First things first, how did we get to this point?
After being handed a four-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies (a series in which the Mets had a win probability over 60% in every single game), it is very clear that the Mets are about to head into a third straight lost season. As bad as the previous two seasons were, this one seems to sting more. The dysfunction of the Mets has escalated to unprecedented levels, seen recently when manager Mickey Callaway and pitcher Jason Vargas got into a confrontation with beat writer Tim Healy—with Vargas physically threatening Healy—all because he said: “see you tomorrow”. In case you thought that could not get any worse, Callaway found a way to 1) not get fired and 2) take two different media sessions to publically apologize for the incident (Jason Vargas never apologized).
The story of the 2019 Mets season starts from the offseason when Sandy Alderson officially stepped down as Mets general manager. The Mets general manager search came down to two candidates: Brodie Van Wagenen, a then-agent whose most prominent client was recent Cy Young award winner Jacob deGrom, and Chaim Bloom, the 35-year old VP of Baseball Operations for the breakout Tampa Bay Rays. Both of them would bring analytical minds to an organization that had three analysts before the offseason. Ultimately, what the decision came down to was who was going to fulfill the Wilpon’s request to build a winning team in 2019. With Bloom wanting to go into a full rebuild process and Van Wagenen essentially wooing the Wilpons into thinking he could win in 2019, the Mets went with the former agent.
Most people questioned the hiring. After all, this was the same man who had told the Mets to “pay [Degrom] or trade him” back in July and now one of his tasks would be deciding on whether to extend him or not. But it was his media-savvy personality, a major change from a quiet Sandy Alderson and a typically silent Wilpon family, and his willingness to make bold moves that won Met fans over. His offseason, headlined by a deal that brought Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz to New York, gave a lot of hope for the Met fanbase. Add those moves to a squad that already featured Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso, the faces of the franchise, and one of the best rotations in baseball and there was a legitimate meaning to Van Wagenen telling the rest of the National League East to “Come get us”.
And yet, not only has the NL East (including the Marlins) gotten them, they have devoured the Mets, as they sit 11 games back in the division and sit at 7.1% odds to make the postseason. While Callaway may be a major part of the problem, the general manager does not get absolved of blame. Literally every single move that Van Wagenen has made (aside from acquiring JD Davis) has failed. The rise of Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil, along with the resurgence of Michael Conforto, have all been overshadowed by the Mets dysfunction. That, combined with the continued mess that has found its way into the clubhouse, makes the solution for this team clear: tear it down and start the rebuild process.
One could argue that the Mets would be in a much better position if they were willing to spend big money on the stars. The consistent Met fan complaint is that the Wilpons are cheap and unwilling to spend money, making them a small market team in the biggest market in the world. When the regular season started, they had a payroll of $159.3 million, approximately $46 million away from the luxury tax threshold. That meant they had more than enough to sign one or both of Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel. However, as long as the Wilpons continue to own the team (and unless MLB forces them to, they will not sell), the Mets will continue to avoid spending money on a big star. Therein lies the problem.
After the Cano/Diaz trade that gutted the remains of their farm system, they do not have the assets to try and compete. And even if they were to acquire that big star, that is not going to fix an offense that is (and has been over the past few years) middle of the pack at best, a bullpen that ranks 27th in fWAR (-0.3), and a defense that ranks 29th among all teams (-29.8 Def Value, only the Mariners are worse at -43.0). Point is, even if the Mets were to make a splash, they are nowhere close to title contenders. Yet, over the past few years, the Mets have fallen into the trap of trying to piece together a squad with mid-level players, trying to squeak into the postseason. This did not work for the New York Yankees in the ‘80s and it will not work for the Mets either.
Eventually, the Mets will have to begin the rebuild process. It should start now with a Philidelphia 76ers-like teardown.
The Mets situation compares to that of the Indians (see Peter Khayat’s article). Much like the Indians, the Mets potential trade pieces are all under arbitration or short term, team friendly contracts.
However, any sort of Mets rebuild would have to start from the top. That would mean Jacob deGrom, who had signed a five-year, $135 million extension with a club option that would have taken him through his age 36 or 37 season. As another “wise” general manager in New York said, “we didn’t sign him to trade him.” Unlike Odell Beckham Jr., however, deGrom is 31 and, while still a top three pitcher in the league, has shown injury concerns and signs of decline. And yet, there would be numerous teams—the Brewers have been linked to him for almost a year now—willing to look past those negatives and unload the farm for a pitcher like deGrom to win in 2019.
