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Jason Fry and Greg Prince
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Very Bad Things Are Coming

(For posterity: Mike Pelfrey was bad. Cory Sullivan was briefly good. Mets lost in Florida. None of this matters.)

The Mets, I fear, are about to tumble into an abyss. I fear they are nearing a horrifying period, duration unknowable but probably not brief, that will damage the franchise and fray its ties with its fanbase. I'm not talking about 2009, that plague year of injuries that keep mounting when you don't they can any more. I'm not talking about Citi Field, a nice place to see a ballpark whose flaws are fixable and, indeed, gradually being fixed. I'm talking about things that are harder to fix, and will take longer to recover from.

Yesterday afternoon, amid news of MRIs and trades and press conferences and conference calls, I felt a twinge of unease that had nothing to with Johan Santana's elbow and what value the Mets would get back for Billy Wagner. I couldn't quite figure out what it was until later — and when I did figure it out, I wondered if I'd known what it was all along, and just hadn't want to admit it.

Simply put, I didn't believe a single thing anyone connected with the New York Mets said on Tuesday afternoon.

Actually, that isn't true. I do, for instance, believe that Omar Minaya was telling the truth when he appeared foggy on the details of the condition of Santana's elbow back in spring training. “Spring training was such a long time ago,” he said. And I believe him when he said that he couldn't remember what an evaluation of Santana's elbow at the All-Star break had shown. (See Joel Sherman, if you dare.)

Which makes it unbelievable that the Wilpons could even think of letting Omar keep his job.

Let's review. This is not an ingrown hair Pat Misch might have complained about to a trainer. This is Johan Santana's elbow. And Johan Santana's elbow is the hinge around which much of this team's fortunes turn, and in which the Wilpons have invested more than $100 million. How is it that Omar Minaya is not intimately familiar with every medical report concerning that elbow, with every pang reported or suspected, with every nuance of its care and protection? Spring training is not such a long time ago where Johan Santana's elbow is concerned — it was the starting point of 166.2 innings of wear and tear, every 0.1 of which needed to be justified when talking about that amount of money. And Omar's own words make it glaringly obvious that when it came to the Wilpons' prize investment, he's been asleep at the switch.

“Paperwork, that's false hustle.” Uh-huh. More and more, that foolish quote given to Sports Illustrated in better times looks like it should be Minaya's professional epitaph. Because it seems like every time he addresses the media, he reveals that he hasn't done his homework.

As for Johan's own conference call, in which he said he was fine with how things had been handled? I don't believe him either. I believe he's a good employee who wouldn't hang his bosses out to dry for a bunch of reporters, and I believe he'd pitch until that arm was ready to fall off rather than give in to pain or defeat. But the former has little bearing on the truth of what happened, and the latter is just another indication that the Mets' baseball people have been cavalier at best and negligent at worst.

Next came the trade of Billy Wagner to the Red Sox for two prospects (Chris Carter and someone yet unleaked) we've been telegraphed not to expect too much from. Here the Mets said the right things — Billy's a good soldier who deserves a postseason shot, we got prospects back, etc. — but I didn't believe any of that either. The Mets dumped Wagner's salary, plain and simple. They could have held on to him, offered him arbitration and taken a shot at high draft picks, but they didn't do that. What does it say about the state of the Mets that they felt they needed to recoup the relatively paltry (by baseball standards) sum of $3.5 million?

And this is where it starts to get really troubling: I don't believe the Mets are going to put that $3.5 million towards making the baseball team better.

I've read analyses of the Wagner deal arguing that two middling prospects are a better bet than two draft picks when you take into account the uncertainty of signing and developing draft picks, and maybe that's true. But I also read a lot of approving reactions to the Wagner trade based on the assumption that prospects are better because the Mets draft incompetently and/or won't sign their draft picks anyway. And even if nothing else I imagine to be true is true, that's incontrovertible evidence of a serious fan-relations problem.

But let's talk about draft picks. As noted in the New York Times, the Mets signed only seven of their picks from the draft's first 10 rounds and spent $1.86 million on those signings. That's less than the Tampa Bay Rays spent. Less than the Florida Marlins spent. Less than the Oakland A's spent. Less than the Kansas City Royals spent. Less than the Pittsburgh Pirates spent. In fact, it's less than every other team in baseball spent. Asked about this by the Times, the Mets' director of amateur scouting pointed out that the Mets went nearly $400,000 over slot to sign top pick Steven Matz, as if we should be proud of them for ignoring toothless bullshit decrees from Bud Selig they never should have paid attention to in the first place.

