incredibly light and could have been stronger if the Mets were willing to pay down any of Familia’s salary to get better players back. They added Austin Jackson and kept Jose Bautista for some reason. Keeping Devin Mesoraco wasn’t that terrible because he will probably pass through waivers. Zack Wheeler was shopped extensively but did not move. All of this comes on the heels of a public relations debacle regarding Yoenis Cespedes’ injuries, and a disappointing Tuesday ended with an exclamation point thanks to a 25-4 loss to the Nationals that night.

It certainly appears as though the Mets don’t know what they’re going. Even more concerning, the Mets might actually agree. The following words come from the Mets’ Assistant General Manager, John Ricco, in Ken Davidoff’s New York Post piece from deadline day.

“I think all that happened today is we did not make a trade by the trade deadline,” the assistant general manager said Tuesday in a conference call. “It doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed into one direction or the other [on the starting rotation]. We’ll make a more informed decision this offseason.”

Davidoff further elaborates on the difficult task the next Mets General Manager faces with an organization in disarray and an ownership group that has repeatedly underfunded the team in an embarrassment to the franchise and the game. The Mets — who over the past half-decade have not been tanking nor rebuilding in a way that would justify a low payroll — haven’t had a payroll higher than 15th in MLB since the 2012 season. From 2000 through 2011, the Mets’ average payroll ranked fourth in baseball, congruent with their status in a massive media market as a club with good attendance and a great local television contract. The Mets are still in a massive media market, generate solid attendance, and have a great television deal, but over the past five years they’ve spent money like the Royals.

As for what the Mets could have done on Tuesday, if what the Rays received for Chris Archer is any indication, Jacob deGrom would have fetched a haul. They could have received a decent package for Wheeler. They could have received a minor league lottery ticket for Bautista. They should still move Mesoraco this month. Continuing down the rebuilding path, the Mets could have waited for Noah Syndergaard to get healthy and then moved him over the winter. Maybe Steven Matz and Todd Frazier could have netted something. In selling off these parts, the Mets would then have a payroll around $110 million or so, with 40% owed to David Wright and Cespedes where insurance will presumably defray some of those costs.

The situation in the above paragraph is a plan for a full-scale rebuild. The team could keep Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo as potential future core pieces, and give 22-year-old Amed Rosario another year at shortstop as Andres Gimenez works his way up the minors. Peter Alonso should be ready to take over first base at some point next year. The team has a few pitching prospects who might be ready at some point next season. Add in three or four more prospects theoretically acquired from dealing deGrom and Syndergaard, and the Mets would have a young, interesting team in 2019. They would be bad, but there would be some amount of excitement. Finishing in the bottom 10 in baseball would ensure a protected first-round pick the following season.

In theory, the Mets could then go spend $100 million in 2020 salaries on free agents like Nolan Arenado and Chris Sale to complement their growing young core and end a successful, quick rebuild. In reality, prospects might not work out, the pitching staff could end up incredibly thin, and becoming a contender in 2020 might be a bit too ambitious. So if 2021 is a more realistic goal for the playoffs, is tearing down the team the right move? It is admittedly a question that gets a lot harder with Cespedes’ situation up in the air.

At the beginning of June when trade rumors started to swirl around deGrom, I wrote that the Mets would be foolish to trade him. Reasonable minds differed on the subject, but my point was that the Mets’ collection of talent was very close to that of a contender.

If we take the projections from above and add three wins from the bullpen, that’s a .500 team. There’s rarely a reason to dismantle a .500 team that also has a fair amount of youth. In the Mets’ case, there is almost no justification for it. This year’s team is running a payroll around $150 million, just like they did back in 2009. The Mets probably should be running a higher payroll given their market and revenue, but even if we assume the Mets can only spend $150 million again next year, they will have a ton of payroll room to get better.

Looking at the version of the projected standings that don’t factor in schedule, the Mets are currently a .480 win percentage team, roughly 78 wins over the course of the season. That’s with Wilmer Flores playing out of position at first base and Jeff McNeil playing second base. They’ll have a hole to fill if they are without Cespedes next year, but he was only projected to be an average player anyway. The Mets really aren’t that far off. They certainly should have the money to sign Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, and both should be a consideration, but A.J. Pollock could also fit. Yasmani Grandal would fill an area of need. Even Patrick Corbin or Dallas Keuchel could provide the rotation with more stability.

Whether they go for it next year or step back and try to maximize their odds for 2020 or 2021, the Mets are going to need a bigger commitment from ownership. Rebuilding doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t work unless teams complement their youth movement with more expensive veterans. If they were going to take a step back, the trade deadline would have been a great opportunity to move deGrom. That isn’t necessarily the best choice, though. While the indecision at the deadline might have been due to a lack of vision, it wasn’t necessarily the wrong call. The Mets’ season is a disaster, but there are enough good players to make a run next season if the club is willing to add talent to supplement their current squad.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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5 years ago

“The Mets’ … strategy seem[s] a bit dysfunctional.”

Fixed that for ya 😉

That being said, please don’t write articles like this, I can’t handle losing another quality writer to an MLB team!

5 years ago
Reply to  tb.25

Actually, I think you need an even heavier editing hand:

“The Mets[:] a bit dysfunctional.”

5 years ago
Reply to  Sabometrics

“The Mets[:] dysfunctional.”

All you people with your flowery prose. Get to the point!

Psychic... Powerless...
5 years ago
Reply to  HappyFunBall

I’ll up the ante and suggest that using “Mets” and “dysfunctional” in the same sentence is redundant.