10 Degrees: Everything with the dysfunctional Mets leads back to an ownership group that fails again and again

Jeff Passan
MLB columnist

The New York Mets, a public-relations disaster that in its spare time masquerades as a baseball team, spent the days following the All-Star break finding new depths of dysfunction, which is saying something considering the team’s ownership profited from the largest Ponzi scheme in human history.

And it’s important to start there, with owner Fred Wilpon and his son and team COO, Jeff, because rottenness of this sort does not grow randomly, a bizarre series of one-offs that happens to befall the same organization ad infinitum. It emanates from the same wound, one that festers and habitually infects, one rooted in an insecurity that explains so many of the Mets’ foibles.

Multiple people familiar with the Mets’ inner workings describe an organizational culture that is almost too childish to believe – one in which Jeff Wilpon sees a winning day only as one in which the Mets are victorious and the New York Yankees lose. This is not just little-brother syndrome; it’s mania in which a franchise’s fealty to public perception drives so many of its decisions, a sad bit of irony considering Mets fans so deeply loathe the team’s ownership.

This manifests itself in more than personnel moves. The Mets might as well communicate internally by tin can. It’s not that the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing; it’s as though they’re on entirely different bodies. The day after outfielder Yoenis Cespedes told reporters he might need surgery on both of his heels that would keep him out more than half a year, Mets manager Mickey Callaway said he was “not quite exactly sure” what Cespedes said and, when informed, said: “That’s concerning.”

Callaway is in his first season with the Mets, his first season in New York, his first season managing. Any of those three requires hands-on help from the front office. All of them together will ensure his failure without proper support. And after GM Sandy Alderson left the team following a recurrence of cancer and the Mets went GM-by-Cerberus, with J.P. Ricciardi, John Ricco and former GM Omar Minaya splitting the duties, Callaway’s exposure was that much more obvious.

The manager didn’t realize the highest-paid-per-year player in franchise history might need surgery. The front office didn’t immediately address the trade of closer Jeurys Familia to Oakland for what nearly every evaluator saw as a subpar return. And then Sunday, as Day 3 of the Cespedes contretemps continued to burble, the Mets announced starter Noah Syndergaard had contracted hand, foot and mouth disease, because of course he did.

It’s easy to drop an #LOLMets or just attribute it to the Mets being the Mets, but doing so ignores the one constant in so many years of disappointment. The New York Mets are a waterfall of mismanagement, one that drains from the top to poison the well underneath. Nearly all of the absurdism that subsumes the Mets on a daily basis is self-inflicted, ingrained in the organizational culture, fixable but not so long as pettiness is an institutional mandate.

What comes of something like this is obvious, inevitable and perfectly Mets: A general manager on Sunday saying: “I really wonder if we could get …

Yeah, it’s been that kind of season for Jacob deGrom and the Mets. (Getty)

1. [Jacob] deGrom because they’re so vulnerable right now and want the P.R. they would get for starting to rebuild.”

Want to know the true danger of organizational instability? That notion right there. The idea that the Mets’ desire to leave a positive public impression, and their consistent abject failure at doing so, would help other teams leverage them in actual baseball-operations conversations. Wishful though that may seem, another executive shared that thought.

“It’s like, ‘Hey, the Yankees got [Gleyber] Torres at the deadline,’ ” the executive said. “ ‘Maybe the Mets can do that, too.’ I don’t think John or J.P. or Omar would do it, but when three guys are running things, maybe ownership is the real decision-maker.”

The general impression among rival executives, eight days before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, is that the Mets will hold deGrom and particularly Syndergaard, whom they hope can return from his viral infection by the end of the month. Whether either hits the trade market in the winter may well depend on whom they hire as permanent GM – a process expected to continue into August and beyond.

Both would spice up what’s certain to be an already interesting winter, as would the entry of …

2. Nolan Arenado into the trade market. Unlike deGrom and Syndergaard, the possibility of Arenado going anywhere this season is nil, not with the Colorado Rockies surging into playoff contention with seven straight wins and finding themselves just two games back of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

At the same time, multiple executives see Arenado as an exceedingly desirable target this winter for a number of teams, including the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Angels, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. While the Angels are the only team without a potential long-term solution at third, the other teams could seek upgrades via the 27-year-old Arenado, widely regarded as one of the best players in the NL.

