Brodie Van Wagenen’s signings and trades just keep on coming this winter with the new Mets GM being hailed as the great emancipator of the Wilpons’ vault by swinging it wide open to the tune of some $191 million in spending so far.
There’s no question Van Wagenen’s flurry of activity – the trade for Robinson Cano and All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, the signings of Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia and, on Thursday, Jed Lowrie — has significantly improved the Mets around their young and talented rotation of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz.
Why, Van Wagenen himself has said as much when he declared the Mets should now be considered the favorites to win the National League East. But the accompanying national media razz that Van Wagenen has gotten the Mets (i.e. the Wilpons) to finally start acting like a large market team while shedding their cheapskates label is patently unfair. The most ludicrous assertion in this narrative was a report last week that Jeff Wilpon is loosening the financial restrictions in a bid to cast blame on former GM Sandy Alderson for the Mets’ relative inactivity the previous couple of years.
While Van Wagenen’s aggressive style of GM-ing might be a welcome contrast to Alderson’s more conservative approach, did it ever occur to the Mets’ media critics that maybe this winter there were a lot more quality players to be had that fit the Mets’ needs, than last year or the year before? Granted, I’m sure it took a lot of convincing on Van Wagenen’s part to get Jeff Wilpon to agree to take on the remaining five years/$120 million of Cano’s contract, but it’s fair to remember every time the Wilpons have had to step up to the plate and make a major expenditure on a player to keep the team competitive, they have done it.
We’re talking the three-years/$39 million they spent last year on Jay Bruce, who was about the best outfielder available in a decidedly weak free agent field — and the $110 million they coughed up to retain Yoenis Cespedes for four years in 2016.
Conceivably, Van Wagenen is not done. The versatile switch-hitting Lowrie, a grinder who had career highs in homers (23) and RBI (99) last season, would appear to be a much better offensive option at third base than Todd Frazier, who, as we speak, is almost certainly being shopped by Van Wagenen. The fact that Van Wagenen held onto his two coveted outfielders, Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto, along with handyman Jeff McNeil in all his trade talks, and has Juan Lagares coming back to vie for the center field job, makes this potentially the deepest Mets team in years in terms of overall quality. No dead roster spots.
That’s not to say, however, there won’t be a daily holding of breath and crossing of fingers in regard to the catching, where Ramos and Travis d’Arnaud have both seemingly lived on the disabled list the past few years. And, of course, the same goes for the oft-injured starting pitchers. Right now, the starting pitching, which the Mets’ off-season game plan was all built around, remains their one vulnerability because if any one of them goes down for an extended period, there is no net below.
Meanwhile, despite Van Wagenen’s assertion about the Mets being the NL East favorites, it is worth noting what the Nationals have been doing this winter around their flirtations with Bryce Harper. They’ve made significant upgrades to their starting pitching (Patrick Corbin and Anibal Sanchez), their catching (Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes), at second base (Brian Dozier) and even the bench (Matt Adams). Scott Boras would obviously disagree, but they don’t need Harper — certainly not at 10 years/$350 million, which would almost guarantee them the highest percentages of luxury tax for the foreseeable future while also assuredly precluding them from being able to re-sign Anthony Rendon, who might actually be a better all-around player. The money they would dole out for Harper would be better spent on another back-end bullpen operative, like Adam Ottavino or even Craig Kimbrel.