11:13 am Jul. 18, 2012
The Mets could be out of contention by this time next week, thanks in large part to their awful bullpen.
They lost again on Tuesday night, 5-4 to the Washington Nationals. As has often been the case this year, they got good starting pitching and timely hitting, and then the relievers gave it away, blowing leads in the ninth and tenth innings.
It's not clear that the Mets are a in a position to do much about this glaring problem. Sandy Alderson has unsurprisingly decided that, in light of the team's current position, the Mets will not be looking to sacrifice prospects who can play in 2013 or 2014 for trades to help the 2012 team, whose recent five-game losing streak dropped them well behind the division-leading Nationals and a significant number of National League wild card contenders.
But there is another way that teams add talent in-season without sacrificing their future talent pool, and that is by adding salary. Out-of-contention teams don't have much reason to pay veteran players, and usually, the simple act of being willing to take on a salary is enough to get a deal for a useful bullpen piece done.
Alderson knows this, because he was on the other end of a dump of Francisco Rodriguez, way back in 2011. Rodriguez went to Milwaukee with some cash to offset his remaining salary, but the Brewers assumed some of it as well. In exchange, the Mets received a pair of players to be named later, neither of whom turned out to be any kind of prospect.
Rodriguez, incidentally, is available this time around. So is Huston Street of the Padres. Rodriguez is signed to a one-year, $8 million contract. Street is owed effectively the same amount, $7.5 million with a $500,000 buyout of his 2013 option.
Both Street and Rodriguez are miles above any reliever on the Mets right now in terms of effectiveness. If the Mets were willing to assume those salaries, they could have upgraded the bullpen, overnight, without touching their future talent base.
They were not. Both pitchers are "too pricey".
Which goes directly to the finances of their ownership. Even as the 2012 payroll estimates from Alderson got smaller, and smaller, and smaller, even when they dropped below $100 million, it was supposedly because that would give the Mets the flexibility to add salary in-season if necessary. Sure, Alderson spent what budget he had on his bullpen. But the pittance he was given meant he could only go after mediocre options in the offseason, and lacks the flexibility that cost-cutting supposedly provided to augment that group now.
Well, if there's a more necessary reason to do so than to upgrade a league-worst bullpen for an otherwise contending team, it is hard to think of it.
Instead, the severe financial limitations of the Wilpons, which kept the team from signing Jose Reyes, have cost them a shot at contending in 2012 without compromising the future of the team.
The Wilpons should be commended for avoiding a win-now set of moves to increase their slim chances of a playoff berth, and the financial windfall that goes with it.
But that alone will be cold comfort, as the bullpen continues blowing winnable games, led by pitchers who would have been replaced by now if the team had owners who could afford it.