The Knicks & Mets and their respective rebuild decisions

Tonight the Knicks begin their 2019-20 season when they travel to San Antonio to take on the Spurs. The Knicks have been wandering in the desert for a while now. For too long, the Knicks chased guys who were good on another team three years ago, hoping they would revert to form and lead them on a deep playoff run. Didn’t work with Vin Baker, Stephon Marbury, Eddy Curry, Steve Francis, Zach Randolph, Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups, Amar’e Stoudemire and a host of others.

After winning one playoff series in 18 years, the Knicks saw the light and switched gears. Instead of hiring a big-name coach, they went out and hired a guy best known for being an assistant. Instead of collecting has-beens, they looked to stockpile draft picks and create cap room. And instead of aiming for 40 wins and a first-round playoff exit, they tanked to get the top pick in the draft.

They were going to sign two marquee free agents, get the number-one pick and vault to the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. But then Kevin Durant got hurt and it all seemed to fall apart. The cream of the crop free agents went elsewhere and the Knicks fell to third in the lottery. The initial plan blew up. How would they react?

The Knicks pivoted in free agency, looking to add role players on short-term deals. The hope is that these guys would add professionalism (and competition) to the roster. And if they liked them, they could re-up with them. And if they didn’t, at least there were no long-term obligations. And with the third pick, they got R.J. Barrett, who is a pretty good consolation prize.

It won’t take much to improve upon last year’s 17-win team. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they ended up the eighth seed and getting swept in the playoffs. The thing they were actively trying to avoid last year. But this time it would be with a young roster and a team on the upswing. One that needs to experience the playoffs, regardless of how short the stay might be.

*****

Last offseason the Mets were at a crossroads. They needed to hire a new GM and that hire would shape the future of the team. The Mets didn’t play it safe, as they hired an agent instead of someone who had previously been a GM or even one who had front office experience. Obviously, Brodie Van Wagenen won the job by selling the Wilpons on his vision for the future. And that vision was the opposite of what the Knicks did. The Mets weren’t going to get younger and undergo another rebuild. They were going all-in on the playoffs in the short run.

It was a defensible decision to go for it. The Mets had a strong core of players and injuries the year before certainly contributed to their below-.500 record. The NL East figured to be a competitive division and the hope was that without one dominating team that the Mets could make the playoffs with 87 or so wins.

Van Wagenen acted boldly to shore up the bullpen, one he watched continually blow games for his star client, Jacob deGrom. He signed Jeurys Familia and Justin Wilson as free agents. And his signature move was to import Edwin Diaz, arguably the best reliever in the game in 2018. And the plan blew up. Diaz and Familia were horrible. Wilson missed considerable time early in the season, when the Mets fell way behind the other three contenders in the NL East.

The Braves distanced themselves from the rest of the division, winding up with 97 wins and killing any shot the Mets had at the East crown. After early struggles, the Nationals beat everyone they faced besides the Mets and Braves and took one of the Wild Card slots. The Brewers refused to lose down the stretch and they took the second Wild Card.

If you didn’t watch the season, you might think that the Mets’ plan worked. They hoped to finish with a high-80s win total and make the playoffs due to the competitive nature of the division. But the Braves were too good and the Phillies – and in a different way, the Marlins – weren’t as good as hoped. So, the Mets’ 86 wins fell short.

So now what?

The Mets went on a winning streak right after the All-Star break, one that eliminated any slight chance that they might have pivoted to selling and rebuilding. Even if the losing continued, it was unlikely there would have been major changes at the trade deadline. Yeah, maybe Zack Wheeler would have been dealt but it’s hard to imagine many more moves.

Now the Mets are faced with losing Wheeler for draft pick compensation. And on top of that, there’s not a lot of available budget to add to the team. So, the Mets need to replace Wheeler’s 195 innings, bolster the bullpen and bring on someone capable of playing a good defensive center field, whether as a starter or a reserve.

One can argue the best hope for the Mets next year is to receive 2018 production from Diaz and Familia. That certainly would go a long way in fixing the team’s biggest problem. But what are the chances that Van Wagenen will adhere to the advice of, “Don’t just do something, stand there!”

And aside from that, are the Mets better off having decided to go for it this time last year than they would have been if they hired Chaim Bloom and underwent a rebuild? On the plus side, the Mets added nine wins to their total despite the injuries and the bullpen disaster. Is it really far-fetched to think they could add 4-5 wins this year and make the playoffs?

On the negative side, the payroll situation doesn’t seem good, either this year or next year. And while the 86-win season was an improvement, it still wasn’t good enough. And what are the chances they Mets will get the starting pitching results from a year ago, to say nothing about some of their hitters? They could just as easily lose 4-5 wins from last season, as they could add those victories.

The Mets right now are painted into a corner. They have too many big contracts to realistically rebuild. They have too little payroll room to make a major addition without touching their core. Meanwhile, the upper levels of the farm system aren’t exactly overflowing with can’t miss prospects. And we should all hope with everything we’ve got that Van Wagenen doesn’t repeat the mistake of giving away top-shelf talent in A-ball because they’re too far away to matter.

Mets fans are essentially hoping for the NBA equivalent of 40 wins and a first-round playoff exit.

Without a doubt, the 2019 Mets had a better year than the 2018-19 Knicks. And it won’t be a surprise if we can say the same thing about the upcoming season for the two squads. But after that? All we can say now is that we’ll see if the Knicks’ decision to rebuild was a better choice than the Mets’ choice to go for it.

19 comments for “The Knicks & Mets and their respective rebuild decisions

  1. Mike Walczak
    October 23, 2019 at 11:18 am

    Thanks Brian. I like the comparison to the Knicks. You can also add in the woeful story of my long suffering Jets.

    I started browsing through the Mets contracts and payroll over the next several years. Yes, Cespedes contract is very painful to swallow, but this is his last season and he will be out the door. Good riddance.

    What really stood out, as we all already know, is the boat anchor of Cano’s contract. Look at it on paper, makes it really stick out. It is like a political rally and not in a good way. ‘Four more years”.

    BVW has really backed himself into a corner. I dont think that he can sit still and work a plan.

    Let’s see what magic he can conjure up for the upcoming season. He is going to need it. ‘No more taxes”, I mean “no more Cano’s”.

  2. Chris F
    October 23, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    “The Mets right now are painted into a corner. They have too many big contracts to realistically rebuild. They have too little payroll room to make a major addition without touching their core. Meanwhile, the upper levels of the farm system aren’t exactly overflowing with can’t miss prospects. And we should all hope with everything we’ve got that Van Wagenen doesn’t repeat the mistake of giving away top-shelf talent in A-ball because they’re too far away to matter.”

    This is very well stated Brian. There is no easy path to navigate the matter…and thinking about forthcoming seasons. Although the Mets “appear” to be in win-now mode, Im not sure I see it. It may be “Mets style win now”, but that wont work.

    One thing looking ahead is the Nats and Braves, with the Braves in particular largely young and talented. The Nats are up 1 game in the WS. Neither can be dismissed.

    Part of this is balance, whether is be players in the dugout or the system as a whole.

    • TJ
      October 23, 2019 at 9:37 pm

      Excellent point on positioning relative to Nats and Braves.

  3. Pete from NJ
    October 23, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    I’m voting for the “Don’t just do something, stand there” position.

    I consider that the FO doesn’t get cute trading away Conforto’s production {and of course his $10 Mil contract.” Signing Wheeler, since the team needs a quality rotation piece. Add some relief guys more in the vain of quantity vs quality (like a Ottovino look a like).

    And there you go 92 wins, Milwaukee not winning all their games in September and enter the playoffs resulting in happiness all over.

    Beats slash and burn or even a BVW’s genetic engineering add by subtraction shuffle the deck move.

  4. Pete from NJ
    October 23, 2019 at 4:48 pm

    And what is the symbolism of the manager selection bear in the above thoughts?

