By Brad Kallet, WFAN.com
» More Columns
What a disgrace.
This Mets season, which started out so remarkably promising, has very quickly turned into just another disappointing and utterly maddening campaign in Queens. It feels like 2013-14 all over again, just with better pitching. Worst of all, what started out as exciting has turned into painfully boring.
Don’t blame the players. Don’t blame manager Terry Collins. Blame Fred and Jeff Wilpon, and general manager Sandy Alderson.
Remember when New York won 11 straight games in April, had a 13-3 record and owned a comfortable lead in the National League East? Yeah, I don’t really either. Since that brilliant stretch, the Amazin’s have gone a putrid 12-18 and have let the Nationals storm back after a terrible start.
This was all too predictable.
I don’t know who deserves more blame. Should we be more angry at the Wilpons or Alderson? We’ll never know the real story, at least not until Alderson or some front-office executive writes a tell-all book. But it doesn’t take a Harvard-educated economist to decipher that since the Madoff scandal the Wilpons have spent barely any money, and Alderson — for all his supposed genius — has failed to significantly improve the major league roster.
I understand that Alderson has an extremely difficult job due to limited resources, but at some point that excuse no longer holds water. You’re a baseball genius and revolutionary, no? Prove it and add quality major leaguers, as opposed to simply dealing aging stars for top prospects. (In fairness, he’s done that beautifully.) As for getting the most bang for his buck on free agents and creatively acquiring top-tier major leaguers via trade? This revolutionary executive gets a big, fat “F” from me in that department.
But still, I have to assign the most blame to Fred and Jeff. Alderson can’t spend money that he doesn’t have, and the fact remains that ownership didn’t do nearly enough to improve the club this winter.
Alderson added Michael Cuddyer, which is a decent signing IF it’s complemented with a Troy Tulowitzki-like addition. But he stopped there.
I maintain that this lineup, when healthy, is strong. Well, maybe not strong. But certainly good enough considering the dominant starting rotation and solid bullpen. That’s why, despite my skepticism entering the season, I felt that the Mets could make the playoffs.
Let’s assume that every player stayed healthy. The lineup, as it was in the first couple of weeks, consisted of Curtis Granderson, Juan Lagares, David Wright, Lucas Duda, Cuddyer, Daniel Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud and Wilmer Flores.
Top to bottom, I’m ready to go to war with that lineup when Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and (initially) Zack Wheeler are in my rotation. (Noah Syndergaard has essentially replaced Wheeler.) But for that offense to produce, EVERYTHING had to break right, meaning not one starting position player could get injured. And certainly two couldn’t.
So when Wright went down with an injury, this team was in trouble. And then when d’Arnaud broke his hand, this team was in SERIOUS trouble. The Mets do not have the firepower to withstand injuries to their hitters. Those two losses were death sentences.
Suddenly Eric Campbell (a AAAA player whose numbers were inflated in Vegas) and Kevin Plawecki (a promising young backstop who clearly isn’t ready to play every day) were thrown into the fire. Success was not sustainable. But I can’t blame prospects and bench players. There’s a reason that they’re prospects and bench players — they’re not expected to play every day and adequately replace the starters. Every team’s bench is filled with weak players. Hence, that’s why they’re on the bench.
But unlike other teams in the league, the Mets were severely exposed. Not because they couldn’t properly replace Wright and d’Arnaud, but because their lineup is filled with decent bats rather than game-changing ones. Lose two players? There aren’t any hitters who can carry the team in their absence. Duda isn’t that guy.
There are no Bryce Harpers, Paul Goldschmidts, Nelson Cruzes, Mike Trouts, Anthony Rizzos, Miguel Cabreras, Giancarlo Stantons, Adrian Gonzalezes, Eric Hosmers, Prince Fielders, etc. etc. on this roster. I could go on and on and on and on and on. When teams with superstar players suffer injuries, they can survive because their stars put the club on their shoulders.
This is where the Wilpons and Alderson come in. I’m not saying it’s easy to get one of the aforementioned players. But the Mets’ brass HAD to know that this team was lacking a true star, and adding one would alter the entire complexion and dynamic of the lineup. Could Alderson have found a way to trade some of his young prospects for a stud who would have made this lineup potent? I’m not an executive, but since we saw top players go to new clubs weekly during the offseason, I’m going to go out on a limb and say he could have done more than settle for an aging Cuddyer.
Could the Wilpons have signed a top free agent like Cruz, who is currently hitting .341 with 17 home runs and 35 RBIs for Seattle? Honestly, who knows. I’m not their accountant/financial advisor, and maybe — likely — they just didn’t have the money to spend. Whether they did or they didn’t, the inaction was unacceptable. (For all the Cruz detractors, yes I’m aware that he’s not great in the outfield. But Cuddy isn’t exactly Kenny Lofton, is he?)
Great teams can survive when key players get hurt. The Mets can’t because, to be blunt, they don’t have any great players. Without Wright and d’Arnaud, who I consider their second- and third-best hitters, they’re forced to rely on Duda, Granderson, Murphy, Cuddyer, Flores and Lagares to shoulder the load. With the exception of Duda, who has emerged as the most feared slugger on the team, the other five are complementary pieces. They will not hit enough to keep this club afloat.
Had the Wilpons and Alderson bitten the bullet, opened their wallets and added a Cruz or Tulowitzki, the Mets would be in a far better place right now. They could have comfortably stayed in the race until Wright and d’Arnaud returned.
But they didn’t. They sat on their hands, blew yet another opportunity and are in the process of wasting some of the best pitching in the National League. It’s absolutely infuriating.
And yes, New York has suffered it’s fair share of injuries in addition to Wright and d’Arnaud. But that’s not an excuse. For some perspective, look at the front page of MLB.com every morning and scan the headlines. Teams place players on the disabled list, literally, every single day. Guys get hurt. That’s just the nature of the game and sports in general.
I know it’s May. I know that the Mets are still above .500. But let’s be honest with ourselves, folks. This team is headed more and more into irrelevance with each passing day. Who knows when Wright will come back, if he comes back at all. D’Arnaud should return in the not-too-distant future, but he alone is not good enough to make up for the lack of offense. A ninth straight playoff-less season is more than likely on the horizon.
And after starting 13-3, missing the playoffs is inexcusable.
Collins will probably be shown the door when it’s all said and done, but he shouldn’t be the one to take the fall. Assuming the Mets don’t secure a postseason berth, Alderson should get the pink slip.
And the Wilpons, who can’t be fired and clearly have no intention of selling, will continue to kill our spirits and run this franchise into the ground.
Brad Kallet is an editor and columnist for CBSNewYork.com. He has written for TENNIS.com, MLB.com and SMASH Magazine, among others. You can follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet.