The New York Mets’ offseason spending appears to be over, and GM Brodie Van Wagenen recently said “come get us” as a challenge to the other teams in the National League East. Despite Van Wagenen’s bravado, the Mets are projected as roughly an 85 win club, making his bold proclamations appear to have more sizzle than substance. There are still two difference making players available in free agency, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but the Mets have never shown even a hint of interest in either despite Van Wagenen’s earlier assertion that the Mets would be in on all free agents. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has written an interesting article today calling out the Mets for not being involved (note: subscription required).
In his piece, Rosenthal rehashes many of the arguments that Mets’ fans and baseball writers have made in favor of signing either player. The Mets’ payroll, when factoring in insurance payments for David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes along with Wright’s recent restructuring, is projected to be lower than the luxury tax threshold. Rosenthal also notes that while the Mets have been burned on bad contracts before, they would also gain significant benefits in terms of ticket sales, attention in the New York market, and a competitive advantage in the National League East. Adding either Harper or Machado would make the Mets the clear favorites in the NL East, which is no small feat for a franchise that has been below .500 each of the past two years.
The problem, as Rosenthal notes, again goes back to ownership’s willingness to spend the money. Rosenthal bluntly describes the situation by saying
“We know the answer: The Mets’ owners — CEO Fred Wilpon, president Saul Katz and COO Jeff Wilpon — do not spend in accordance with the team’s market size.”
That is as stinging an indictment of the franchise as any national or local beat writer has ever put in print. The Mets want their fans to believe they are in it to win it, but they have at this point refused to even pick up the phone to talk to either Harper or Machado. Rosenthal does point out that the Mets do have plenty of players on the roster for the spots Machado and Harper fill, but he correctly notes that either one is a better fit than anyone the Mets have for those roles. Getting either player and sorting out the rest later is something a team that is serious about winning should do, especially if there are only a handful of suitors in on either player.
Rosenthal suggests that the Mets should call up both players and offer each an eight year, $250 million deal that is good for 48 hours for the first player to take it. That would give them time to line up follow up moves, such as a trade of an excess player like Todd Frazier or Juan Lagares, and negotiate things such as opt outs into the contract. The Mets could logically structure a deal so that the eight year deal would include an opt-out after three years, giving the player a chance to go test the market again if they dominate.
There is literally no reason for the Mets not to be involved on either player other than the fact they don’t want to pay for them. That is not an acceptable answer for a franchise in the New York market, and players like Jed Lowrie, Brandon Nimmo, and Todd Frazier should not be impediments to adding a significant talent upgrade to the roster. Rosenthal deserves credit for calling out the elephant in the room, but there is no indication that the Mets have any intention of truly going all in to win any time soon.