    What does a the selection of the new manager say a Girardi or a Rojas say a about management’s decision making and next year’s plans? Or does it matter?

    • October 23, 2019 at 5:23 pm

      I may be naive. I may be living in the past. But I want a manager who knows how to … manage. I want a guy who knows the angles. I want a guy who knows how to run a bullpen. I want a guy who’s not afraid to tell someone to take a hike. I want someone whose players will run thru a wall for him. Does that guy exist? I think so. Will the Mets hire that guy? I’d wager money that they won’t.

      I fear that the most important thing for the Mets is that the new manager agrees to take calls from his boss in the dugout. I want Davey Johnson but I’m resigned to getting Jeff Torborg.

      • Chris F
        October 23, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        so so so true, but 🙁

        • Metsense
          October 23, 2019 at 7:20 pm

          Well said Brian regarding the manager

      • TJ
        October 23, 2019 at 9:36 pm

        Looks like the division rival Phillies are going to hire that guy while Jeff, Brodie, and a body language expert review 42 hours of videotape of two rounds of interviews looking for subtle clues on who to select for round 3 callbacks.

  5. MattyMets
    October 23, 2019 at 8:52 pm

    Being a Mets fan is certainly not easy, but over these past 10 years, we’ve had some highlights and some great players to cheer for. The Knicks, on the other hand, haven’t been worth watching for a very long time. Yeah, we had a burst of Linsanity, one solid year with Melo and Stat, and a too-short period of a healthy Porzingis, but we haven’t had a really great run in too long. I had so much fun rooting for the Knicks in the Ewing-Oakley-Starks days. Even thought they never won, they were competitive, tough and had character. I feel that way about the 2015 and 2019 Mets. They may not win it all, but they give you your money’s worth. And as long as they can do that, I’m not interested in a rebuild.

    • October 23, 2019 at 9:49 pm

      Given the talent on hand, I would have gone for it last year, too, but not the way BVW did.

  6. TexasGusCC
    October 23, 2019 at 11:30 pm

    I see the similarities in both teams need a rebuild, but they aren’t alike. The Knicks had nooooothing to build from. They had last year’s first round pick, and even he got hurt for a spell. The Mets had a solid rotation, some good young hitters, and the semblance of some depth.

    When Riles took over the Knicks, he preached that only one foul can be called on each play. He knew that Oakley, Mason, Greg Anthony, Chancy Billups, Rolando Blackmon and Patrick Ewing weren’t beating the Bulls. As Billups said in an interview, Riley was the best motivator he ever played for. Whether he was challenging you, pushing you a little more, or straight up bullshitting you, he was able to take a 26 win team and win 53 the first year, and 50+ the next three after that.

    When Parcells took over the Jets, they had won four games the year before. When he took over the Cowboys, they had won five games three years in a row. Both those teams made the playoffs the next year. It was then that I heard the comment that a good coach can beat you with his guys, then switch players with you and beat you again.

    My point is that leadership matters. Girardi will be the manager. I don’t have any doubt. BVW wants the top dog; he loves splashes. If the Coupons can find enough in their seat cushions to pay him, Girardi is coming to New York. The Mets will win at least seven more games because of him. He is that good. He will put guys in their best roles and not care Edwin Diaz wants to only pitch the ninth inning. That’s the manager they need. This team doesn’t need many pieces, they need good leadership and focus.

    • October 24, 2019 at 9:25 am

      I disagree that the Knicks had nothing to build from two offseasons ago. Regardless, the Knicks had always made the move to get someone else’s old star(s) and they didn’t do that in the summer of 2018. They were certainly in a better position in 2018 than they were in the summer of 2015 when they went for it.

      FWIW – Chauncey Billups played for the Knicks much, much later than when Riley was around.

      I look at Girardi right now like Harper last year in free agency. The Phillies want him and they’ll give him the contract he wants. But he’s not signing there until all other options are exhausted. With the Cubs going for Ross, the Mets most likely can get Girardi if they want him. I’m not sold that BVW does want him. If they did – why go 3 rounds of interviews with other guys? That’s a pretty big dog and pony show if they know Girardi’s their guy. My take is that they’re bending over backwards to give these guys a chance to “light up the room,” or “check all of the boxes.”

