After an extremely drawn out process, the Phillies finally got their man last week, signing Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract. The signing ended what was a ridiculous saga around Harper and Manny Machado, two of the best free agents of all time that seemingly no team actually wanted to pay. And let’s be perfectly clear: Both of these guys are worth every penny they got—and probably more.
To the surprise of no one, the Mets didn’t sign either of these generational talents, never attempted to sign either, and will now have to deal with Harper for the next decade-plus as he becomes the centerpiece of a talented roster in Philadelphia that was arguably already better positioned to contend in 2019 than the Mets. Rather than responding by adding another free agent of their own—Dallas Keuchel would be an ideal option—the Mets will sit on their hands and not spend any more money. It’s an embarrassing level of disinterest in building a contender, or it least it should be.
The Mets will claim they tried. They’ll point to Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia, Justin Wilson, and Jed Lowrie as an indication of their willingness to invest in the team. They’ll also conveniently ignore the fact that the Mets are well below the luxury tax threshold ($25 million, per Cot’s), have the third-lowest payroll in the division, and have sat back and watched while two division rivals made some of the biggest moves of the offseason: Patrick Corbin for the Nationals, Harper and J.T. Realmuto for the Phillies.
Jeff Wilpon has claimed that the payroll is opened up and that the team is all in. Payroll did in fact increase by roughly $20 million, and the Mets will have the seventh- or eighth-highest payroll in baseball entering the season. Giving the Mets a pass because the rest of baseball isn’t really interested in being as competitive as possible themselves isn’t much of an excuse, though. Because the Mets were never interested in the top of the market options despite the financial ability to jump in the race, Wilpon’s statements seem like more of the same vapid marketing fluff we’ve heard from this ownership group for years rather than a reflection of the realities of the Mets’ closing contention window and an acknowledgement of past mistakes.
The bottom line is that the Mets finished a distant fourth place in the division last season. Two of the teams in front of them have made equivalent or superior additions this offseason, while the third—the Braves—has a contention window that should extend longer than the Mets’ given their elite farm system. The Mets needed to follow up the acquisition of Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz with another big splash, and they had the ability to sign either Manny Machado or Bryce Harper. Instead, they took the same half-assed approach to roster construction as always, and despite having traded several prospects, they could end up being the third-best team in the division for the next two seasons.
Hanlon’s razor goes something like this: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” If you choose to believe that the Wilpons’ detrimental actions are a product of stupidity, that’s your prerogative. I think, however, that we have ample evidence to suggest they violate this aphorism. The Wilpons aren’t stupid, but they’ll feel no shame or embarrassment as they watch a generational talent join a rival franchise.