Jeff Wilpon said he gets it. He gets the fan perception that the Mets are more interested in saving money than acquiring the best possible players. He understands that they’re frustrated. He even said he’s frustrated, too.
But though the Mets’ chief operating officer broke his long silence on the team’s payroll situation, and appeared to empathize with fans, he and general manager Sandy Alderson indicated that the Mets will not spend wantonly in a free-agent market that has many other organizations playing the waiting game. What’s more, though Wilpon does expect the Mets’ payroll to go up — it’s somewhere around an estimated $135 million — he does not appear to have designs on spending like a typical big-market team.
“I understand the fan base’s frustration, and we have the same frustration,” he said Tuesday at a lunch with beat reporters at Citi Field. “There’s nobody going out there trying to not win, and not putting the best person in the absolute best position to win. The (payroll) that we start with as a target at the beginning of the offseason, it usually goes up from there. I suspect we’ll be in that same situation this year as well. It might come before the season, it might come during the season.”
It was the first time Wilpon has commented on payroll since September 2014.
Alderson said that despite fan perception — many are disgruntled that the Wilpons, who suffered significant financial losses from the Bernie Madoff scandal, have no interest in opening their checkbook — the Mets have been as or more active than most. Alderson cited the acquisitions of reliever A.J. Ramos, which occurred during the 2017 season, as well as Anthony Swarzak, Jay Bruce and Adrian Gonzalez. Wilpon added there’s a chance that this year’s payroll could exceed last year’s Opening Day payroll, which settled at $154 million.
“We’ve probably added as many players as anybody and probably committed as many dollars as most teams — not all teams, but most teams,” Alderson said. “We’ve also taken a sort of wait and see (philosophy) as well . . .
“We’re happy with where we are. We’re not sure where we’ll end up, but we’re not done looking, we’re not done investigating, we’re not done listening.”
Alderson said there is a chance the team may not add any more players before spring training, but acknowledged needs at second and third base. Mike Moustakas, who likely will command a large contract, despite the market, is an available third baseman, along with Todd Frazier.
Alderson also denied offseason reports that payroll had become a point of contention between him and Wilpon. “I don’t think there’s ever been really a disagreement about payroll,” he said. Alderson pointed to the signing of Yoenis Cespedes (four years, $110 million) as an indication they’re not afraid to spend. They just won’t spend without a strong impetus, apparently, and Wilpon showed no desire to go back to 2010, when the Mets were fifth in payroll.
“I’d rather look at what we can do in terms of wins and losses,” Wilpon said. “We were in the top five in payroll, and I don’t think that won us a World Series. We set out to make the playoffs. We’re trying to win the World Series, not trying to be in the top five.
“There are certain teams that spend $200 million to get (players) valued at 135 (million). Other teams spend 95 to get that value. You can get there in different ways.”
Wilpon also addressed the David Wright situation. The Mets are reclaiming 75 percent of his $20-million salary through insurance after Wright’s career was derailed by neck and spine issues; that salary, though, is still considered part of the payroll. Wilpon said the 75-percent payback does not reflect the cost of Wright’s policy, which is “not cheap,” and Alderson said there’s always a chance Wright returns to baseball, even though he’s not involved in baseball activities. In that case, the Mets would pay his full salary.
That’s part of the reason they were interested in retaining Asdrubal Cabrera, who can move around the infield and play third. At times, Alderson said, they’re as interested in flexibility as much as dependability.
“We feel really good about the team right now,” he said when asked if this group can improve substantially from last year’s 70-win season. “I would agree that we don’t have the perfect solution right now at every infield position. We’re confident we will have a good solution at every infield position. In the meantime, our season is going to turn on the health of our pitching. If our pitching is healthy — I mean reasonably healthy — we can be really good.”