With the way that the National League East is trending, the New York Mets might finish in fourth again in 2018.
The Nationals are by far the most superior team in the division, and without any disasters, they’ll win it for the third consecutive year. The Braves and Phillies are both trending upward, and either team could shock the National League with a Wild Card if all goes right. Then there are the Marlins, who are in the midst of an offseason fire sale and will likely round out not only the division, but perhaps the entire league.
The Mets are a question mark, though. At one time, a Nationals-Mets rivalry was brewing. New York won the NL East in 2015, setting us up for an exciting few years of Noah Syndergaard-Bryce Harper matchups with games, series and postseason births on the line.
Except that’s not what’s happened.
The Mets followed up their National League Championship 2015 with another postseason run the year after, but Madison Bumgarner’s Giants shut them down in the National League Wild Card game in classic Bumgarner fashion. In 2017, the Mets continued to go in the wrong direction, finishing 70-92 as myriad injuries kept them from ever really being competitive.
The three-headed rotation monster in Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Syndergaard that took the Mets to the World Series threw only a combined 324 1⁄3 innings in 2017 (deGrom threw 201 1⁄3 innings of those), compared to 530 1⁄3 in 2015. Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, both considered top pitching prospects with bright futures, didn’t help either. Wheeler returned to the Majors for the first time after having Tommy John surgery in 2015 with mixed results, and Matz continued to show a lack of durability, putting up just 66 2⁄3 low quality innings.
At a minimum, the Mets will have a healthy Syndergaard and their rotation anchor in Jacob deGrom come Opening Day. The rest of the rotation—currently projecting to be Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Seth Lugo—looks like a question mark.
If the Mets want to have any chance in the NL East next year, they must supplement the core with offseason moves.
As Marc Carig wrote for Newsday on Dec. 18, the Mets plan on cutting payroll once again from the $155 million figure they carried this season, as general manager Sandy Alderson told reporters. The issue with this, though, is that nobody knows why. As Carig wrote:
Mets fans ought to know where their money is going, because it’s clear that much of it isn’t ending up on the field. So on Saturday afternoon, an email was sent directly to Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. The questions centered on payroll, a topic he hasn’t publicly addressed since September 2014.
Through a spokesman later that afternoon, Wilpon declined comment.
This came as no surprise.
For years, the Wilpons have shown little willingness to level with their fans. And with the Mets on the brink of squandering a window to compete for championships, they seem content to continue their blackout.
It’s a shame, really. For any business, accountability begins by addressing the customers. But if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s the Mets doing the exact opposite of what makes sense.
The Mets’ window of opportunity is now. With the right pieces, they have the ability to at least compete for the Wild Card, if not the division. But that requires them going out and filling those supplemental needs via trades or signings. This means getting an infielder, a starting pitcher, an outfielder — something.
To this point, the Mets have just been “also trying” for many of the top free agent and trade candidates.
"Also Trying" is the Mets' 2018 marketing slogan https://t.co/nPgYoPKXFP— keithlaw (@keithlaw) December 14, 2017
Their only deal? A two-year, $14 million contract with right-handed reliever Anthony Swarzak. I will say, this has the opportunity to be a very good add for them; Swarzak had a career year in 2017, striking out more than a batter per inning, keeping balls in the yard and providing over two wins of value. If he can keep that up, it’s a good move.
But it’s not enough.
According to FanGraphs’ projections, with their current roster, the Mets are expected to go 80-82 in 2018, which wouldn’t be good enough to win a Wild Card spot. However, with a couple of further upgrades, an 80-win team could easily become an 85-win team, and with a couple of lucky bounces, an 85-win team could become an 87-win team — which got the Rockies to the second NL Wild Card in 2017 — after all 162 games are played.
The Mets are once again knocking on the door, and with a current projected payroll of $127.7 million (per Baseball-Reference), they should have the money to spend to get the free agents necessary to make them a contender.
A Mets team with, for instance, the addition of Jason Kipnis via trade and a reunion with Jay Bruce on a short-term deal becomes a lot more dangerous. That already likely adds 3-4 wins to an already-decent club, throwing them right in the mix. Perhaps the team could even add a starting pitcher with some upside for depth purposes, à la Henderson Alvarez.
This, of course, comes with a cost. Kipnis is owed $13.67 million in 2018, Bruce would likely get in the range of $15 to $18 million and Alvarez could also cost $1 or $2 million. All of this together would require adding $33.67 million in payroll, pushing their total costs to over $160 million.
As Carig so nicely laid out, the Wilpons just don’t see the need for these costs. But in a world where you should be trying to win the World Series, these additions are absolutely necessary.
Make the moves, Mets.
Devan Fink is a Featured Writer at Beyond The Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DevanFink.