Has a new era of New York Mets baseball arrived?
It almost feels that way, though we could never blame Mets fans for being skeptical.
Here’s what we know: After several offseasons where the Mets were barely a blip on the Hot Stove radar, new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen has made up for lost time this winter. More significantly, he’s digging deep into the cash register and spending money the organization has seemingly tried to convince fans it didn’t have.
The result, so far, is a near $200 million spending spree that has changed the question from how much money the Mets have to when will the spending stop. And even, can the Mets now contend in a loaded National League East?
The Mets’ latest addition was reported Thursday. Veteran infielder Jed Lowrie reached a two-year, $20 million agreement, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan. When you include the money still owed to Robinson Cano, that puts the guaranteed money New York has spent this winter at $192 million. An unheard-of amount relative to the Mets’ recent offseasons.
Where is the money coming from?
That’s something Forbes attempted to tackle even before Lowrie’s signing was reported.
Writer Jerry Beach wonders if owner Jeff Wilpon is loosening the financial restrictions in a bid to throw former general manager Sandy Alderson completely under the bus.
There are two giant caveats here: One never knows the restraints with which a Mets general manager has to operate under the Wilpons ever since the Madoff disaster. And there’s little doubt Jeff Wilpon is eager to prove to everyone the Mets’ relative inactivity the last few winters was the fault of Alderson, as Wilpon declared at a press conference prior to the season finale in September.
That said, the organization’s problems run several miles deeper than anyone could have imagined if the Mets were operating with such a tight budget in recent seasons that Alderson couldn’t even add players on minor league contracts. So for now, we’ll assume the refusal to stockpile depth was Alderson’s choice and not an order from higher up the food chain.
Whatever the case is, the Mets are clearly taking a different approach this offseason.
Van Wagenen has brought in 21 new players since taking the reins on Oct 29. According to Forbes, Alderson had acquired just four new players by this point last year, and only two players from outside the organization at this point two years ago.
Van Wagenen’s most significant move was acquiring Cano, who has five years and $120 million left on his contract, and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz from the Seattle Mariners. The Mets have also signed free agent catcher Wilson Ramos (two years, $19 million) and reliever Jeurys Familia (three years, $30 million). And it’s possible there’s still more to come, including a potential extension for Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom.
Yeah, we’re a long way from the Mets trading deGrom or Noah Syndergaard to start a rebuild.
Will the $200 million spending spree pay off?
If nothing else, the Mets have created some buzz. That should make for better days in the marketing department. Winning games is the goal though, and it will take a lot longer to figure out if they’ll win enough to make these moves matter.
At present time, the Mets still have a lot of short-term and long-term questions to answer, and almost certainly a few moves to make for this current roster to make sense.
For instance, the infield was already crowded before Lowrie came on board. Now they’ll have to find a way to accommodate Lowrie and Cano. The Mets could move one to first base. They could make Lowrie a utilityman. They could trade Todd Frazier. They could just be happy to have depth after years of being riddled by injury. They have real options, and that’s never a bad thing.
In the big picture, it seems like the Mets are trying to open a two- or three-year window to compete. That would make taking on Cano’s contract, which could be a problem by 2023, more manageable. The problem here is the NL East has a few teams eyeing the prize right now.
The Atlanta Braves’ rebuilding efforts paid off with a division championship in 2018. They figure to be a factor for several years to come. The Philadelphia Phillies are trying to reach that level, and could be a Bryce Harper or Manny Machado away from getting there. Don’t overlook the Washington Nationals either. They have no plans of going away quietly based on their aggressive winter.
Needless to say, the stakes will be high for the Mets in 2019. If New York proves to be a contender, this winter could be viewed as a real turning point for the franchise. If the Mets still look like the same old Mets, it could be viewed as a missed opportunity to begin the rebuilding process.
For the sake of Mets fans everywhere, it better be the former.
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