Life comes at you fast. Heading into the All-Star break, the New York Mets held a 3.5 game lead in the NL East with plenty of time to make moves that could propel them to run away with the division before September. The Mets still have a 3.5 game lead in the NL East but after dropping a weekend series to the Cincinnati Reds, the mood in Flushing doesn’t reflect that of a first place team by any stretch of the imagination.
When it rains on the Mets, it pours
New York has been delivered some pretty tough blows in the past week. There was the lackluster trade deadline that saw Javy Baez come to Queens, but Baez isn’t a starting pitcher or relief pitcher and so the Mets are still thin on arms. To compound the already thin rotation, news broke that Jacob deGrom had suffered a setback and would be out all of August. Then, after bringing back the black jerseys on Friday, The Reds came into Queens and took two of three from a team that hasn’t strung together consecutive games of three runs or more since mid-July. However, the biggest blow came when they failed to come to an agreement with college star Kumar Rocker, their first pick in this year’s MLB draft. As a result, Rocker can be drafted next year by another club while the Mets will receive the 11th pick as compensation.
To be fair, it isn’t as black as white as Rocker not being signed. The Mets’ front office was rumored to have some very major concerns about the medical records of Rocker, so much so that they were willing to let the hurler walk away. Coming into this year’s draft, teams were bearish on the phenom due to the mileage put on his arm after throwing the most innings of his entire career.
But is there more to be said about Rocker’s potential arm as a ticking time bomb or the Mets organization not willing to dish out an additional $1M, which is reported to have been the snag in the deal. While the Mets had concerns about Rocker’s health, they were willing to sign him at a lower price point. Scott Boras, Kumar’s agent, would have none of that. In a statement released via text, Boras insisted that Rocker was completely healthy.
This is a bad look for the Mets and an even worse look given the events over the past few days. There’s so many places to start, but failing to come to an agreement with Rocker is a colossal swing-and-miss by the front office with aspirations to be the East Coast Dodgers. Those Dodgers, you know the ones who just traded for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner due to the depth of their farm system? With Rocker’s release, the Mets now only have one first round pick from the last four years. Pete Crow-Armstrong was traded for Baez at the deadline and Jarred Kelenic….who doesn’t need to be discussed any further.
People have vouched for the Mets not signing Rocker implying that the willingness to walk away signifies the severity of his injury. The problem is, the Mets knew there was speculation around his health and the durability of his arm. In fact, their entire draft was centered around him. The Mets took lower slot value picks in an attempt to have the money to secure Rocker, who some thought could’ve been this year’s number one pick.
New owner Steve Cohen made it known early on that his $14 billion wasn’t a free pass to spend like “drunken sailors”. But not spending like a drunken sailor doesn’t also mean skimping out when generational talent is on the line. Yes, Cohen has amassed his fortune by quite literally assessing risks. However, in today’s game, $6M is hardly a risk and now, the Mets have nothing to show for their first round and have lost two of their top ten prospects for a sum total of Baez, Trevor Williams and a scathing fanbase on Twitter.
For a franchise that has seemingly been trending upwards since it was sold to Cohen in October, this weekend was one that left fans justifiably invoking the hashtag adage “#LOLMets”. Now, it is very possible that Rocker’s arm is as bad as the medical team suggests and in a few years, the Mets come out looking like geniuses and the critics, including the author of this article, are the latest target of Freezing Cold Takes.
But even if that is the case, the way this was handled by the front office was poor as there was seemingly no backup plan for not signing the player their entire draft was centered around. Yes, the Mets will have the 11th pick next year along with the other first round pick, plus compensation picks from any qualifying offers made to potential players leaving in free agency. And yes, this did turn out okay for the Houston Astros who failed to sign Brady Aiken in the 2015 draft and ended up with Alex Bregman.
There’s more at play, however. This was a regime that was supposed to take over and change the culture. These kinds of botches were only supposed to be reserved for the Wilpons. Yes, the Mets have done some impressive things and all this is being said about a team that is still in first place. Yet, one can’t help but wonder if there are some lingering demons around Citi Field. To add insult to injury, Cohen, who has been adored by a majority on MetsTwitter shot himself in the foot soon after the botched signing. The billionaire tweeted out:
"“Education time – Baseball draft picks are worth up to 5x their slot value to clubs. I never shy away from investments that can make me that type of return.”"
The tweet quickly received backlash from fans who thought it was in poor taste to call a player, especially one who has a world of potential, but nevertheless a human being, an “investment”. It’s a rare whiff for the beloved owner and is probably due more to fan frustrations than anything else.
For some this may be nit-picky, for others, this could be cracks starting to show in a foundation that once appeared to be flawless. The reality is, this doesn’t make or break the Mets’ season. The team could get hot, Conforto could find himself again and Walker could return to his first-half-form. But for Mets fans accustomed to dysfunction and mishaps, this feels all too familiar for comfort. Winning is the remedy in any sport. The Mets are hoping to win not only this season, but in the seasons to come.
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There’s still plenty of hope left, but the Mets will have to move forward with a Rocker-less future.