Paying big money for veteran free agents is backfiring on the Mets
They say money can't buy happiness, and you know what? They're right. The New York Mets have the highest payroll in baseball history, and yet now sit two games under .500 after losing to the Cincinnati Reds last night. If there were polls to measure a team's approval rating with its fanbase, it's exceedingly likely that the Mets would rank last in the league.
Historically, Mets fans are an unhappy bunch. We tend to believe the worst at the slightest hint of adversity, but for good reason. The long list of Mets-related heartbreaks has made many a Big Apple psychotherapist rich beyond their wildest dreams.
This brings us back to money. Let me preface this by saying that I don't believe there is a single Mets fan that yearns for the good old days of Wilpon penny-pinching. Still, the following needs to be said.
For as much as Mets owner Steve Cohen has made it rain when it comes to player contracts, the results have just not been there to this point in the season.
More frustrating still, there are several spots on the roster where the Mets are getting zero production. Replacement level batters are getting at-bats in high leverage spots. Replacement level pitchers are giving away leads and failing to keep games close. With a payroll this astronomical, that shouldn't happen.
I don't blame Buck Showalter. He's playing the cards he's been dealt. Unlike poker, though, there's no bluffing in baseball. We shouldn't act surprised that Buck is 17-19 with the baseball equivalent of a busted flush.
That's not to imply that I'm here to blame anyone. I believe Mets fans are incredibly fortunate to be rid of the Wilpons and have Steve Cohen running the show. I think that Cohen, well known to be an avid fan of the Mets long before he bought the team, will see what I've seen: that doling out lavish contracts to aging veterans is not the way to go.
As our own Adrian Cervantes recently pointed out, the ballyhooed 2021 Mets free agent class has, across the board, underperformed greatly in its second season. Max Scherzer (38 years old), Starling Marte (34), Mark Canha (34), and Eduardo Escobar (34) have all regressed from last year due to age, injuries, or both.
New free agent signees Justin Verlander (40) and Jose Quintana (34) have combined for only one start thanks to injuries of their own, which underscores the point. As the old saying goes, the most important ability is availability, and the Mets have paid a lot of money for players to not be on the field.
I'm confident that Cohen will get this figured out, because he's shown that player health is an important factor in how he runs the team. He famously walked away from signing first round draft pick Kumar Rocker after health concerns cropped up about Rocker's pitching arm. This past offseason, he took a $315 million deal off the table for Carlos Correa after a physical revealed concerns about Correa's ankle. He resisted going overboard to keep Jacob deGrom and his frequently ailing arm in town.
None of this is to trash any of the players mentioned above. I loved Scherzer even when he was terrorizing the Mets as a member of the Nationals. He's an animal. Marte, Canha, and Escobar all seem like great teammates. Verlander is going to cruise into the Hall of Fame one day. But the Mets can't pay big money for past performance, especially to players that achieved those results for other teams.
Luckily, the answer to this season is staring us right in the face. It's time for an all-out youth movement in Flushing. Brett Baty is legit. Francisco Alvarez had his welcome to the big league moment last night with two home runs and his first runner caught stealing. Ronny Mauricio and Mark Vientos are going to keep raking until the Mets have no choice but to call them up.
Add those four to Brandon Nimmo, Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor, and Jeff McNeil, and you have the core to start winning this year. Make more sensible free agent signings going forward, and you have the core to win for years to come.