After two consecutive postseason appearances, expectations for the Mets heading into the 2017 season were high. If healthy, the team, with its powerful young rotation and capable lineup, had the talent for a deep postseason run.
“If healthy,” however, has been a phrase closely associated with the Mets for perhaps the last decade. Each season, it seems, the Mets find themselves bogged down by injuries. In 2017, Noah Syndergaard missed the vast majority of the season, and breakout star Michael Conforto suffered a freak injury in August, Neil Walker missed time with a back injury, Matt Harvey missed time and just wasn’t right when he was on the mound, and Yoenis Cespedes played exactly half of the season due to nagging injuries.
The front office decided to do what most teams do when they are in the midst of a lost season: make trades with an eye toward the future. The Mets traded Jay Bruce, Neil Walker, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and Addison Reed in a span of less than a month, but curiously did not receive much in return in terms of young talent. That isn’t to say none of the players received will make an impact, but the prospect haul was collectively underwhelming.
It’s apparent that the Mets were aiming for salary relief, rather than an infusion of young talent, with those midseason trades. New York took on less talent in order to have teams such as the Indians and Brewers pay off Jay Bruce’s and Neil Walker’s contract, respectively. However, all five of the players traded are now free agents. The Mets weren’t trading for future salary relief, which would make plenty of sense, but rather to free themselves from spending some money in August and September. For a team in a market such as New York, that has to raise some eyebrows.
Now, in late December, with all of the money the Wilpon’s have saved up, the Mets have added one player — Anthony Swarzak. Swarzak, a reliever, signed with the Mets on a two-year, $14 million contract during the Winter Meetings, but only after the team was reportedly scared off by the asking prices of higher-end relievers Bryan Shaw and Tommy Hunter. The Mets' bullpen was borderline disastrous last season and should benefit from Swarzak's addition, but I'm certain this is not a move that even remotely excites a dejected fan base.
The decision to trade hitters on expiring contracts made sense, but it would be helpful if the front office made an effort to replace those players. Despite the money saved, the Mets have yet to make any strides toward bolstering their lineup. Outside of Cespedes and Conforto, where is the power? Jay Bruce, Lucas Duda, Curtis Granderson, and Neil Walker combined for 33.5% of the Mets' home runs in 2017, despite all being off the team by mid-August. The starting rotation, which can be lethal if healthy but has been ravaged by injuries in the last two seasons, has also not seen any help come its way this offseason. After a season in which Chris Flexen, Tyler Pill, and Tommy Milone had to make starts, not even an inkling of depth has been added.
It’s usually appropriate to blame the failures of a front office on the general manager, but this situation is unique. From the public’s perspective, it seems more like Sandy Alderson is being held hostage by ownership than choosing to have a quiet offseason. We know the Wilpon’s are committed to having a significantly lower payroll than they did last season, but at what cost? Do they expect their franchise to suffer another losing season? If so, why not trade Matt Harvey? Why not make an attempt to shed at least some of Yoenis Cespedes’ $29 million per year contract? Why hold on to Asdrubal Cabrera, who is in the final year of his contract? If the Wilpon's plan to compete, there are even more questions. I’m not sure anyone would believe them if they claimed they believed the roster in its current form could approach postseason contention in 2018.
The Mets organization is quite fortunate to have won the pennant in 2015, because that might be the only thing keeping the fan base sane at the moment. It's worth noting that the team stumbled into that success, in a sense; the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes only took place because of the collapse of what would have been a disastrous trade for Carlos Gomez, Daniel Murphy's unprecedented power surge was the difference in the postseason, but the front office let him walk (to a division rival), and the team managed to avoid any catastrophic injuries during the regular season.
Whether that level of success was sustainable or not, the Mets clearly had a window to win that could have extended into this season, but ownership is watching it close while the cross-town Yankees build a powerhouse. If Mickey Callaway can get the pitching staff on track, which is the Mets' hope, even just a solid lineup could go a long way. However, the roster remains virtually untouched while the bizarre front office addition of exiled former general manager Omar Minaya makes headlines. As long as the Wilpon's remain idle, any hope of grabbing positive attention away from the Yankees is non-existent.