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Mudville: March 3, 2024 9:14 pm PDT

Top Gun Sequel

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Next season will mark 38 years and counting for the New York Mets.

That’s how long it has been since the Mets last won a World Series, way back in 1986. To put that in perspective, consider that three of the top movies that year were Hoosiers, Top Gun, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

So the Mets haven’t won a championship since coach Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood won their championship on the big screen. The Mets haven’t been Top Gun in ages, and essentially last year was just another version of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

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It’s fair to ask will it be years before the Mets will ever be Top Gun in the NL East in the age of the Braves and the Phillies. Who is going to be their Maverick?

Top Gun Maverick, the sequel, came out in 2022. The Mets are still waiting for their sequel to their 1986 World Championship.

Hey, at least the Mets are not the Jets, 13 years without being in the postseason and no championship since 1969; but they remain a dismal franchise.

Steve Cohen was supposed to change all that when he became Mets owner but he continues to whiff on all the big stuff – including sending his toady Billy Eppler to relieve Buck Showalter of his managerial duties, with, soon after, Eppler being jettisoned as well. David Stearns is completely in charge as the new baseball boss. So far he is nibbling at the margins when it comes to player acquisitions.

Someone needs to tell Stearns that he’s not in Milwaukee anymore and that the Braves and the Phillies continue to be kings of the NL East.

You need big-time firepower to beat those teams, and the Phillies, who somehow lost to the Diamondbacks in the NLCS after going up 2-0 in the series (winning those games by a 15-3 margin), are a motivated team to take the field in 2024; a team that will leave nothing to chance. The Marlins have taken a step back, so third place is within the Mets’ grasp.

All this brings us to what’s really going on with the Mets this off-season. I can’t figure it out.

First of all, they still haven’t signed Pete Alonso to a long-term contract and now that Scott Boras is Alonso’s agent, this could end in an ugly way for the Mets. There is no way Alonso is going to sign before becoming a free agent after the 2024 season. I also believe Alonso cannot be happy with how the Mets treated Showalter.

Let me remind you that there is a five-letter word that means so much in baseball: Trust.

Once you lose trust, you’ve lost everything. There certainly is not a trust factor there with the Mets and Pete Alonso right now. I’m not just talking about the trust of landing a big contract with the Mets – that’s only money, and Steve Cohen has plenty of that – but there must be trust that the Mets can build a championship team around Alonso.

Time and baseball wait for no one, even if you are Steve Cohen; you can’t just suddenly turn on the faucet of success. Pieces have to be put in place.

I like Carlos Mendoza, the new manager; but in the general scheme of things, he’s only a middle manager, one who takes orders from the Nerds above him.

The 2024 season is such a pivotal season for the Mets. That’s why this off-season is so pivotal as well. Big pieces have to start to be put in place and if the Mets don’t do that, they are destined for failure. They can’t just keep saying they are going big in 2025 and 2026; they have to go big now any way they can just to start to change the narrative.

Time and baseball wait for no one, even if you are Steve Cohen; you can’t just suddenly turn on the faucet of success. Pieces have to be put in place.

The biggest free agent out there right now remains Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the whole market is pretty much frozen because of Yamamoto even with Shohei Ohtani signing with the Dodgers, another National League team the Mets will have to jump over if they are to win a championship.

The Diamondbacks also improved this offseason and they made it to the World Series; so there are four major NL hurdles in the Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Braves, and Phillies.

Making matters worse for the Mets is that it seems to me that Yoshinobu Yamamoto is destined to be a Yankee.

I just can’t see how Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner mess this one up. Yankee Yoshinobu Yamamoto (YYY) seems to be in the stars. He wants to be a Yankee. He has made that clear. The Yankees have all the money in the world and Yamamoto does not want to play second fiddle. He wants to be star of the show. He wants to own Baseball Broadway.

Steve Cohen at the SportiConference Invest In Sports 2023 at The Times Center on October 11, 2023 in New York City (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Sportico via Getty Images)

With the Juan Soto deal the Yankees have beefed up their offense and have finally landed a left-handed hitter for Yankee Stadium; and the fact they traded Michael King means they desperately need another starter.

Look at some of these numbers. Gerrit Cole was 15-4. Clarke Schmidt was 9-9. Domingo German was 5-7. Luis Severino, now a Met, was 4-8 and Carlos Rodon was 3-8. That’s a lot of nothing there, so the Yankees need Yamamoto if he is as good as they are making him out to be – and that is still an if.

Cohen had dinner with Yamamoto at Cohen’s Connecticut compound, but something like that can go either way.

We will all know how it went when Yamamoto finally announces his decision.

Waiting on Yamamoto.

“The baseball world is turned upside down due to the fact that the two Japanese stars are going to get a shitload of money,’’ one top evaluator said of the current state of the market.

Shohei Ohtani got his $700 million from the Dodgers, and now it is just a question of how high the bidding goes for Yamamoto, the latest number being in the $300 million range – including a monstrous posting fee. Good for Yamamoto. As I’ve pointed out here in Baseball or Bust, the Nerds have no one to blame for the high cost of bringing in Japanese pitching because they have failed so badly in developing their own pitching in the major leagues.