What, then, would compel Colorado to even consider dealing him? Arenado is a free agent after the 2019 season. Upon the completion of the Manny Machado-to-the-Dodgers deal last week, executives opined that Baltimore could have fetched more for him over the winter, even coming off a rough season. Unless the Rockies are primed to spend $300 million to keep Arenado, the best move may be to cash in for a treasure chest of prospects and major league-ready talent, fill in other weaknesses with the $25 million or so in arbitration Arenado is due to make and retool using an incredible asset.

It’s the sort of move that rationalizes every …

3. Chris Archer trade rumor as something that makes sense. The Tampa Bay Rays’ only hope at building a competitive team is winning on the margins – and in Archer’s contract, which has three years at $27.5 million total remaining after this season, there’s a fair bit of marginal value.

Combine that with the paucity of starting pitching available at this deadline, and now would seem to be a reasonable time for the Rays to move him. Still, one person with knowledge of the Archer discussions said he would be “completely stunned” if a deal comes together, even after Archer’s 13-strikeout, no-walk performance Sunday.

The Rays are looking at both buying and selling, sources said, talking with teams about flipping prospect depth for controllable bats while listening on injured catcher Wilson Ramos and starter Nathan Eovaldi, whose 53-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio is as desirable as his 11 home runs allowed in 57 innings are undesirable. The starter market is grim enough that teams are planning on scouting …

4. Ervin Santana on Wednesday when he makes his first start of the season after February finger surgery. With about $5 million worth of salary left this season, Santana may be a better candidate to be traded in August, when he could clear waivers and go to any team. Still, if Santana does impress – his rehab-start fastball velocity has hovered around 90 mph, about 3 mph below his average – a team could jump the line, or at least consider packaging Santana with one of his sure-to-be-on-the-block teammates.

The Twins are, for all intents and purposes, dead after getting swept over the weekend by the awful Kansas City Royals. Minnesota is 44-53, nearly 10 games behind Cleveland and their two young stars with the highest ceilings, Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, are at Triple-A. So the Brewers could go for second baseman Brian Dozier and the Phillies for infielder Eduardo Escobar. Plenty of teams would take Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed or Zach Duke in their bullpen, though admittedly, with …

5. Kyle Barraclough and Drew Steckenrider and Keone Kela and Kirby Yates and Shane Greene available, the relief-pitching market is, at the moment, quite flush. This was one of the rationales the Mets gave for dealing Familia when they did, though the prospect of the best right-handed rental reliever available getting squeezed at the end didn’t seem altogether likely.

Guys like Barraclough, Steckenrider, Kela, Yates and Greene carry extra value because they all come with extra years of control. It’s enough that the Yankees – even with their best-in-baseball bullpen – are reaching out to teams with controllable relief pitchers and offering infielder Brandon Drury, according to sources.

It’s also the kind of group the Los Angeles Dodgers may target, seeing as …

6. Zach Britton is almost certainly out of their price range. The Dodgers, of course, could afford to pay Britton. The problem is if they do, it would take their payroll over the $197 million competitive-balance tax threshold, according to a league source familiar with the Dodgers’ number. Now, Los Angeles certainly could ship out a player from its major league roster to clear enough money, yet Baltimore or any other potential trade partner would ask for a better prospect in return. Which, perhaps, is what the Barracloughs and Kelas of the world may cost anyway. This is where the fluidity of the market matters.

And in the case of Britton, his almost-back-to-normal velocity and a scoreless streak of eight games, the market is hot. Philadelphia covets him to pair with Seranthony Dominguez in the late innings. Same with the Cubs and Brandon Morrow, and the Red Sox and Craig Kimbrel. Even the Astros, who last deadline believed they had a deal with Britton only for it to blow up, are on him again, with their ninth-inning situation still unclear.

Considering how long it took for the …

Manny Machado is paying immediate dividends for the Dodgers. (Getty)

7. Manny Machado deal to come together, it may be a bit until Britton is moved. The Orioles feinted throughout the process, and rival executives believe the maneuvers worked, as they scored a strong five-player return from the Dodgers.

