As the days before spring training dwindle (39 and counting), many of us are growing increasingly uncomfortable with the state of the New York Mets. Let’s face it, from a 2013 perspective, this off-season has been less than stellar. The Mets traded a Cy Young Award winner, and have done little to add major-league talent to the roster. The Dickey trade may bode well for the future, but clearly weakens the team for 2013. If the season were to start today, the Mets outfield would be staffed by Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Mike Baxter. Because of this, many are suggesting that Sandy Alderson is “punting the 2013 season”.
The term refers to accepting a short-term setback for a long-term gain. The Mets say that this is not the case (naturally), and we, as fans, should give the team the benefit of the doubt. After all, spring training does not start today, and there are some quality free agents out there, and potential trades to be made. By April 1, the Mets outfield may include Justin Upton, or Jason Kubel, or Coco Crisp. However, there’s a better chance that none of these players will be wearing blue and orange in April. The outfield is all left-handed (unless you factor in Collin Cowgill and Justin Turner). With no trades imminent (at least not to our knowledge), and no free-agent signings in the near future (but man would I love to have Bourn), is it true? Is Sandy Alderson punting this season, with hopes for brighter days ahead? Maybe he is, and maybe the fan base is savvy enough to pick up on this strategy. But is the strategy all wrong? Let’s take a quick look at Mets history.
As I’ve been thinking about 2013, the analog that keeps popping up in my mind is the Mets 1968 season. Many of us were not around for that year, but the Yearbook show on 1968 made me think. The 1968 Mets finished with an unspectacular 73-89 record. In and of itself, there’s no warm feeling coming from that. The position players were guys named Don Bosch, J.C. Martin, Jerry Buchek, and Phil Linz. There were a couple of stars, namely Cleon Jones and Tommie Agee. But the 1968 Mets were developing something: pitching. The team ERA was a sparkling 2.72, and the staff had young arms named Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Nolan Ryan. The Mets used 1968 to develop those arms, and we all know what happened the year after that. I see some similarities. The 2013 Mets have Wright and Santana for “name” players. They, like the 1968 club, may have to rely on non-household names to attempt to carry the offense. But the 2013 Mets will have Matt Harvey, Jonathon Niese, and Dillon Gee. By mid year, they’ll probably have Zack Wheeler too. Will these guys be Seaver, Ryan, and Koosman? Maybe they will, and maybe they won’t. But there is hope when you have that kind of developmental pitching.
One more point of similarity between the 1968 and 2013 Mets. After the 1968 season, the Mets realized that they needed a bat, a big bat. They went out and traded for Donn Clendenon. Clendenon proved to be the big bopper they needed, and helped push the team over the top. The 2014 Mets, from what we hear, will be in position to add key players, probably hitters. Hopefully, the 2013 team will be ready for prime time with a few key offensive acquisitions for the following season, as the 1968 team was.
I’m not suggesting that 2014 will be a world series year in Queens. Rather, I’m saying that Alderson’s strategy can work, if the pitchers develop as we expect. The fact that something similar has happened, across the parking lot from Citi Field no less, should give us hope for the future of the team. Perhaps Sandy is doing his Steve Weatherford imitation for 2013. However in baseball, as in football, sometimes punting may not be the popular strategy, but it may be the right strategy.