For New York Mets fans, it’s been a long and arduous road since 2009. That year should’ve been solely about celebrating the Mets’ brand new stadium, Citi Field, and talking about a club that had been on the cusp of the playoffs the two years prior. However, both of those narratives took a backseat to the Bernie Madoff scandal, which Mets’ owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon found themselves smack in the middle of. Over the years, many different kinds of rhetoric regarding the situation have been bandied about, but one thing is certain: the Mets, who at one time possessed one of the top payrolls in baseball, have lopped so much money off of their books that they now have a payroll in the bottom 10 of Major League Baseball.
In each of the past two seasons, Fred Wilpon has issued declarative statements that neither the owners nor the team are broke and that there would be no limits on the team’s payroll. Coincidentally (or not), last year’s declaration came the day after the one significant free agent that the Mets were reportedly chasing, Michael Bourn, signed elsewhere. After five consecutive losing seasons, during which the team hasn’t even sniffed the playoffs or a .500 record, many believe, to quote Shakespeare, that “something is rotten in Denmark.”
Although the Mets went out and signed several fairly big-name free agents this offseason, most of the money was culled from the massive contracts of Jason Bay and Johan Santana coming off the books. As a result, it appears, at least for now, that the Mets have simply re-arranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. General manager Sandy Alderson claimed earlier this offseason that the team’s payroll would be higher than last season’s, but less than a month away from Opening Day, that’s not the case. The signings of Curtis Granderson, Bartolo Colon and Chris Young were a nice start, however, the Mets are still severely lacking at several key positions and, as usual, they’re basically relying on everything to break right for the team to even approach contention.
Both Wilpons claim that the shift in payroll is a new “organizational philosophy,” but as some of the better run franchises in baseball have shown, you don’t have to operate on a shoestring budget to build up a strong farm system. Now that the Mets’ organizational depth is the strongest that it’s been in recent memory, the time is now to start to plug some of the myriad holes on the roster. The Mets made a failed run at signing reliever Grant Balfour, who chose to close for the Tampa Bay Rays, but have not attempted to reinvest that money into any other much-needed bullpen arms — or anywhere else for that matter. Instead, the club inked veteran retreads Kyle Farnsworth and Jose Valverde to contracts in the hopes that both men could turn back the clock to 2011.
Meanwhile, one of the better shortstops in the league, Stephen Drew, remains a free agent, and the Mets continue to insist that they’re happy with Ruben Tejada coming off a season in which he barely broke a .200 batting average. Although it’s impossible to know what Drew’s contract demands are or if Alderson is simply employing a staunch negotiating tactic, the longer this plays out, the more whispers abound that the Mets are still not nearly as financially solvent as the owners claim. It was reported earlier this winter that the Wilpons had refinanced a loan, which had included a debt covenant limiting the amount of money the team could spend on payroll. If that is indeed the case, it would seem to indicate that the Wilpons are not out of the woods just yet in regards to rebuilding their post-Madoff finances.
While the truth may lie somewhere in between the two statements of financial extremes, there’s no reason for a franchise based in the largest market to be operating with a payroll lower than the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres. Even if the Mets ultimately sign Drew, it’s going to take a lot more convincing to earn back the trust of an already dubious fanbase. Regardless of the situation, Met fans deserve the truth.