With the team’s record stabilized after a 6-5 West Coast swing, the Mets begin a six-game homestand tonight. At 53-56, New York may be realistically out of the playoff race, but one more good winning streak and consistent .500 ball the rest of the season can still produce a winning record in 2012. And while the team’s recent slide down the standings may have been disappointing to go through, it’s not nearly as disappointing as the season tonight’s opponents have had to endure.
The Miami Marlins came into 2012 with a new name, a new ballpark, sky-high expectations, and an even higher payroll. The offseason shopping spree that brought in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell was supposed to bring immediate success and “Not one, not two, not three…” World Series titles. But less than two thirds into the first year of the future “dynasty” and Marlins fans have woken up from their dreams of domination. A 3-17 stretch in June sunk this season and a fire sale in July saw the departure of franchise cornerstones Anibal Sanchez, Omar Infante, and Hanley Ramirez. The Fish even tried to ship off Bell and John Buck to the Mets in exchange for Jason Bay but ran out of time. Now at 49-60, 17 games out of first place in the NL East, Miami faces the kind of familiar and unclear future that has plagued the franchise multiple times since its 1993 inception.
Thus far, the Marlins and Mets have had similar seasons. Both teams started out hot and were early playoff contenders. Both fell onto hard times after injuries sidelined star players (Miami lost Giancarlo Stanton, New York lost tons more). Both rapidly fell down the standings and soon became afterthoughts to the Nationals, Braves, and other NL contenders. But the Mets have a couple games on the Marlins in the standings, and even more than just that, even if it doesn’t seem so.
The Mets are in better shape because they have Sandy Alderson and The Plan. As tough as it is to stomach, this was how 2012 was designed to go. But with young players like Ruben Tejada and Daniel Murphy thriving in the majors, with Matt Harvey already ascended to the big club and Zack Wheeler advancing through the pipeline, 2013 and beyond is coming into place just fine. Even the team’s bleak financial situation is not permanent: some bad money will come off the books in a year or two, plus the revenue that comes with playing in the biggest market in America is bound to keep flowing. Brighter days are on the horizon at Citi Field.
Not as much can be said for the days at Marlins Park. Miami’s plan was a simple one: throw money at the diamond and hope it sticks. The Marlins’ management, led by owner Jeffrey Loria and GM Michael Hill, went out this offseason looking for a quick fix, thinking that buying the best players would automatically make a great team. When that didn’t pan out immediately, Hill panicked and announced to the world “WE’RE HAVING A FIRE SALE!” Now the team has no direction and a plethora of bad money on the books. What’s more, they have an expensive new ballpark that won’t pay for itself and fans with an attention span shorter than that talking dog from the Pixar movie Up. Even with a swanky new South Beach crib the Marlins are still in the lower third of attendance in the National League this season. And that was when fans thought the team actually had a shot.
This has been a trademark of the Florida/Miami Marlins for their entire 20 year existence, most famously in the late ‘90s when, after winning a stunning World Series in 1997, they sold off many of their stars because they couldn’t afford to pay each of them. The next season the Marlins became the first defending champions to lose more than 100 games and pulled off even more salary-dumping roster moves, including a strange trade which brought Mike Piazza over from Los Angeles for a week before he was sent to the Mets. The Marlins survived that era to win another World Series in 2003, but that was back when they paid low rent at the Stadium of Many Names. It will take a lot more people in the stands to fight of this financial mess.
What does it all mean for Mets fans? Be grateful that we actually have a plan. Perhaps even be grateful that our recent troubles have taught Sandy Alderson to work with a little less. Because The Plan will still be in place even when the money starts to come in again. Because as bad as things may seem right now, at least we’re not the Marlins.
Then again, for all their lack of serious planning, the Florida/Miami franchise has as many World Series titles in 19 years as the Mets have in 50. Another reason to hate the Marlins.