The price of starting pitching has never been higher. The Tigers signed Jack Flaherty on Wednesday to a one-year deal for $14 million; Flaherty was 8-9 last year with a 4.99 ERA and failed miserably when the Orioles traded for him to bolster their rotation. He surrendered 10.1 hits per nine innings last year, the highest ratio of his career, but the Tigers are betting on a bounce back year from the right-hander. At least he was healthy, and that is saying something in this era of max velocity and exploding elbows.

Starting pitcher Jack Flaherty #15 of the Baltimore Orioles throws against the Boston Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park on September 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Mets took a big money shot last year at veteran aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and that didn’t work out.

It is a strange, strange pitching world out there. The pitching labs aren’t what they are cracked up to be by all the Nerds.

Even two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell, for all his talent, is not an innings eater.

There is some scary stuff happening in the game right now.

“Everybody is becoming a bottom feeder, except for the pigs,’’ the evaluator said. “Blake Snell is coming off a Cy Young year, but he has to wait. Nothing against Yamamoto, but he hasn’t gotten anybody out in the big leagues. He is 25 years old. I get it. He looks good, but he hasn’t gotten anybody out yet.’’

Maybe Blake Snell will become a Met or if the Yankees somehow screw up the Yamamoto deal, Blake Snell could be the lefty starter the Yankees need. So there are options. Will the Mets succeed in changing their mediocre situation?

“Honestly,’’ the evaluator said, “it wouldn’t make sense for Yamamoto to go to the Mets because the Mets stink. If you are coming over here to win, you want to go to a good team.’’

The Yankees situation could get interesting in the long run only because Soto is a one-year rental so Yamamoto has to take that into account as well. Where will the Yankees be a year from now in the talent pool? Where will the Mets be in the talent pool? That is the trump card for the Dodgers. They can sell Yamamoto on teaming up with Ohtani, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman and with Ohtani deferring so much of his money, they have the financial flexibility (plus all the money they are going to make off having Ohtani across the board on jerseys and streaming services, tickets, and everything else Shohei).

The Dodgers are so far the big winners of the off-season because there is a sense of security, trust, and talent in that organization right now.

Not locking up Alonso has been a big miss for the Mets.

Pete Alonso attends the 2023 Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at Rockefeller Center on November 29, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Arturo Holmes/Getty Images)

“The Braves and the Phillies are still better than the Mets,’’ the evaluator said. “And I really like what Arizona has done so far. They signed Eduardo Rodriguez and they resigned Lourdes Gurriel (three years, $42 million) and added Eugenio Suarez at third base with a trade with the Mariners.’’

The D-Backs made one of the best trades of the year last year, landing catcher Gabriel Moreno and Gurriel from the Blue Jays, who can’t seem to get out of their own way. Outfielder Corbin Carroll is coming off a rookie of the year season, so Arizona is mixing young talent with experienced talent. It was the D-Backs who swept away the Dodgers in the 2023 NLDS, basically assuring the Dodgers would sign Ohtani.

The Diamondbacks also have gotten smart and are using the fact that players live in the area as a key selling point as it was for the lefty E-Rod, who signed a four-year, $80 million deal.

The point is, the Diamondbacks are making deals bigger than on the margins like the Mets. They went to the World Series and want to get better. Baseball needs more of that. That’s one less bottom feeder and that is important.

Now if only the Orioles went out and spent some money for experienced talent to go along with all the young talent they acquired by losing so many games through the years to attain high draft picks.

So all these teams are improving while the Margin Mets are making little moves.

And here is your wild, wild AMBS thought of the day.

Imagine if the Yankees decide they want to go big next year for Pete Alonso. Imagine how that would crush Mets fans to let one of their own get away to the Yankees. Anything is possible once you hit free agency. There could be wild cards in the situation, too – like if the Rockies decide to enter the bidding for Alonso. Imagine the number of home runs Alonso would hit at Coors Field. Boras did say at the winter meetings that Alonso is open to listening to Mets offers right now, so if the Mets lock up Alonso that would be a good start.

The Mets have plenty of questions in front of them; they need to get some answers and no one would have thought two years ago the Mets would be in the situation they are in right now, considering all of Cohen’s money.

We’ll see where all this goes. The Dodgers certainly are going to sell more than their share of Ohtani jerseys over the life of the contract. Just imagine the amount of Yankee Yamamoto jerseys the Yankees would be able to sell for a 25-year-old pitcher who does well in the Bronx.

Some teams are improving this winter while others are just sitting there, waiting on a miracle. The Mets desperately need to find their Maverick to one day again be Top Gun.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • Calev

    Unreasonable takes here. Steve Cohen has owned the Mets for three seasons and didn’t get to hire a genuine front office leader with vision until two months ago (because no one had the guts to let him interview their people). It made sense to spend to attempt to cover up organizational deficiencies for years 1-3 – it doesn’t make sense to now that the team has actually built up a top-5 farm system and is a year away from an enormous amount of payroll being shed. The jury is out on the Scherzer and Verlander deals given their short-term nature and the talent they returned in trades. Bottom line, now is not the time to spend for the sake of it when there are flaws in every available FA SP, while next Winter boasts a far richer class. And Steve Cohen seems to have a great relationship with Scott Boras and has already signed one Boras client Met who hit free agency to a $180 million dollar deal.

    December 21, 2023
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