Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen

AP Photo

Keidel: Mets Aren't Favorites In NL East, But Van Wagenen Has Turned Them Into A Contender

Jason Keidel
February 08, 2019 - 1:28 pm
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Let's assume Jed Lowrie is the last real log the Mets pull from the hot stove. 

Are you happy?

It means rookie GM Brodie Van Wagenen spent about $130 million for this 2019 facelift. He was aggressive -- maybe not Machado aggressive -- while signing most of the rotation to one-year deals. Among the Mets' more notable moves were the acquisitions of Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and Wilson Ramos, as well as the adding of depth around the diamond. 

The Mets are better and are about $60 million under the luxury tax threshold ($206 million). Depending on the site you use, the Mets' payroll is anywhere between $136 million and $147 million. (They aren't the Yankees, but you knew that well before this winter.) They did not (and will not) bag Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. They did not sign Jacob deGrom to a comforting deal beyond next year. Despite Van Wagenen's assertions, the Mets are not favored to win the AL East. 

But there's still something new or fresh or refreshing about Van Wagenen's presence, his sunny mien and teenager's glee over his maiden year as the boss. Maybe it's because he represented half the roster at some point as a player agent. He couldn't even be there for deGrom's arbitration deal because of his prior role in the star pitcher's career. Yet even that went well, with deGrom getting a record $17 million deal without a foul word spoken. 

You'd never know the Mets -- who finished 77-85 last year -- were in the World Series four years ago. (Can you believe Matt Harvey was on the mound in the ninth inning of the final game?) That team seemed loaded for years, holding a hand with four aces and a lineup with a young Yoenis Cespedes and Daniel Murphy's clutch October bat. 

We forget that then-general manager Sandy Alderson got the Mets to a Fall Classic and that they had an eighth-inning lead in each game they lost. The club splintered and then Alderson had health issues. We forget the meat-hook realities of team sports. 

No doubt the Mets reached deep into the surreal to grab Alderson's replacement. Those of us of a certain age are used to the pot-bellied, cigar-chomping baseball lifer to pick our players. Now we have MLB executives barely cracking 30, their hairline intact and Bill James devotees who solve problems by the numbers, not by the eyeballs. 

Fans might smirk or chuckle at the idea of a souped-up neophyte who never held a front-office position becoming the new Mets GM. Van Wagenen is straight from central casting for Los Angeles cool, from the suit to the smile. No doubt that handsomeness and confidence travel well. But Van Wagonen will be judged by the standings, like everyone else in baseball.  

If Cano can still play at his early-30s best, and if Cespedes can skip the trainer's table for a full season, the Mets have some lumber. Their rotation has never lacked live arms. Again, they just need to develop an allergy to the newly renamed injured list. DeGrom and Syndergaard can offer the best one-two pitching punch in the National League. It would have been nice had they plucked Craig Kimbrel from free agency to pad a bullpen with Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia. It would have been lovely to see them sign A.J. Pollock before the Dodgers did. 

Indeed, it feels like the Mets were one move shy of a splendid offseason. But if we're candid, this is an upgrade. Sure, you wanted Machado or Harper, but that's just not how the Wilpons do business these days. If you follow the more shrewd, small-market clubs, however, you know you don't have to break the bank to win a division. 

MORE: Francesa: Mets Would Be 'Stupid' To Give DeGrom An Extension Right Now

Last year, the Yankees, Astros, Dodgers and Indians had a smaller payroll than the Mets in 2018. All went to the playoffs. Conversely, the Giants spent much more and didn't scratch October. As a millennial might say, work smarter, not harder. 

The offseason isn't finished, but it feels like the Mets are. Is it absurd to think the club can stay relevant through the summer? Not so much. This already makes 2019 an upgrade from 2018. Maybe you can laugh with the Mets for a while, not at them. 

Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel