Home News Mets’ problem isn’t their payroll, it’s who’s getting it

Mets’ problem isn’t their payroll, it’s who’s getting it

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Formula 1 has been experiencing a boom in popularity in the U.S. recently and with it, a lot of new fans are coming to understand that it is a sport largely predicated on predictability.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen won his fifth straight race on Sunday in Austria, and as a team, Red Bull has won every single race this season. After the championship came down to the last lap of the last race two years ago, helping draw in millions of fans along the way, the sport has reverted to its historical mean — one driver and one car dominating the rest.

That is because it is not strictly a competition of drivers, but one of engineering.

The best car has the best chance to win every race, even if a better driver is in different machinery.

A different result is possible, of course — odd things happen in any sport, people can have good or bad days, there are extreme instances of luck or skill.

It is unlikely that Red Bull will win every race the rest of the season because, one day, that chance will go against them. But the title itself is all but officially sewn up, because Red Bull has built a significantly better car than everyone else.

The Mets, right now, should be the baseball equivalent of Red Bull. And the Diamondbacks, who rank 21st in payroll, should be more like Alpine, a good-not-great team that spends most races fighting for ninth or 10th place.

Red Bull’s dominance of F1 isn’t so much a result of Max Verstappen’s driving as it is the money the team pours into creating a technologically superior race car.
NurPhoto via Getty Images

In Hungary two years ago, a multi-car pileup at the start combined with changing weather conditions led to Alpine winning a race for the first time since 2013, when it was called Lotus and the pecking order was much different. Again — such things are possible, but not likely.

Baseball is not quite the same level of predictable. But the Mets heading to Arizona this week holding a 38-46 record, celebrating their first series victory in a month, while the Diamondbacks are 50-45, leading the NL West (which includes the Dodgers and Padres, two of the top-five spenders in the league) feels as though it should be in the same realm of absurd.

The Mets are not only spending more money than any team in the history of the sport. They are doing so at a time when we have access to more predictive data than ever. In theory, that means they should be spending efficiently in addition to doing so on a seemingly unlimited level.

That is what makes the first three months of baseball in Queens so shocking, and what makes Steve Cohen’s attempt at explaining the disconnect between spending and results a little bit head-scratching.

“Let’s assume this turns out to be a poor season,” Cohen told reporters last week. “In retrospect, yeah, you’d like to spend less. But you don’t have that luxury when you’re trying to put together a team. That’s the decision we made.

“Free agency is really expensive. If you want to field a good team from free agency, that’s what it costs.”

ew York Mets owner Steve Cohen speaking to the media during a press conference before the game.
Steve Cohen has found out quickly that you don’t always get what you pay for as a major league owner.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

It would be too easy to take that statement apart — plenty of good teams have been built by spending less money, and the Mets right now are a lot of things but certainly not good — so let’s not do that. If the Mets are going to opt for big spending in free agency over slowly building as a general rule under Cohen, that is probably good for their chances of contending every year.

Spending money, remember, is supposed to be an advantage. But you have to spend smart.

Arizona, right now, is paying just two players over $10 million in 2023, not counting the exiled Madison Bumgarner: Ketel Marte and Nick Ahmed. Marte (136 OPS+) is a good bargain, Ahmed (65 OPS+) is not. (The Mets, by the way, are paying that much to 12 different players not counting James McCann or Robinson Cano, who are in the same retained/buried category as Bumgarner).

Arizona’s roster is littered with players outperforming their salaries. The Mets’ is filled with players struggling to live up to theirs.

Lourdes Gurriel, acquired this offseason, is being paid $5.82 million and has a 120 OPS+. Evan Longoria, signed as a free agent for $4 million, checks in at 133. The D-backs have developed a lot of their own talent — namely Corbin Carroll and Geraldo Perdomo in their lineup — while making the right bets on Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly in the rotation and a group of relievers that has combined for a park-adjusted ERA 10 percent better than league average.

Some of their success in comparison to the Mets’ failures may come down to luck, or a sample size that — while not small anymore — still makes up only a little over half of a 162-game marathon. All of it comes down to making use of their resources in a way that the Mets could only dream of right now.

