As you may have heard by now, 2018 hasn’t exactly been a high-water mark for the Mets franchise.
It’s all been downhill in Flushing since that amazing 11-1 start. The Mets are now the second-worst team in the National League, have a DL payroll almost double that of their active roster, and just experienced the most lopsided loss in franchise history. To make matters worse, the Mets don’t exactly have an elite farm system, or many big-league ready prospects that offer a short-term turnaround potential. In other terms, there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel — it’s looking like the Mets are going to be a basement-dweller in the NL East for a while.
This reality is obvious to just about everyone — except for the people running the Mets, whoever they may be. Assistant GM John Ricco has said that he believes that the Mets can contend in 2019. How exactly? Well, that’s not totally clear.
“We have to collectively look at our position players because I’ve spoken about how we feel about the pitching,” Ricco said. “But on the other side of the ball, the areas where we feel comfortable heading in  and the areas where we need to improve. So that’s what we’re going to look at over the next two months.”
To be fair, it isn’t like the Mets have no talent at all: They’ve still got the best pitcher in baseball right now, Jacob deGrom, and solid young No. 2’s in Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz They have a fantastic opportunity to build around that rotation if they wanted to contend soon, and it’s not impossible for teams to bounce back quickly after an awful year. Just ask the 2013 Red Sox or the 2014 Giants.
But outside of that fantastic rotation, the rest of the roster isn’t looking too hot. The Mets have the third-worst bullpen ERA in the National League. They have scored the second-fewest runs in the senior circuit this year. And since the start of 2017, only the Padres have a worse record in the NL than the Mets, who have been remarkably consistent in showing who they are over the past two seasons. The 2015 World Series team is long gone.
To think that a team like this is one year away from contending is downright absurd… Unless the Mets have a plan. Knowing the Mets, they probably don’t. Or if they do, it almost certainly isn’t a good one. But the Mets owe it to their fans to explain in some rough terms what exactly the blueprint for 2019 contention is. Selling false hope in order to sell a few extra season tickets is turning into a tired act.
If this plan entails being active in free agency, it’s certainly possible to think that the Mets can indeed return to the World Series. This year’s free-agent class includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, and a litany of other top-tier players at positions the Mets need to improve upon. If they splurge to correct their bullpen and lineup issues — and keep the rotation in tact — a 2019 pennant run isn’t out of the question.
But let’s be real, Mets fans: We all know this probably isn’t happening. The post-Madoff Wilpon regime has made it abundantly clear that it has little interest in facilitating a high payroll. So realistically, the Mets will have to cross their fingers on their current players’ health, and then maybe sign a few middle-of-the-road guys to patch things up.
The most realistic offseason scenario for the Mets would seem to be consistent with what they’ve done over the past few years: Sign one or two second-tier free agents (a la Joe Mauer, Marwin Gonzalez, or, if we’re really lucky, D.J. LeMahieu), maybe a few lower-level middle relievers, and hope for the best to happen. This hasn’t worked so far, and shouldn’t be considered a serious plan for contending in 2019. If this is the plan, then it’s clear that the “We Expect To Contend In 2019” talk is nothing but a snake-oil sales job from the front office and ownership.
And if this is what they plan to do, they should at least be up front about it. Because realistically, the Mets aren’t going to have much of that coveted “payroll flexibility” in building for 2019. They already have a total of $92.5 million in salary commitments next season — and that’s before they have to play players eligible for arbitration. $44 million of those commitments will go to Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright alone. Another $30.5 million will go to Jay Bruce, Jason Vargas, and Anthony Swarzak — who have all also been non-factors this season. This effectively amounts to about $74.5 million in dead weight to carry into next season, before any improvements can even be made. That’s not a recipe for success.
Jon Heyman recently reported that the Mets are in “excellent financial health” going into next year. Good. Now let’s prove it. The Mets need to back up their stated intentions to contend in 2019 with actions. And if they don’t, MLB should do to the Wilpons what they did to Frank McCourt’s Dodgers. This pathetic act has gone on for far too long.