The Mets have roughly one month and -- I assume -- less than $30 million to spend on adding either a second or third baseman, a center fielder or right fielder that can also play first base, another reliever, and -- hopefully -- another starting pitcher as they prepare for the 2018 season.
I have no idea how they're going to accomplish the above with other teams making moves, the clock ticking, and not nearly enough prospects for trades or cash to fill every hole.
It appears Sandy Alderson intends to play this patiently, hoping prices drop to a point that he can spread money around to solve multiple problems with multiple players.
The Mets made a lot of in-roads in trade discussions this past week, which may or may not net them a legit, everyday second baseman. I hope it happens, but the same essential problem will still be present.
Make the trade, don't make the trade. In either case, I'd prefer to see Alderson acquire the two or three best hitters he can find and call it a day, even if it means being thin at the bottom of the roster.
Aug 15, 2017; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Cleveland Indians second baseman Kipnis (22) hits a solo home run in the fifth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
I don't know if that's signing 3B Todd Frazier, 1B Yonder Alonso, and CF Jarrod Dyson for a combined $26 million, or if it's trading Matt Harvey's $5-6 million for a no-cost reliever and then signing 3B Mike Moustakas and CF Lorenzo Cain for a net increase of $28 million, or if it's trading Harvey in a deal for Jason Kipnis and signing Alonso and Dyson, which would add roughly $26 million, or if it's some other collection of players netting out around the same addition in payroll.
The point is, I want Alderson to stop wasting his time on average, short-term talent. Because, if anything was made clear as crystal to me during this week's Winter Meetings, it's that rival front offices and agents left Orlando believing Alderson has no wiggle room in his budget, either because he's protecting against future flexibility or because he may need to reduce payroll.
The fact is, even if the Mets spend every dollar of their reported budget this winter, they will still begin next year in the lower third in overall spending. They started last season middle of the pack, but only attained that level after Alderson successfully lobbied to exceed his budget. It remains to be seen if he's been given the same leeway this winter, but the impression in baseball is that he has not.
The Mets like to talk about 'competing,' and, 'contending,' which is vague and essentially the same as shooting par. This approach may have worked as recently as a few years ago, but things have changed in baseball after the MLB and MLBPA settled on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Alderson surrounded by reporters during the 2013 MLB Winter Meetings (Credit: Manning-USA TODAY Sports)
In this new era, the system is set up in a way that it only makes sense to build to win today or punt and build to win tomorrow. The middle is left to be the middle.
"I feel like the Mets never read the new CBA," a player agent told me earlier this week. "Everyone knows now that the only way forward is to acquire the best players you can, try to win and -- if you don't -- immediately trade that talent away for prospects to free up money and start the process again. It's a wash-rinse-repeat strategy."
This is what the Yankees did so well during the last three years. Sure, they're doing it by also spending $200 million on talent, but the strategy can easily be applied to a $140 million payroll.
The point is, how many more years will the Mets have Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, Matt Harvey, and Zack Wheeler in the same rotation? The answer is one. Harvey is a free agent after next season, followed by deGrom after 2020 and Syndergaard the year after that.
Knowing that the Mets have very little minor-league talent to trade, start, or fill in as big-league players get hurt or leave via free agency, I truly believe the Mets would be better suited this winter by doing what I stated above. In other words, spend every available penny on as many top hitters as they can in hopes that the lineup can generate enough offense during the next two years to support their pitching.
And, if they don't score, if the offense sputters, people get injured and the Mets lose more games than they win, so be it; everyone gets traded, the Mets restock their farm system and slash payroll as people sign elsewhere. They can then rebuild for one or three seasons and hopefully come through the other end like the Yankees are currently doing...
I know the Mets are wary of this strategy, because it puts them at risk of having no one in the ballpark or watching TV for a year or two. They're right. However, I believe -- in that scenario -- Mets fans will understand and support the process because we'll know they didn't aim to just 'compete,' or shoot par. Instead, we'll know they took at a shot at the winner's circle and -- more important -- the following back-up plan will clearly be in place...
1) If Mets win in 2018, and we buy tickets and revenue goes up, then everyone will be happy as the front office will have the necessary momentum and resources to sustain success, flip talent, sign free agents and promote prospects, just like the Dodgers are doing...
Oct 16, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees third baseman Todd Frazier (29) hits a three run home run during the second inning aHouston Astros during game three of the 2017 ALCS playoff baseball series at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports ( Adam Hunger)
2) Or, if the Mets lose in 2018, they can trade -- let's say -- Moustakas, Cain, deGrom, Syndergaard, etc., etc., By doing so, they'll stockpile prospects and money and in a few years build back up, make trades to acquire other team's emerging talent, and sign new free agents to round out the roster to take another shot at the winner's circle, much like the Yankees are doing this winter...
As a fan, I would much rather deal with the above two-or-three year cycle than hope and pray a middle-of-the-road roster can exceed expectations, which is the position I expect we will be in next April. Because, if the current approach doesn't work, Alderson will be left with a confused and frustrated fan base, and average talent that no other team wants in trade. On the other hand, if any go-for-it season works out, it is likely to provide a consistent, successful, fun run over the course of multiple seasons, during which the Mets should have a shot to win at least one Championship.
My concern is that Alderson and his front office are still operating under the old strategy -- the one from before the current CBA when a team would make a smart-but-affordable signing (Anthony Swarzak), followed by an obvious trade (let's say Kipnis), followed by a limited upside acquisition (let's say Jay Bruce) and a variety of small, back-end talent additions, all while hoping every prospect pans out, everyone stays healthy, and veterans play over their heads.
If that's the plan about to play out this winter, again, I hope Alderson is confident in his research and ability to make small bets on multiple players. It has worked for him in the past (2015), and I'll love every second of it if it works out again. But, if it doesn't work, if his bets don't pay out like they did in 2015, my fear is it will be another long summer and very tumultuous fall for him and every Mets fan...
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. He recently left his position as Executive Editor and Dir. of Digital Content for SNY.TV to help sports brands build their own digital content businesses...