The 2015 New York Mets were something that the Mets have not been, aside from 2006, for the better part of fourteen years: good. Relevant. Fun. Exciting. Successful.
Behind a once-in-a-lifetime young pitching staff, the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and the absolutely masterful job Terry Collins did managing the team, the Mets eked by the Dodgers in five games in the NLDS and then proceeded to dump-truck the Cubs on their way to a sweep and the World Series. Of course, we all know how the story ended: playoff star Daniel Murphy went cold, the pitching, especially in the bullpen, failed and the Royals essentially killed the Mets with 1,000 paper cuts. So after that five-game World Series was over, you would surely think that the team would do their best to lock up free-agents-to-be Cespedes and Murphy, right? Wrong.
Well, at least they would try to replace them with high-priced free agents at the same positions, right? Wrong again.
To be fair, the team has basically replaced Murphy by trading for former Pirates’ second baseman Neil Walker. The team also pursued the free agent who may have single-handedly stopped the Winter Meetings in their tracks, second baseman Ben Zobrist. Zobrist decided to take less money than the $60 million the Mets were offering and signed with the Cubs for four years and $56 million. However this isn’t a huge deal, as Walker can step in to Murphy’s place and provide the same production he did, so that move should work out. But who would the team acquire to replace Cespedes?
If you guessed Alejandro De Aza, you’re either a psychic or have inner knowings of the team’s front office plans.
The team announced the signing yesterday, along with its terms: one year, $5.75 million. The opportunity to make that $7 million with performance-based incentives. In other words, not someone who is going to be able to replace the production left behind by the departure of Cespedes.
To be clear, De Aza is a quality player, but probably one that is more suited to a bench role. A career .267 hitter, he’s only averaged slightly over five home runs per year in his eight years in the majors. In a platoon with current center fielder, right-handed hitter and 2014 Gold Glove award winner Juan Lagares, the left-handed hitting De Aza would probably get more playing time and bat near the bottom of the order. The move for the team is not necessarily a bad one at a small level, but as part of the bigger picture, it doesn’t really work. The team needed to somehow replace Cespedes’ big bat in the lineup, and they couldn’t even do it in the aggregate.
But this isn’t about a team’s free agent moves after making the World Series. This is about the owners of that team, Fred and Jeff Wilpon, along with president Saul Katz, simply being unwilling to put in the money needed to keep the team near the top for several years to come.
On Monday, freelance writer Howard Megdal published a piece on Vocativ about how the team is more or less swimming in a pool of unpaid debt. You have to read the whole thing for yourself, but here is an excerpt:
Back in 2008, the team’s investments with Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff were discovered to be a fraud. More than $500 million in assets Wilpon and Katz thought they had—and had borrowed against—vanished. Accordingly, just to stay afloat, they needed to take out a $430 million loan against the team and $450 million against their majority ownership stake in SNY (a network started with a loan from Madoff, incidentally).
Ever since, the Mets have managed to get by annually by diverting revenue from their baseball and television operation into the financing of debt. Prior to the refinancing of the past two years, the annual interest on these two loans plus debt balloon payments of more than $43 million have exceeded team payroll itself.
The refinancing of the two loans has extended their due dates out five years, so this arrangement is set to continue for a long time to come. And the debt balloon payments run until December 2045, when currently youthful pitching ace Steven Matz will be 54 years old.
The Mets will be paying these crazy debts until 2045. It will take the team so long to pay off these debts that they will be finished paying off the rest of Bobby Bonilla’s contract before the debts are paid. It’s a bad situation, and the main reason why the team hasn’t been spending big bucks in free agency for the last several years.
This is the problem, though: it isn’t like the team is not making money. Even with the debt payments, the Mets experienced an attendance increase of 19.5% a year ago (and a similar, if not larger, increase should be expected next season based off the results of 2015). Also, the team’s most conservative estimates state that they added around $20 million in revenue from the team’s playoff games. That same article says that ratings on the team’s television network, SportsNet New York (SNY, for short) increased by about 56 percent over the past year, which means more revenue because advertisers are far more likely to pay for commercial sports on the team-owned network.
The opportunity for the Mets to spend is right in front of them. Their starting rotation is making so little (a projected $13.5 million next year) that this person is going to be the highest-paid starter on the team next season:
Mets fans are some of the best in baseball. They’re smart, dedicated and they aren’t shy about letting ownership know how they feel about the job they are doing. They’re extremely upset right now, and they have every right to be. The opportunity to win a World Series doesn’t come around very often, but the opportunity is even more rare when teams who have a chance to win one fail consistently to spend the necessary money to be in contention year after year. It’s a shame for their fans that the Mets are blowing the opportunity to win, but this is especially disappointing when you consider the fact that the team’s rotation is not going to be together forever.
But, if the past actions of Mets ownership is any indication, there’s no reason to think that the team’s frugal ways are changing anytime soon.