And going back to Omar, you probably remember reports doubting that he'll be fired — not so much because he doesn't deserve it, but because he'd pocket $2 million and the new guy would want his own staff, leading to more payouts to freshly terminated employees. Again, the kind of money that would instantly bankrupt me or Greg and most of you, but not a huge amount of money for a giant-market club with a new, high-priced stadium.

And all of this seems to point to what we'd prefer not to discuss.

The Mets have been tight-lipped about exactly how much money Bernie Madoff stole form the Wilpons — I've seen estimates ranging from $700 million to less than you'd think. Whatever the figure is, I sympathize immensely with the Wilpons. To be robbed by someone you trusted must be beyond awful, and to have the extent of your violation be the subject of endless questioning and voyeuristic interest must be infuriating. The Wilpons should have been able to enjoy the first year in the new ballpark they built to evoke things they hold dear, and they've had little chance to do that. None of what they've gone through should be anybody's business.

Except, unfortunately, it is. What the Wilpons can and will pay, and what that will mean for the team that takes the field in 2010 and subsequent years, affects everything. It affects free agents big and small, not just in who gets offers in the first place, but in how agents assess the overall competitiveness of the team and the likelihood that team will add pieces to try and get their clients a ring. It affects sponsors wondering if their companies will be showcased with a winner or a laughingstock. It affects draft picks, scouting and minor-league operations. And, of course, it affects fans wondering if it's worth it to shell out for season tickets or partial plans.

If the Wilpons have absorbed horrific losses that are indeed affecting the team, sooner or later that will be impossible to hide. If they haven't, their silence and their team's recent actions have created the perception that they have. Either way, the team we love is mired in a toxic situation. Loyal, rational fans openly scoff at what the Mets say about injuries, personnel moves or draft picks. They don't believe the GM has a plan, and they're starting to believe the owners won't spend money to put things right.

I desperately hope I'm wrong about this. I hope the Wilpons are OK financially, for their own sakes and not just for how it might affect my evening plans. I hope that their team is really unaffected by their losses. I hope that they are looking hard at what is wrong with their considerable investment. And I hope next year all this looks like paranoia and distraction bred by a year of buzzard's luck, and we spend a summer to remember in Citi Field, enjoying the terrors and joys of watching a healthy team chasing a division title.

But I fear the goblins are all too real. I know the Mets are badly run, I fear they're financially damaged, and I worry that the latter will make it impossible to fix the former. And if that's true, 2009 is just a preview of what awaits us, for who knows how many years to come.

18 comments to Very Bad Things Are Coming

  • Anonymous

    Why does my gut tell me that the Wilpon's would be too stubborn to sell a team that they could no longer viably run. Could be worse though we could be (well theoretically speaking since there aren't any) Coyotes fans.

  • Anonymous

    James L. Dolan, step aside. Fred and Jeff Wilpon have now taken your place atop New York sports most reviled owners. And Omar = Isiah.

  • Anonymous

    It might be that nobody has a spare $billion & a half lying around — that would be the likely purchase price of the New York National League franchise.
    I'm pining for Mark Cuban as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure even he has the kind of scratch the franchise should net. I don't know that anyone does.
    “Gaze upon these two, for they are yours! Their names are 'ignorance' & 'want.' Fear them, for on their foreheads is marked 'D O O M!'”
    — The Ghost Of Christmas Present

  • Anonymous

    I feel for the Wilpons. The evidence doesn't indicate they're the best-organized people on earth, but the Madoff thing is horrible and not something you'd wish on anybody. And as to Matt's point, I'd stubbornly hang on to my team too. Imagine spending all those years, seeing your ballpark complete and then that same year facing pressure to sell.
    Omar, on the other hand, I've had quite enough of. Seems like a prince of a guy by all accounts, but badly miscast.

  • Anonymous

    I agree 100%. I feel like we're at the start of a long bad stretch of years. This franchise has so many problems that I can't even play armchair GM, because I honestly have no clue what I would do to try to build a championship team out of this huge mess.
    Omar started with Wright and Reyes, was given the highest payroll in the NL, and turned it into this. And yet we're supposed to believe that he is the perfect guy to lead us to a title.

  • Anonymous

    How about the Donald?

