Read any newspaper or blog article this week, and there is a good chance one would see a story about how the Wilpon’s are missing a golden opportunity to spend big and maximize the window of contention for the New York Mets while they still have one of the best rotations in baseball (led by young stars Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz) under team control for at least three years. Go to any Facebook group discussion and 90 percent of the conversations start with scared fans criticizing the owners for being frugal and being more concerned about paying off their debts than they are about putting a winner on the field. For every 20 comments that agree that the Wilpon’s are the problem and the worst owners in baseball, there would be one comment presented with a clear head that realizes one very important thing that has been missed by all the hysteria that always comes when the Mets decide not to spend the ridiculous amounts of money currently thrown around during the off season- The rest of the National League is playing catch up to the Mets, not the other way around. The Mets are in a position of being ahead of the curve for the first time in many years. And while this has not been a flashy off-season, the Mets have gone for subsistence over style, and are still the team to beat in the NL, given how little the rest of the league has actually improved off of last season.

635857736573878065-greinke-dodgersA quick look around the league shows that only two teams vastly improved from last season so far- the San Francisco Giants (who signed Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to fill voids in an aging rotation behind ace Madison Bumgarner) and Arizona Diamondbacks (who added Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller to their rotation while already having one of the best offenses in baseball led by Paul Goldschmidt). The Los Angeles Dodgers lost Greinke and have seen every attempt to improve blow up in their face this off-season, the Chicago Cubs spent $272 million on Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey when they should have spent that money to add another front-line starter to join Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester while ‘improving’ what was already one of the top offenses in the NL, the Cardinals are going younger thanks to Lance Lynn needing Tommy John surgery, and Lackey and Heyward leaving for the Cubs, and the Nationals have seen Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Denard Span, and Ian Desmond leave for free agency, while still trying to trade both of their closers from last year; Drew Storen and the mercurial Jonathan Papelbon. Their big additions have been Shawn Kelley and OLIVER PEREZ in the bullpen, and signing the departed Daniel Murphy to a three-year, $37.5 million deal, which seems like more of a spite-signing than an actual sound baseball decision given their team needs. So all the teams who couldn’t beat the Mets last season still haven’t taken the opportunity to vastly improve their clubs thus far.

Most Met fans wanted the team to bring back Murphy and Yoenis Cespedes after the duo basically led them to the World Series with their offense; Cespedes during his two-month tenure in the regular season, and Murphy with his historic play during the Division Series against the Dodgers and in the Championship Series against the Cubs. But what most fans forget in that these bursts from both players were in reality the best stretches either player ever played during the course of their career, and coming as close as it did to their impending free agency, might not have been the best indicator for what either player was really worth financially, despite what they may have been looking for in a contract as a result. Murphy hit seven home runs over the course of nine games while single-handedly winning a game with his base-running (game five against the Dodgers), and ending a game with an outstanding defensive play (game one against the Cubs), in spite of the fact that he’s never hit more than 14 dingers in a season before, and is generally considered among one of the worst base runners and defensive second basemen in the league, known for ‘brain farts’ on the base paths, and better suited for playing in the American League where he could be a designated hitter instead of a full-time fielder.

The Mets gave him the qualifying offer of $15.8 million for one season after the post season, know full well he might have played himself into a multiyear contract from another team in spite of the fact that at the age of 31 when next season starts, he was probably best valued at a two-year deal not worth more than $20 million when one looks at his full career and where it could go from here. But most fans don’t believe the Mets wanted Murphy to take that contract and simply wanted the draft pick that comes when a play given the QO signs with another team, forgetting that if Murphy did want to stay in New York, as he claims, the Mets would not have been able to stop him from taking that offer and spending the 2016 proving to the entire baseball world that his 2015 postseason was no fluke. Instead, he turned the offer down, and the Mets traded Jon Niese to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Neil Walker, one of the more underrated and consistent second basemen in baseball for the last five years.

