Okay, so full disclosure, I am a closet Padres fan. While my allegiances are in Cleveland, there is something about the San Diego Padres that I have come to like since my days in high school. Maybe it was watching MLB Network and all the highlights from Beautiful Petco Park (which Scott and I visited last summer) to always picking the Padres as my rebuild franchise any time I played MLB The Show.
Then, 2015 happened.
The Padres went out and spent money and traded prospects like candy to improve the roster and jump to contention. I was excited! The names they brought in were fantastic: Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, James Shields, Derek Norris, Wil Myers, Wil Middlebrooks. I was thinking, “Wow, the Padres might be really good this year.” When the team entered spring training. Then, things went from looking great to looking even better. On April 5, 2015, the Padres received Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton, Jr. from the Atlanta Braves for Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin and Matt Wisler. It looked to be a move that would put this team over the top. While Justin Upton was there on the last year of his deal, it really looked like all of the spending and trades for players under team control would jumpstart this franchise and put them back into contention.
Unfortunately, it never happened.
The Padres sputtered to a 32-33 start before the team fired Manager Bud Black and put interim manager Pat Murphy behind the wheel. Players underperformed and the team fell out of contention. The holes in the minor league system from the offseason trades showed. They finished the season 4th in the division with a 74-88 record. Upton left in free agency. The minor league system was left in shambles. Millions of dollars were locked up with bad contracts. The Padres had traded 7 of their top 11 prospects in a flash attempt to get better. The organization is still feeling the negative ramifications of trying to sprint towards contention rather than building from within. They blew up the roster and went into a complete rebuild that they are continuing to this day.
Fast forward to the present. There is a team from this past offseason that is following the same model as A.J. Preller of the Padres: The New York Mets.
The one thing that strikes me as similar between the Padres and Mets is how rapidly they are trying to improve to reenter contention. The Mets were in the World Series back in 2015. With a rotation that featured Noah Syndergaard, the Dark Knight Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler, this team looked like it would have a rotation that could dominate for years and would be in contention for a title every season. Fast forward to 2019. the Mets have been in a slump ever since their World Series run. They won 87 games in 2016, 70 in 2017, and 77 in 2018. Matt Harvey was no longer the Dark Knight and was traded to the Reds. Besides a Cy Young season from Jacob DeGrom, the Mets rotation has been disappointing compared to what they could have been. The team is desperately wants to capitalize on a shrinking window of competitiveness.
Under a new GM, the Mets have been aggressively trying to rebuild the Major League team to return to greatness. In December, the Mets traded Justin Dunn, Jarred Kelenic, Gerson Bautista, Jay Bruce and Anthony Swarzak to the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz and cash. They traded Adam Hill, Felix Valerio, and Bobby Wahl to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Keon Broxton. They traded Ross Adolph, Scott Manea, and Luis Santana to the Houston Astros in exchange for Cody Bohanek and J.D. Davis. The Mets also traded Kevin Plawecki to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Sam Haggerty and Walker Lockett. Outside of trades, the Mets have spent millions to bring in Wilson Ramos, Jeurys Familia and Jed Lowrie.
To me, it feels like the Mets are trying to rush into contention again without key building blocks or cornerstone players locked up to long term commitments. So far, the Mets have traded 7 minor league players, 3 solid young MLB players, and a few veterans with bad contracts for 4 major league players and a few fringe players. Do they really feel that a 35-year old Robinson Cano is the answer at 2nd base? Will Keon Broxton be the difference in their outfield? Are the Mets really in contention?
The Mets are in one of the hardest divisions in baseball. The Braves, Phillies, and Nationals all figure to be in contention for the division title. Will these moves take the Mets to the favorites? In my eyes, no. Is this one last shot at contention with what remains of a dominant rotation? Possibly. Rushing to build the roster through trades and free agent pickups is risky. If you’re the Yankees, you have the money to do that. If you are someone like the Padres, doing that can decimate your minor league system and you are basically going one step forward and then three steps back.
I would be cautious if I were the Mets. Is it really worth going all in right now when there isn’t really a window of contention? I don’t know. Is it smarter to sit on the sidelines this year and clear salary and get younger? Again, I don’t know. What I do know is that this Mets team is starting to look a lot like those 2015 Padres: a rush to contention without considering the long term ramifications of the organization’s future. The comparison is uncanny.