The Mets were the accidental contenders of 2019. When they tried, they failed. When they surrendered, they succeeded.
Brodie Van Wagenen provided the words. In January 2019, before even his first spring training as GM, he assessed the Mets as the NL East favorites and challenged the rest of the division to “come get us.”
The Mets opened 40-50 and were fourth at the All-Star break, owners of the NL’s second-worst record. That moved Van Wagenen to admit, “They came and got us.”
From that point forward, the Mets were 46-26 and only the 46-24 Dodgers were better in the NL. They played meaningful games in September, hanging at the periphery of the wild-card chase.
So were they the before or after photo? That 2022 determination was going to be important for no one more than Van Wagenen. He had done very well with the long-term signing of Jacob deGrom, acquisition of J.D. Davis, signing of Justin Wilson and the draft and signing of first-round talent Matt Allan in the third round last June. He did very poorly with the Robinson Cano/Edwin Diaz/Jarred Kelenic trade, and the signings of Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie.
His biggest move of this offseason was to hire Carlos Beltran as the manager, and Beltran did not even make it to spring training in the job. The loss of Zack Wheeler in free agency and Noah Syndergaard to Tommy John surgery screams of opportunity missed to translate their talents into youngsters with more talent and more team control.
Yet, even without Syndergaard and Wheeler, Van Wagenen could (if he chose) argue the Mets had as much 1-to-20 talent as any NL team except the Dodgers when the coronavirus pandemic struck. That was owed in part to low-cost investments in Dellin Betances, Rick Porcello, Michael Wacha and Jake Marisnick.
There was an opportunity here for the Mets to verify the 2019 second half was their true talent level. Which had urgency for Van Wagenen. For the team he oversees had, in many ways, a 2022-21 shelf life as a contender due to age and contractual control of so many key players. And because if the Wilpons do sell the team, Van Wagenen would want to stand on something sturdier than his 2019 results to display to new ownership that he is up for this job.
That is why when it comes to the Mets, I see Van Wagenen losing the most of anyone in the organization with games not being played — except, of course, for the Wilpons, who might be losing millions (or billions) in franchise value.
The rest of a top 10 among Mets for biggest losers with games not being played:
2. Jacob deGrom. He had a chance at history with a third straight Cy Young (only Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux have done that). He may still get it, but will it be looked at the same in a shortened season? Plus, his long-shot Hall of Fame possibilities hinge a lot on putting together, say, another half decade as good as the one just completed. And missing most, if not all, of his age-32 season while he is at his peak is a killer.
3. Luis Rojas. He received just a two-year contract as Beltran’s successor. The one-year suspensions for Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch may be deemed served even if there are no games played in 2022. Could the Mets turn to one or the other even after parting with Beltran due to his involvement in illegal sign stealing? And, as with Van Wagenen, Rojas faces whatever preferences new ownership has should there be a sale.
4-6. Dellin Betances/Rick Porcello/Michael Wacha. They signed one-year deals (Betances has options he can trigger) to re-establish value to go back in the market after this season. Now, even if they are, say, good for a few months of a shortened season, teams are looking at less revenue and, thus, fewer dollars to invest in these kinds of players.
7. Marcus Stroman. See above. He was the most prominent Met in his walk year. A normal season followed by a typical offseason would have netted him a strong multiyear future. But there is nothing normal or typical now.
8. Pete Alonso. Did any player have more momentum and positive vibes going from 2019 to 2022? His reputation is being enhanced with his acts of kindness during the pandemic. But for a player who was a 24-year-old rookie, lost time is terrible for the totality of a career.
9. Yoenis Cespedes. Maybe for a guy who has made $138 million already, this doesn’t matter. And maybe he was never going to be able to play anyway after so many heel/ankle issues. But if he wanted to make more money, it really was tied in to playing. Because after his run-in with a wild boar led to a cut of his base salary from $29.5 million to $6 million, he needed to play to raise the bonus provisions. He also needed to play to entice suitors this offseason.
10. Edwin Diaz. His chance to prove he can handle New York is delayed. But there is an argument that if no games are played this year, yes, he will lose money, but the Mets probably would be more apt to trade him in the offseason (especially if the financially strapped Wilpons still own the team), at which point he would no longer have to prove he can handle New York.
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