The New York Mets took the baseball world by storm in October when they made a surprise run to the World Series.
After hanging around .500 most of the season, the Mets made a move that seemed to dispel one of their most common criticisms — that they’re not willing to spend money — by trading for slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
The trade ignited the Mets’ offence, which continued to catch fire in the postseason, led by Daniel Murphy’s historic postseason run.
Though the Mets fell in five games to the Royals in the World Series, it was a feel-good season as a young team. Stocked with star pitchers, the Mets simply needed to maintain enough firepower on offence this offseason to form a potent dynamic they could build upon in 2016.
However, with MLB free agency cooling down, the Mets have been one of the quietest teams in baseball, notable for the moves they haven’t made, rather than any big signings.
It begins with the lingering Cespedes. Cespedes exceeded both expectations and his career production when he joined the Mets, batting .287 with a .604 SLG and .941 OPS, all above his career averages. He also cooled off in the playoffs where he hit just two home runs and seven RBIs. There are concerns about his age and about giving a big contract to a player who essentially rode a hot streak for two months.
Nonetheless, Cespedes rejuvenated what was a fairly average team for most of the season. Though he likely won’t replicate what he did with the Mets in the second half of the season, the Mets’ lineup is still lacking a big bat, and Cespedes is one of the few big-name free agents still on the market. The odds of the Mets re-signing Cespedes always seemed low, but some Mets fans hoped that they might reconsider, knowing that a consistent slugger could keep the team’s transformation alive.
Finding a bat is increasingly a concern for the Mets. Murphy, who went bonkers hitting seven home runs, 11 RBIs, with a .328 batting average in the playoffs, left for the Washington Nationals for a three-year, $37.5 million deal. It was always likely that Murphy would leave the team, and the Mets were wise for not overpaying for a hot streak. In Murphy’s place, the Mets traded for second basemen Neil Walker from the Pirates — a player similar to Murphy, though with a lower career batting average and OPS.
Walker, to date, has been their biggest move of the offseason. The Mets are still looking for depth in backups or relievers, but it doesn’t appear they’re going to open their wallets for any big-name free agents.
As ESPN’s Adam Rubin notes, the Mets, despite being in the biggest market in the U.S., are spending like a small-market team, with a payroll that comes in around $106 million. Consider that in 2015, the Dodgers, Yankees, and Red Sox spent $272 million, $219 million, and $187 million, respectively. While the Mets are still paying the price of the Bernie Madoff scandal, they also are reaping the benefits of a World Series appearance in, again, New York City.
Adding to the pain, the Mets just had their front office poached — by the Cleveland Browns. On Tuesday, the Browns announced the hiring of Paul DePodesta, an executive with the Mets and one of the key players in the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s. If there was an executive who could help build a winner for less money, it was DePodesta, who did play a big part in the Mets’ success last year.
All of this points to a step back for the Mets. While it’s difficult to figure out where, exactly, they stand in the MLB pecking order, they’re essentially back to where they started before the Cespedes deal. They boast the most formidable pitching rotation in baseball, one that should grow stronger as Noah Syndegaard, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz get more playing time. However, they still lack offensive firepower, unless they’re counting on more strong seasons from David Wright and Curtis Granderson and growth from players like Michael Conforto and Wilmer Flores.
As understandable as it is for Mets’ ownership to want to control their spending, it’s disappointing for fans to see a team that, on paper, hasn’t built upon a near-championship season. As Rubin notes, the chance of re-signing Cespedes has passed, and unless the Mets have some other move up their sleeves, it seems as though this team will regress in 2016.
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