Over the past ten seasons, including this one, the Mets have delivered one playoff appearance. That ended in game seven of the 2006 NLCS, preventing the Mets from going to their fifth World Series, a series they very likely could have won. How much different would things have been had the Mets indeed won their third World Series in 2006? Perhaps it would have provided that group of players the confidence necessary to continue a playoff run. Of course, we will never know.
Instead, that one playoff run was followed by two collapses in two consecutive seasons, one historic, then three consecutive losing seasons with the potential of a fourth this year. If we assume a winning season is a .500 record or better, the Mets have delivered just four of those including their playoff season of 2006 in the last ten years. In 2005, with expectations low following four consecutive below .500 seasons, the Mets, under new manager Willie Randolph finished the season above .500 at 83-79. The Mets also had respectable winning records during the collapse seasons of 2007 and 2008 with 88 and 89 wins respectively. However, when you consider the Mets are a team that represents the National League in the largest market in the country, the lack of positive results year after year is simply inexcusable.
We know all the reasons why. We know about CO Jeff Wilpon’s meddling, former GM Omar Minaya’s penchant for giving out bad contracts to ageing players, the Bernie Madoff situation, and now waiting for a new regime led by Sandy Alderson to build a new organization. But the latter takes time and Mets fans’ patience has simply run out.
This season’s meltdown following the All Star break could not have been unexpected. The fact the Mets are just six games under .500 with the worst bullpen in baseball, a lineup bereft of power, a starting rotation anchored by two pitchers recovering from major shoulder surgery, and a defense that rivals Little League play at times is a remarkable feat. But the facts are the facts. This team has many holes and is not at all ready to contend. Their first half success can only be attributed to a terrific job manager Terry Collins has done to keep the team in the thick of it. Simply however, the limited ability of many players has gotten exposed over time and now we see the true level of talent on this team.
Should management simply blow up the club? No, there is talent here. David Wright and R.A. Dickey need to be resigned. Shortstop Ruben Tejada is proving every day what a valuable hitter and competent defender he is. The Mets have not missed Jose Reyes from an offensive or defensive perspective. Ike Davis is having a very good year in spite of being completely lost, hitting under .200, for the first two months of the season. Jonathan Niese is still developing and is showing he can be a very solid starter in the future. Right handed top level prospect Matt Harvey is here and is also showing signs he can be a very good starting pitcher also. But that’s it. What follows these few bright spots is very suspect.
What about Daniel Murphy? Why did I not include him in the list of positives? Any team with lofty aspirations must be very solid up the middle. That includes catcher, shortstop, second base, and center fielder. The Mets have one piece in Tejada. While Murphy’s defense has improved, he’s an extremely hard worker, he is not the kind of second baseman a pitcher trusts to get to every ground ball and make the pivot for the double play. Yes he makes some outstanding plays but his consistency is not there. I’m not saying that Murphy does not have a future as the Mets second baseman, his ability to hit shows he can be a player. But to carry Murphy, the Mets would need an outstanding catcher and center fielder to go along with twenty-two year old Tejada. So far that is not the case. More and more, Josh Thole is showing his weakness as a catcher. Yes his defense has improved but don’t forget, he was converted, not a catcher by nature. In center, Andres Torres has been terrible even compared to Angel Pagan’s performance of 2011. Kirk Nieuwenhuis started out great in center but was not able to adjust once the pitchers in the league adjusted to him. That cost Captain Kirk a trip back to Buffalo where he now sits on the disabled list.
Speaking of Buffalo, prospect centerfielder Matt Den Decker, promoted half way through the season from AA Binghamton has floundered at the triple A level. So a centerfielder outside the organization is a need for the Mets, no question. The Mets could probably carry Murphy and Thole with a top flight centerfielder in place but where that player will come from remains a big question.
Jason Bay—what a disaster. The guy is simply useless. He’s so lost at the plate that you would just love to see him go to another team for his own good. However, what team would take his contract? Lucas Duda showed he is too fragile when the going gets tough. He was a bit miffed he was sent to Buffalo when earlier in the season Davis was kept when struggling even more than Duda. Well here’s the difference Lucas, the Mets were winning even with Davis struggling. That no longer is the case. Duda of late has started to hit the ball well again in Buffalo and likely will be brought back up soon.
So what’s the point of my rant?
Simply stated, the Mets must admit they are rebuilding. Plain and simple, just be honest.
Sandy Alderson has gotten a huge pass from me and most of the media. I still believe in what he is trying to do. That is to build a first class organization from the ground up. The minor league players that have contributed a lot this season were not Sandy’s picks. Most were players drafted by Minaya. Those picks were conservative with the Mets never paying above slot in the draft under the former GM. And with conservative picks comes the likely scenario that none will ever become stars. As the season has progressed, many of these players have been exposed, likely never going to be game changers that a contending team needs. Some like Nieuwenhuis and Mike Baxter could be nice role players on the bench but to assume they will be an everyday answer is a stretch.
