Pop quiz: what do Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana, Brooks Raley and David Robertson all have in common?
In addition to all being pitchers that recently joined the Mets, they are all at least 33 years old and made their major league debuts over ten years ago. Raley came over in a trade, but none of the three free agents (Verlander, Quintana and Robertson) signed on for more than two years, with Robertson taking a one-year deal.
When it comes to adding talent outside the organization, the Steve Cohen-funded front office has shown an extreme devotion to short-term arrangements with proven players who will help them win now, not necessarily four or five years down the road. It’s a well-designed plan to keep fans happy in the here and now, get them to come to the ballpark and make them believe a parade is legitimately possible. It’s also a much better way for a front office to appease championship-hungry fans than promising that the money they’re saving — plus the great unknown of the farm system — will create some alchemy in the future.
The Mets understand this, and money be damned, are hellbent on winning the 2023 title. The Yankees, meanwhile, have been preaching patience for several years now.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition of strategies, as they both resulted in at least 99 wins and a playoff appearance last season despite their disparate natures. Last offseason, the Mets wooed veteran free agents Max Scherzer, Starling Marte, Mark Canha, Eduardo Escobar and Adam Ottavino (all well into their thirties) with the intention of building a strong team today and worrying about tomorrow tomorrow. Their American League cousin in the Bronx, meanwhile, did not give a single major league contract to a free agent that hadn’t already played for them.
The same is true to this point of the current offseason. Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo are back with the Yankees, as is Tommy Kahnle after a brief fling with the Dodgers, but nothing has been done in the way of new faces. The Mets already got three off the open market before Christmas, and while they lost 34-year-old franchise icon Jacob deGrom, they were not afraid of a long-term deal for Brandon Nimmo, marking a noteworthy departure from their usual tactic of bringing in older players on short deals.
The version of that this offseason would have been letting Nimmo walk and inking someone like Kevin Kiermaier, Adam Duvall or A.J. Pollock to take his spot. Instead, the Nimmo agreement demonstrates that the Mets are now willing to do whatever it takes — old or young, spartan or spendy — to make their team better.
That is a welcome sight in a league whose teams have stratified into two camps: the trying and the not trying. As the old adage goes, scared money don’t make none, and even if the 2023 Mets peter out in the early rounds again, at least they aren’t scared to unapologetically try.
It’s possible that the Yankees have scared themselves with some of their past free agency decisions. Jacoby Ellsbury received $153 million for seven years but only played in actual games during the first four of those years. He never had an OPS over .750 in any of his failed seasons as a Yankee. Aroldis Chapman’s three-year, $48 million extension prior to the 2020 season ended up going to a reliever with a 1.30 WHIP who quite literally quit his job before the contract was up. Each passing day is also another for Brian Cashman and his cronies to regret committing to Aaron Hicks for seven years and $70 million.
To be clear, none of those are indictments on the players, who signed deals that they thought reflected their deserved value. What it has turned out to be, though, is a series of abject disasters for the Yankees, perhaps catalyzing this current era of financial inhibition. The main thing that the Big Apple’s teams have in common, though (the Mets with their expensive old folks’ home and the Yankees mostly augmenting their roster with bargain bin pickups and trade deadline acquisitions) is that neither have resulted in a World Series.
This year will bring another chance to evaluate their schemes, and of course, neither team is done adding. But the Yankees of the 2020s have shown no indication that they’ll do so via splashy free-agent hitters. In fact, since the turn of the decade, the most money they’ve given to a free agent position player from outside the organization is $2 million for Matt Carpenter. Rizzo, Judge, Brett Gardner and DJ LeMahieu were all paid handsomely to come back, but the Yankees have turned a blind eye to every other bat, which famously now includes two loaded classes of available shortstops.
To their credit, the Yankees have not shied away from pitching. Gerrit Cole and Corey Kluber both made at least $11 million per year from their Yankee contracts, with Cole making well over three times that. If they want to give that kind of cheddar to a game-changing starter again, it’s Carlos Rodon or bust. Secondary and tertiary options abound — Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Bassitt, Noah Syndergaard and Sean Manaea are all still out there — but no one moves the needle quite like Rodon, the best left-handed pitcher of the last two years.
The Yankees have much more question marks than the Mets do right now, though. A compliance to their recent team-building plans would mean the Yankees stand pat on the remaining free-agent hitters and anger their fans even further. The Mets could still satisfy their love of aging but productive batters by getting someone like J.D. Martinez or Michael Brantley (both 35) to be their everyday designated hitter.
Whatever happens, we know how these organizations like to operate now. Cohen is going to use his money to try as hard as legally possible to put a World Series ring on his finger. Cashman and the Yankees seem content to try mostly the same team as last year with a few minor changes on the fringes, hoping not to go overboard until their supposed prospect saviors arrive.
The culture clash makes for great offseason fodder and debates about who is smarter than who, but right now, unequivocally, the Mets are doing things in a way that makes the Yankees look second class.