With pitchers and catchers reporting in a mere four days, a new hope has accompanied the New York Mets. While every season comes with some hope to an extent, this one feels a little different. Brodie Van Wagenen, the general manager of the people, has brought a bevy of talent on board, to go along with the new atmosphere he has injected into the front office.
Sometimes it is hard to consider any team’s offseason a successful one when they came off a losing season and did not sign a top free agent. However, another struggling team, the Boston Red Sox, followed a similar blueprint in 2012-2013 and did just fine. That offseason helped propel them from worst-to-first and while the 2019 Mets may not end up in the same position come October, the similarities of the offseason give a reason to hope.
Coming Off A Rough Season
Like the 2018 Mets who finished the season 77-85, the 2012 Red Sox likewise endured a tough season. They finished 69-93 which was their worst finish since 1965.
For the Red Sox, their pitching was the biggest problem (4.70 overall ERA; ranked 27th in MLB) while their offense (734 runs scored; ranked eighth in MLB) was above average. For the Mets it was the other way around as they had decent overall pitching (4.07 ERA; ranked 16th in MLB) and great starting pitching (3.54 ERA; ranked sixth in MLB), but a struggling offense (676 runs scored; ranked 23rd in MLB).
Similarly to the Mets, they saw some of their top players go down with injuries. Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey were some of the key players to miss a chunk of time because of injuries.
Peter Abraham of Boston.com noted at the end of that season that 24 Red Sox players hit the disabled list for a combined 34 times. Thirteen of those 24 were All-Stars at one point or another in their careers.
Also similarly to the Mets, the Red Sox had a first-year manager in Bobby Valentine who had made many mistakes. However, unlike Mickey Callaway, Valentine was not a rookie manager and his mistakes were quite different.
Callaway made some embarrassing rookie mistakes such as batting out of order and bringing in relievers before opposing pinch hitters were announced. However, few things compared to the controversies of Valentine which included issues with Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Alfredo Aceves and his coaches. These things and others led to his firing after one season, and a much different reputation in Boston than in New York after his time with the Mets.
While Callaway was not nearly as controversial as Valentine was with the Red Sox in 2012, he has yet to prove himself as a MLB manager. He is aware of that and in an interview last weekend with Kevin Kernan of the New York Post, he admitted that he needs “to be a little more traditional and not try to reinvent the wheel” in 2019.
The manager that the Red Sox went on to hire for 2013 was also a former pitching-coach-turned-manager in John Farrell. After two mediocre seasons as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays in which he accumulated a 154-170 (.475) record, his career took a positive turn in 2013.
Adding A Bevy Of Pieces
While it is easy to try and put all the blame on a manager for a poor season, your team is only as talented as your players. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington realized this in the 2012-2013 offseason and retooled his team.
He re-signed David Ortiz and then added to the team by signing journeyman outfielder Jonny Gomes, outfielder Shane Victorino, backup catcher David Ross, shortstop Stephen Drew, starting pitcher Ryan Dempster and reliever Koji Uehara. He also made a trade for closer Joel Hanrahan despite having Bailey in the closer’s role.
Van Wagenen showed the baseball world that he was going all-in for the present by trading away top prospects Jarred Kelenic and Justin Dunn for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz. He followed that up by signing Jeurys Familia, Wilson Ramos, Jed Lowrie and Justin Wilson. He also made a lot of depth moves which has resulted in players like Luis Avilan, Hector Santiago, J.D. Davis, and Keon Broxton coming to Queens.
Both GMs did not break the bank either.
Cherington spent $126.45 million over the course of three years for the eight players mentioned. Victorino received the most years and overall money at three years and $39 million. Ortiz received the highest average annual value with his two-year deal of $26 million. They actually brought their $175.2 million payroll in 2012 down to $154.6 million in 2013 after all those moves according to MLB Trade Rumors, due to all the money coming off the books after the 2012 season.
The Mets, whose payroll has not surpassed the Red Sox since 2009, have seen theirs increase only slightly even after all their moves this offseason. After having a payroll of $150.6 million in 2018, they currently sit at a payroll of $159.5 million as of now in 2019 according to MLB Trade Rumors. While that increase contrasts to the Red Sox’s decrease in the 2012-2013 offseason, the Red Sox’s 2013 payroll and the Mets’ current 2019 payroll are similar after a busy offseason.
No Blockbuster Moves
Few would argue against the fact that the Mets should be spending more as a large-market team in New York. However, if Van Wagenen is limited in spending by ownership, he made a bevy of shrewd moves similar to that of Cherington during the 2012-2013 offseason.
If you told that to a casual baseball fan who knew the Mets struggled in 2018, they would probably laugh if you followed that up with a bold prediction for the Mets in 2019.
Would adding a top free agent like Manny Machado or Bryce Harper improve the team? Barring an unforeseen injury or massive regression, it would without question make the team better. However, does the absence of that addition give the Mets no chance of winning the World Series? No.
It did not take a $300+ million free agent to bump the Red Sox’s 2012 record of 69-93 to 97-65 in 2013. Would it have made them better? Again, barring an unforeseen injury or massive regression, it would be hard to imagine them not having even more wins in the regular season. Did it matter in the end? Unless fans really wanted to see a 108-win season to accompany their World Series victory like in 2018, it did not matter in the end.
Making Sense Of The Mets’ Offseason
Van Wagenen left his life as the 25th-highest paid sports agent and took a massive pay cut to join the Mets organization as general manager. One could only hope that he had a method to his madness when he took the job.
He entered an organization that was in the World Series as recently as 2015, in the playoffs as recently as 2016, but has looked nowhere near the same the last two years. The Mets are an organization that have been struck by countless injuries since 2016, but refuses to pay their way out of their situation.
A unique, creative solution was needed to resolve this problem: A way to bolster the team with limited funds available from ownership. Whether it was done purposely or not, Van Wagenen seems to have taken a page out of Cherington’s playbook from the 2012-2013 offseason. That involved adding a handful of talented players on smart deals.
While the Mets’ offseason may not be viewed by some as flashy without the addition of a top free agent, it may be unique enough to turn this ship around in 2019.