SAN DIEGO — Brodie Van Wagenen swatted away talk about Steve Cohen’s looming acquisition of the Mets by stating he wanted to stick with baseball.
Except, of course, there is nothing quite as important for a team’s baseball operations as who the owner is. Everyone works at their mercy. That person controls the purse strings. Sets the tone for the organization. The Mets are a reflection of the Wilpons and, potentially, will someday soon be a reflection of Cohen.
One of Van Wagenen’s selling points as GM was his willingness to see all issues three-dimensionally, and one of those dimensions now is the potential of an owner with deep pockets entering the Mets’ life. Shouldn’t that impact decision making? Now?
And this should be about more than what Cohen might bring soon. How about what the Wilpons should bring now?
If Mets ownership is fairly confident of this sale — and I believe the Wilpons are fairly confident that Cohen will soon assume about 80 percent of the team — then the 2020 club is going to be the last that is truly theirs. Even if the Wilpons hold onto executive titles, Cohen will control the money. If he wants the Mets to go full bore for Mookie Betts in free agency next offseason, they will. If not, they won’t.
But that is 12 months from now. In the here and now this is still the Wilpons’ team, with future knowledge of what is coming.
So shouldn’t they try to go out enjoying the heck out of this and trying to put their last, best foot forward? If they truly believe a large personal financial windfall is nearing, then wouldn’t now be the time to spend to try to differentiate the 2020 Mets from what projects again as a tough NL East — made tougher, for example, Monday when Stephen Strasburg re-upped with the Nationals?
For the Mets, this is not about players like Strasburg or Gerrit Cole or Anthony Rendon, who are going to demand top dollars on long-term deals. The Wilpons are not going to the top of the market now. But they should be telling Van Wagenen — and now — to be aggressive with what would improve the roster on one-year deals. Making the Mets’ depth better would help in that tight NL East race.
So, for example, if the Mets really like Rick Porcello and he is willing to do a one-year pact to re-establish value after a down 2019, then go get him. Pick the best backup catcher from the baseball operation’s evaluation — Jason Castro or Martin Maldonado or whomever — and sign him for a year.
Can you give a Joe Smith or Craig Stammen enough on one-year deals or one with an option to get them to deepen the bullpen? Heck, sign them both. See if Dellin Betances wants to come to Queens to re-establish his value in 2020.
Add it all up and it would take the Mets over the $208 million luxury tax threshold. But at the lowest penalty rates, so it will not be much of a penalty. And ownership should not fixate on the penalties. But the gains.
Van Wagenen described the Mets on Monday as operating with “business as usual.” What that means is that if Van Wagenen likes something, he can present it for thumbs up or thumbs down. But Mets GMs have learned not to bring certain concepts to their bosses because they are not going to get approved. So make this easier. If you are the Wilpons, tell Van Wagenen to be bold on multiple fronts. Now. Today. Not the fake-out in February that baseball operations has money to spend when the cupboard of availability is close to empty.
As always, it is informative to recall that for most of the 1980s and the early 1990s, George Steinbrenner was a despised caricature in New York. Then the Yankees began to win in 1993 and never stopped. A dynasty altered Steinbrenner’s perception. As always, winning is sports deodorant.
There probably is no longer time for a Wilpon dynasty. But there is a good enough roster cornerstone — with enhancements — to win in 2020. That would not whitewash an entire four-plus decade ownership reign. But what comes last is remembered. And this is an opportunity — Cohen looming — for the Wilpons to be remembered better, if not fondly.
And don’t they want to enjoy this as much as possible? They potentially can buy themselves a going-away present.