Fred Wilpon is Scrooging the Mets and Their Fans Over

By Ethan Marshall

 

Fred Wilpon may very well be responsible for turning a talented Mets team that’s a few pieces away from being World Series contenders into a franchise in no-mans land.

Despite a high amount of ticket sales in 2017, including at the minor league level (thanks to Tim Tebow), the Mets expect to have a much lower payroll in 2018, down from $155 million to around $130-135 million.  This announcement came after the team traded away most of their pending free agents around the deadline for basically nothing.  Rather than taking on at least a portion of the remaining salary from players like Jay Bruce and Neil Walker in exchange for better prospects to replenish a dried up farm system, the Mets took no-names and long-shots while their trade partners took on the remaining salaries.

Why, then, are the Mets lowering their payroll at a time where they’re doing well financially and have a great opportunity to be contenders?  The blame can be placed on owner Fred Wilpon, who, unlike Derek Jeter, refuses to face his critics or even explain his actions to the New York media.  According to a New York Post story, Fred Wilpon gets upset whenever the Yankees make a big move, like their acquisition of 2017 N.L. MVP Giancarlo Stanton.  While this alone frustrates Mets fans to no end, as the team has done nothing but sign reliever Anthony Swarzak, Wilpon managed to make himself look worse.  Wilpon apparently believes the Yankees’ willingness to spend money in excess in order to compete almost every year is not a good long-term formula for financial success.  The Yankees have been doing this for the last 20-30 years, and show no sign of slowing down.  They are the definition of success.  Wilpon’s logic makes zero sense!

If this is Wilpon’s best argument for refusing to allow general manager Sandy Alderson to even know how much money he has to spend this off-season, then he shouldn’t be the owner of a major league baseball team at all, let alone one in the big market of New York City.

 

Wilpons
Mets owners (from left to right): Jeff Wilpon, Saul Katz and Fred Wilpon.   Photo credit: Mets Merized Online.

The Mets should be pursuing free agents like Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer.  While they’ve been attached to free agents like Jay Bruce and Addison Reed, who could both be very useful, they’ve shown a reluctance to spend big on these candidates, to the point they haven’t even made any offers.  Instead, the player the Mets have been most closely attached to at this stage of the off-season has been Adrian Gonzalez, who will be 36 next season and is coming off a season in which he suffered major back injuries, because he’d only need to be paid the major-league minimum.  Additionally, the Mets may have wasted their opportunity to acquire second baseman Jason Kipnis from the Indians, who are now more reluctant to trade him than during the winter meetings.  Negotiations stalled when the Mets were reluctant to take on most, if not all, of the $30.5 million on Kipnis’ remaining contract through 2020.

There is still plenty of time left this off-season for the Mets to fill the holes needed to be corrected, but with only $10 million believed to be left to spend, this wouldn’t be enough to inspire much optimism for a big signing any time soon.  There has been no reason given as to why the Mets are cutting their payroll, which was just the 12th-highest last season, by $20 million.  The Mets window of competing won’t last much longer.  If the reason behind this is because Fred Wilpon doesn’t think the starting rotation can live up to expectations or stay healthy, this is not a good excuse.  Regardless of how the rest of the rotation performs, Noah Syndergaard and Jacob deGrom can be one of the best one-two starters in the MLB.

Several Mets fans, upset at ownership’s lack of confidence and financial investment in the team, are considering boycotting the team if nothing is done this off-season to inspire confidence.  These fans are talking about cancelling their season-ticket orders and not tuning into Mets games on TV or the radio.  While the Wilpons have never been liked by Mets fans, they are facing hostility from their team’s fanbase not seen since the fallout from the Madoff scandal, which left the owners in financial ruin.  With the Wilpons acting as though they are in financial trouble, fans have again called for them to sell the team, so that both sides may benefit.

There is no reason a New York baseball team that was in the World Series just two years ago should be run like a small-market team.  There is no reason the Mets shouldn’t be in the market for players like Eric Hosmer or Mike Moustakas.  There is no reason for money to get in the way from signing Jay Bruce and Addison Reed, with the former providing a solution at both first base and right field and the latter being perhaps the final piece to a potentially strong bullpen that would also consist of Jeurys Familia, AJ Ramos, Jerry Blevins and Anthony Swarzak.  There is no reason small-market teams like the Colorado Rockies and Kansas City Royals, and rebuilding teams like the Philadelphia Phillies, should be out-spending the Mets.

Mets fans are under the impression that most of the money coming towards the team is just ending up in the Wilpons’ bank vault, where there is enough money for them to dive into and swim in, similar to Scrooge McDuck.  If the Mets’ needs aren’t addressed this off-season, there is a good chance that this time, the fans will fight back by not spending on a team whose owners refuse to spend on.  Fred Wilpon needs to stop questioning the Yankees’ model for success, and start following it.

Walking Away: By Ethan Marshall

The Mets and Neil Walker can’t seem to reach an agreement over a contract extension.  Yesterday, Mike Puma of The New York Post reported that the extension talks are “probably dead.”  Before Walker accepted the Mets’ $17.2 million qualifying offer, it was being reported by multiple sources that the sides were talking about a possible 3-year contract worth a little over $40 million.  According to Marc Carig of Newsday, the extension talks “hit a snag” when the Mets wanted to restructure Walker’s 2017 salary of $17.2 million.

While the speculation sounds accurate, it also goes against Sandy Alderson’s statement Sunday concerning where the Mets’ payroll stands.  Alderson told reporters, “We’re all in here,” going on to say that money isn’t too much of a factor at this point for the team, which currently has a payroll around $150 million.  “I think it’s a credit to ownership that our payroll is as high as it is now, given where we’ve been as recently as two years ago and where our budget might have been.  But we’ve had the fortune here recently of being able to take advantage of opportunities, or not have to make moves on the basis primarily of payroll.  So from that standpoint, we should all be pleased,” Alderson said.

Alderson has flip-flopped on the team’s payroll already over the offseason.  Early in the offseason, Alderson said he wanted to trade Jay Bruce as a means of lowering the team’s payroll and allowing him to sign some relievers.  Not only has Alderson held onto Bruce and his $13 million, but he’s also added relievers Fernando Salas and Jerry Blevins, adding around $9.5 million to the payroll.

While the extension talks between Walker and the Mets may be dead for now, Marc Carig of Newsday reports that “A source said the parties are seeking a resolution before the beginning of the regular season, when contract talks could become a distraction.”  This revelation still hints at the possibility of the two sides reaching an agreement later this spring.

If the Mets are unable to sign Walker to an extension, they may end up turning to top prospect Gavin Cecchini as their second baseman of the future.  While Cecchini has consistently shown the ability to hit, his defense has often been an issue.  Last season in Triple-A Las Vegas, he hit .325, with a .390 on-base percentage and .448 slugging percentage, earning him a September call-up to the Mets.  However, the shortsop also committed 33 errors last season, posting a fielding percentage of .931.  Perhaps a switch to the second base position can help him to improve his defensive ability.  Assuming the Mets organization moves him to second base in order to make room for star prospect Amed Rosario, maybe Tim Teufel can work with Cecchini in the same way he worked with Daniel Murphy in teaching him to play second base better.  If the Mets are able to reach an agreement with Walker on an extension, third base could be a good position for Cecchini to work on.

Mets Re-Sign Blevins, Salas; Sign Tom Gorzelanny

Sandy Alderson had quite a busy day yesterday.  First, he signed left-handed pitcher Tom Gorzelanny to a minor league deal, providing a safety net as a lefty specialist in case they couldn’t sign Blevins or Craig Breslow.  Shortly after that, Alderson brought back Fernando Salas in a one-year, $3 million deal.  Finally, Alderson brought back Jerry Blevins in a $6 million deal, with a second year option.  These moves appear to have stabilized the Mets bullpen.

The 34-year-old Gorzelanny has struggled over the last 2 seasons, including allowing 7 runs in 3 innings of work over the 7 games he appeared in for Cleveland last season.  However, from 2012-2014, he pitched to a 3.13 ERA, with 8.5 Ks per nine innings, and a ground-ball rate of 43.5% over 178.1 innings.  Over parts of 12 seasons in the majors, he has held lefties to a batting line of .229/.302/.356.

Salas was traded to the Mets in late August last season, and pitched very well for them in the roll off the seventh-inning man.  In 17.1 innings pitched with the Mets, Salas allowed just 4 runs, pitching to a 2.08 ERA.  He also posted 19 strike-outs and didn’t walk a single batter.  His role in the beginning of the season will likely be to pitch in the 8th inning, setting things up for Addison Reed to close until Jeurys Familia returns from his inevitable suspension.  When Familia returns, Salas would likely go back to pitching in the 7th inning while Reed pitches the 8th.

I’m most happy about the Jerry Blevins signing.  He was a solid reliever for the Mets in 2016, posting a 2.79 ERA over 42 innings and a career-high 73 appearances.  He had 11.1 Ks per nine innings and a 45.8% ground-ball rate.  Perhaps the biggest reason why I wanted him back was due to the fact that he was also effective against right-handed hitters in 2016.  This may allow for him to be used as a reliever to pitch a whole inning rather than just a lefty-specialist.

With these signings, I would think that Alderson is finished making any major league signings for the rest of the offseason.  This offseason proved to be a very successful one for Alderson.  Although he was unable to trade Jay Bruce, he did manage to bring back Yoenis Cespedes, Neil Walker, Jerry Blevins, and Fernando Salas.  The only free agent that seemed to have gotten away from him was the incomparable Bartolo Colon, who signed with the Braves, where he would get the opportunity to start.  Still, the Mets starting rotation and bullpen now look very stacked.  The way the team looks right now, they may be able to reach the playoffs for the third consecutive season in for the first time in franchise history, and maybe even reach and win the World Series.

Sources: Mets may be Open to Giving Blevins Two-Year Deal

It was reported last night by Andy Martino of The Daily News that the Mets are willing to offer reliever Jerry Blevins a two-year deal.  If this rumor is true, it seems likely that Blevins would re-sign with the Mets.  The other teams linked to Blevins are very hesitant to offer him any more than a one-year deal.

I really hope that this rumor is true.  I, like most Mets fans, really like Jerry Blevins.  He has pitched very well during his tenure with the Mets after they traded outfielder Matt den Dekker for him prior to the 2015 season.  Additionally, Blevins has been a very positive clubhouse influence.

While the Blue Jays, Dodgers, and Yankees have also expressed at least some interest in Blevins over the last month, none of these teams is willing to give Blevins a multi-year deal.  If the Mets are truly willing to offer him a two-year deal, it seems likely that he would take it.  Blevins could once again be a valuable piece of the Mets bullpen, possibly even as a setup man rather than just a lefty specialist.

If the Mets do end up signing Blevins, it will be interesting to see whether or not the team still pursues one more reliever.  Potentially useful setup men still remaining on the free agent market include Sergio Romo, Fernando Salas, Joe Blanton, and Joe Smith.  While these players wouldn’t necessarily cost a fortune, the Mets may be hesitant to sign these players if they have already signed Blevins.  The team wants to save money.  With Jay Bruce remaining on the roster, the Mets are more limited in their spending for the remainder of the off-season.  The way the Mets act in approaching Blevins and the other relievers will likely determine just how much more money they are willing to spend.

Mets Interested in Blevins, Romo, Smith for Bullpen.

According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Mets are expressing interest in free agent relievers Joe Smith, Sergio Romo, and Jerry Blevins.  In addition to these players, other free agent pitchers that the Mets have expressed interest in this off-season include Boone Logan, Craig Breslow, and Fernando Salas.  According to sources close to the agents of the lefty specialists Logan and Blevins, they may be able to ink deals similar to the 2-year, $12 million contract Antonio Bastardo received from the Mets last off-season.

I feel that signing Blevins is a top priority for the Mets.  The Mets need another lefty that can get out Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy, and Freddie Freeman late in games.  Blevins also showed the ability last season to get right-handed hitters out, allowing for him to possibly be a good fit to pitch the 7th or 8th inning.  There is mutual interest of a reunion between Blevins and the Mets.  For a contract similar to what they gave Bastardo, I feel that is a very good deal for the Mets.

Along with Blevins, I feel the Mets should add either Sergio Romo or Fernando Salas.  Romo can make for a very good set-up man for Reed.  Salas pitched very well for the Mets after they traded for him.  The one issue that concerns me regarding Salas is that he had a tendency to give up homers last season, even with the Mets.  As for Romo, while there is concern that he tends to blow big games, this usually comes from when he has to close games.  He performs very well as a set-up man, and I feel he could be a great fit for the 7th inning upon Familia’s return from his inevitable suspension.

I feel that the Mets interest in Logan and Breslow is more of a safety net if they are unable to sign Blevins.  While both are very good lefty-specialists, I would much rather have Jerry Blevins than Boone Logan or Craig Breslow.  The interest in Joe Smith may be for the Mets to find a cheaper bullpen solution.  Over the last two seasons, his numbers have diminished.  This regression is a worrying sign for teams looking for good shut-down relievers.

While the Mets have said that they want to save money at this point, I feel it is imperative that they spend a little more on a couple of relievers for the remainder of the off-season.  Hopefully, they can reach an agreement with Jerry Blevins.  After Blevins, I would be very happy if they went with Romo or Salas over Joe Smith.  This would fill up the holes that are currently in the bullpen.  With a strong bullpen to go along with this powerful starting rotation, the Mets would have the potential of reaching, and perhaps even winning, the World Series in 2017.

Mets Intend to Keep Jay Bruce

Yesterday, the Mets said they intend to keep Jay Bruce as their starting rightfielder.  This would push Michael Conforto to a bench role.  Ever since the Mets re-signed outfielder Yoenis Cespedes in November, the team had been looking to trade Bruce in order to save money as well as to clear up an already crowded outfield.

Just because the Mets said they intend to keep Bruce doesn’t necessarily mean that he won’t be traded.  General manager Sandy Alderson said the same thing about R.A. Dickey shortly after winning the 2012 N.L. Cy Young Award, but traded him away not long after making this statement.  However, it seems unlikely that the Mets would find a suitable trade partner for Bruce at this point.  The only teams connected to him at this point that haven’t found an outfielder or DH are the Rangers and Giants.  In the case of the Rangers, it seems likely that they will be getting Mike Napoli instead of Jay Bruce.  As for the Giants, they may just try to sign a less expensive outfielder on the free agent market since they want to lower their payroll.

