Thursday, December 10, 2015

Mets Need To Strike While The Stove Is Hot

I can still see Daniel Murphy reaching for his lip balm after another brutal error.  I still think about Lucas Duda's wild throw and Familia's quick pitch and the far-too-many weak at bats and missed opportunities that gave the Series to the Royals.  But the excruciating trauma of losing the World Series is gradually giving way to the hope that the Mets will make those pivotal trades and acquisitions to bolster the team and put them over the top in 2016. 

After all, as I wrote a month ago (has it only been a month?), it is all about creating a New Met Narrative:
For Met fans, there is always a lingering sense that disappointment is not far off -- that the Mets' penny-wise owners will not do what it takes to keep the team competitive and that something unexpected but nevertheless devastating will undermine the team's seemingly limitless future.  But, things feel different this time.  The Mets have a deep core of great young talent, savvy veterans, and apparently great chemistry.  They surely need to make a few changes and add some key new pieces this off season, but maybe, just maybe, this is the start of a new era.  Maybe it is time for a new narrative.  Not lovable losers or unlovable losers tempered by the occasional miracle, but a truly solid baseball team that doesn't have to rely on magic to win. 
As we gather around the hot stove enduring the cold months without baseball, however, I'm getting that old helpless feeling that Mets ownership is going to try to get away with doing as little as possible, once again pretending to be a small market team lacking the wherewithal to make a big market move.  Sure, they will tinker with a couple of middling deals to strengthen some of the team's more glaring weaknesses and add a little bit of depth.  But they will preemptively opt out of any major deals, insisting they have to keep payroll down. 

Or like the ill-fated deal for Michael Cuddyer last year, management will satisfy a bizarre urge to spend money on the wrong players.  This year's candidate:  Ben Zobrist.  For some reason the Mets were enamored of this aging utility man and were willing to give him a lucrative 4-year contract.  Luckily he signed elsewhere.  The Mets, to their credit, deftly pivoted and flipped Jonathan Niese, a perennially underachieving lefty pitcher, for Neil Walker, a very solid second baseman who will more than adequately compensate for the loss of the aforementioned Murphy (who with his lip balm and porous glove is thankfully moving on).  They also signed free agent Asdrubal Cabrera, a strong-hitting, good-enough fielding infielder who with Walker, give the Mets flexibility around the horn -- flexibility that is terribly important given the tenuous nature of David Wright's back and questions surrounding erstwhile folk hero Wilmer Flores and the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time Dilson Herrera.

I like these moves but they are not nearly enough.  The Mets still need a big bat for the middle of their lineup -- a bat they were woefully missing last year until they signed Yoenis Cespedes, who carried them to the playoffs. 

Cespedes, Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are the pricey free agents available this year, but the Mets don't seem to be in the running for any of them.  They are reportedly looking at cheaper solutions -- platoon players who can plug some holes as opposed to superstars who can change the entire dynamic.  And, again, it appears to be because they claim they don't have the money, not because they don't think any of these players would markedly strengthen the team.  This is bullshit.

As Michael Powell of the New York Times summarizes:
The Mets’ claim of sackcloth poverty seems worth interrogating. The Wilpons trusted their grifter friend Bernard L. Madoff, and so fell on hard times. And the debt service on their new stadium is pretty high. But as Howard Megdal of Capital New York has noted, somewhere between $45 million and $60 million rained down upon the Wilpons in this autumn’s baseball festivities.  Ratings and ad rates are up significantly on SNY, in which the Mets own a majority share. And as my colleague Richard Sandomir has noted, ticket sales are up.
Expectations are up too.  After years of mediocrity or worse, the Mets finally have the makings of a great team and nothing short of a World Series win is going to satisfy the fan base.  And that is how it should be.  As tough as it was to lose the World Series the way they did, it would be absolutely devastating if that turned out to be all there was -- if that was the pinnacle of this incarnation of the team.

But time is of the essence.  The key to the Mets' success is their incredible young pitching staff.  But Matt Harvey becomes a free agent in 2018, and the others soon thereafter.  And with arbitration years kicking in prior to free agency, the team will have to start paying a premium in order to keep the staff together, which ownership is not likely to do.  Not to mention the ugly possibility that one or more of them will suffer injury. 

The time to make a big move is now.  The time to spend money like the big market team they actually are is now.  If it is true that the team is really one slugging superstar away, they've got to make that happen -- even if it means offering too much money or too many years.  As Met fans know better than most, having a genuine chance to win a championship is precious and not something to be squandered. 


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