The New York Mets’ season is over, and General Manager Sandy Alderson met with the media yesterday to offer a brief look at some issues surrounding the 2018 season. Alderson provided some injury updates, including confirmations of season ending surgeries for David Wright, T.J. Rivera, and Michael Conforto. Another popular topic in the session was areas of need for the Mets in 2018. Alderson indicated the team is comfortable using Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki as the catching tandem next season while also saying he would look to add veteran pieces to help the rotation and bullpen. Those will cost some money, and the Mets are flush with cash thanks to a series of salary dumps this summer and more than $65 million coming off the books this winter. That should leave the Mets in good position to quickly reload, but Alderson’s comments about next season’s payroll were a bit concerning to say the least.
Alderson dropped several hints yesterday that the Mets are preparing to cut payroll next season, Mike Puma of the New York Post reports. The Mets carried a $155 million Opening Day payroll this year, a figure Alderson termed as “beyond” what the organization expected to spend entering the season. Alderson quickly shed payroll once he was out of the playoffs, with a justification that saving that money would prove to ownership that he deserved additional capital next winter. The Mets do have $58 million already committed to five players next year, including a buyout for Asdrubal Cabrera and not factoring in the likely pickup of Jerry Blevins’ 2018 option. 80% of that total is going to Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright, who will combine to earn $49 million in 2018. Cespedes figures to be healthier after vowing to change his training regimen over the winter, but Wright’s availability is a complete mystery after undergoing shoulder surgery. The Mets will also have to spend a significant amount of money to retain their arbitration eligible players, bringing payroll up to about $85 million before there are any external additions.
If the team actually decided to reinvest all of that money they are saving into the roster, the Mets would have about $70 million to play with, a nice chunk of change to fill the many holes they have developed. Alderson stopped short of that, saying a “good percentage” of the payroll will be re-invested into the team, continuing his trend of speaking in vague terms to give himself public outs if he doesn’t spend a ton of money. A good percentage of the money could end up only putting the payroll around $135 million, which would put $20 million back in the Wilpons’ pockets and probably leave the team short of the necessary pieces it needs to win going forward.
There isn’t a lot of certainty with the Mets in 2018, who have essentially half of their lineup filled, which includes Dominic Smith and not Michael Conforto, whose status is a bit murky due to his upcoming shoulder surgery. The Mets will need at least two infielders and one outfielder to fill out their lineup. One of those spots can be cheaply filled by using Wilmer Flores as the every day second baseman, but the Mets really need to go get impact players for third base and the outfield. Re-signing Jay Bruce could fill one hole and give the Mets insurance in the event Conforto starts the season a month or two late, and adding a true third baseman would help provide protection in the lineup for Cespedes. Doing those two things would give the Mets the ability to platoon Juan Lagares and Brandon Nimmo in center if Conforto misses some portion of next season, but if they don’t do one or the other that leaves them wanting on offense.
The pitching staff has its own set of problems, with Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard being the top two options, which is scary since Syndergaard hasn’t pitched much this year after tearing his lat. Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler were all inconsistent and missed significant time with injuries while Seth Lugo is pitching with a partial UCL tear. Robert Gsellman took a big step backwards, making a Bartolo Colon type starter a necessity to help stabilize the back of the rotation. Alderson is open to doing that and has made adding a veteran reliever a priority, which would help provide support to his top relief trio of Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, and Blevins. Add all of those needs up and you have a decently sized shopping list for the Mets, which makes the team’s hesitance to spend even more infuriating.
The Mets don’t have a tremendously deep farm system right now, so they can’t really fill a ton of holes through trades, making the free agent market their best option to supplement the roster. The window to win doesn’t seem as endless as it did at the beginning of the season, meaning the Mets need to take advantage of any opportunity they have to significantly improve their roster. Team officials have previously complained that fans still worry about how much money the Mets spend, but one year of high payroll won’t get the front office off the hook after years of cutting corners to save a few bucks. Hinting that a payroll reduction is coming won’t help prevent the angry mob that has become #MetsTwitter from organizing outside the Citi Field gates. The only way the Mets can escape the cheapness label is to keep spending money, something it doesn’t sound like the team is too keen on doing right now.