      • TexasGusCC
        October 24, 2019 at 10:55 pm

        You’re right on Billups, it was Derek Harper that I was thinking of. I can’t answer on your other points, since I’ve seen the Phillies hires the manager the Mets needed.

  7. eric raffle
    October 24, 2019 at 6:14 am

    I see a team with Assets and Performers…on the Cusp of WS contention in the 2020 season.

    I’m incredibly far apart from the veiw of reality that so many of you see about this team! Alonzo, McNeill, Rosario, Davis, Nimmo, Conforto…. Smith?…….. I do not remember any time when the Mets have had so many early career curve, productive, valuable Position Players. deGrom, Matz, Syndergaard, Stroman….Wheeler? That’s a promising Mix.

    I get that we’re all in a Wilpon Mistrusting Mindset—- but I’m going to remain hopeful that Past will not be prologue—and I view the 2019 preseason moves as “different” than what happened BB– Before Broadie

    This Roster is not a Tear Down…This is Not a Rebuild, Have you all become The Wilpons you fear? Make some moves,,,write some checks…All In!!!

    • October 24, 2019 at 9:46 am

      Well, odds are stacked against Wheeler returning, so you have to eliminate him from the list. And replace his 195 IP.

      And it’s one thing to list the SP and think of their stuff and their upside. But the reality is that Matz and Syndergaard were middle of the road SP3 last year. They might as well have been Tanner Roark and Merrill Kelly.

      The way the Mets played in the 2nd half of the season is certainly a reason for optimism. The offense has four cornerstone players with Alonso, Conforto, McNeil and Nimmo and the other guys all have promise. But the defense isn’t good and the pitching is a giant question mark. A return to form by Diaz makes things a lot better. But they need rebounds from Syndergaard and Diaz, a replacement for Wheeler and hope that none of the starters regresses too much from last year. It could happen, absolutely, but I’m not ordering playoff tickets yet.

      • eric raffle
        October 24, 2019 at 10:06 am

        Yep—replacing SP innings and salvaging the bullpen—two big items.

        My seat of the pants evaluation is that they have identifiable needs and they have assets to solve— if you look at it as You suppose A Wilpon would, you get an impossible scenario. From a Baseball Only perspective, this is a tremendous opportunity with Major Assets to make it happen–financial and Roster assets.

        If you’re measuring it “As A Wilpon”, I hope you won’t be right—if you’re measuring it by Baseball, I think you’re under measuring and very negative…..and way off base.

        We already have 2 Wilpons—we don’t need more!

  8. NYM6986
    October 24, 2019 at 7:58 am

    With the demise of the Mets this season I had nothing to look forward to as a life long Knicks and football Giants fan. If Cano had been healthy and Diaz half the BP ace he was the previous year we would have made the playoffs and simply be complaining about the early exit we would have likely had. The common denominator for the Mets and Knicks is ownership that makes plenty and doesn’t know how to put a championship team together. The reality is that catching lightening in a bottle in MLB is the way to go. That’s how the Marlins have as many WS wins as us and how KC roared back in 2015 and is now back in the pack. We have much to be excited about for 2020 but I too want a manager who knows the NL, had managerial experience and will get the most out of our players. The days of iron hand Gil Hodges are long gone but the way he managed is a good example of what this young team needs. That’s why Madden would have been a great choice as would Gerardo who will likely sign elsewhere. On the other hand, with a better bullpen Brian, you could have probably managed the team into the playoffs. Let’s hope BVW can prove his worth by spending money on FA and not trade any more prospects and perhaps health out of Cano and Lowrie and Nimmo can do what we thought they would do last year.

  9. October 24, 2019 at 8:09 am

    You’re missing the obvious. The Wilpons don’t care about building a winner. They want to just enough to get a crowd at Citifield while spending the least amount of money possible. The Mets will never be a winner with the Wilpons as owners except for an occasional Act of God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: