I really hope the endless barrage of body blows endured by Mets fans over the past five seasons has hardened their resolve, tempered their expectations, and nurtured their patience. Because frankly, there’s no end in sight for the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that have pierced the hearts of the Flushing faithful.
I know, I’m a cynical son of a gun. I’m mean, shouldn’t I start feeling downright giddy about the Mets fortunes? After all, I do like the man in charge of the Mets personnel, Sandy Alderson. He’s wise, level headed, balanced. So unlike his predecessor. And I like the job Terry Collins has done to keep this team flirting with .500. Although 22 games out of first, he still looks and sounds like a man in the midst of a pennant race. Again, quite unlike his predecessor. I’m also encouraged by the current and future crop of young talent on this team — Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Ruben Tejada, Nick Evans, Dillon Gee, Bobby Parnell (well, maybe not) Pedro Beato, Justin Turner, Matt Harvey, and Zach Wheeler. You have to go back a long ways, maybe to the 1980’s, to recall this much homegrown (or almost homegrown) talent on the Mets. Not exactly future Hall of Famers, but deep and promising, nonetheless.
But despite the positives, I still see the glass half empty as another lost season draws to a close — for two glaring reasons: the Mets dreary financial picture and the increasingly ominous threat from the balance of the NL East.
Last week, when the deal with David Einhorn burst into a thousand pieces, there were those who opined that the Mets “improving” financial situation gave them greater leverage to walk away from the hedge fund billionaire and look for other investors. More passive investors, if you will. I suppose the word “improving” is all relative. It no longer appears that the Wilpons will have to fork over up to $1 billion to the Madoff victims. Maybe just a few hundred million. Guess what? That still sucks. So does the $70 million they’re expected to lose this season.
Whatever the reasons for the failure of this pending marriage between Einhorn and the Wilpons, it’s not a positive development. Plan B for the Wilpons, it has been reported, involves parceling off little pieces (that’s “little” as in $20 million a pop) of ownership to preferred friends, family, business associates, and others less imposing than Einhorn. Sounds like a good idea if you want to maintain control of the team forever, which the Wilpons apparently do. Sounds bad if you want long-term financial stability. Regardless of how much control Einhorn desired, the Mets needed a partner like him — deep pockets, aggressive, good poker player, passionate lifelong Mets fan, willing to take calculated risks. And he wanted to run this team some day. And that’s okay. He craved control, responsibility, accountability. A guy like that, despite how threatening he might be to the current owners, is fully vested in the team. He cares and will do what it takes to ensure they are financially successful. That’s what they needed and now they’re left with trying to scrounge up any and all takers.
So here’s a team with a shaky financial foundation stuck in a division that is only getting deeper and more competitive. The Phillies are who they are. Maybe they’re not getting younger, but they sure look like they can win a few more World Series between now and the next few years. Their pockets are deep and they’ve very well run. They lose talent, they’ll replace it. As for the Braves, they don’t have the Phillies’ bankroll, but they’re loaded with young talent. Really young talent, especially in the bullpen. The Nationals, with Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper forming the nucleus, could be formidable in a few years. Even the Marlins can be a threat down the road; their new ballpark opens next year, finally providing some financial resources for this usually penurious team. Plus, they have a solid track record of developing and acquiring young talent.
So as I look ahead to the future, which starts in October, a future that is likely without Jose Reyes (do you really think they can sign him, especially now, without Einhorn’s backing?), a future one with promising young talent but no veteran core (Johan Santana is done as an elite starter and Jason Bay is well on his way to becoming the worst free agent signing in Mets history) or frontline pitching, I ask: will the Mets be the doormat of the NL East for the next 3-4 years, as they continue to walk a financial tightrope while their pitching rich divisional neighbors flourish, on and off the field?
I think you know the answer.