As a fairly realistic Mets fan, I went into this offseason not expecting any major changes or upgrades to take place. It was clear from the start that the Mets were strapped for cash and that they were unlikely to spend much on free agents to improve the team. With this in mind, I geared up for a quiet offseason and essentially went into baseball hibernation with the intention of returning in February once spring training began.
After a week straight of beautiful spring-like weather, I got the itch for baseball that is usually reserved for the middle of February. I started to read my usual Mets sites for information and while sifting through these articles, I was stunned when I came across one by Adam Rubin that said that the Mets might be cutting $50 million off of their budget.
$50 million. If this turns out to be the case, it would be the largest drop in budget for a team from one year to the next in major league history. To put this into perspective, the Marlins—who are essentially synonymous with fire sale—only cut $45.4 million in their budget between 2005 and 2006.
The Mets are currently projected to spend $90.7 million. Using last year’s budgets, this cut would place the Mets at 13th in spending, behind even the Minnesota Twins.
As I said, I knew that the Mets were not going to be spending much and were going to be cutting salaries. But I was expecting a slight drop—one that would at least hang around the standard for the past few years. A New York team slashing salary faster than the Marlins? That is something incredibly alien to me.
Maybe it is the New York-centrist in me, but I believe that owning a team in New York comes with a certain level of responsibility. One of these is that the owner should be doing whatever it can to field a competitive team. If you want my money and want me to travel over an hour to pay $20 in parking and buy over-priced concessions, you should at least show that you respect me as a fan by dedicating the proper amount of resources to the club.
I know these expectations are high, but the reality is that New York not only demands the best out of its teams, it also demands that management acts like it is always trying to put a good product out. If as an owner you don't think you can do this, then don't come to New York.
This outrage does not mean that I am for the Mets ways of old, where they overpaid for second-tier players (here’s to you Jason Bay) just to make a “splash”. In fact, I was fully in favor of last season’s fire sale just because I believed the team needed an influx of young talent.
But there is a way to rebuild and even cut costs without insulting your fans. Plenty of teams go through rebuilding stages without such dramatic budget drop-offs. One way for the Mets to have done this would have been to re-sign Jose Reyes, a fan-favorite who would have at least kept fans interested in the team, if only for their love of the electric shortstop.
Sure Reyes would have cost, but the team would have still been under last year’s total budget and if they had added some decent, cheap, short-term fillers (Rick Ankiel, David Dejesus, Ryan Theriot, Ryan Doumit, a starter) to keep it somewhat interesting, I could probably watch the team for a season.
Instead, the Mets did not even try to offer Reyes any money and they seem content to sit on their hands when it comes to every other free agent while they wait for the scraps.
In the Rubin article, owner Fred Wilpon is quoted as saying, “I think we have to get the fans back at the stadium. That's a necessity. That's the lifeblood. And to do that, we have to have a good team.”
I am very interested to see how Wilpon expects to field a good team when he is cutting $50 million from the team’s budget. To get fans to care about a team and in the seats, an owner needs to make it seem like he cares about the team, and right now Wilpon is just not showing that.
Looking back on last year’s hirings of Sandy Alderson, Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi, I probably should have expected this. These three are esteemed “moneyballers” who excel at finding cheap talent, diamonds in the rough. This move signaled that the budget was getting cut no matter what, but hopefully they could at least put a decent product on the field while it happened.
However, not even a brain-trust of this high esteem can slash the budget to this magnitude while hoping to field an even somewhat competitive team. Part of the reason for this is that the Mets are hamstringed by the fact that out of the projected $90.7 million, they owe $67.625 million to five players.
So Mr. Wilpon, if you are serious about wanting fans to come back to the stadium, you need to show that you respect and appreciate our time and dedication. To do this, you need to open the purse a little bit and put something on the field that is better than an AAA team. The smartest front office in the world couldn’t pull off the miracle you are hoping for, and the longer it takes the harder it will be for us to come back.