Exclusive Q&A: ESPN’s Buster Olney talks Mets, trade & free agent market

Citi Field emptyThe Mets and Braves play this Sunday on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. ET with Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, John Kruk and Buster Olney providing commentary.

Earlier today, Olney talked with MetsBlog about the state of the Mets, how they can be better, and how they’re being viewed outside of New York:

Matthew Cerrone: I tend to get tunnel vision obsessing over the Mets. So, talk to me about how other teams, team executives, etc., view the Mets these days?

Buster Olney: It’s ugly. I’m asked about this all of the time by rival executives. They ask, ‘Do you think the Mets are going to spend more money going forward?’ Of course, the perception of the Mets is different once every five days when Matt Harvey pitches. There’s a lot of high expectations for what Zack Wheeler is going to do, and people do laud some of the prospects they have, but there are questions about them as an organization and whether the same group of people will still be in leadership positions when they turn it around.

Matthew Cerrone: I assume you’re talking about Sandy Alderson, or guys in his front office. That’ll be interesting. The thing I keep coming back to, regardless of who is deciding what players to sign or trade, is what will the market be like for them?It’s great that they have money coming off the books, but the free agent market is a difficult place to build a team these days. At the same time, while they want to wait on these prospects, apathy among this fanbase is growing more and more every day.

Buster Olney: I think we can look at what the Seattle Mariners are going through, because I think they’re the closest comparison to what the Mets are going through right now. They have a star pitcher who can go out there every five days and dominate any team [in Felix Hernandez], but a real lack of depth among the position players. And how do you convince great players to go there at a time when the team is struggling?

For example, take Shin-Soo Choo, who is a free agent this fall. I think the Mets will have to do what the Mariners had had to do, in recent years with position players, and overpay Choo. He’s a terrific player, but they’ll be competing against other teams that are in a better position to win than the Mets. And the way you overcome that, if you’re the Mets, is to spend a lot of money. Is that the right thing to do? I don’t think you want to just spend a lot of money on a lot of different players and not know if it fits, just look at the Dodgers. But, at some point, you do have to have that foundation in place so that you can lure other players, veterans, to want to play for your team. And that’s going to be an important step for the Mets.

Matthew Cerrone: With that said, do you think Sandy Alderson is going about it the right way?

Buster Olney: He is, for the moment. Now, I do think that what they should do is what they didn’t do in the winter. If you look at what the Red Sox did, and to a lesser degree what the Cubs did, would be the way to go for the Mets in the off season. In other words, don’t necessarily get involved with the nine-figure bidding wars for the top of the free-agent class, but be aggressive on the second- and third-tier guys.

Go out and get three or four guys like Scott Feldman. It may be that two guys don’t work out, but you might hit it big. You know, sign a guy like Nate Schierholtz, sign a guy like a David DeJesus, and win at that market. That, to me, is the level to go. And, you saw the Red Sox do it this winter — they targeted a bunch of guys: Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, and in some cases it looks like it may not work out with a player like  Jonny Gomes — but it is going to pan out with some of the other guys. I think if you’re leery of going after a Carlos Gonzalez in the trade market, or even a Robinson Cano as a free agent, you can be aggressive with those second- and third-tier guys  with the Mets type of payroll flexibility.

I think if they did that, to compliment Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, David Wright, Jon Niese, you could climb up — especially at a time when the Phillies are coming down, the Marlins are a long ways away, and maybe the Nationals have more issues than anyone envisioned.