In March of 1992, the great Washington Post baseball writer Thomas Boswell wrote:
When the Mets are great they think they’re the best ever. When they’re good, they think they’re great. When they’re mediocre, they think they’re very good but got stiffed. And when they’re bad . . . they think if they spend $30 million or $40 million, they’ll be great again before the ink dries. The Mets’ reward for self-inflation is that they seldom learn the proper lessons from their annual disappointments and, so, almost never approach the next season with fitting expectations .… Mets fans always expect a lot. And the Mets always oblige by telling them what they want to hear: We’re great.
Why do I start this post with that quote? For two reasons.
First, I think it accurately identifies the problems that have haunted the Mets in the 20 years since that article was written. Namely, a quick-fix mentality coupled with, it has to be said, a fan base that has been unwilling to tolerate getting worse so as to get better (especially since the rise of the Yankees).
Second, this is the first off-season I can remember where the Mets didn’t follow the same-old plan. They were honest with the fans. They didn’t go out and spend just to say they did. Instead, they retrenched.
But, there’s a cost to the team’s honesty. I can’t remember a season where the Mets fan base was less excited for opening day. As many of you know, I’ve endorsed the Mets offseason of austerity; however, I have to acknowledge that I’m also not quite as “juiced” as I have been in other seasons. Honesty is a two-way street.
Of course, the recent Madoff-related news just adds to the negative aura surrounding the franchise. You’d think the way the media has treated the story that the Mets have sold off all their good players, have a payroll of $20 million and are going to have to rename the rotunda after Irving Picard. My day job precludes me from saying too much about this, but the one thing I want to say is that Fred and Jeff almost certainly anticipated being sued for the $300 million they are alleged to have obtained from being “net winners.” I am fairly certain they did not anticipate being sued for $1 billion because they “should have known” about Madoff’s scheme. It’s that latter uncertainty that is why they need to sell a piece of the club.
But I digress. We are Mets fans. Can’t we handle the truth? Did anyone really think last year’s team was going to be good? Let’s recognize, a lot went right last year and they were still 4 games under .500. Yet, the negativity surrounding the team heading into last season was nowhere near what it is this season. Is the only difference that we didn’t go out and spend $65 million on someone like Jason Bay?
I should say, that’s cause for optimism on my end. I love the Scott Hairston signing. Now, if Terry Collins wants to, he can play Pagan against righties and Hairston against lefties. Here are the slash lines that platoon could produce:
In Hairston’s best season against lefties (2009): .318/.378/.543
In Pagan’s best season against righties (2010): .300/.351/.436
That’s a really good potential platoon. Then there’s the pitching staff. No, we didn’t sign Cliff Lee. And I would have signed Jeff Francis, not Chris Young. But both Young and Chris Capuano have the potential to pitch well in Citi Field. I’ve written a lot about both, but if Citi Field reduces Capuano’s propensity for the long ball (and he’s healthy), the starting staff could be really good.
The bullpen may also be really good. Bobby Parnell’s SIERA suggests he’s for real. K-Rod will presumably be healthy. Tim Byrdak strikes out more than a batter an inning against lefties for his career.
And remember, on July 5th last year, the Mets were 46-37, just two games out of first and in the lead for the Wild Card. Then, the wheels came off. But the Mets did contend for half of last season.
The Mets are also far more well-equipped to handle a top player going down with an injury. Chin-Lung Hu can fill in (at least defensively) for Reyes should he get hurt. Hairston can fill in should Beltran/Bay get injured. There’s Dan Murphy who should be able to step up if something happens to Wright/Davis and may end up as the everyday second baseman. Willie Harris can also step up. Harris, by the way, has great plate discipline. For his career, he’s swung at only 16.4% of pitches he’s seen outside the strike zone (below the MLB average). In the last two seasons he’s walked in 14.5% and 12.6% of his plate appearances. In 2009, he actually had a .364 OBP even though his batting average was only .235. For a few games, or as a pinch-hitter, Willie has value. Behind the plate there’s Thole and Paulino, with Dusty Ryan at Triple-A if either guy can’t produce. Even in the rotation there is some depth with Dillon Gee on call.
So why are we so down? We’ve generated false hope with a lot less. Is it just that the Wilpons haven’t opened up their checkbook to spend even more money? Who that we didn’t sign should we have signed? What big player who was traded should we have traded for?
If it’s the money being spent, or lack thereof, that has us down, then we need to do some soul-searching as fans. Our payroll will top $140 million this season. We have a proven leadership team in the Front Office that understands advanced statistics and knows how to put together a winning club. And it won’t waste money while getting us there. Terry Collins seems likely to instill the discipline and energy we know the team was crying out for under Willie and Jerry. There’s a lot to like about the 2011 Mets.
So, while I’m not as excited as I was, say, for the beginning of the 2008 season where I thought Johan would put us over the top. I’m also not as excited as I was for the 2002 season that brought us Alomar, Vaughn and Burnitz. And that is a very good thing.