Back on February 19, the New York Post’s Mike Puma wrote an article with following title: “‘All-in’ Mets open to payroll hike as World Series hunt begins.” No jokes here, that was actually posted just over a month before the 2017 season started. Those words were thought of, typed, and eventually published in a newspaper that hundreds of thousands of people read a day. Presumably, multiple editors read it and considered it fit to print.
And, in a way, it was a completely reasonable thing to write at the time. The Mets were coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since the turn of the century. Just a few months prior, they signed Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million contract. The starting rotation, when healthy, could have been one of the best baseball had seen in years. Expectations were high and, compared to previous iterations of the team, so was the payroll.
In typical Mets fashion, that optimism has been rewarded with a mess of a season, from the chronic injuries to players failing to show up to games to trade requests. Underperformance, especially from the once-vaunted pitching staff, has been ubiquitous, leaving the formerly “contending” Mets competing with the Padres for the fourth-worst record in the NL.
With the Mets being a New York City team, you’d think such a flop would be constant backpage fodder and the source of endless material for the city’s radio stations. You’d also think such losing from a team many expected to be a serious playoff threat would lead to a famed closed-door team meeting or two, and possibly pissed-off postgame press conferences from the manager or team leaders.
Well, you’d be fairly wrong. Outside of the canned comments from Sandy Alderson and Terry Collins about how much injuries have affected the on-field product — or even jokes from Alderson about Matt Harvey’s nightlife — there has been nothing resembling dissent or discord.
In one way, that could be considered a good thing. An assured sign of a strong, tight-knit clubhouse is that everything gets handled in-house. Teammates that have each other’s back won’t go right to the press to leak details about incidents brought on by the frustration that usually accompanies such poor play.
On the other hand, though, it reeks of apathy. Even a cursory examination of the current Mets — an issue exacerbated by the departure of Jay Bruce, one of the few players to seem genuinely pissed off during the weekly Sunday blowout loss — would lead the common fan to notice as astounding lack of emotion. It might just be my own negativity, but such detachment doesn’t often result when a team fails to reach its level.
That indifference has spread throughout the organization, and seemingly into the media as well. The losing in 2017, be it because of how quickly it began in the season or because the Mets have never been particularly close to turning it around, has almost started to feel like a stated fact. The only harsh back pages relating to the Mets have regarded non-baseball matters, be it Harvey’s relationship struggles or #DildoGate.
In recent seasons, the Mets getting crushed at home by teams led by the likes of Martin Perez or Nick Pivetta would elicit brutal columns and articles taking the team to task for such bad efforts. Those performances would certainly be capped by a red-faced Collins addressing the media with an almost burning rage, partially directed at his own players and partially at the media members for stoking his fire with drops of gasoline.
This is from 2011, this is from 2016. Not much difference between the two except for that the 2011 team was going nowhere and the 2016 team was headed to the playoffs, albeit for a short amount of time. The biggest post-loss reaction from Terry this season has arguably been after the famed Sunday Massacre when the Nationals beat the Mets 23-5 and Noah Syndergaard got hurt.
In 2017, however, whether it’s due to Terry knowing he won’t be back in 2018 or a simple resignation to his team’s fate, there has been no such public displays regardless of how bad the on-field product has been.
Same goes for the financial state of the Mets, which has been one of the biggest issues the team has faced this decade. When teams like the Rays and Indians are eating the entirety of the contracts owed to the players dealt to them by the Mets in order to give up less substantial prospect packages, there’s probably something the ownership group isn’t relaying to fans and the media.
If the Mets were as “all-in” on improving the team as much as possible in the short-run as Puma (and others) reported this spring and in the past few springs, wouldn’t they be willing to absorb some money on the Duda, Bruce and Reed deals to garner higher-caliber and more pro-ready returns? One would think so, but the proof doesn’t seem to be in the pudding.
Free cash certainly is not an issue for the Wilpon family, as Sterling Equities — the Wilpon-owned parent company of the Mets — recently bought an esports franchise for a fee that ESPN has reported as being at least $20 million. The real question is if some of that cash on hand is destined to be re-invested in the Mets, who have a boatload of money coming off the books this offseason (an amount that will be healthily boosted by the insurance money to be collected on David Wright’s contract).
For years, ownership has done yeoman’s work in trying to convince everyone that the team’s payroll and other budgetary concerns will not affect the front office’s pursuit of maximizing organizational talent.
But, with the Mets possessing baseball’s 13th-highest payroll (per Spotrac, before the recent trades are all factored in), behind such big-market powers like the Baltimore Orioles and Seattle Mariners, that “promise” feels like just that, a bunch of words with no legitimate substance behind it. Remind you of anything?
Photo credit: Charles LeClaire – USA Today Sports