While the hot stove is lukewarm at this point in the offseason, action has traditionally heated up shortly with the Thanksgiving holiday. Will the Mets and newly appointed General Manager Brodie Van Wagenen be players on any of the marquee names on the market? Recent history tells us that it’s highly unlikely, but distant history says that they absolutely should.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Mets were regular shoppers in the premiere free-agent market each winter. This particular offseason reminds me a lot of the winter of 2004, when the Wilpons named Omar Minaya the teams new GM on the heels of a 71-91 record and fourth place finish in the National League East.
The Mets had a young and exciting shortstop in Jose Reyes and a promising second half from rookie third baseman David Wright gave the organization optimism that they at least had something strong to build around. What they were lacking though, was a superstar – a guy with sizzle that could bring instant credibility to a team coming off three straight losing campaigns.
After a historic postseason run with the Houston Astros, 27-year old center fielder Carlos Beltran saw dollar signs in his eyes as he hit the market as the best player available that winter while just entering the prime years of his career.
At that point in time, only nine players in baseball history had been given contracts valued at $100 million or more – Beltran became the tenth when he inked a seven-year, $119 million dollar pact to become the face of the Mets. While the deal on the surface may seem a bit low with respect to the current market and the value placed on players of that stature at a similar age, the Mets had to absolutely break open the bank and overpay to bring in a franchise player.
The addition of Beltran meant that the Mets were back and that they meant business. At his introductory press conference, the All-Star dubbed the team, “The New Mets”.
In his first weeks as a baseball executive, Van Wagenen, much like his key advisor Minaya was tasked with 15 years earlier, must make a bold statement and establish a culture of winning and sustainability. Manny Machado is the guy that can instantly change how the entire baseball landscape views the Mets.
The similarities between the two players are endless in terms of ability and skill set. At 26, Machado is actually a year younger than Beltran was when he hit the open market. Both players not only were All-Star offensive players, but they also proved themselves as elite defenders at premium positions in the field.
It was widely suggested at the time that the Mets overpaid for Beltran, but that was the cost of doing business in order to lure a big fish in a competitive market to a team that had missed the postseason in four straight seasons and finished no higher than fourth place in the division in three straight campaigns.
The rumored cost for Machado is expected to be north of the $300 million mark when he does eventually put pen to paper. There will be no shortage of suitors bidding for his services – the Dodgers, Yankees and the Phillies are all expected to be among the big-time players in that sweepstakes. That’s what big-market teams do, after all.
The Mets are supposed to be labeled as just that, a big-market team. But for the better part of the last decade, they have sat on the sidelines and watched the big-ticket items go to their competitors while settling for scraps. In today’s baseball, scraps don’t win. Star power is absolutely essential to winning and the Mets just don’t have any.
Time to act is right now. The young pitching staff that has been hyped up for what feels like an eternity now, all of a sudden isn’t so young. Jacob deGrom is coming off a Cy Young season that will be impossible to duplicate. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz are both a year older and Zack Wheeler is entering the final year of his deal after a second half that was among the best in baseball last season. This group won’t be together forever and the importance of winning now has never been higher.
It feels as though the Mets are constantly shrouded in uncertainty. Will Yoenis Cespedes ever be healthy again? Can Jay Bruce bounce back? Can Michael Conforto maintain an even keel performance for an entire season? Can Amed Rosario hit enough at the big league level? Is Peter Alonso a building Block? Who is the catcher? That is a lot of questions for a team that claims to have win-now aspirations.
You know what isn’t an uncertainty? Manny Machado! He hits, he fields, he sells tickets, he sells jerseys, he makes me happy, he makes you happy – he makes the Mets much better.
A case could be made that the wise move would be to blow the whole damn thing up and allow the new regime to start with a blank canvas. Allow Van Wagenen to clear out the dead weight from the Sandy Alderson era, re-stock the weakened farm system and go for it again in three or four years.
Should they do that? I don’t know. But, Van Wagenen says that is not the direction that they will take at this point in time. Win now, win tomorrow, win always is what he says the blueprint will be.
If winning immediately coupled with long-term sustainability is the goal, go get Manny Machado. Dare I say, act like a big-market team again?