Lourdes Gurriel Jr. #12 of the Arizona Diamondbacks hits a home run during the first inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 22, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Acquired last December from Toronto, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. has helped the Diamondbacks take a surprising lead in the NL West.
Getty Images

Maybe they will get the baseball equivalent of a multi-car pileup and mixed conditions over the next few months. But even needing to hope for such a thing reflects a massive failure.

Today’s back page

New York Post

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Major malfunction

Andy Roddick (USA) kisses the US Open championship trophy during the awards ceremony for the men's finals. Roddick defeated Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) 6-3, 7-6, 6-3, for his first grand slam title.
Almost 20 years have passed since Andy Roddick became the last American man to win a major, at the 2003 U.S. Open.
Corbis via Getty Images

For the 74th straight major, we enter Wimbledon asking whether an American man can break a drought that will officially reach two decades with the U.S. Open, with Andy Roddick being the last to win a major in 2003.

It is not quite the drought of British champions that reached 76 years between Fred Perry’s 1936 U.S. Open championship and Andy Murray’s win at the same tournament in 2012. But you do sometimes wonder whether it will reach those heights.

To embrace cold reality for a minute, this does not look likely to be when the streak gets snapped.

As long as Novak Djokovic is playing at his current level, he is the default favorite at any tournament in which he shows up. Carlos Alcaraz might have a chance. The likes of Casper Ruud, Daniil Medvedev, Jannik Sinner, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Holger Rune are there to pick up the scraps if the top two falter.

As has been the constant since Roddick’s win in 2003, American women — namely Jessica Pegula after Coco Gauff’s upset loss in the first round on Monday — have a far better chance to do the country proud than their male counterparts.

But there is reason for guarded optimism. Taylor Fritz and Frances Tiafoe both come into the fortnight in the top-10, Tommy Paul comes in ranked 16th, and Wimbledon could favor the trio compared to Roland Garros.

Frances Tiafoe in action against Novak Djokovic on day three of the Giorgio Armani Tennis Classic at The Hurlingham Club, London. Picture date: Thursday June 29, 2023.
With a win on the grass at Stuttgart, American Frances Tiafoe is a contender at Wimbledon, though the likes of Novak Djokovic and Carlos Alcaraz stand in his way.
PA Images via Getty Images

It is the first time since 2012 that the U.S. has had two players in the ATP top-10, and Tiafoe already has a title on grass this year, having won in Stuttgart last month. Fritz has recorded his best ever major result at Wimbledon, with a quarterfinal appearance last year while Paul is on the rise, with a semifinal appearance in Australia.

To add another name to the mix, the unranked Michael Mmoh made himself the story of Day 1 by upsetting No. 11 Felix Auger Aliassime 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4

This tournament is unlikely to produce the breakthrough. But it could turn out to be part of the groundwork that eventually does.

Short sale

The last ride of NHL free agency in the flat-cap era largely served to underscore the tone of the last few years as a whole. With some exceptions — namely Alex Killorn, J.T. Compher and Ryan O’Reilly — July 1 was about short-term deals and teams navigating a lack of salary cap space.

The good news? This should pay off in 2024 and 2025.

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates with the puck against Brandon Montour #62 of the Florida Panthers in Game Four of the Second Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the FLA Live Arena on May 10, 2023 in Sunrise, Florida.
The end of the flat-cap era in the NHL could make for a robust free agent market when Auston Matthews becomes available next summer.
NHLI via Getty Images

Though it will surely change between now and then, the list of players set to hit the market a year from now includes William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Jake Guentzel, Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Devon Toews, Brandon Montour, Brent Pesce and Connor Hellebuyck. Some of those players will without a doubt sign extensions between now and then, but next year will also be the first time some teams have had cap flexibility since the pandemic.

The salary cap is expected to rise to somewhere in the $87 million range next summer after being stuck at yearly increases of $1 million as the players have paid off escrow built up during the pandemic stoppage. That, and the talent level of what could be available on the market, should combine for a far more hectic day than we got Saturday.

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