Friday, December 11, 2015

Ben Zobrist, Michael Cuddyer and the phony big move

The Mets failed to get their top target, Ben Zobrist, and I'm almost relieved. Four years and $56 million seems a lot for a player who turns 35 next May whose days of double-digit homers and stolen bases are in the past. Getting Neil Walker for one year until Dilson Herrera is ready while shedding Jon Niese's salary is a better plan, since the Mets are now in better position to add the big bat they still need.

The big bat that nobody expects them to get.

I have to wonder if part of the Mets' interest in Zobrist was to attempt to refute the notion that they are unwilling to spend money to improve the team. Look, we signed a big free agent that lots of teams wanted! Zobrist is a good player, but he's more of a complementary piece than a game-changer. And $56 million is practically chump change in this free agent market - the top players available could end up getting four times as much.

Last year, the Mets raced to lock up free agent Michael Cuddyer. It looked like a dubious move at the time - Cuddyer was turning 36 and injuries had limited him to 49 games the previous year. After preaching prospects for several years, the Mets surrendered their top draft pick to sign Cuddyer.  But for $21 million, they could say they signed a free agent, even if his entire contract was less than a superstar makes in a year.

At best, Cuddyer could have been a starting point to a productive offseason, but the Mets' only other offseason signing was, wait for it, John Mayberry Jr.  I wish Sandy Alderson a speedy recovery and appreciate the fact that he delivered a pennant last year, but all of the praise he got for his midseason moves should not obscure the fact that the offense was in such bad shape last July because of the moves Alderson did not make the previous offseason.

So far, this offseason is going better than the last one. Adding Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera shores up the infield, while Niese was ticketed for the bullpen once Zack Wheeler returns. If the Mets re-sign Bartolo Colon, all that would be left to worry about would be another reliever and a big bat.

But until I see otherwise, it's hard not to wonder if this will be another wait-and-see-how-the-Mets are doing before opening the pursestrings at the trading deadline when you only have to pay for two months of the next Yoenis Cespedes and Tyler Clippard.

Cespedes has his issues, and I'm not saying he's worth any price. And the money being talked about for Jason Heyward is money you give a superstar, not a very good player who is not yet a superstar. But the Mets' offense was the worst in the league before they got Cespedes. Michael Conforto's first full season is unlikely to make up for the loss of Cespedes. A full year of David Wright at his peak would go a long way, but Wright is well past his peak and injury-prone. A full year of Travis d'Arnaud would be great, but d'Arnaud is very injury-prone as well. 

The Mets have been pushing 2016 season tickets since before last season ended. How would they feel if fans waited to spend money on the team until July 31 to see if they were in contention?


Update - just saw that the Cubs signed Heyward. So the Cubs have now added Zobrist, Heyward and John Lackey to a team that won 97 games last year and has young hitting talent to match the Mets' young pitching. It must be nice to root for a big-market team. 

1 comment:

Uncle Mike said...

The Cubs can add anyone they want. They can clone Babe Ruth and (this one would be slightly easier) Ted Williams, and stick Sandy Koufax in the Lazarus Pit from the Batman comics. It wouldn't make any difference: Some teams are cursed.

In the Mets' case, it's the curse of bad management. The Yankees won their World Series -- all of them -- not because they had superstars, but because they had competent, competitive players at every position. There's an old saying: Take care of the pennies, and the dimes will take care of themselves. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The Mets' weak links took until the World Series to get exposed (if you don't count their regular-season games against the one team that stood up to them, the Yankees), but get exposed, they did: Fielding, hitting under pressure, the bullpen, and, yes, their over-vaunted starting pitching. As soon as the Royals stood up to them, the way the Dodgers (Chase Utley aside) and the Cubs didn't, they folded like a deck chair.

The difference between the 1969 and 1986 Mets on the one hand and the 2015 Mets on the other is that the two title teams were full of guys whose attitude was, "To hell with you, we're winning, and we won't let you stop us." The 2015 Mets' attitude was, "Relax, we got this"... until they faced a team that said, "Fine, you relax, we'll go right through you." The Mets need what Arsene Wenger, manager of London soccer team Arsenal, calls "the mental strength." They had it in 1969 and 1986, and to a lesser extent in 2000. They do not have it now.

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