John Harper, SNY.tv | Twitter |
So Omar Minaya went on MLB Radio this week and downplayed expectations that Yoenis Cespedes is being counted on at all by the Mets in 2019.
“If he gives us anything this year, that is gravy,” was the way he put it.
Now wait a minute.
At the Wilson Ramos press conference two weeks ago, GM Brodie Van Wagenen said quite the opposite, as a way of seemingly switching course on the need to sign A.J. Pollock to play center field.
“We are hoping and expecting that Yoenis Cespedes will come back and be another impact righthanded bat for us,” Van Wagenen said.
So which is it? Considering Cespedes’ injury history in recent years, I’d say Minaya’s outlook is closer to the truth, and certainly the way the Mets should be thinking.
After all, Cespedes has missed months at a time due to quad and hamstring injuries, so who knows how long it could take him to come back after major surgery on both of his heels, and what other problems he could incur along the way? And that raises the question of why Van Wagenen went the opposite route in implying the Mets were counting on their star outfielder next season.
Was it simply a way of deflecting questions about the obvious need for someone like Pollock without having to admit that payroll is the real issue?
Look, you can make a case that Pollock’s own injury history makes the idea of signing him to a four or five-year deal too risky, but it was Van Wagenen himself who earlier in the offseason publicly expressed interest in the free-agent center fielder. Since then, the Mets signed Jeurys Familia and Ramos to relatively low-cost free-agent deals, both of which are back-loaded to lighten the payroll impact for 2019.
In fact, Familia will be paid $6.66 million (of his three-year, $30 million deal) this year, while Ramos will get $7.25 million (of his two-year, $19 million deal).
As such, those contracts are adding only about $14 million to the 2019 payroll, and don’t forget the Mets are getting Edwin Diaz as a pre-arbitration player, meaning he’ll earn about $600,000 this year.
And since the acquisition of Robinson Cano isn’t adding any significant salary, between the money the Mariners ate on the deal and subtraction of the Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak contracts, the Mets have made some major moves at very little added cost for 2019.
Meanwhile, they had some $41 million come off the payroll from the start of the 2018 season, if you include the in-season and offseason departures of Familia ($7.9 million) Asdrubal Cabrera ($8.25 million), Jerry Blevins ($7 million), A.J. Ramos ($9.2 million), Wilmer Flores ($3.4 million) and Matt Harvey/Devin Mesoraco ($5.6 million).
There is also the David Wright situation, which remains murky but is sure to bring significant insurance money on his $15 million salary for 2019.
On the other hand, you have to figure in significant arbitration raises for Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Michael Conforto, all of which should largely offset the departures.
Two people close to the situation believe it all adds up to the payroll currently projecting to about the same $150-160 million range as last year, and Van Wagenen also said at the Ramos press conference that he still has “real money” to spend this offseason.
So it’s possible the Mets have decided to sit tight for the time being, and wait out a free-agent market that is still full of impact players in the hope of prices falling at some point.
However, indications are it’s more likely they’re strictly bargain-shopping now for depth in the outfield, bullpen, and depth in the starting rotation. And, in truth, if they’re as all-in on 2019 as Van Wagenen has declared, that’s not enough to justify the GM’s claim that the Mets should be considered favorites in the NL East.
Indeed, that’s where I thought Van Wagenen would have some sway in this honeymoon period of sorts with an ownership that badly wants to be right about the outside-the-box hiring of an agent to run their baseball operations.
The way he talked early in the offseason about being aggressive on all fronts, it seemed possible Van Wagenen would have the freedom to take the payroll up a notch to, say, the $170 million-plus range, which would put the Mets in the top 10 of all major league ballclubs as befitting a New York franchise.
That would give him the room sign an outfielder like Pollock, or another top reliever whose presence would also give the Mets’ leeway to use Seth Lugo as needed starting-pitcher depth.
In short, they need to make at least one of those moves to dramatically improve their chances of winning the NL East this year.
The alternative is penciling in Cespedes as a major factor, and while the Mets’ front office clearly needs to get its messaging straight, Minaya’s candor should be a reminder that counting on their star slugger to overcome injuries in recent years has only led to disappointment.