Most success in the Mets farm right now is coming at the very low levels, Brooklyn, Savannah, and St. Lucie. It’s these players that will define the Alderson farm system but they are a few years away. Alderson has revamped the entire scouting system and brought in many first rate scouts as well as a dream team front office of Paul DePodesta (the Peter Brand character from the movie Moneyball) and J.P. Riccardi. A player like Brandon Nimmo now at Brooklyn, selected out of high school last year in the first round of the amateur draft, was a gamble but the kid has really begun to hit and has the makeup to be an outstanding player some day. These are the kinds of drafts the Alderson regime is making opposed to Minaya. Nimmo and other high school picks are high risk/high reward type players. They have tremendous potential but lack the experience that many college picks have. The advantage of younger picks is to have them in the system longer, teaching them how to win under a one team philosophy. This was something that was completely absent when Minaya and other former GMs ran the organization.
I have extreme confidence that Alderson’s plan will work. The future of the organization is bright. There will be players from the farm that will help the team succeed or they will be used in trades to bring in the right pieces. But this formula is a finely prepared meal vs. a Big Mac. The Big Mac is quick, tasty, and provides instant gratification, often followed by indigestion. The finely prepared meal takes time, is delicious and nutritious, and well worth the wait providing a long period of contentment. Minaya preferred the Big Mac. Alderson is a culinary coinsure. Most Mets fans want another Big Mac, forgetting how the last one wrecked havoc with their digestive system. But of course I am speaking in metaphor. Mets fans could not care less about the farm and what will happen in 2014 and 2015. They want a winner now and will not buy tickets unless they get one.
Unless Alderson spends some of Wilpon’s money over the winter, the major league squad will continue to flounder. I think the mistake that Alderson is making is simply not admitting that the Mets are in a rebuilding phase. The fact that no deals were made at the deadline suggests the GM is unwilling to give away prospects that will help the Mets in a couple of seasons for a player who likely would not significantly help the team today.
Mets fans are passionate, smart, and very savvy when it comes to the game. But here’s the problem. As passionate as Mets fans are, they are out of patience and have little interest in waiting for prospects that may or may not materialize. Sandy realizes this is New York, not Oakland where he built a team that went to the World Series three consecutive years, winning it all in 1989. There he could rebuild openly, not worrying about the fans’ reaction. But in New York, while the Mets have floundered over the past decade, getting to the playoffs once, their cross town rivals, the Yankees, have been to the post season every season but once. (Where the Mets of 2006 failed in the post season, the Yankees of 2009 won the World Series.) Mets fans are tired of seeing Yankee fans bask in the glory of constant winning while they starve for a contender. Regardless of how fair or not, the Mets will always be judged and compared to that juggernaut from the Bronx. That’s likely why Alderson does not use the “rebuild” word.
But I have to give credit to Alderson. He really does not care what I think, what the media thinks, and what Mets fans thinks. He has a long term vision and is sticking to it. If you recall in the aftermath of the Miami signing of Jose Reyes, when asked if he (Sandy) should have shown more concern for Reyes before he signed with the Marlins, Alderson said rather sarcastically “Maybe I should have sent him a box of chocolates”. I think Alderson was actually glad to get rid of Reyes. He saw a very talented shortstop that was prone to injury and would require huge dollars for many years. He and his staff evaluated that at twenty-two years old, Ruben Tejada would be a better shortstop for the Mets moving forward. And from a baseball-smarts perspective, he is correct. As great a talent Reyes is, he never worked a pitcher the way the young Tejada does.
Somehow someway, Sandy Alderson must do both, continue to build up the organization through smart drafting and fortify the major league club so they can compete. That means spending some money in the off season. I’m not talking about stupid contracts like ones given to Bay or Oliver Perez but decent deals to bring in solid players that can help the youngsters mature. In fairness, Sandy did try to rebuild the bullpen but even he and his talented staff have no magic wand in that arena. The Mets bullpen has been a total disaster and is the main culprit in why the Mets have fallen out of the race so fast. Even prior to the All Star break, the Mets bullpen was responsible for nineteen losses. (The bullpen issues could be the demise of pitching coach Dan Warthen, the last left over from the Minaya era.)
Maybe I am speaking too soon. Perhaps the Mets will recapture some of what they had going in the first half of the season. Maybe they will get back into this thing, the pennant race that is but I doubt it. Right now there just are too many holes. A simple goal should be just to finish at or above .500. Even that might be too difficult for this group to achieve. In the meantime, do you want fries with that?