With the Angels releasing Matt Harvey last week, I’ve seen a lot of folks on Twitter reminiscing about his reign as the Dark Knight. While my feelings on the man are a little more mixed, his debut was a bright spot for Mets fans in a post-Madoff world and gave us hope that a return to contention wasn’t too far off.
Little did we know then, Harvey was the start of what would become a full rotation’s worth of young starters. After Matt (2.53 ERA from 2012-15), we’d see the return for the Beltran trade in Zack Wheeler (3.43 ERA between 2013, ’14 and ’18), a college-shortstop-turned-Cy-Young in Jacob deGrom (2.71 ERA over 6 seasons), the hidden gem of the Dickey trade with Noah Syndergaard (2.93 ERA from 2015-18), and Long Island native Steven Matz (3.55 ERA between 2015, ’16, and ’18).
There isn’t an organization in baseball who wouldn’t be thrilled with that outcome after an 8-year playoff drought. Somehow, there was more: Michael Conforto, Travis d’Arnaud, Lucas Duda, Jeurys Familia, Juan Lagares, and Seth Lugo rounded out a young core of talented players to build on. With the Yankees failing to reach the ALDS for 4 straight years, it seemed like New York was becoming a Mets town again. For an entire generation of fans, this was hard to imagine…
…probably because it was too good to be true. We all know how this story ended: a procession of injuries exacerbated by organizational malpractice, middling off seasons caused by ownership’s refusal to spend, a new manager completely out of his depth, and an agent-turned-GM more concerned with helping his former clients than building a winning ballclub. The most tragic part of this 4-year train wreck is the realization that the Mets contention window just slammed shut.
Harvey is gone, and with Wheeler and Vargas to follow that leaves 2 vacancies in the Mets rotation. They just traded their best young pitcher in Justin Dunn, currently a top 100 prospect for Seattle with a 3.46 ERA in AA. Next in line is Anthony Kay, a guy who missed all of 2017, spent most of last year in A ball, and has gotten lit up to a 6.66 ERA since his promotion to AAA Syracuse. With Kay unlikely to be ready for opening day, that means the Mets will have to acquire two starters just to finish a rotation.
And herein lies the problem: unless Fred Wilpon is willing to significantly expand payroll for 2020 (lol) the Mets don’t have the budget to do that.
All in all, the Mets have spent around $100M on contracts this season. Even with Lagares, Frazier, and Vargas leaving and half of Jake’s salary being deferred to 2035, spending on contracts only drops by $11M given how the Mets have backloaded their deals. Cespedes missing all of 2020 would only increase that to $30M, but the Mets rarely reinvest insurance payments.
The real issue is arbitration: Noah and Matz’s middling performances may suppress what they’ll make next season, but Conforto will more than double his salary. Wheeler and d’Arnaud will be replaced by four Arb-1 players who’ll no longer get the league minimum. Lugo is due for a nice payday, and the 2018 stats for Nimmo and Diaz should help them as well. Combined, the money coming off the books from expiring contracts could be completely replaced with arbitration increases. (Thanks to @SotoC803 for the arb estimates and for helping me keep track of this data over the past year.)
Does anyone believe the Mets are in on Cole or Bumgarner? That they’d consider Strasburg if he opts out? That they’d go get Keuchel after letting the Braves sign him? For those who do, the Mets need to get one of those guys *and* bring Wheeler back to compete — it’s not just one hole in their rotation, but two. And that’s before they address their horrid bullpen or that, unless Ces is healthy, Dom Smith or JD Davis is an opening day starter in the outfield.
I’ve loved watching the emergence of Alonso and McNeil this season. I really have. And part of me wants to get optimistic about the future when I remember they’re both among the top dozen hitters in baseball right now — only 3 teams have more than one such player.
But the money doesn’t add up for them to contend in 2020 – at least not under these owners.