After a more than successful 2015, the New York Mets are primed to make another run into October. It’s time for ownership to do their part.

By Gregg Cambareri

Build it, and they will come…if by build, you mean build a championship caliber team, and fans will come to the ballpark.

That has essentially been the message sent from New York Mets owners Fred & Jeff Wilpon, plus Saul Katz, to management over the past few years. Ownership has had a similar message for fans over the past few years as well: show up to the park, and payroll will increase.

Well, management did their part, constructing a roster that won the National League crown for the first time in 15 years. The fans also chipped in, posting their highest attendance since Citi field’s opening in 2009. Now it’s ownership’s turn to open the checkbook and acquire the talent necessary to gear up for another run towards the postseason, right?

Not exactly.

The Mets opening day payroll in 2015 was just north of $100 million. Next year’s payroll is only expected to experience a slight increase. Although season ticket sales are expected to jump, which should trigger increases in merchandise, concessions, and parking, apparently that isn’t good enough to significantly increase payroll. While SNY viewership was at its highest last season, plus their affiliate blog network (Metsblog.com) experienced record ratings and ad revenue, payroll only figures to rise a little bit.

While the Mets have made it widely known that Ben Zobrist is their offseason priority, he isn’t going to break the bank. They have also been connected to names such as Gerrado Parra, Denard Span, Asdrubal Cabrera, and several other mid-tier bullpen arms. Yoenis Cespedes’s return looks like a long-shot.

Let’s break it down: After arbitration, payroll figures to be around the $92 million dollar mark. Say the Mets were to add Zobrist (we’ll project him at $15m/year), a middle innings guy ($6m), and an outfielder to platoon in center field with Juan Lagares ($10-12m/year), that would bump payroll to about $125 million.

Keep in mind that while the Mets began last season near the $100 million mark, they finished the year around $120 million due to the additions of Cespedes, Tyler Clippard, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Addison Reed–still just 15th in baseball. Most of the in season spending was made possible by insurance money recouped from David Wright’s injuries and Jenrry Mejia’s suspension. So, adding a measly $5 million is a joke for a team playing in the nation’s largest media market.

Remember, that’s if the Mets add those players which should be viewed as the bare minimum for this offseason. Look, it’s reasonable to desire the reasonably priced, bargain kind of free agents, especially after seeing the massive contracts given to David Price and Zach Greinke already, but there’s no reason why a New York team can’t land at least one premium free agent with a payroll sitting in the middle to bottom half of the league.

One day the Mets will have to decide which (if any) of their star pitchers they want to extend. The price for pitching is at an all time high, and only figures to rise over the coming years. Some might be traded or leave in free agency after arbitration expires. You could imagine Matt Harvey probably commanding over $35 million annually when he hits the free agent market in a few years. That’s an incredible amount of money for one guy, sure. However…

If saving money now to pay for extensions to the young staff later is the plan, then it’s a bad one. While the pitching staff is cost controllable, the window is open for contention. This is a win-now time for the Mets, and ownership should be doing everything in their power to take advantage of this rare opportunity. Get the big bat, bullpen help, and fill whatever holes are left, be it in free agency or trades. If waiting until the all star break again seems like the right time to strike, fine–but ownership better be ready to strike while the iron is hot. There is no reason not to surround this Mets team with the talent to compete for a championship with young, cheap, and dominant starting pitching.

The next 2-3 years are the window to go for it all, before the pitching becomes too expensive to all keep together. Management has proven they can build a top flight farm system, make in season trades to bolster the roster, and overcome the financial deficiencies of ownership to field a competitive team. The fans have shown they are ready and willing to come to Citi Field and support a contender.

So where are you Fred, Jeff, and Saul?

Are you still hiding behind the Bernie Madoff disaster, or are you ready to prove that your financial issues are behind you?

The MLB Winter Meetings have already begun.

The Wilpons are now, on the clock.

 


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