The Mets, until very recently, have been a punchline. A New York team that spent like a team in Milwaukee or Kansas City. Citi Field wasn't worth visiting. A flyover stadium. Last year, the Mets coalesced around a young and dominant rotation, an unexpectedly great midseason trade, and the playoff heroics of Daniel Murphy to win the National League outright. What a shame, then, that they seem determined to revisit the joke they were for so many seasons before this.
Yesterday, the Mets came to an agreement with Alejandro de Aza. De Aza, to be entirely fair, is not a bad player; nor is his a bad acquisition. Since 2012, he's hit .265/.330/.405 while playing good defense in outfield corners, or poor defense in centerfield. At his best, he's been worth a couple of wins above replacement. That kind of player is very useful, especially for a team who suffered through a lot of injuries in 2015. De Aza provides insurance in case Juan Lagares takes a step back. Signing Asdrubal Cabrera gave the Mets similar depth at the skill infield positions in case something happened to Ruben Tejada or David Wright again, or the newly traded for Neil Walker.
These moves, though, they aren't designed to win the Mets a championship. They're designed to help keep them afloat. So too were the signings of Jerry Blevins as the primary left-hander out of the Mets' bullpen and the eminently entertaining Bartolo Colon as rotation depth. The Mets are just trying to do the bare minimum to hold serve.
The problem with this strategy is, if you aren't actively trying to make your team better, it's almost certainly going to get worse. Every other team in the NL East (well, except the Braves) is working to improve, and certainly with only 90 wins to their credit last year, the Mets have plenty of room to grow. It's a luxury to have such a young, cheap and utterly dominant starting rotation. It's a blessing that Michael Cuddyer retired and forfeited his last $12.5 million. Sandy Alderson should be using the money he should have lying around to go for the jugular.
Of course, he isn't. This isn't shocking. After all, that money isn't actually lying around. There is no money. These are the cash poor Mets we're talking about, whose ownership was fleeced by Bernie Madoff and who reportedly put their franchise tens of millions of dollars in debt to cover this personal loss. Any savings the Mets receive is going directly to pay down the debt that Bud Selig allowed them to accrue. It's to their shame, and the shame of Major League Baseball, that they're allowed to do this, especially while playing in a marquee market for baseball in front of a motivated and mobilized fan base. All the money that's flush with every other franchise in baseball, that's leading to massive free agent contracts, is being used to keep the Mets relatively solvent.
There's a fantastically illustrative chart that Zachary Abate put together over at Fangraphs. I won't reprint it here (Zachary should get the clicks), but you should go look at it. Essentially, it looks at how payrolls have changed in the last decade. It's a snapshot, so it doesn't account for how spending has fluctuated over time, but it still tells us some interesting stuff. In those last ten years, 27 out of 30 teams have seen a growth in payroll of at least 7 percent. Of those, 24 teams have had their payroll jump by at least 24 percent. Nine teams have seen their payrolls rise by at least 90 percent. The Mets' payroll, on the other hand, is one percent lower than it was in 2006. The only team whose payroll fell further is the Astros.
Aside from ripping the Mets away from the Wilpons, which is something that Commissioner Rob Manfred simply doesn't have the capital within the game to do, there's no solution here. The Mets are going to be run like a rinky dink minor league operation, cutting corners and doing the bare minimum to keep a team on the field. They'll talk tough about putting a good team on the field. But any success they have in the next three years will be because of the players they traded for and developed before now, not because they're making successful moves today. Today, all they're doing is trying to tread water while other teams use oceans of cash to get better. And tomorrow they will trade away the core that they've built just as it's starting to cut into the bottom line.