After deGrom, the Mets still have a ton of talent that they can turn into top prospects. Noah Syndergaard, because of his age, ceiling, and two and a half years of team control remaining would net a massive return. By the time the Mets are ready to be competitive, Jeff McNeil would either be in his 30s or unlikely to be the same breakout star that he is now. Zack Wheeler has severely underperformed but could still be an option for a team like the Yankees or the Angels (assuming he’s willing to sign an extension). While both have had poor 2019 seasons, Steven Matz and Brandon Nimmo (assuming that 2018 is the real Nimmo) are both players that would likely net a package of medium level prospects. In an absolute teardown of everything, you could unload Amed Rosario, who has not lived up to his “number one prospect in baseball” expectations in the big leagues and wait on Andres Gimenez, the organization’s current top prospect. Then it’s up to trading veterans, as well as trying to unload the contract of Robinson Cano somewhere, to complete the rebuild.
The only current Mets that would certainly stay in a total rebuild are Pete Alonso and Tomas Nido. With Alonso becoming one of the better players in baseball in his rookie season (.277/.367/.625, .405 wOBA, 158 wRC+), he will likely be the Mets’ franchise icon for the next decade, rebuild or no rebuild. As for Nido, once Wilson Ramos is traded, the Mets’ catching depth is Nido and Rene Rivera. Additionally, Nido is still a very young 25 years old with a ton of team control and is a good defensive catcher (3.6 FRM, 51.2% Strike Rate in 2018). At his worst, he could fit on the Mets as a backup, defensive first catcher.
The Tough Decisions
With everyone else on competitive teams and Alonso and Nido here for the long haul, that leaves the Mets with Michael Conforto and Edwin Diaz. The decision to trade those two players become a difficult one.
Conforto, like Syndergaard, is still very young and under two and a half more years of team control. Despite his .374 xwOBA, a career low 36.6 hard hit rate and 88.0 average exit velocity reveal that he might be overperforming. However, this is a Michael Conforto that is still two years removed from a stellar 2017 campaign (.279/.384/.555, .392 wOBA/.386 xwOBA, 147 wRC+) that made him the future of the Mets. A return of something close to those numbers alongside his improved defense would make him a stud in the league. In 2020 or 2021, unless Conforto commits long term with the Mets, trading him would probably be the best move for the club. For now, however, Conforto should stay.
The same goes with Diaz, who, along with the rest of the Mets bullpen, has had an awful 2019. Batters are hitting the ball much harder off of him (47.2% hard-hit rate) and his HR/FB rate has jumped from 10.6% to 23.3%. However, this is a clear case of underperformance; while his ERA sits at an ugly 4.96, his xFIP and SIERA stand at 2.96 and 2.58 respectively. The stuff that only allowed a .214 wOBA and struck out hitters 44.3% of the time in 2018 is still there, it simply has not missed bats and limited hard contact. Trading him now would be a mistake because, despite the fact that he is underperforming, his trade stock has done nothing but plummet. Even if his stock wasn’t dropping, trading a very young top three closer in baseball (when everything is right) while having three and a half years of team control left is probably not the best decision to make for your franchise. Diaz should be held on to for at least another season.
As bad as his nine-month tenure has been as the Mets GM, Brodie Van Wagenen was right when he said: “I believe baseball is better when the Mets are competitive and successful.” Baseball is not just better, New York City, a place where almost everyone is a Yankee, Knick, Giant, and Ranger fan and the other four teams are relegated as “B-tier teams”, is a better sports city.
But as presently constructed and constituted, the Mets simply are not going to win, much less make the postseason. Between the roster construction and the current dysfunction in the front office and clubhouse, continuing down this current path is going to cost the Mets years of mediocrity. Tearing the roster down and starting again from Pete Alonso and scratch gives the Mets a fresh start, a path for a competitive future.
That process cannot wait until the offseason, where the Mets front office would likely look at the roster and try to sell to the fanbase that they can compete for a fourth year, only to watch yet another 70-win season go by. This process has to start now, and there are millions of Met fans that would trust it.
The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.Albert Einstein
Featured Photo: Matt Slocum/AP
Follow Payton Ellison on Twitter (@realpmelli14) and check out his podcast.