Friday, January 26, 2018

Stop Normalizing Met Ownership

This piece is about baseball, not politics, but if I may digress for a moment -- The Orange #Shithole who resides at the White House has degraded the Office of the Presidency so thoroughly with such an overwhelming barrage of corruption, abuse of power and bigotry that it is difficult not to become inured to it all.  Thus, for example, a story that his attorney created a dummy corporation through which a porn star was paid hush money right before the election barely rises to the top five scandals of the week.  None of this is normal and we must not accept any of it. 

Which brings me somewhat circuitously to the Orange and Blue #Shitholes who preside over the New York Metropolitan Baseball Club.  During these cold winter months, the hot stove rumors about signing high-priced free agents and trading for the best players never seem to involve the Mets.  Sportswriters and fans instead propose clever cost-saving moves involving bargain basement, one-dimensional players to complement flawed role players the team already has.  It is simply assumed that despite being situated in the largest media market in the country, the Mets don't have the willingness or, perhaps, the ability to spend what it takes to put together a championship team.  On the contrary, it has become a well-worn truism that they will spend on payroll what mid-market teams in Cleveland and Kansas City do.  Or less.  Milwaukee just traded for Christian Yelich and signed free agent Lorenzo Cain, two great outfielders, on the same day the Mets signed aging infielder and erstwhile wife beater Jose Reyes.  None of this is normal and we must not accept any of it.

The Mets' penury is generally attributed to the owners' entanglement with Bernie Madoff -- which purportedly resulted in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, hundreds of millions of dollars in loans to cover debts they made against their Madoff investments, and additional money they have to pay to a fund for other Madoff victims.  Of course, the Wilpons will not admit to their financial woes or concede that they are in any way restricting spending.  Instead, as Jeff Wilpon said recently when he finally deigned to appear before the press, spending does not necessarily translate into success.  Setting up and knocking down a straw man (not to be confused with the Straw Man):  “I’d rather look at what we can do in terms of wins and losses. We were in the top five in payroll, and I don’t think that won us a World Series. We set out to make the playoffs. We’re trying to win the World Series, not trying to be in the top five.” 

OK let's look at wins and losses.  The Mets won 70 games and lost 92 games last year.  Their payroll in 2017 was 12th (just above Seattle) and in 2016 was 19th (just below Minnesota). No one is saying the Mets have to spend like the Yankees, Dodgers or Red Sox (although, why not?), but they should not shy away from making moves that would greatly strengthen a team that needs strengthening for fear of going over what appears to be an arbitrarily-constrained budget. 

It was only two years ago that the Mets made the World Series thanks to a crop of incredibly talented young pitchers, a superstar in Yoenis Cespedes (who the Mets did sign to a lucrative deal) and other solid players who got hot at the right time.  But the team never supplemented their promising core with players who could take them all the way.  Instead they stood pat and (barely) got as far as the Wild Card game in 2016.  And then last year when most of their pitchers and just about everyone else including Cespedes got hurt, the team played miserably, finishing in fourth place, 27 games behind the first place Nationals. 

The team (thankfully) hired a new manager and most of their great young pitchers should bounce back.  Cespedes should be healthy and budding star Michael Conforto should recover from the injuries he suffered last season.  Amed Rosario, their new young shortstop, should be a dynamic and productive force.  That's a pretty solid foundation for an exciting and promising team.  But it isn't enough.  There are some huge holes to fill, including at second base and third base and in the bullpen.  Another starting pitcher would be nice.  So would a real centerfielder.  Acquiring such badly needed talent, however, isn't going to come in trades because the Mets don't have prospects in their woefully thin farm system.  In fact, they have so little depth they reportedly wouldn't trade substitute outfielder Brandon Nimmo (who they feel they need to keep in case a starter gets hurt) for a solid starting second baseman.  That leaves spending money on free agents. 

True to form, the only significant free agent move this off season was the return of outfielder Jay Bruce -- hardly a game-changer, as it were.  (They also signed, for the Major League minimum salary, former All Star, with emphasis on the "former," Adrian Gonzalez.)  It thus appears that the Mets'  strategy is to look for bargains and bring back as much of the team that lost 92 games last year as possible and hope for the best. 

Ownership thinks it can placate the fan base by putting together a relatively competitive team that, if healthy and lucky, can squeak into the playoffs.  The Mets are rarely healthy and they haven't been lucky since 1986.  It is far past time to spend money (wisely) to build a team capable of winning a championship.  The refusal to do so is not normal.  #Resist.

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