The Mets just signed Alejandro De Aza. Not a bad signing. He’s inexpensive and could be useful for outfield depth and platooning purposes. His bat won’t kill you even if it won’t carry you. He’s a useful ballplayer.
But it’s also the case that this is about as exciting as it will likely get for the Mets this offseason. They are letting Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy walk. They traded for Neil Walker and brought back the ever-popular Bartolo Colon. They were relieved of having to pay and find a roster spot for Michael Cuddyer when he unexpectedly retired. All of those are OK developments, but none of them are exciting developments. And none of them are the sorts of moves that a team which won the NL Pennant and sport the best rotation in the game — which is dirt cheap given the service time of the pitchers — should be making.
Rather, the Mets should be adding a big bat or two and bolstering the bullpen in front of Jeurys Familia. They should raising the payroll on the offensive side while the pitching is still cheap. If they make trades, they should be taking on some salary in order to get better rather than making sure deals all work out on the financial side. Instead they’re in tread water mode.
The reason for this is obvious: the long-standing financial problems of Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, the Mets’ owners. The problems, stemming from the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme fiasco, are well-documented, but there have been so many stories and little sidebars about all of that it’s easy to forget the basic details of it. Which, frankly, Wilpon and Katz probably want you to do. It’s easy for them to just wave their hands and talk about vague financial constraints at this point because everyone’s eyes have glazed over. If you remember the basics of it, however, you’re likely to remember how dumb this all is and you’re likely to get angry once again. At least if you’re a Mets fan.
Today Howard Megdal, who has covered the Mets’ finances better than anyone for years, reminds us, in very simple terms, why the Mets are operating like a small market team now, despite the pennant and the team-controlled pitching and the increased attendance and advertising revenue: Wilpon and Katz got greedy, checked their judgment and invested their money with a criminal who promised returns that men like Wilpon and Katz should have known weren’t possible. Then they lost their money and for seven years they have siphoned off baseball revenues in order to pay their personal and professional debts. This will continue for decades. The Mets will be deprived of resources a team in its market and in its place on the success cycle would and should otherwise have to keep its competitive window open. The Mets baseball operations side and Mets fans are paying for Wilpon and Katz’s greed, stupidity and recklessness.
All of which, Megdal notes, is the exact scenario which caused Major League Baseball to go after Frank McCourt and force him to sell the Dodgers a few years back. His personal debts and his use of the Dodgers as a piggy bank to pay them ran afoul of the best interests of baseball and the league moved in. The league has never done that with the Mets though. For reasons.
The upshot: the Mets are blowing a golden opportunity to capitalize on the maturation of their young pitching and to ensure that the team will be competitive or even dominant for the foreseeable future. They may actually be competitive of course — the talent is there — but they are not being built up into the sort of club they could be and should be. All of which has led to a sort of fatalism among Mets fans. Like resident HBT Mets fan, D.J. Short, who pretty much nails it, it would seem:
They’re still the N.L. East favorites heading into 2016, I imagine. At least if everything breaks right.