When the New York Mets entered the offseason after a disappointing Wild Card Game loss to the San Francisco Giants, fans and media alike pondered what type of moves and money the Mets’ front office would make and spend this winter. After all, the team has held a stigma of being “cheap” over the last several years, even though the claim is just not true. The Mets have seen some steady and significant payroll increases over the last three seasons since coming out of their rebuild.
While the Mets have spent the a few seasons ridding themselves of onerous contracts held over from the previous regime and develop talent from within, they started to form a chemistry and cohesion, resulting in back-to-back postseason trips in 2015-16, only the second time that’s occurred in franchise history (1999-00). With the team relying on an inexpensive group of young, top of the rotation starters, that gives them some wiggle room when it comes to doling out contracts in other areas of specific need.
And so far, GM Sandy Alderson and the front office have responded. Fans and beat reporters thought there was a chance that Neil Walker wouldn’t be tendered a qualifying offer, as the price tag of $17.2 million along with Walker’s season-ending back surgery gave some pause as to whether allocating that type of money would make the most financial sense. However, the Mets made the QO to Walker, who accepted minutes before the 5 PM deadline on November 14.
As fans remember, Walker had a career year of sorts in 2016, matching a career high in home runs (23), setting a career high in SLG (.476), OPS (.823), BB% (9.2), and fWAR (3.7). The switch-hitting second baseman also set a career high in his splits against left-handed pitchers in 2016, slashing .330/.391/.610 in 100 at-bats against southpaws, compared to his career line of .269/.327/.373.
The Mets were also unlikely to tender a contract to backup catcher Rene Rivera, according to multiple media reports. The thought process was the $2.2 million price tag Rivera was projected to earn was too pricey for a backup catcher, as the team still has underachieving Kevin Plawecki to back up Travis d’Arnaud at the league minimum.
However, the team came to a one-year $1.75 million deal with Rivera on Friday, keeping Noah Syndergaard‘s personal catcher in the fold for 2017. It appears the front office realized the impact he had on Syndergaard and controlling the running game, as he threw out 30% of would be base stealers last season.
Also keeping a veteran backstop on a team with youthful catchers is a smart choice, as Rivera can act as a second coach to Glenn Sherlock, who was hired as the new third base coach and catching instructor in November. That too, was a shrewd move, as the front office realized that former third base coach Tim Teufel made some questionable decisions with runners on the base paths, while also operating last season without a full time catching instructor on the roster. The hope is Sherlock can work with d’Arnaud and Plawecki, and get them back on track after rocky 2016 seasons for both catchers.
And of course, there’s the matter of Yoenis Cespedes. As soon as Cespedes inked his three-year, $75 million deal last winter with the opt-out after the first season, fans wondered what it would take to retain La Potencia, and if he would just sell himself to the highest bidder on the open market this offseason.
Varying reports about Cespedes’ intentions were spread across the internet: would the Nationals be interested again as they were last season? Could the Dodgers join the fray and add him to an already expensive roster? Would the crosstown rival Yankees swoop in, after shedding payroll with their trades of Carlos Beltran, Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, Ivan Nova, and Brian McCann?
Our editor in chief Joe D. offered his take throughout the month of November, calmly reminding fans that Cespedes’ first choice was always in Queens and that something was brewing between both sides. Sure enough, the Mets announced on Wednesday that they had come to an agreement with the 31-year-old Cuban slugger, agreeing to a four-year, $110 million deal with a full no-trade clause, making him the highest paid outfielder in the game.
The front office and ownership should be applauded for their hard work and dedication moving forward. They too realize the window for winning is now, with all their young arms controlled for the next few years before they have some serious decisions to make on extensions. Retaining the players that made them successful the past two seasons illustrates the level of seriousness they’re taking into each year, and not just standing pat and waiting for the scrapheap free agents to sift through in January and February.
A big part of ownership’s willingness to go out and spend money is the increased gate attendance the team has seen over the past three seasons. In 2014, the Mets totaled 2,148,808, good for 21st in baseball. The following season the Mets were sitting at 12th in attendance, with 2,569,753 fans going through the turnstiles. And in 2016, the Mets made it into the top 10, the first time since 2009, as they were 9th with 2,789,602 in attendance. Alderson did say at a season ticket holder’s event back in 2014 that ownership will spend more money if they’re supported at the gates by fans. So far it seems as if Alderson and ownership have kept their word.
Of course, there is more work to be done, as the team is in need of adding a left-handed reliever and a late inning arm to pair with Addison Reed, as it appears Jeurys Familia might face a suspension for his domestic violence arrest in October. The Mets also need to decide on moving one (or both) of Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce, depending on who fetches them the greatest return. If the Mets continue working dutifully as they have when it comes to their own free agents, I have faith that Alderson and Co. have a game plan for who they will target at this week’s Winter Meetings in Maryland. Stay tuned…