June 18, 2012; Flushing, NY, USA; New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson (left) and owner Fred Wilpon before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Can I Borrow Your DeLorean?

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This week, the Mets signed David Wright to a new 8 year, $138 million dollar contract extension through 2020.  After locking up Wright, news broke today that the Mets had increased their initial offer to R.A. Dickey.  It’s still possible that the Mets will trade Dickey either during or after this week’s winter meetings in Nashville.   According to nearly every report, the Mets would need to be bowled over to trade Dickey.

It’s fair to assume that in the coming days the Mets will either have Dickey locked up along with Wright, or will have obtained a premium package of players in exchange for the reigning National League Cy Young award winner.  If the Mets simply retain Dickey to go along with Wright, they’ll still have lots of work to do as far as making this team a contender.  If they trade him, they may be able to fill several areas of need.

After the Wright deal was announced, and before clarity has been given regarding how the Dickey situation will play out, the same narrative has continued to be repeated.  The narrative is this:  Regardless of what they do, the Mets are at least two to three years away from contending.  This notion has been repeated over and over by the writers, and spewed by radio personalities such as Craig Carton.  After opening his show the morning after Wright signed his extension, Carton stated that “three years from now, David Wright will be playing third base for a Mets team that won’t be winning.”  Three years from now!  That’s the 2015 season.  The Mets have two players under contract for 2015Jonathon Niese and David Wright – yet, some are comfortable stating that the team won’t have a chance at contending that year.  It’s an idiotic thing to proclaim.

Why is the idea that the Mets are “two to three” years away from contending being pushed so hard by so many?  For one, it fits the recent narrative.  It adds fuel to the fire for the fans who seem to enjoy self loathing.  It generates page views and draws listeners.  What it is, though, is lazy journalism and baseless prognostication.  On November 29th, Adam Rubin (by far the best writer on the Mets beat), cited the losses of Andres Torres, Jason Bay, Ramon Ramirez, and others as a negative.  His reasoning?  The Mets had yet to replace them on the roster, and their current Opening Day lineup (you know, the one that has yet to be put together), was putrid.

It’s correct that the Mets need to upgrade the roster in a host of areas.  The team is coming off four consecutive losing seasons, the fans are restless, and the negative sentiment won’t change overnight.  However, there are many reasons to believe the Mets’ situation isn’t as dire as it’s being made out to be.

Regardless of whether you were in favor of the Wright extension or not, the Mets dishing out a $138 million dollar deal certainly can’t be viewed as a negative as far as their financial health is concerned.  A year ago, the team was one unfavorable court decision away from what may have led to financial ruin.  With the payroll reportedly set to increase this year to somewhere between $105 and $110 million, and with tens of millions of dollars coming off the books after the 2013 season, the Mets should have the financial flexibility to vastly improve the roster in the near term.

The Mets already have an above average starting rotation, one that should be further bolstered by the arrival of top prospect Zack Wheeler during the 2013 season.  Their infield is set, with Ike Davis, Daniel Murhpy, Ruben Tejada, and David Wright.  That’s where the clear positives end.  The bullpen is an issue.  Still, relievers are often volatile year to year, and the Mets have a number of intriguing arms who should be able to contribute positively in 2013 and beyond (Josh Edgin, Bobby Parnell, Jeurys Familia, etc).  The Mets’ main issues are in the outfield and at catcher.

As we sit here on December 1st, it can be easily stated that the Mets have four holes to fill.  It’s that fact, which leads many to laugh off the Mets’ chances at contention in the coming years.  If the Mets don’t address their catching situation and their outfield mess, they won’t be able to contend.  It’s that simple.  Fans and pundits are correct to question whether or not Sandy Alderson and his staff have what it takes to fix the holes the Mets have, and to do it in a way that’s both smart and creative.  During his tenure, Alderson’s one great move was acquiring Zack Wheeler for Carlos Beltran.  Aside from that, he’s made a few bad trades, a few meaningless ones, signed relievers who haven’t worked out, and brought in more AAAA players than I can count.

It’s fair to be critical of Sandy Alderson’s past moves (or non moves), while being skeptical of his future ones.  It’s reckless, though, to pretend to know what the future holds…to write off the 2014 or 2015 seasons before the 2013 roster has even been assembled.

The Mets aren’t coming off a hundred loss campaign, and they’re not devoid of talent.  This isn’t some impossible to overcome situation.  This is a team that’s had recent win totals in the mid to high 70’s.  With two wild cards, reaching the Playoffs has become a bit easier.  In order to make it there, the Mets would likely have to win at least 85 games.

In order to reach and eclipse 85 wins in the near future, Sandy Alderson needs to get creative.  I don’t think anyone expects the Mets to legitimately contend in 2013, but stranger things have happened.  With a few shrewd moves, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Mets make a push next season.  Contending in 2014, however, is clearly possible and is likely the goal.  With that in mind,  it’s time for Sandy Alderson to get creative.

Instead of settling for stopgaps, Alderson and Co. need to dangle some of their valuable commodities in an effort to fill their needs via trade.  Offer Jonathon Niese to the Blue Jays for catcher Travis d’Arnaud.  Put together a package of highly thought of minor league arms (Michael Fulmer, Domingo Tapia, etc) and see if you can obtain a near MLB ready power bat for the outfield.  Now that he’s officially blocked, offer Wilmer Flores and others to an American League team and see what you can get in exchange.  Hell, get a little crazy and offer Matt Harvey to the Royals for Wil Myers.  The Royals are rumored to want an established ace for Myers, but it can’t hurt to kick the tires.

The Mets are on firmer financial footing than they have been at any point over the last several years.  It’s fair to assume that David Wright and R.A. Dickey have been given some insight as far as what the plan is.  Zack Wheeler is close to being ready, there’s tons of money coming off the books after 2013, and the fans are thirsting for a winner.

The time for the front office to act is now.  To put the team in a position to surprise in 2013, and to be able to legitimately contend in 2014.  It can be done.  Whether it will be done is yet to be determined.  The Mets could win the World Series next year, or they could lose 95 games.  I don’t know, nor will I pretend to know how this team will perform next year or in 2014 and 2015.  Those who continue to predict that the Mets will be home in October for years to come have a reason to be skeptical, but certainly don’t have a crystal ball or a time machine to back up their assertions.

Changing the narrative begins with changing how the team has operated recently.  That started when the team cut ties with Jason Bay, was bolstered with the David Wright extension, and must continue through the winter meetings and beyond.  Get to work, Sandy.  Your task of making the Mets a legitimate contender soon is tough, but very possible.

 

 

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