John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
If Mets fans were looking for a sign of genuine hope on Tuesday, the most significant wasn't the donning of the jerseys by Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz, but rather the stars in Jeff Wilpon's eyes when he spoke admiringly of his new GM, Brodie Van Wagenen.
Suffice it to say there could be a direct correlation to a higher payroll for 2019.
"Brodie's got his fingers in on everything right now," Wilpon said to reporters at Citi Field. "I haven't seen anybody with this much drive and determination in a long time."
Now keep in mind that Mets' ownership badly wants to be right about its outside-the-box hire of Van Wagenen, especially Jeff Wilpon.
But it does appear the new guy has energized the owners and, as evidenced by the Cano trade, convinced them to be bold in trying to put together a win-now team in pursuit of a championship over the next couple of seasons.
More evidence was Wilpon's willingness to address the 2019 payroll. Usually guarded and vague on the subject, the owner was relatively forthcoming, saying the payroll is "absolutely opened up," while offering more details than he has in the past regarding the team's insurance money for David Wright and Yoenis Cespedes.
In short, it's clear Van Wagenen has ownership's blessing at the moment to continue thinking big, and that is vital if the Mets are going to be serious contenders next season, especially with the NL East looking as if it could turn into a heavyweight division next season.
Ideally that would mean making a serious run at Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, but it's still hard to see the Mets going that big.
However, any significant increase in payroll, which was roughly $151 million last Opening Day after being roughly $155 million on Opening Day of 2017, would allow Van Wagenen to pursue upgrades via trades or free agency at catcher, center field, and more bullpen arms to set up Diaz, their new closer.
What could that mean in terms of deals?
For starters, SNY's Andy Martino is reporting the Mets are showing serious interest in trying to make a trade with the Marlins for catcher J.T. Realmuto, which would be quite a feat.
However, since Van Wagenen just dealt two of the Mets' top prospects, Justin Dunn and Jarred Kelenic, in the Cano trade, any match with the Marlins almost certainly would have to revolve around a major league piece.
If the Mets don't trade for Realmuto, a higher payroll should give them a shot at signing Wilson Ramos, another strong offensive catcher, though Van Wagenen made a point of saying that better defense behind the plate is the priority, which makes it more likely he would sign Martin Maldonado.
As for the bullpen, Diaz provides such security as a closer that Van Wagenen should now considering taking the risk of signing Andrew Miller.
The brilliant lefty was limited to 34 innings last season due to knee and shoulder injuries, and, not so coincidentally, he turns 34 in May. Yet Miller is so dominant when healthy that he'd be worth the gamble, especially if the Mets have money sign another reliever as well.
As for center field, again, a higher payroll should also mean seriously considering A.J. Pollock, the best center fielder on the market. And Van Wagenen has been in touch with Pollock's camp.
Injuries have been an issue as well for Pollock with the Diamondbacks, but the 30-year old would offer needed righthanded pop, as he put up 21 doubles and 21 home runs in only 113 games last season, making him an ideal outfield complement to lefty-hitting Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto (if neither is traded for Realmuto).
In addition, Juan Lagares, oft-injured himself, would offer insurance for Pollock, with his excellent defense in center.
Realmuto, Miller, Pollock, and one other relatively big move? That would fill in the Mets' holes rather nicely, and they probably would add something like $40 million to next season's payroll.
Would the Mets do it? Wilpon didn't say no on Tuesday.
"Brodie has the ability to do other things," he said. "With some of the insurance money, the non-tendering of (Wilmer) Flores, he understands exactly where we are."
And unlike in the past, Wilpon didn't balk at questions about the insurance money for Wright and Cespedes.
"You don't get it all back at once," he said of the Wright insurance, "but over time we plan to get that back, and some of that will go back to payroll."
"We're hoping he gets back on the fielder sooner than later,' Wilpon said, "but the fact is we do have insurance on him, and there's money coming back at least for the first half of the season."
Again, the fact that Wilpon was addressing such matters at all seemed to be an indication the Mets are willing to raise the payroll to the $170-$180 million range, or higher than it has been in a decade.
Call it the Brodie honeymoon effect. The Mets owners love their new GM. If that translates to backing his boldness with significant cash, it could be quite the off-season.