If the Mets are truly in a win-now state of mind, they shouldn’t be worrying about trying to lower the payroll by trading Bruce.  They also shouldn’t let the fact that they are keeping Bruce affect who they want to sign to bolster the bullpen.  They should still be trying to re-sign Jerry Blevins and either re-sign Fernando Salas or sign Sergio Romo.  Considering the fact that this is a team with one of the best pitching rotations in all of baseball, they have a good shot at competing for the playoffs.  Adding a couple of bullpen arms may be the key to the Mets making a return to the Fall Classic.  If the team plays well, people will pay for seats to the game.  Money shouldn’t be as big of an issue when the only moves necessary at this point are to sign relievers that may be able to start the season as the 7th and 8th inning guys.

It’s no secret that Blevins wants to return to the Mets, and that the Mets want to bring him back.  At this point, Blevins likely won’t receive the 3-year deal he wanted.  If the Mets offer him a 2-year deal or a decent 1-year deal, Blevins may be willing to take it.  The remaining free agents will likely lower their asking prices more and more as spring training draws closer with each passing day.  The time for the Mets to act on signing relievers is now.  Money shouldn’t get in the way at this point from possibly putting on the finishing touches of a team with the potential to win it all in 2017.  For Alderson and the free agents, time is ticking.

Finding a use for Bruce

With Mark Trumbo re-signing with the Orioles, Jose Bautista re-signing with the Blue Jays, and Michael Saunders signing with the Phillies, the Mets have just about run out of trade options for Jay Bruce.  The remaining teams connected to the Mets concerning a trade for Bruce are the Rangers and the Giants, with the latter only willing to discuss a trade if the Mets take on a significant portion of the $13 million owed to Bruce.  At this point, it looks like the Mets may be stuck with Jay Bruce.

At this point, the Mets should be prepared to find a use for Jay Bruce on the team.  With an overabundance of outfielders,  either Bruce or Michael Conforto will be the odd man out.  Considering the team’s desire to have Conforto play just about every day, it seems likely that either one of the two or both of them could be taking reps and seeing time at first base during spring training.  With Lucas Duda coming off back surgery, his status as the starting first baseman may be called into question.  Bruce or Conforto could split time at first base with Duda against right-handed pitchers, with the player sitting that day providing a threat off the bench later in the game.  Due to Conforto’s young age and the fact that the team wants him to focus on improving his hitting, a position change for him at this moment doesn’t seem likely.  This means that the veteran Bruce is the best candidate to be moved from the outfield to first base.

The Mets hanging onto Bruce by the start of the season can allow Bruce to try to recover from his terrible 2016 as a member of the Mets.  If Bruce can return to the slugger he was with the Reds, the Mets can trade him at the deadline for valuable pieces that they may need, or just keep him, adding depth behind Cespedes and Walker in the middle of the batting order.  It’s worth noting that, despite struggling during his time in New York, Bruce looked much better at the plate over the last two weeks of the regular season.

It doesn’t seem likely that Bruce gets traded before the start of spring training.  The Mets are unwilling to take on any of Bruce’s salary if they are to trade him, which may eliminate the Giants as a possible trade candidate.  If the Rangers valued Bruce in the same way that the Mets value reliever Jeremy Jeffress, it’s likely that a deal would have been done by now.  It’s safe to assume that the Rangers don’t see Bruce as a serious target for them to land.

At this point, the only off-season moves that the Mets should be focused on making before the start of spring training is to add some arms to the bullpen.  I feel that Jerry Blevins should be the main target for the Mets at this point.  If the Mets are willing to give him a 2 year deal, Blevins would probably accept it at this point.  Other relievers that I feel the Mets should consider signing are Fernando Salas, who pitched very well for the Mets last season after being acquired in a trade with the Angels, and Sergio Romo.  Both pitchers wouldn’t be that expensive and have the potential to be good 7th or 8th inning setup men.  Salas did a fine job as the 7th inning man for the Mets late last season, posting an ERA of 2.08 in 17.1 innings.  Romo was one of the few reliable relievers for the Giants last season, posting an ERA of 2.64.  The Mets should try to sign one of the two pitchers in addition to Blevins in order to solidify their bullpen.

At this point, the Mets need to hope that Bruce returns to form, assuming he is a member of the Mets by the start of the season.  If he plays well, the Mets have more depth in their lineup.  If he continues to struggle, they may have to trade him for just some mid-tier major-leaguers or prospects.  All eyes will be on Jay Bruce during spring training, assuming he is still a member of the New York Mets.