Mets fans have suffered through four straight losing seasons, and are likely in the middle of a fifth. Before the string of sub .500 seasons began, Mets fans endured a late season meltdown in 2008, a collapse of historic proportions in 2007, and a bitter defeat in Game Seven of the 2006 National League Championship Series. As painful as the endings of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 campaigns were, we’d all trade the last four plus years in for a season like one of those – seasons that were full of hope.
Over the last four plus seasons, despair and self loathing have taken the place of hope. Our home, Shea Stadium, was torn to the ground and Citi Field opened, but there hasn’t been much to cheer about in the new place. Omar Minaya was fired, and Sandy Alderson and his lieutenants took over. The team has continued to lose – often in grand and/or unimaginable fashion – attendance has dipped, and the fans have gone from furious to the brink of apathy. Something, though, is about to awaken Mets fans from their slumber.
Since Sandy Alderson’s regime took over, the general manager has been touting the plan he has in place. Like Frank Cashen in the early 80’s, it’s taken quite some time for Alderson’s plan to take shape. His plan, was to build from within while strengthening the farm system. He envisioned a club with a foundation of upper echelon starting pitching. Once that pitching arrived, it would be time to vastly improve the rest of the roster while guiding the team back to contention.
Some fans still doubt the existence of a “true plan,” but the presence of the two men who are toeing the rubber for the Mets in today’s doubleheader make it impossible for those fans to have a leg to stand on. In Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler, the first part of Sandy Alderson’s plan is right in front of our eyes. Harvey was inherited from the old regime and Wheeler was acquired by Alderson, but both pitchers represent the same thing: hope for the future.
The Mets are 25-40, and the chances of them digging out of that hole are slim. However, those who doubt the chances of a quick revival for 2014 should take a closer look at Harvey, Wheeler, and two other starting pitchers who are on the cusp (Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard), and adjust their expectations.
When Matt Harvey came up last July, it was said that he’d be a number two or number three starter. In his debut start in Arizona, he made people reassess those projections. Over the past 11 months, he’s proven himself to be a true ace, one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. He has the ferocity, composure, and drive to match his electric stuff, and his starts have become events.
Even with Harvey in the fold, Mets fans needed more. They yearned to see another tangible example of “the plan” at the major league level. Tonight, they’ll get that chance.
Zack Wheeler isn’t Matt Harvey, and he shouldn’t be compared to him. A year ago, most viewed Wheeler as the superior prospect. Then, Harvey made the jump to the majors and blew the doors off. That doesn’t mean that Wheeler’s star is diminished…it simply means that Harvey has set the bar incredibly high. No one should doubt Wheeler’s ability to reach it.
Wheeler’s stuff is his and his alone, as is his personality. He has a fastball that sits between 94 and 97 MPH and can touch 99. He has an electric slider that I’ve seen him throw as fast as 92 MPH. His curveball elicited audible “oooh’s” and “aaah’s” from the fans in Las Vegas during his last AAA start. His changeup is still developing, but he has a true four pitch arsenal.
Matt Harvey is brash and in your face, Zack Wheeler is chill and reserved. Both, however, have a gift. To borrow a line from “Bull Durham,” when Harvey and Wheeler were babies, the God’s reached down and turned their right arms into thunderbolts. Harvey has made the transition to the majors and proven to be the real deal. Starting tonight, it’s Wheeler’s turn.
Harvey and Wheeler alone won’t make the Mets contenders, but having one ace and one potential ace at the top of your rotation is a damn good start. It wouldn’t be surprising if one of Rafael Montero or Noah Synderagaard were traded as part of a package to obtain a young, impact outfielder. What’s highly doubtful, is the Mets letting go of both of them.
That means that behind Harvey, Wheeler, and Jonathon Niese, the Mets will have one or two more electric arms ready to join the rotation in the near future. Once that happens, phase one of Alderson’s plan will be complete.
Alderson has mentioned over the recent weeks and months, though, that he won’t wait until phase one is complete to begin work on phase two of his plan. The Mets are no longer looking to deal established stars for prospects, they’re attempting to do the opposite – perhaps as early as this year’s trade deadline in July. It’s expected that the team will focus its energy on acquiring a young, impact outfield bat to strengthen the lineup. After the season, with tens of millions of dollars coming off the books, the Mets are expected to dip into free agency to fortify the rest of the roster. The nucleus right now includes Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, Jonathon Niese, David Wright, Daniel Murphy, and Bobby Parnell, but it’s about to have reinforcements added to it.
One of those reinforcements will be Travis d’Arnaud, the young catcher who was acquired as part of the R.A. Dickey trade. It’s expected that d’Arnaud will make his Mets debut during the second half of the season. When that happens, the fans will have the opportunity to bask in the arrival of another one of the players who’s expected to vault the club back into contention.
Today, though, the focus is rightfully on Harvey and Wheeler. Mets fans have been waiting two years to have both of those pitchers in the same starting rotation. Not only do we finally get that wish, we get to welcome Wheeler to the big leagues on the same day Harvey is pitching. For a fanbase that’s been through hell and back, today should be a slice of heaven (regardless of the outcome).
The acquisition of Keith Hernandez in June of 1983 was seen as the moment the Mets snapped out of their doldrums on their way to becoming one of the best teams in baseball and an eventual World Series Champion. Perhaps June 18th, 2013 will one day be viewed in the same fashion. We’ll have to let this play out, but we again have legitimate hope for the future of the Mets.