By Jason Keidel
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This is not a question you could ask in the last 20 years without getting laughed out of the room, but as we enter the second half of a sterile baseball season in New York City, it’s fair to ask now.
Who has a better future: the Mets or Yankees?
With their endless bankroll, the remnants of the Core Four hanging around, and the ability to make it rain on the reigning MVP, batting champ, or Cy Young winner, the Yankees have remained relevant for an astonishing period of time. There’s been no palpable dip in the standings, no dark age like most dynasties endure. For the most part, the Yankees have been able to push the retool over the rebuild button since the Stump Merrill days.
But it’s just hard, if not impossible, to see the sunshine in the current roster. And it’s not like the Yankees have the most fertile farm system in the sport. We heard about Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain, who were supposed to lead the Bombers into the new age. Both are gone. Then we heard about Jesus Montero, the next Johnny Bench. He’s gone. Then we had the “Killer B” prospects, which has led to an eventual role for Dellin Betances in the bullpen, where he has flourished. Manny Banuelos,however, is splashed across some milk carton with an 800 number in case you find his potential.
Even when CC Sabathia recovers, he’s a sliver of his former self. Hiroki Kuroda is almost 40. Ivan Nova is a pitching schizophrenic. Michael Pineda is already injury prone well before his prime. And the golden egg of the group, Masahiro Tanaka, will probably need Tommy John surgery in a few weeks. The idea that he can toil through a few physical therapy sessions and return whole is absurd.
As is the idea that the Yankees have a glittering future. Where’s the talent, the young farm stud on the come? Where’s the excitement from the farm, the fans, and in the stands?
Matt Harvey will be back next year, and with Zack Wheeler, you could be talking about a potent, 1-2 punch for a long time.
Sure, the Mets have a meager offense, and Sandy Alderson has bombed with the bullpen. But they have potent, front-end pitching, which is the seed for any flowering franchise. And they have a microscopic payroll, at least for NYC, and in stark contrast to the Yankees, who are spending Bill Gates money for Ray Kroc results.
The Yankees entered this season with a payroll of $209 million. The Mets, by epic contrast, are shelling out $84 million. The average Yankee makes $8 million. The typical Met makes $3 million. The Yankees have paid about $6 million per win in 2014. The Mets have spilled around $1.8 million per victory.
The Yankees have colossal contracts swinging like anvils from their neck. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and, of course, Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez — currently on sabbatical, for some reason — are aging, decaying veterans with many years and countless millions left on their bloated deals.
The Mets have, well, Curtis Granderson, who signed a rather modest contract (4 years, $60 million). David Wright has a mega-deal, but he’s the face of the franchise, a fine player, solid citizen, and a lifetime Met, spawned by their far more fertile farm system. According to Baseball Prospectus, the Yankees are 23rd in organizational rankings. The Mets are 8th.
Indeed, beyond Wright and Granderson, Jon Niese, who is owed $36 million over the next the next four years, is the only Met signed for substantial money past 2015.
So while Alderson hasn’t exactly been the wizard we anticipated — nor has the Dream Team scouting posse he brought with him — his miserly mien has been a monetary godsend for the Mets, who were once inept and expensive, the worst exacta in team sports.
Now they have just two wins less than the Yankees, at a third of the cost. Sure, neither is lighting up the majors, but with the Mets you see a sunrise, an emergence from the medieval funk they’ve been in since the Bobby V team imploded a decade ago.
With the proliferation of exclusive sports networks and mammoth cable contracts, teams are locking up their prized pupils before they fully mature. Mike Trout, for instance, got $144 million from the Angels before he hit professional puberty. He’s under 25, and has at least a decade of dominance left. If this were, say, 1999, the Yanks would have dispatched Brian Cashman to the Trout Estate with a suitcase stuffed with cash and made a Corleone-style contract offer.
But you won’t find great players on the front-nine looking for free agent money. It’s either waste a quarter-billion 30-somethings like Albert Pujols, or sign Robinson Cano to the same, knowing that, in the best case, he will truly earn half of the cash.
Clayton Kershaw won’t ever see the free agent light. Not when the Dodgers lock up billion-dollar TV deals. The Yankees no longer corner the money market. And even when they do, they sign A-Rod to $275 million right after he opts out during the World Series. That was probably the peak of a doomed culture, the apex of Yankee hubris. It’s possible that their title in 2009 was an aberration. Lord knows no one will be picking the Yankees to win the World Series for a while.
I argued that Larry Lucchino forever jinxed the Bombers when he dropped that “Evil Empire” bomb in 2003. But the truth is that the machine was well-oiled well before the Yankees’ delusional orbit landed them Jose Contreras. It probably started with Jason Giambi and Mike Mussina, the first real deviations from the Gene Michael coda.
And now we see all the cracks in Darth Vader’s mask. We used to wear that moniker like a fat gold chain, donning our Star Wars garb, playing the villainous theme music at the old ballpark, proud of our status in the stratus.
But no one much cares about the Yankees anymore. You could argue the same about the Mets, but they aren’t hemorrhaging millions for mediocrity. With a blank slate and blank check next year, the Mets could have a future. Unlike the Yanks, who don’t own MLB — or even NYC — anymore.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel
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