The New York baseball teams spent more than $600 million, combined, on their payrolls this season. They ranked first (Mets) and second (Yankees) in the majors in spending, yet arrived at the trading deadline on Tuesday with more collective losses than wins.
Take a moment to absorb that, or maybe to appreciate it. Spending so much for so little is spectacularly hard to do, especially because it came without warning: A year ago at this time, both teams held first place in their divisions. Now a two-line summer breakdown has derailed all dreams of a Subway Series this fall.
The last-place Yankees have hope, at least, if only because they still have a winning record. But their inactivity on Tuesday suggests they don’t really know who they are, and were not ready to make a guess. They added Keynan Middleton, a reliever with a 3.96 earned run average, in a trade with the Chicago White Sox.
“You’d rather be obviously in a more defined spot where you’d be three and a half games up in the postseason or 10 games back,” General Manager Brian Cashman said. “Give me a better, clearer picture. But that’s not where we put ourselves.”
The Mets, at 50-55 through Monday, have a better, clearer picture: They’re done. The owner Steven A. Cohen committed nearly half a billion dollars, in salary and luxury taxes, to build the oldest roster in the sport. The names looked great on the marquee, but a forgettable show has reached the end of its run.
Out went the ace imports — Max Scherzer to Texas, Justin Verlander to Houston — and other useful veterans like David Robertson (Miami), Mark Canha (Milwaukee), Tommy Pham (Arizona) and Dominic Leone (Los Angeles Angels). In came eight prospects and a couple of veteran relievers — Phil Bickford and Adam Kolarek — to help the Mets patch their way through the season.
Some of the prospects could become stars. But the Mets never expected to chase the future quite so soon.
“Clearly this season didn’t work out as planned,” General Manager Billy Eppler said. “There were high expectations and it looked good on paper, but it didn’t translate to consistent wins.”
Eppler mentioned the loss of the game’s best closer, Edwin Díaz, to a season-ending knee injury at the World Baseball Classic; other relievers pitched well, but their roles were all scrambled. The starting pitching was never as deep as the Mets expected, and the lineup too often stalled.
“Every single component has had a time where it wasn’t at the best version of itself, at its accustomed level,” Eppler said. “That started to compound and put us in a tough spot. I don’t think anybody really forecasted that this is where we would be at the deadline, and so we wanted to make the best of the circumstances.”
Eppler conceded that the Mets would face longer preseason odds in 2024 than they did this spring. But that was as far as he would go in projecting the short-term future. He would not reveal what he told Scherzer in their talks before the Rangers deal, but Scherzer’s version of their chat will not inspire season-ticket sales for next season.
Scherzer said he spoke with Eppler before the trade to Texas, and expected to hear that the Mets would reinvest in the roster this off-season.
Instead, Scherzer told reporters in Texas on Tuesday, Eppler’s “answer was that the team is now kind of shifting vision and that they’re looking to compete now for 2025 and 2026, and that 2024, that it was not going to be a reload situation in New York, and that it was going to be more of a transition in 2024.”
Cohen gave Scherzer a $43.3 million average annual salary, the richest in major league history (since matched by Verlander), before the 2022 season. After speaking with Eppler, Scherzer said he sought clarity from Cohen on the team’s immediate plans.
“He basically articulated the same vantage point,” Scherzer said. “That was the new vision for the Mets, that was the new timeline that they were identifying. So once it became, that’s the vision for the Mets, then I said, yes, I will waive my no-trade clause underneath those pretenses.”
If Cohen and Eppler meant what they told Scherzer, that would seem to rule out an aggressive free-agent bid for Shohei Ohtani, the two-way megastar Eppler signed for the Angels from Japan in December 2017. And while several core offensive players are signed to long-term deals — Francisco Lindor, Brandon Nimmo, Jeff McNeil — the slugging first baseman Pete Alonso, who is facing free agency after next season, is not.
Eppler seems to recognize that Alonso, the team’s most eager cheerleader and the majors’ home run leader since 2019, deserves the same kind of candor he gave to Scherzer. Eppler said they could speak as soon as this weekend in Baltimore.
The Orioles reached the deadline with the A.L.’s best record at 65-41. For Cohen, the reality of spending wildly to lose — while teams like the Orioles spend $300 million less to win — seems to have registered. But Eppler emphasized that the team would not gut the roster to build a better model for success.
“Some of the more traditional ways have been when teams have, for lack of a better word, tanked and put themselves up at the top of the amateur draft order every single year,” he said. “That can take five, six, seven years to do. We don’t want to endure that, and we don’t think you have to endure long stretches of that in order to build something sustainable.”
The Yankees, at least, have a sustainable track record — 30 winning seasons in a row — but lately that is little consolation. The franchise has not reached the World Series since 2009, and this season, with no standout hitters besides Aaron Judge, is looking like another lost cause.
“I do think we have the talent, we have the capabilities,” Cashman said. “I know saying it is one thing. I know watching it, lately, hasn’t been anything close to what you feel comfortable with.”
David Waldstein contributed reporting.