Mets can contend in 2015, but fan negativity is understandable


In 2014, the Mets won more games than the previous season for the first time since 2010. Jacob deGrom emerged from out of nowhere to win the Rookie of the Year award, the bullpen came together, Lucas Duda finally hit his stride, Travis d’Arnaud showed flashes of being the heir-apparent at catcher, and a young center fielder named Juan Lagares made plays that defied expectation en route to a Gold Glove award.

In 2015, the Mets hope to contend – or at least be an above-.500 team – for the first time since 2008.

Matt Harvey is returning to a strong starting rotation that has two of the best pitching prospects in baseball (Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz) waiting in the wings.

Including Syndergaard and Matz, the Mets have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, so help for the big league club should continue to be churned out over the next several years.

Most fans are excited for the season to start, but that’s the case every year. Any baseball is better than dark, snowy days without baseball

However, for die-hard Mets fans heading into 2015, the most prevalent feeling is one of negativity. Not a hopeless negativity, though. This negativity has to do with the Mets being so close but either being unwilling or unable to take the next step.

For a team that’s on the upswing and hopes to legitimately contend in 2015 without tons of things breaking in their favor, it’s odd that the fan angst seems higher now than it did at any point in 2012, 2013, or 2014 – during seasons and offseasons when the team wasn’t close to as good as the 2015 team can be.

There are two legitimate reasons for the negativity, though, and they’re more than understandable.

It starts in the owner’s box, where Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz, and Jeff Wilpon are overseeing a franchise that is a hair away from being a true threat, but whose construction is being limited by a lack of funds.

At present, the Mets have a payroll that’s hovering around $97 million. That number will likely drop to $92 million when the team trades Dillon Gee.

I don’t believe the Mets are refusing to spend while pocketing the cash. I believe (as most do) that they simply can’t raise the payroll much higher than it is now because of the massive debt they’re currently in due to the fallout from their investments with Bernard Madoff.

While it’s absurd that the Mets have a mid-market payroll while playing in the largest market in the world, they’re not breaking any rules. So, the odds of an ownership change being forced are minimal. The odds of Fred Wilpon willingly selling seem to be even slimmer.

The inability of the Mets to be in the market for the majority of the highest-paid players has resulted in understandable anger towards ownership, and has put Sandy Alderson and the front office in a very difficult position while constructing the roster.

Still, Sandy Alderson is not free of blame.

While Alderson is dealing with a payroll situation that is less than ideal, it’s his job to work within those parameters in order to put the team in the best position possible.

After years of stripping down and rebuilding, the Mets have been unambiguous about their expectations for 2015. They’re ready. Now is the time. The rebuild is supposedly over. That’s their message, anyway.

However, most would argue that the Mets do not have a legitimate starting shortstop on the roster. Translation? Sandy Alderson has not put them in the best position possible. Instead, barring an upgrade over Wilmer Flores, they’re about to enter an expected contending season with a potential black hole at shortstop.

When Alderson signed Michael Cuddyer in November, surrendering the Mets’ first round draft pick in the process, the prevailing thought was that it was the first major move the club would make. Alderson intimated as much, suggesting that finding an upgrade at shortstop was next on the agenda.

There have been lots of rumors and names thrown around, some discussions with the Rockies about Troy Tulowitki, and a potential deal for Ian Desmond that didn’t come to pass.

At present, the Cuddyer signing is the only major move the Mets have made this offseason, and it’s a signing that doesn’t make sense as a stand-alone move.

The uncertainty at shortstop – specifically, a starter who may not be able to field the position adequately – remains, and that’s unacceptable.

Meanwhile, there have been tons of trades coming together all over baseball, including many that involved players no one thought was available.

Recently, the Nationals signed Max Scherzer to a seven-year deal worth $210 million. That deal didn’t irk Mets fans because they wanted or needed Scherzer. Instead, it annoyed us because it served as a reminder of what the Mets are not in position to do: operate freely.

No one is saying that Alderson should part with Noah Syndergaard for a rental like Desmond at shortstop, or that the Mets should meet Colorado’s demands for Troy Tulowitzki without him first proving his health.

Still, if the Mets enter 2015 with Wilmer Flores as the starting shortstop, it would be a colossal failure on the part of the front office. To put it another way, it would make it impossible to take the Mets seriously heading into the new season.

Even if you give Alderson a pass for not acquiring a shortstop (I would not), the case can be made that if it was so hard to find a shortstop upgrade, the team should’ve upgraded in other areas besides corner outfield. They did not.

Aside from signing Cuddyer and adding a bench bat and a Rule 5 lottery ticket, the Mets have stood pat during what was supposed to be “the” offseason for them.

Could the Mets add the remaining piece or pieces of the puzzle during the season? Perhaps.

Under Sandy Alderson, the Mets have never been in position to add a midseason piece that has the ability to put them over the top. Maybe that will change in 2015.

To be clear, this isn’t a prediction of doom for the 2015 Mets. They’re a young, talented team, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they contended.

In that vein, for those who say the Mets “aren’t a World Series contender,” I reject their hypothesis. Any team that makes the playoffs is by definition a World Series contender. And for the Mets, there’s hope that they can contend for a playoff spot.

However, after six years of failure, this fan base deserves more than hope.

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