CARLSBAD, Calif. — There were no in-person general managers’ meetings a year ago. If there were, the two New York teams could have strutted in confidently about the near future.
The Wilpon regime had recently ended and the euphoria and optimism surrounding Steve Cohen’s ownership still was percolating. The Mets did not have a president of baseball operations or GM, but the expectation was that a line would form to work in New York for the richest owner in the game to try to upgrade a roster filled with offensive potential.
The Yankees were not far removed from being ousted from the playoffs for the fourth straight year. But they had made it four straight and were looking toward a first unabridged season with Gerrit Cole backed by one of the fiercest lineups in the majors. The Yankees were seen as among the favorites to win the 2021 World Series.
A year later, the GM meetings are back in person, not virtual, and neither New York team is strutting. Both are coming off disappointing campaigns; though disappointing often is in the eye of the beholder, since a one-and-done wild-card loss is regression for the Yankees and would have been heaven-sent for the Mets.
What stands out is that both teams’ needs are greater today than 12 months ago; namely because there was such an offensive decline in Queens and The Bronx, reducing what seemed like cornerstone strengths for both franchises. The GM meetings are viewed annually as a kickoff to the offseason and both New York clubs are seen as needy and ready to spend.
The Mets — to the detriment of a new regime’s reputation — are still looking for a president of baseball operations and GM, just now we realize it is because so few qualified candidates want to work for the organization.
The growing belief is the Mets are walking away from the president of baseball operations job now to try to just hire a GM, perhaps with the hope that Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns can free himself after next year to fill the big job. If that occurs, the Cohen regime would be 0-for-2 in offseasons trying to fill the baseball operations opening. Last year that led to Jared Porter as GM, Zack Scott as interim GM and embarrassment.
One potential candidate to step into this void recently mentioned, yes, concerns about what kind of boss Cohen would be and what influence exactly team president Sandy Alderson would wield in baseball operations. But this executive who turned down a chance to interview also commented on the players under expensive contracts for next year, noting Jacob deGrom’s health uncertainty, and the same for Carlos Carrasco. Can Francisco Lindor handle New York? Robinson Cano back on the books at over $20 million annually with no clue if he can play or even be on the roster. James McCann, $10 million annually and he may be a backup catcher.
This executive said the rotation is without certainty for next year, the lineup more of a mystery with Lindor, Jeff McNeil and Dom Smith coming off down seasons, Michael Conforto either needing to be retained or replaced and no clear third baseman, and a farm system with some star power, but no depth. The executive’s summation was that this was not the bones of a win-now team, but the owner has promised a championship sooner than later and so what are the terms of the hiring?
The Yankees are a win-now team and retained their leadership with Brian Cashman as GM and Aaron Boone as manager. In fact, while the Mets also remain without a manager, their last skipper, Luis Rojas, recently interviewed for the Yankees’ third-base coaching job and word was he left with a positive impression of Boone and vice versa.
But the big work is not filling the coaching staff. Aside from Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, the offense was a disappointment last year. It is possible that DJ LeMahieu’s season-long struggles were tied to needing sports hernia surgery and he will return a better version in 2022. He also turns 34 in July. Can Joey Gallo grow comfortable in New York? Is there a rebound for Gleyber Torres? Are the Yankees keeping, trading or non-tendering Miguel Andujar, Clint Frazier, Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela and Luke Voit?
The most obvious need is at shortstop, but what level are they targeting? As of the beginning of the GM meetings, Hal Steinbrenner had yet to provide a 2022 payroll budget. That will determine just how Corey Seager crazy or not the Yankees can go in this free-agent market. Also how they will handle first base, catcher and finding more rotation depth.
From 2018-21, they got to the GM meetings feeling they were high-end championship contenders. It does not quite feel like that today.
It is a long offseason to change minds and narratives, but as these annual meetings began in person this year neither New York team was in strutting form.