2015 was supposed to be the start of something special. After nine long years without postseason baseball, the Mets — armed with young, exciting pitching and a revamped offense — seemingly came out of nowhere as they marched to their first World Series appearance in 15 years. Even after a gutwrenching loss during which they saw late leads slip away not once or twice but three times, this was supposed to be the beginning.
The following year, despite seeing Daniel Murphy blossom into a superstar with the rival Nationals while their own squad dealt with a nearly unbelievable amount of injuries to key players, the Mets still managed to find themselves in the postseason. And while their run lasted a grand total of one game, a heartbreaking Wild Card loss to the Giants, things were still looking up for a team that had made the postseason in back-to-back years for only the second time in franchise history.
And yet somehow that was the best it ever got for these New York Mets. The front office decided to double down on an older, injury-prone roster as they entered 2017 without signing a single free agent from another team. To the surprise of few, injuries once again caught up with a Mets team that was now a year older, and this time they could not overcome them, as they became sellers at the trade deadline and finished the season with 90 losses.
Then came 2018, a season that started with such promise only to become another example of why Mets fans have such a hard time believing in anything. As first-year manager Mickey Callaway and ninth-year GM Sandy Alderson show their frustration publicly, the Mets continue to find themselves spiraling toward possible oblivion, as they’ve gone from an 11-1 start that exhilarated a woebegone fan base to six games under .500 on the season.
But how did we get here?
While the Mets made some solid signings over the offseason by bringing in guys like Todd Frazier and Jason Vargas, both of who had decent major league track records, at no point did they make a move of enough substance. The problem is that every addition this organization made during the winter was a half-measure. At no point did the Mets make any moves that told the fan base that they were “all in” on making the most of their championship window. Instead, they did just enough to give off the appearance that they were trying to win, all while still shopping in the discount aisle of the free agent market. Not to mention that in an era of young, versatile players, the average age of the club’s six free agent signings over the offseason (Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Jason Vargas, Jose Reyes, Anthony Swarzak and Adrian Gonzalez) was 33 years old.
As the season has marched on, the Mets — unsurprisingly so — have suffered from injuries yet again as their 10 players currently on the disabled list ties them for first in the major leagues. Unfortunately for them, the injury bug can no longer be used as a crutch for the team’s futility.
While Yoenis Céspedes’ presence in the lineup has been sorely missed, the Mets struggles have come down to the fact that they’re getting severe underperformance out of some of their most important players.
Bruce, the team’s biggest offseason investment, is hitting just .219/.299/.328 with three home runs and 15 RBI in 59 games this season. Michael Conforto, who looked like a star on the rise last year, is hitting .215/.335/.359 with a .694 OPS following season-ending shoulder surgery in 2017. And Mets catchers as a whole have hit .193/.297/.319 with a .616 OPS collectively.
While the Mets continue to trot out an older, slower, all-or-nothing roster that is no longer compatible with the way baseball is played in 2018, they don’t have many other ways to go.
After buying at the 2015 and 2016 trade deadlines, subpar drafting by this regime over the last few years and a fire sale in the summer of 2017 that didn’t result in a single premiere prospect, there do not appear to be many reinforcements coming from within.
And the few talented players that they actually do have lying in wait, such as Peter Alonso and Jeff McNeil, continue to stew in the minor leagues as the team continued to give daily at-bats to Gonzalez, Reyes and José Bautista, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30.
Yes, the Mets have undergone some bad luck over the last few seasons as they’ve seen some of their biggest stars lost to injury, but this franchise stands where they are today due to the mismanagement of their finances, their offseason moves and their in-season roster.
It has now been over 10 years since the Mets last signed a free agent from another team to a deal of $100M or more. Aside from the re-signings of David Wright in 2012 and Yoenis Céspedes in 2016, this franchise has continued to chase the most cost-effective deals in free agency as they’ve let their financial woes define who they are as an organization.
As the winters have gone by and fans have clamored for the team to sign talented players that desperately would have filled needs such as Robinson Cano, Justin Upton, Darren O’Day, Lorenzo Cain or Jake Arrieta, the Mets have never once obliged. Instead, the organization has made investments in cheaper, aging veterans like Chris Young, Michael Cuddyer, Alejandro De Aza, Antonio Bastardo, Fernando Salas, Adrian Gonzalez and Jason Vargas.
Despite all of the team’s current issues, the Mets could potentially find themselves in contention once again moving forward if they signed a Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, both of whom are free agents after this season. And yet we are already conditioned to know that this is a route this franchise won’t travel down. Instead, the New York Mets appear as if they’re doomed for baseball purgatory, as they refuse to fully commit to winning or a proper rebuild.
Things were supposed to be different this season as both the coaching and medical staffs were completely revamped, and yet all I’m seeing is more of the same.
Instead of using their limited budget wisely this offseason and investing in one or two very good players, the Mets went for quantity over quality. Instead of changing the way they manager player injuries, the Mets forced Céspedes and Frazier to play hurt, which only resulted in longer stints on the disabled list. Instead of managing the everyday roster more efficiently, Sandy Alderson has continued to put this team in a position where they’re playing short more often than not. And instead of committing to youth and having short leashes on veteran flier signings, guys like Reyes and Bautista are all still on the roster.
At some point, the team may finally wave the white flag as they trade away Jacob deGrom for a wealth of young, exciting prospects, and at this point that’s a move that probably makes sense. But this is a point that the Mets should have never gotten to in the first place.
This organization went nearly a decade without making the postseason and had everything looking up and working in their favor after the 2015 and 2016 seasons. But due to their inability to properly build around their young core of talent, that’s as far as it ever got.
As poet Robert Frost once wrote, “nothing gold can stay.” That rings especially true for fans of the New York Mets. Even though it shouldn’t.
Photo credits: Tommy Gilligan, Aaron Doster, Brad Penner, Steve Mitchell – USA Today Sports; photo illustration: Rich MacLeod