Not that the Dodgers are going to have pangs of regret anytime soon. Machado played ably at shortstop and got on base seven times in his first three games. And in the most recent, third baseman Justin Turner reinjured his groin and is likely headed to the disabled list. While Max Muncy or Kike Hernandez can play third, Machado happens to be the only challenger to Arenado over the last half-decade for best third-base glove.

Wherever Machado plays, what’s important is that he can man either position on the left side of the infield, and that’s an added bonus for the Dodgers beyond a bat slotted second in the NL’s third-highest-scoring offense. Los Angeles paid the price it did for Machado because of how it lengthens a lineup that is now its biggest strength. The paucity of impact offensive players makes someone like …

8. Shin-Soo Choo, who might be thought of as untradeable, a real possibility in this market.

Teams in need of offense look at Choo’s .288/.400/.493 line this season and see someone with the on-base skills to lead off and the overall production to hit cleanup. And then come the “yeah, buts.”

Yeah, but he’s owed around $7.5 million this season and $21 million for each of the next two years.

Which is true. The Rangers have told teams they’re willing to eat a fairly significant amount of the money on Choo’s deal, though – and with the going rate for a near-.300/.400/.500 player well over $20 million, the money may not be nearly as big of an issue as is the second issue.

Yeah, but he’s a terrible outfielder and the contenders all have DHs.

This is the bigger issue. Is a team willing to put Choo into the outfield for six innings and chance it that luck will keep balls from him? He is 36 – and he’s been a below-average fielder for coming up on a decade now. Teams do figure out how to get bat-only guys in the field without getting completely roasted.

Not all, then, is lost. The possibility that Ryon Healy is the best bat traded – Kansas City is poking around on the Seattle first baseman, who may become redundant if the returning Robinson Cano gets his at-bats there – doesn’t have to come to fruition. Just like …

9. Matt Harvey doesn’t need to be the best pitcher traded because what a wretchedly boring deadline that would be. It doesn’t help that Harvey allowed eight runs in 3 2/3 innings in a showcase start Sunday.

None of his contemporaries is acquitting himself particularly well, either. Cole Hamels’ ERA in July is 10.50, and scouts are hoping to see something when he pitches Monday against the A’s. Tyson Ross pitched fine in his last pre-All-Star Game start … which followed two absolute stink bombs. J.A. Happ has started four games in July and still hasn’t completed six innings. Kevin Gausman? Dylan Bundy? Danny Duffy? Sure, if you like 4-something ERAs.

Now, certainly, you understand why so many wishful-thinking executives want to at least make an earnest effort to extract …

10. Jacob deGrom from New York and bring him to somewhere … normal. The willingness to say out loud that he would welcome a contract extension offer from the Mets shows that deGrom sees something in the Mets’ future. What exactly that may be is unclear. With him and Syndergaard, it’s one hell of a place to start.

Most puzzling was that DeGrom has been around the Mets long enough to understand the inadequacies that leave them so naked. So many of the franchise’s issues can be remedied with good leadership. So few are because the foundation necessary for good leadership to take root does not exist. The Mets are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And that leaves them facing the other part of deGrom’s binary offer: If he doesn’t get an extension – and one that with every great start edges closer to resembling Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $175 million for him to consider it – then he wants a trade.

Would the Mets accede? Well, it’s not exactly a good look for a franchise-quality pitcher to ask out. Nor would it be for him to start telling the truth about the organization during spring training if it doesn’t oblige his request.

Whatever lack of leverage deGrom may be perceived to have, he still possesses a mighty trump card: Mets fans love him and despise ownership, and while that doesn’t always play out in a player’s favor, it can matter. And as the Mets’ season of Citi Field catching on fire and an 11-1 start fading into a 40-56, last-place showing, and Cespedes on the DL and Thor there, too, plus the hand, foot and mouth, all some can do is laugh.

The wound is deep and ripe and real, and it doesn’t take someone squinting to realize the Mets are here because of it. Because of those who didn’t take responsibility and others who didn’t know any better. Because everything that happens to the New York Mets under the Wilpons’ watch may seem like ridiculousness but is merely the next chapter of the same sad story.

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