I framed this article out on Saturday night as I was leaving the freezing and windy Citi Field. Since then, the Mets have won two games in come from behind fashion to improve their record from 17-29 to 19-29. The wins came against the Braves and Yankees, and that always feels good. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for the Mets to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves while making their final record respectable. Still, this is a team in flux, and the question has to be asked: Where do the Mets go from here?
Saturday night at Citi Field felt like self inflicted torture, not a ballgame. The weather set the tone and the Mets took it from there, first losing the suspended game and then getting pounded in the regularly scheduled affair. Braves pitcher Mike Minor provided the indignity of the second game of the night, homering off Mets starter Dillon Gee to produce the first two runs of the game (the only ones Atlanta would need). Gee is one of a plethora of players who haven’t earned a thing as far as their place in 2014 (and the rest of this year) is concerned. Who exactly can the Mets count on going forward? Here are a few lists…
Of the players currently on the roster, who deserves to be here in 2014?
Of the players in the minors who are close to contributing, who will likely be here at the beginning of 2014?
…Put those lists together and you have eight players. There are three position players, four starting pitchers, and one reliever. It takes 25 players to complete a roster, meaning there should currently be 17 spots up for grabs.
Now, before curling up into a ball and wallowing in despair, realize this: There’s every chance that another handful of players prove themselves fully and/or re-stake their claim in the coming months. For example, Jeurys Familia and Scott Rice may solidify bullpen spots going forward. Jack Leathersich could make the jump from AA to the major league pen and excel. Ike Davis could rise from the ashes again, Ruben Tejada might remember that his strength isn’t hitting the ball in the air, and one of the Mets’ many plus defensive center fielders might prove worthy of a spot (either Matt den Dekker, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, or Juan Lagares). That would make the task of turning this team into a contender much less daunting. Still, there’s plenty of work to be done.
Anyone who thinks it’ll be easy to make the Mets a perennial powerhouse is deluding themselves. On the other hand, it should be noted that those who shout in agony about how dire the situation is are over-reacting. The Mets have a solid core, they have a solid minor league system, and they have money to spend after this season. They simply need to execute their plan properly. So, what is that plan? According to Sandy Alderson, the plan may involve trading for established pieces before the July trade deadline with an eye on 2014 and beyond. Alderson stated:
We will see how the market develops, but yes (the team is open to adding big league talent before the trade deadline). It’s a possibility. It depends on what’s available. I have been involved in deals in the past whose first consideration was not the current season but the following season…the possibility of making an acquisition that has implications not just for the second half of this season? Yes.
Because of the mostly miserable seasons the Mets have had over the last four plus years, and due to the payroll slashing that was in large part due to the Bernard Madoff situation and its negative impact on ownership, it’s understandable that a certain percentage of Mets fans would remain skeptical of both the Mets’ long term aspirations and the intentions of those in charge. However, when that doubt involves ignoring facts and making unsubstantiated statements, it gets out of hand and borders on absurdity.
There are still plenty who think the Mets and Sandy Alderson take the fans for imbeciles, who believe that this rebuilding plan is an elaborate ruse. I suppose anything’s possible, but the idea that the Mets’ plan is to string fans along forever without attempting to improve the team is ludicrous.
A few seasons ago, Sandy Alderson turned Carlos Beltran into Zack Wheeler. Roughly five months ago, he turned R.A. Dickey into Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, and Wuilmer Becerra. Over the winter, the Mets pursued Justin Upton (via trade) and Michael Bourn (via free agency). If the Mets were able to keep their draft pick, they likely would’ve signed Bourn. It was reported that the Mets were Bourn’s first choice and he was ready to sign. He simply couldn’t wait for the league office to decide whether or not the Mets would be allowed to keep their draft pick in the event they signed him.
The situation with Upton was different. The Mets were willing to trade key pieces from both the major league and minor league talent pool, but Arizona insisted on Zack Wheeler. After the Mets wisely refused, Arizona dealt Upton for Martin Prado (who they could’ve signed outright after this year) and a package of non top tier prospects. When the Braves visited Citi Field last week, Upton told the media that he knew the Mets had been discussing acquiring him during the offseason.
If the Mets’ grand scheme was to make up rumors and laugh maniacally while they watched fans cry, would they really go to the trouble of having fake interest in Justin Upton? Additionally, who in their right mind would pay to see the Mets play because the team had simply explored the idea of acquiring Upton? What would the point of making up a fake Upton rumor be from the Mets’ end? The answer? There wouldn’t be a point. The Mets tried to trade for Justin Upton, and it didn’t happen. That failure left Sandy Alderson holding the bag. Instead of exploring other trades or signing a stopgap or two, he opted to go with an outfield that was widely viewed as pathetic. That outfield has mostly lived up to its billing.
To circle back to the main point, where do the Mets go from here? As it’s noted above, the team has a solid core of young, promising players. They have money to spend after the offseason (spending roughly $40 million would bring them back to this year’s payroll of $95 million). According to Sandy Alderson, the team is also willing to make a proactive move in the coming months with 2014 and beyond in mind. Such a move wouldn’t be out of character for the Mets.
In June of 1983, with the Mets mired in the middle of a miserable season that would see them finish 68-94, Frank Cashen (who had taken over as general manager in 1980) traded for Keith Hernandez. If you’ve ever heard Hernandez tell the story, you’d know that his first instinct was to finish out the year and get the hell out of New York. The Mets were coming off six consecutive losing seasons (’83 was the seventh) and had failed to eclipse 67 wins in any of them. After Hernandez saw the young talent around him and in the minors, he bought in. The rest is history.
I believe Sandy Alderson when he says the Mets may look to make a similar move in the coming months. I believe him both because he has no reason to lie, and because making such a move would be smart.
It’s clear that the Mets need to add two established outfielders between now and the beginning of 2014. If one of them is a star such as Carlos Gonzalez or Giancarlo Stanton who’s acquired via trade and the other is a free agent (Shin-Soo Choo for example), fine. If the Mets acquire two outfielders via trade, great. If they wind up signing two outfielders via free agency, that’d be great as well. The important thing is securing those players. If the Mets were to make a blockbuster trade, it would likely cost them some of their top pitching prospects. That’s something Sandy Alderson will have to consider.
The Mets have work to do, and it’s likely that it won’t be easy. When you think of what powerhouse teams are made of, though, strong starting pitching comes to mind. There’s every chance that at the beginning of 2014, the Mets will boast a rotation that includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, and Rafael Montero. Sometime after the middle of the season, Noah Syndergaard could be called up to round out the group.
There’s also a chance that the Mets trade either Montero or Syndergaard (and others) for an impact outfielder. If that were to happen, they’d likely look to fill one of their spots in the rotation via free agency.
It’s not easy being a fan of the Mets. The earliest memory I have of them is from the mid 80′s, so I can’t begin to imagine what it must’ve been like to live and root through the disaster that was the late 70′s and early 80′s. What I can imagine, is the franchise turning this thing around quickly and authoritatively. They have the core, they have the chips to trade, and they have the money to spend. The plan has been forming over the last several seasons. Starting now, it’s time to begin to execute that plan.