When the Mets took a 4-0 lead on the Marlins this afternoon, I was fairly confident they’d hold on to win the game. That thought – the Mets defeating the Marlins in Game 162 - took me back to 2007 and 2008. A win in either of those final games would’ve extended the Mets’ season. There would’ve been a game 163, and perhaps a Playoff berth. We all know what happened. In 2007, Tom Glavine imploded and wasn’t devastated. In 2008, Scott Schoeneweis gave up a game winning homer after Carlos Beltran made Shea shake one last time. Since then, the Mets have suffered four consecutive losing seasons.
Each of these four straight losing seasons have been hard to take. 2009 saw a team decimated by injuries fall apart at the seams. 2010 offered early promise, but ultimate failure. Chances of contending in 2011 were (rightfully) punted by the front office in order to get out from under Francisco Rodriguez‘s albatross contract while Carlos Beltran was dealt so the team could acquire Zack Wheeler. 2012? This season was a different story.
To most who made predictions before the year began, the Mets finished where they were supposed to finish: 74-88. I thought the team had enough talent to hover around .500 and sniff the 2nd Wild Card if everything broke right. They did hang around .500 for most of the year, but even with outstanding campaigns by R.A. Dickey and David Wright, most everything else did not break right. The bullpen was abysmal, the offensive production from the outfield was laughable, the effort was deplorable at times down the stretch, and (although the starting pitching was a strength), the team was without Mike Pelfrey for nearly the entire year, with the rotation further hampered by the absence of Dillon Gee for the entire second half, and Johan Santana for the majority of it.
This season, although ultimately disappointing, had its moments and tremendous stories. Johan Santana pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history back on June 1st. The final out resulted in an explosion of pure euphoria. It gave me a feeling I hadn’t had since the 2006 Playoffs, and it made Citi Field sound like Shea Stadium – if only for that one night. R.A. Dickey put together one of the finest years any Mets starter has ever had (pitching almost the entire year with a torn muscle in his stomach), and should rightfully be awarded the Cy Young award for his efforts. David Wright had a remarkable first half before dropping off a bit as the summer progressed. Still, he had his best overall campaign since 2008, and played the best defense of his career. Ike Davis rebounded from one of the most horrific starts to a season anyone has ever seen, and ended up hitting 32 homers while eclipsing the 90 RBI plateau. Jonathon Niese put together an extremely solid campaign, staying strong through the end of the season for the first time in his career. Most importantly, Matt Harvey came up and showed that he not only belonged at this level, but that he has the potential to dominate. Those are the good things, here are the bad:
The outfield needs to be completely rebuilt, and the bullpen has to be overhauled. The Mets have a ton of holes to fill, and (for the time being) limited money available to plug those holes. Their Manager goes into the year without job security (as it should be). There are a plethora of problems. They’re not, however, impossible to fix. Sandy Alderson gave a state of the team address prior to today’s game. While not everything he said will leave Mets fans brimming with optimism, here are a few quotes (courtesy of Adam Rubin) that stuck out:
The GM added that the organization, with the Bernard Madoff situation resolved and minority investors on board, is better equipped to commit to Wright and Dickey than it would have been six month ago. ‘If you had the uncertainty that existed last spring, it would be difficult to make those long-term commitments,’ Alderson said. ‘So I think that’s a fundamental shift. … Not only would we like to see those two situations resolved by the beginning of spring training/Opening Day, I think we’d like to see them resolved sooner rather than later.’
Sandy Alderson is a man who is guarded with his words. After last season concluded, there wasn’t much optimism or urgency coming from him regarding the Jose Reyes situation. The above quote alludes to the fact that the Mets are more financially sound, and are prepared to make legitimate offers to keep both Wright and Dickey. With the potential of the Mets’ starting pitching going into 2013 and beyond, Wright and Dickey are players who should be built around, not moved. This team is not far from contending if the roster is constructed meticulously and smartly.
“We really have not been able to be involved in a significant way in the free-agent market. We certainly have brought in players on a free-agent basis, but in terms of significant acquisitions, somewhat limited. But I can foresee that changing, perhaps not immediately, but in the near term.”
The important part of that quote is the last two words: near term. In order for the Mets to succeed, they’ll likely have to spend significant dollars to improve the roster during the 2013 season, after its conclusion, or both. As Alderson has stated, the finances have improved to the point where the Mets are both willing and able to extend both Wright and Dickey long-term. The next step would be the ability to spend large dollars on external free agents, and/or take on salary via trade – which is what Alderson is alluding to at the end of the above quote.
To repeat, the Mets have issues. They’re not, however, a lost cause. The starting pitching should be a strength. With Zack Wheeler on the horizon, their starting staff could become one of the best in baseball. That isn’t hyperbole, it’s a legitimate possibility. The bullpen does need to be re-made, but in Jeurys Familia and Josh Edgin, the Mets will hopefully be able to fill two of those slots with cost effective internal options. No one knows what the offseason has in store. Sandy Alderson intimated that he won’t be blowing the roster up, and I agree with that plan. Still, there needs to be roster turnover. If the right moves are made, there’s no reason to believe the Mets can’t be competitive in 2013. Most (including myself) view 2014 as a year where the Mets can legitimately contend. As the Oakland Athletics proved a few minutes ago, anything can happen in baseball. For the sake of Mets fans everywhere, let’s hope that 2012 will be remembered the same way 2004 was – as the last poor season before the team began its climb back to respectability.