On Opening Day, the New York Mets had ten players on their payroll due more than $6 million this year:
Mo Vaughn $17,166,667
Mike Piazza $15,571,429
Jeromy Burnitz $12,166,667
Tom Glavine $11,000,000
Al Leiter $8,000,000
Rey Ordonez $6,250,000
Roberto Alomar $7,689,684
Pedro Astacio $7,000,000
Armando Benitez $6,937,500
Cliff Floyd $6,500,000
That is a frightening list. $12 million for Jeromy Burnitz? $6 million for St. Rey of Ordonez, who wasn’t even on the team anymore? $17 million for Mo Vaughn? Were they paying by the pound?
Otherwise respectable individuals looked at the Mets’ offseason acquisitions of Glavine and Floyd and thought they would challenge for the NL East. That never made any sense to me; they were a bad team in 2002, and furthermore a bad old team. The Mets are actually playing at about the same level as last year, marginally worse, a 73-win pace versus last year’s 75 wins. They added two more old players, players who even if they were good weren’t enough to make a 75-win team into a 90-win team. No matter how good Tom Glavine is, the Mets were 26 1/2 games worse than the Braves last year; he’s not worth 13 games. Nobody is.
The Mets’ theoretical starting lineup entering this year:
CF Roger Cedeno
2B Robby Alomar
C Mike Piazza
LF Cliff Floyd
1B Mo Vaughn
RF Jeromy Burnitz
3B Jay Bell
SS Rey Sanchez
Two simple facts about that lineup known to anyone entering this season: 1) Six of the eight are 34 or older, the exceptions being Cedeno (28) and Floyd (30); 2) None of them were developed by the Mets except Burnitz, whom they traded when he was a youngster and reacquired after he was done.
Those are the facts. The simple deductions anyone could have made from those facts, even if they didn’t know the Mets’ recent history, is that this was a team built to win now, and that the Mets’ farm system has been barren for a decade. Now, you have a built to win now team that won 75 games last year, and the GM gets to go out and add a couple more free agents. Does that ever work?
In retrospect, the Mets’s World Series appearance in 2001 was a fluke and the worst thing that could have happened to the franchise. A fluke, in that they didn’t have to face the Braves, who regularly beat them, and that the team they did face in the NLCS was going into systems failure. And the worst thing in that the idea that the team was on the edge of winning a championship — rather than lucking in as a wildcard when all the division champions were beset by problems — led to the disasterous Alomar signing and the even more disasterous Vaughn trade. Signing Alomar moved Edgardo Alfonzo — basically the only good player that the Mets system produced in the nineties — off of his best position, and eventually off the team, all for a player who suddenly was little better than replacement level. Vaughn was guaranteed not to hit, something obvious to anyone with any knowledge of how players age, and is making a huge salary, and cost the team a good pitcher in Kevin Appier.
GM Steve Phillips was eventually fired, but not until he’d overburdened the payroll. Much of that money is going to players who underperformed — Glavine, Leiter, the since-traded Alomar, etc. — or aren’t playing at all. Piazza’s missed most of the season, Vaughn likely will never play again (and was awful when he played), Astacio has a torn labrum and is probably done as an effective pitcher. Burnitz has played well, but has missed a third of the team’s games.
The Mets supposedly have several good prospects coming up. I’m skeptical. Met prospects are generally overrated, and at any rate they don’t seem to have the depth of players they need. Other than new callup Jose Reyes, the Mets have maybe three active players who might be around in five years. They have to turn over their entire roster, and five or six players simply won’t be enough.