Monday night the New York Mets dropped their series opener to the Pittsburgh Pirates (PIT 6, NYM 4), and they've now lost seven consecutive games. It's seven straight losses and 19 losses in their last 23 games now, and they're 1-14 in their last 15 home games. Ouch.
Remember how this season started for the Mets? It was great. Look at this:
- First 12 games: 11-1 (plus-25 run differential)
- 64 games since: 20-44 (minus-76 run differential)
The Mets are 31-45 overall, which is the second worst record in the National League. Only the Miami Marlins, who aren't even pretending to be competitive this year, are worse at 32-47. The Mets have already gone from 10 games over .500 to 10 games under .500 quicker than any other team in baseball history. Now they're in a fight for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
Why have the Mets collapsed these last few weeks? There are plenty of reasons. The offense has been terrible, the team defense is not very good -- there is not one legitimate center fielder on the roster -- and the bullpen has blown more games than I care to count. The only healthy player on the roster who looks like he belongs on a contending team is Jacob deGrom. He's been marvelous.
The Mets are in free fall because of dysfunction that starts right at the top, with owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon. The club has not run a payroll befitting a team in the sport's largest market for years, and remember, the lack of spending is not limited to player payroll. The scouting department, the analytical department, the minor league development staff ... they all suffer when ownership curbs spending.
The Wilpons were of course caught up in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme years ago, which has saddled them with tremendous debt, debt that led to them literally taking loans from MLB to keep the team afloat. The club has been hamstrung financially since then. Just consider last year's trade deadline activity:
- Traded Jay Bruce (and $4 million in remaining salary) for a bullpen prospect.
- Traded Lucas Duda (and $2.6 million in remaining salary) for a bullpen prospect.
- Traded Curtis Granderson (and part of his $3.6 million in remaining salary) for a bullpen prospect.
- Traded Addison Reed (and $2.6 million in remaining salary) for three bullpen prospects.
- Traded Neil Walker (and $3 million in remaining salary) for a bullpen prospect.
Among those seven relief prospects acquired in those trades, five ranking among MLB.com's top 30 Mets prospects: Jamie Callahan (No. 21), Stephen Nogosek (No. 23), Gerson Bautista (No. 28), Jacob Rhame (No. 29), and Drew Smith (No. 30). All organizational depth arms and hey, you need those guys too. The best-case scenario here is what, two of those seven relievers become bullpen mainstays? Maybe three?
The larger issue here is the money. Not including Granderson because we don't know exactly how much money the Mets retained in that deal, the Mets shed $12.2 million in salary through those four trades last year. And yet:
- 2017 Opening Day payroll: $154.44 million
- 2018 Opening Day payroll: $150.56 million
The entirety of that $12.2 million has not been reinvested in the team. I suppose the rest could've gone to scouting and other team infrastructure improvements, but do the Wilpons really deserve the benefit of the doubt here?
Look, ownership is free to do whatever they want. It's their team. But when you're in the public eye, when you play in New York, and you duck fans -- it has been years since the Wilpons held a press conference, and when you refuse to talk to reporters, you're refusing to talk to fans -- the paying customers have a right not to be happy.
Furthermore, general manager Sandy Alderson has made some questionable decisions over the years. He is a great baseball man who has had a marvelous career, but it's fair to wonder whether the game has begun to pass the front office by. In an age where every team is trying to get younger, the Mets doubled down this past offseason on 30-somethings like Bruce (.212/.292/.321) and Todd Frazier (.222/.309/.386), who are struggling to hand all the velocity in the game now.
Alderson came to the Mets with a reputation for finding value in places other teams overlooked -- Alderson ran the Moneyball Oakland Athletics before Billy Beane, remember -- and that simply has not happened. Look at the Mets' rivals. Unheralded pickups Matt Adams, Justin Miller, and Tanner Roark are having an impact for the Washington Nationals. The Philadelphia Phillies found Odubel Herrera in the Rule 5 Draft. The Atlanta Braves picked up Tyler Flowers and Kurt Suzuki as afterthoughts. Need the New York Yankees be mentioned? The Mets' crosstown rivals have unearthed reliably above-average players like Didi Gregorius, Aaron Hicks, and Chad Green in low profile trades.
The Mets haven't made any moves like that. I guess maybe Jerry Blevins qualifies? He's had a good run the last few years as a left-on-left matchup reliever. Jose Bautista's had a nice 31-game run. Robert Gsellman (13th round) and Seth Lugo (34th round) have turned into reliable contributors out of the 2011 draft, which is a credit to Alderson and the player development staff. Otherwise, the baseball operations folks have not done a good job supplementing the roster with quality complementary players. You need more than great core players to win these days. You need a strong supporting cast, and the Mets don't have it.
Obviously, Alderson is facing some real challenges at the ownership level, but when your reputation is built on being cutting age and extracting value from the fringes of the roster, and you don't do that, it's a problem. Alderson took over in October 2010 and I thought it was a great hire at the time because the Mets were in disarray and they needed an adult in the room. He was an experienced executive who understand the challenges ahead. And now, eight years later, are the Mets any better off? Barring a surprise, the high point for this core is going to be losing the 2015 World Series and 2016 NL Wild Card Game. That's disappointing.
The Mets are not one or two players away from contending. Getting Noah Syndergaard and Yoenis Cespedes back from the disabled list won't solve much. The team's problems run deeper than that. It starts right at the top with ownership and it continues down into the front office, which is obviously hamstrung financially to some degree. Contending under these conditions is possible; just look at 2015 and 2016. But for the Mets to build a sustainable contender, things at the top of the organizational ladder must change.