Mets fans ought to know where their money is going, because it’s clear that much of it isn’t ending up on the field. So on Saturday afternoon, an email was sent directly to Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon. The questions centered on payroll, a topic he hasn’t publicly addressed since September 2014.
Through a spokesman later that afternoon, Wilpon declined comment.
This came as no surprise.
For years, the Wilpons have shown little willingness to level with their fans. And with the Mets on the brink of squandering a window to compete for championships, they seem content to continue their blackout.
It’s a shame, really. For any business, accountability begins by addressing the customers. But if there’s one thing that can be counted upon, it’s the Mets doing the exact opposite of what makes sense.
Back in September, general manager Sandy Alderson first indicated that the Mets likely would cut payroll from $155 million. Nobody knows why.
The timing is odd. The Mets insist they’ll compete after a 92-loss season, and money shouldn’t be in short supply. After all, each owner reportedly is receiving a $50-million windfall. That comes from the sale of the technology used to stream games on MLB.com, a venture that was started by the owners.
Yet the Mets have shown signs that payroll again is an issue. They should be looking hard at adding a starting pitcher, adding another reliever, adding a first baseman who can hit and adding a second baseman who can hit.
Earlier in the offseason, Alderson himself agreed on all those counts. But by the winter meetings, he had changed his tone. He downplayed the need for a starting pitcher. Then he expressed confidence in first baseman Dominic Smith, all after questioning his conditioning.
Spending on free agents isn’t the cure-all, but the Mets fall short of spending in other areas as well. When compared to other teams, they have little scouting presence in the Pacific Rim and Cuba.
An organization’s culture flows from the top. But rather than reach for transparency, the Wilpons seem content to hide. They never talk about money. Whether it’s arrogance or simply negligence, they have no problem asking fans to pony up the cash and never show the willingness to reciprocate.
In a way, it’s understandable. Owners can run their business however they choose. It’s their prerogative. But with the Mets, it’s not just the fans who are left in the dark.
At the winter meetings, Alderson got snappy, saying that too much attention has been paid to the exact nature of his payroll. But it turns out that he might not know the answer for sure, either.
According to sources, the front office has only a fuzzy idea of what they actually have to spend in any given offseason. They’re often flying blind, forced to navigate the winter under the weight of an invisible salary cap. This is not the behavior of a franchise that wants to win.
To the Wilpons, it’s as if nobody is worthy of a straight answer. That’s the biggest failure of all. Just two years after winning a pennant, the Mets have wasted whatever goodwill they had with their fans, all because they refuse to speak with them.
Even Derek Jeter knows better. In his brief stewardship of the Marlins, he has staged a clinic on what not to do as an owner, but he’s shown enough sense to speak publicly. Even as Jeter dismantles the franchise, he has reached out to the fans. That’s more than the Wilpons can say.
The Mets are not the Yankees. The Wilpons are not the Steinbrenners. To expect the Mets to keep up with the Joneses just because they happen to reside on the other side of the Triboro takes a certain level of delusion. It’s never going to happen.
That in itself is not a crime. But it costs zero dollars to be transparent, to be willing to explain the payroll, to be proactive about presenting a plan to succeed.
Maybe that plan means paying up and writing big checks (though history says that ain’t happening anytime soon). Maybe it means scaling down and wising up. Spending less surely would make fans recoil. And the idea of doing things such as trading Jacob deGrom for prospects may be too much for some to bear.
But that still beats living under the illusion of being a big-market operation when the Mets have shown they are no such thing.
There’s no point in pretending. There’s no point in getting caught in the middle. If the payroll is never going to be a hammer that the Wilpons are willing to swing, then the answer is to be leaner and smarter.
Invest in scouting the Pacific Rim and Cuba. Trade your talent before their price tags skyrocket. Bet on your brains.
Of course, it takes leadership to take such a leap.
The Wilpons can start by publicly owning up to how this franchise is run. They can begin speaking for themselves rather than leaving the dirty work to middle men. But until they show the courage to take that first step, the Mets and their fans are doomed to repeat the cycle, pulling for a franchise that will never actually do enough to win.