This writer has for years been among those who largely refuse to hold the Wilpons responsible for the team’s on-field failings. Alas, this attitude no longer jibes with the reality we continue to see from this team.
Since the week before the break, it has become increasingly apparent that the Mets do not have enough talent to seriously compete with the better teams in the league. Yes, we have Johan and Wright and some big names, but the mystifying failures of some of those big names, along with the rather pedestrian play of most of the secondary players and reserves, has combined to give the team’s large and rabid fan base yet another summer of discontent.
2007 and 2008 were disappointments, but even the most cynical of fans has to agree that contending until the very last day of the regular season–despite the back-to-back horrific finishes—was infinitely preferable to the now nearly two-season-long marathon of uninspired and uninspiring mediocrity that we have been subjected to.
Yes, the Wilpons do spend a lot; this is not debatable. But the 2010 payroll, by almost all sources’ calculations, decreased from 2009, and it is hard to think that this is not directly tied to the overall economy’s effect on the Wilpons’ businesses. Madoff or no Madoff, Fred and his crew clearly have taken a hit over the last few years, and apparently have put a stop to continued escalating spending.
This began to become clear when the team stopped significant spending after giving Jason Bay a very generous deal; indeed the reasons for not obtaining more starting pitching over the last nine months (the extraordinarily fortunate arrival of Dickey notwithstanding) can be debated ad infinitum. Did Lackey want to be here? Was Pineiro overpriced? Did we not have the prospects to obtain Halladay or Oswalt? Did we but were we unwilling to trade them? The feeling here is that finances have finally begun to take a front row seat in the Mets’ decision-making apparatus. Whatever that apparatus consists of.
The Wilpons, much like last year, have said very little and done less during the somewhat extraordinary downward spiral we have witnessed since late June. Perhaps they really believe in the team. Perhaps they are as shell-shocked as we all are. Perhaps they are preoccupied with their other businesses in a very difficult economy. Perhaps they are still making money due to owning their TV network and the huge stream of corporate cash which flows into their coffers via the clearly corporate-focused Citi Field.
Unfortunately, sense and observation suggest that the latter is closest to the probable truth. Regardless of any opinion, the team can still make money without postseason appearances based on owning SNY and the corporate cash that flows through Citi Field.
Citi Field opened with 10,000 less seats that Shea had, which openly stated that massive gross attendance was not the goal. This writer felt the same way that countless others did after his first visit to the very nice Citi Field—it was hard to tell whose stadium one was at. The colors, the décor, and everything about the place screamed nice and new and primarily designed and dedicated to siphoning money from the wealthy and from corporations. This is not a leftist or a rightist rant; far from it. But this writer was expecting orange and blue everywhere, everything to be named after Met players and legendary figures, and to see a monument and a museum to the decades-long history of a very interesting team. This is not what appeared.
The creation, design, and reality of Citi Field was, quite obviously, not the labor of love of a family whose life centered around the team it owned, its history of colorful characters, and its two championship teams, which it can easily be argued are among the most memorable of the last 50 years. Citi Field, in size, concept, and reality, was designed to hold fewer people and first and foremost to milk every possible deep-pocketed source for maximum dollars.
Jeff Wilpon finally came alive in the wake of the embarrassing KRod situation. Prior to that, he had not commented much on the team’s on-field collapse, had not demanded anything publicly from players or management personnel, had not made a single change at any level that we know of, and had shown absolutely zero public concern for what the team’s fans have been going through for the second straight year. Fred Wilpon is most definitely a very smart man, and, as any father would, he publicly praised his son’s work. Those who hope that Jeff will be moved from his current position while Fred owns the team are most likely very delusional—Fred bought the team, as he has said, for his family. This is Jeff’s job. He’s not going anywhere.
The Wilpons have publicly praised Omar and shown no sign of removing him. Clearly Jerry Manuel will not be back. But why keep him for the remainder of the season? Do we need to see Francoeur and his sub-.300 OBP and a clearly futureless career minor leaguer like Hessman starting? The Orioles hired Buck Showalter, who may have been precisely the kind of successful, hard-nosed man needed to change the soft, consequence-less vibe of this team. The Orioles have played well since he took over. Why keep HoJo? The Astros and the Phillies changed hitting coaches in-season and have seen tangible positive results. But the Mets stand pat. Again. Might hiring a new manager and hitting coach, releasing Ollie and not playing a man down every night, and doing these things 1-2 weeks ago have injected some life into this team as well as a sense that the poor play might have consequences, and thus light some fires? Might we have been able to at least have made enough of a run to salvage respect if not a playoff spot?
Loyalty or inertia? Biding time or saving money?
The feeling here is that we may be in the midst of a dark period in Met history. Other than Niese, thus far the youngsters have shown very, very little to get excited about. Ownership finally reared its head when the chance to save millions in the KRod situation presented itself. Jeff has already laid the groundwork for lowered expectations with a trial balloon suggesting that someone already here (Takahashi? Parnell?) might do enough the rest of the way to be considered the 2011 closer. This would, of course, mean an opportunity to spend—or save–many more millions.
The way Citi was conceived, the way the team made zero significant changes other than Bay despite 2009’s results and the WFAN fiasco last fall, the way there has been absolutely zero done in the wake of now nearly two months of truly offensive offense-free baseball, and the way that ownership finally awakened when there were millions to be saved on KRod all combine to paint a very unpleasant picture.
There is some hope, to be sure, with a team that will return David Wright, Jose Reyes, a contract-year Carlos Beltran, Jason Bay, and the seemingly excellent 1-2-3 of Johan, Dickey, and Niese. But there simply is no way this team will contend without dramatic improvement to the secondary group that supports the mainstays. As this space has pointed out, in 2006 we had Floyd, Valentin, LoDuca, Chavez, Oliver, Bradford, and Sanchez. The supporting cast has diminished in quality every year, bottoming out in 2009 and 2010.
Will the Wilpons take the time and spend the required money to change this once and for all?
The expensive signing of their first round draft pick might show promise. But then again, it might also be another example of what some contend is doing just enough to satisfy just enough of the fan base to stave off mass defections.
Is the KRod incident the beginning of ownership presenting clear consequences to their players, or just a way for them to save desperately needed millions?
Was cutting Cora done to begin improving the supporting cast and amassing a war chest for 2011 expenditures, or just putting 2-point-something million in the mattress?
Only time will tell what the answers are to these and other questions.
But whether one is a Catatonic Optimist or a Nattering Nabob of Negativity, what we have seen thus far is not very encouraging.
It is hard to believe that another offseason will have us debating “breaking up the core” and whether it is this group’s “last chance” and if their “window” is closing. But here we are. Again.
One thing that we will most definitely and finally see without fail is whether or not winning is indeed the Wilpons’ top concern and priority. Failure to jettison Ollie and Slappy and not spending serious money on improvements to the bullpen, the back end of the rotation, second base, and the bench will lead to another season of discontent.
How many more seasons like this the average fan will endure is most definitely as questionable as the Wilpons’ commitment to winning is.