By: David Weiss
(Click here for part 2)
This past offseason was one of the most bizarre ones in recent history. Many of the top available players were simply not being signed as the winter progressed. Teams were opting to leave these stars out on the market. Most of the writers and experts felt that about a third of the teams were simply in rebuild mode.
However, it now looks like something else was going on. In light of the two previous articles in this series, perhaps the data analysts were thinking something else? The big-name veterans aren’t usually worth it. Why invest a lot of money and get stuck with a player who won’t turn your team around? If you look at the biggest contracts given out this past offseason to position players it seems to make sense. Eric Hosmer is playing as well as expected, but the Padres are in last place. Carlos Santana is hitting a bit below his career averages but the Phillies are currently just a half game out of a playoff spot. Todd Frazier and Jay Bruce aren’t producing for the Mets. While JD Martinez and Lorenzo Cain are playing well and their teams are winning, it just shows that the splashy signings aren’t a guarantee of success even in the first year. The data shows that, the players will decline with age and that these contracts aren’t worth it in the long run.
While the market was quiet, the Mets decided to act. GM Sandy Alderson thought he could outsmart the system. If no one was signing these veterans, the Mets could get them for a bargain price. He took his time and eventually swiped as many as he could. The biggest moves were the multi-year deals that were given to Frazier (age 32) and Bruce (31). The Mets picked up the option on Cabrera (32). Reyes (35) was brought back for another year and Adrian Gonzalez (36) was taken for the league minimum. Jose Lobaton (33) was added to be the third string catcher. In other words, the Mets didn’t get the memo. Rather than giving its youngsters a chance or trying to acquire young talent from other teams, the Mets went for the guys who are on the wrong side of 30.
The shame of it is that the Mets didn’t have to go this route. They could have just done what other teams do. Let the young guys play for a while and only go the route of the veteran when they don’t play well. Instead, the Mets got veterans and hesitated to get rid of them even when they are under-performing. Dominic Smith, the former first round pick, spent two months in the minors while Adrian Gonzalez was not producing at first. Wilmer Flores once again began the season as a utility man. Nimmo has only gotten playing time because of injuries to others. The plan was for him to be a backup or spend more time in AAA. Guillorme has bounced between the Mets and 51s only because of injuries as well. When Cespedes got injured, Jose Bautista was brought in to be a quick fix. Meanwhile Zach Borenstein, with his team leading 16 blasts, is languishing in Vegas. In short, the Mets lineup was designed for older players to ride out their days.
Sadly, this isn’t the first time Alderson has made this mistake. Before 2017, he thought that the exact same team that limped to the playoffs in 2016 would perform well. He inexplicably gave a qualifying offer to Neil Walker. Jose Reyes was brought back as well. Even when the team was totally out of it late in the season, Nori Aoki was brought in to take at bats away from younger players. One can even make the case that the Mets overpaid for Cespedes after he showed signs of injury and a decline in 2016. In hindsight the Mets should have just let Cespedes leave after 2016. They gave him a qualifying offer which he turned down. Had another team signed him, the Mets would have gotten an extra first round pick in the 2017 draft.
To conclude, this past offseason was a disaster. The Mets made many moves that were a net loss for the team. The assumption that a player with a good past will also have a good future is extremely shortsighted. Right now, the Mets are paying the price for it. Being that the Mets still Frazier tied up for next year, with Cespedes and Bruce for two more, the situation likely won’t change so quickly.
Click here for part 4
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)