LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla.
Sandy Alderson rarely expresses any sense of urgency, and these winter meetings were no different.
The Mets were pleased to pluck Anthony Swarzak from what the Mets’ general manager called the “inferno’’ of the relief pitcher market, at a cost of $14 million over two years, and he should bolster their bullpen.
As for the other roster holes, Alderson was in no hurry to fill them, even after losing out to the Angels on Ian Kinsler, a second baseman in whom the Mets were very much interested.
Alderson tends to be a patient guy on the player-acquisition front and doesn’t mind waiting for the market to come back to him. But after a relatively quiet stay this week at Disney, there’s a clock ticking on the Mets, who should realize that the window of opportunity for this coming season is not going to be open forever.
Alderson’s fiscally conservative, patchwork approach to prepping the Mets for 2018 is nothing new for this franchise, and last season’s calamitous downturn no doubt is making the club feel more frugal. But if there were ever a year to be a little looser with the checkbook, this might be the one.
Look around the National League East. Other than the Nationals, the division is in shambles.
The debt-ridden Marlins traded Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Gordon and Marcell Ozuna in the past week. The way things are going for Derek Jeter in South Florida, he might have to come out of retirement as a player-CEO to save a few bucks.
The Braves? Commissioner Rob Manfred used the nuclear option to punish them for international-signing crimes, forcing a complete overhaul of the front office while liberating their prized prospects.
We’re not sure what to make of the Phillies yet, but they figure to be saving up for a major free-agent push next offseason and hired a total wild card in manager Gabe Kapler.
Suffice to say, there should be plenty of wins teed up in the NL East, and the Mets aren’t taking advantage with these half-measures.
“We continue to work on it and I’m still very optimistic that something will come of the process,” Alderson said before heading home Thursday morning. “But it’s not something I can absolutely predict. I’m happy with the progress we’re making, and obviously that progress doesn’t show until there’s actually a deal or a signing. But we’ll keep working toward that end.”
Alderson pledged to have a “healthy” payroll when asked this week about his budget, but the Mets won’t provide a ballpark number, and he suggested at the end of the 2017 season that it won’t reach last year’s $155 million. But again, here’s where that window comes in.
The Mets have been fortunate to feature a talented, cost-efficient rotation since their World Series run in 2015. Obviously, what should be an elite starting staff hasn’t performed to its potential overall, mostly because of health issues. But the rotation’s ceiling remains incredibly high while its price tag has stayed ridiculously low, a tremendous economic edge that is only temporary.
Last season, the Mets paid a total of $11.14 million to the top five of Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. Through some extremely bad luck — and questionable medicine — only deGrom performed up to their lofty expectations.
But they also represented only 7 percent of the overall payroll, with Harvey earning the highest salary at $5.1 million. Each of the starters will get a boost through arbitration this year, but nothing compared to what coveted free-agent arms would command. The Mets should be able to exploit that imbalance and be more aggressive spenders for 2018.
Maybe if the Mets had a deep pool of prospects, like the Yankees, they could spare a few as chips instead. But that isn’t the case. According to the list compiled by MLB.com, the Mets don’t have a prospect in the top 100, and the farm system overall ranks in the bottom third. That has limited their ability to compete in the trade market as well.
All this doesn’t mean Alderson can’t get creative. Swarzak was a start this week, but as the Mets scrutinize their bottom line, they should look at the big picture, too.