As for Cespedes, it’s always worth noting when a player who never hit more than 26 home runs in a season suddenly hits 35 as free agency is around the corner. When he was acquired by the Mets at the trading deadline, he exploded for 17 homers and 44 RBI in a mere 230 at bats and 57 total games, catapulting the Mets to the playoffs in a revamped lineup that also saw Murphy, Travis d’Arnaud and David Wright all return from injuries, Michael Conforto be promoted from double-A, and Juan Uribe and Kelly Johnson added to the lineup giving it a large degree of versatility which manager Terry Collins utilized to its fullest over that same period of time. Cespedes will play most of next season at the age of 30, and made no secret that he wanted a six or seven-year contract, while the Mets made no secret that they had no desire to do so. Cespedes has not budged from his desired contract, and no other team has swooped in to hand him what he wants. But the Mets have taken flack despite the fact that they reportedly told his agent that they would want him at a two or three-year deal (which is all a 30-year-old who never hit 30 home runs in a season before his contract year and strikes out 130 times a year is really worth), and his agent declined to negotiate further. Everyone insists that without a ‘big bat’ and a player ‘pitchers fear’ in the lineup the Mets are destined to return to their putrid offense from the first half of last season, ignoring much of what lead to Cespedes’ perfect storm, and what has been done this off-season to improve the team.

WalkerCabrera1280_zkor6d2l_dtgyc6jtAs much as no one believes it, the Mets have a player capable of hitting 30 home runs and 90 RBI, the same player most fans want to trade because of his defensive miscue that cost the team game four of the World Series, forgetting the fact that Lucas Duda is regarded as a plus defender at the position and one of the few 30 home run threats left in the game. Curtis Granderson proved in the playoffs and last season that he is still more than capable of leading this team in the clubhouse and with his bat, and is still good for 25 home runs this coming season. Travis d’Arnaud is a question mark due to his injury history, but when he avoids the fluky injuries of the last two years, he’s proved capable of hitting at least 20 home runs in a full season (though he should be spending this off-season improving himself behind the plate, which is a story for another day), as is Conforto, who hit nine homers in 174 at bats last season and mashed a long ball off of Greinke in game two of the Division Series against the Dodgers, and is the true future of the team in left field. While we can only hope for 300-400 at bats from David Wright, there shouldn’t be a question of whether he can reach double-digits in home runs if he reaches those marks. While Asrubal Cabrera and Walker aren’t big names or spectacular names, they are quality major leaguers capable over double-digit home runs, who vastly improve the middle infield defense and can do the little things that save runs that Murphy and Wilmer Flores couldn’t do last season. Plus, their presence enables Flores to move to a bench role, where he is still more than capable of providing 10 or more home runs, depending on how the team uses him through out the season. So while the Mets may not win with the flashy player the fanbase thinks is so important, they will score runs thanks to a complete lineup where every player is capable of doing damage in his own way. The additions of Walker, Cabrera, and fifth outfielder Alejandro De Aza, along with the returns of pitchers Bartolo Colon and Jerry Blevins, may not be the big-spending moves that dramatically move the needle for a teams fortunes, they are the kind of smart, complimentary moves that a team makes when they already know what works for them, and just need role players to fill in the gaps. If the Mets continue down this path, and add one or two more bullpen arms (such as lefty Antonio Bastardo and resigning Tyler Clippard), plus one or two more versatile bats (such as Ryan Raburn or Steve Pearce), and maybe a platoon partner for Juan Lagares in center field (if not Denard Span the Austin Jackson), this will be a successful off-season even without Cespedes.

It’s easy to look at what the Wilpon’s and general manager Sandy Alderson have done and call the owners cheap for not spending as much as other teams in large markets, especially when every off-season there is another story about their finances and how much debt they incurred from the Madoff scandal. But the fact is that the 2015 season should be proof that it is never how much a team spends, its whether a team can actually make the right moves to win. Money does not guarantee a championship, it only guarantees a large payroll. And while the Mets have gone for what they needed rather than what would excite, the fact is there is not one team in the National League who has vastly improved their team. So for now, and until any team actually changes that, the New York Mets are still the team to beat in the National League, despite a fan base that refuses to believe.

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