  • Anonymous

    I just don't know enough about the front office politics and who is leading who to out and out despise Omar. While he may have some problems, I think a lot of those problems stem from the organization in general, and not necessarily directly from him.
    The Madoff thing is the easy thing to blame. I don't know that it's the right thing to blame. maybe it is. I doubt they lost the Mets money, but that doesn't mean they didn't lose enough money that they want to pocket some Mets profit to make up for it. Of course, spending money to make money (playoffs, etc) would be the best answer, and that's where this organization seems to fail. Fan relations, as you said.
    What Omar does or does not recall from medical reports doesn't really concern me. He obviously knew what he needed to know at the time, and that implies that it was good news. Or maybe the doctors suck. Or whoever translates the doctors info to Omar. Or whoever overruled him. Or Manuel for not seeing that maybe Santana could've used an extra day here or there, or that he was hurting. Or Warthen who knew best what he was and was not doing between starts. (i.e. not throwing cause it hurt)
    Do I care that the Mets spent less money on less picks than other teams? Not really. they did what they had to do to sign their top pick. Everything else is probably pretty standard for a team, and just something fans are over analyzing. Would it be better to have draft picks or these maybe/hopefully/sorta AAAA prospects? Well the Mets farm system is actually fairly decent, but it's down in lower levels. So from that standpoint grabbing major league ready almost prospects is probably better than guys that are a gamble and we don't know anything real about for years.
    Then again, maybe your right and it's a sign they're trying to save money. Hoping Carter or whoever can step up and they don't have to shell out 20 million for Bay (which is what they
    _should_ do)
    But is it that bad? No. This was a lost season, but the only player really leaving is Delgado. Assuming everyone comes back healthy, we can and will compete, as long as they do _something_. Even if they keep Murphy and Francoeur and sign a power LF and a tolerable catcher and backup catcher, and a marginal SP, they'll be pretty good. And they can do all that relatively cheaply and probably spend less than this year

  • Anonymous

    They're not the best run organization and pressure to sell are sorta opposites though. If they hired someone/gave Omar full power to run things, stepped back, and let it go, they wouldn't be under that pressure.
    It's not like Manuel where you know he's inept and there isn't an answer to make him better. Any owner just has to pay a smart guy that knows how to run a baseball team.

  • Anonymous

    i think you're right, but sadly, i've been thinking this for years.
    frankly, the only reason i'm still here is because of the fan community. including bloggers like you.

  • Anonymous

    Omar is a perfect illustration of the Peter Principle: every employee tends to rise to his or her level of incompetence, and there they remain.
    From wiki:
    “in a hierarchy, members are promoted so long as they work competently. Sooner or later they are promoted to a position at which they are no longer competent (their “level of incompetence”), and there they remain, being unable to earn further promotions.”
    Or, in Omar's case, there he remains because the Wilpons don't appear to be willing to honestly evaluate his performance. He was a good scout. He's not a good GM.

  • Anonymous

    The Donald? Who's now concentrating on golf courses because his casinos file Chapter 11 every 15 minutes?
    Dubious.

  • Anonymous

    Here's another thing to chew on is the future(s) of Reyes and/or Wright. They are incredibly undervalued in the sense of dollars, Wright save this season has been overperforming, Reyes underperforming. Then again, it takes players with as much god-given talent to play to their potential, then there is a small window where they can put up an MVP-type of year (see: Jimmy Rollins). In any case, the Mets really need to view how they are going to value these players in their walk years and therefore, give them a chance to perform on a team where their management actually gives two shits. seriously. I mean, every single decent player in the ranks has become a superstar elsewhere, why not Wright or Reyes? The fact is, we seriously low-balled them back in 2006, they were willing to stick around because they were young and on the precipice (or so they thought) of something huge. One huge-ass collapse in 2007, a mini-one in 2008 and the fan base turning severely vile in 2009 may have them rethinking their choice of cities to play in. I hate to sound so bitter because I've managed to stay upbeat and relatively positive. but this is something that eats away at me. While I want to see them stay Mets for the long term something tells me one thing or another will chase them out of town and we'll see them bud and flourish someplace else because some other team will pay them what they are worth and the Mets will just let them walk when their contract's expire…

  • Anonymous

    I got a big, if slightly deranged, laugh out of the NYT article on the Mets' draft signings:
    “Terrasas, meanwhile, disputed the notion that the Mets came in 30th in spending on the first 10 rounds in part because they picked players in higher rounds than they were projected to be selected and thus had to pay them less.”
    Maybe so-and-so wasn't a 3rd round pick… right until you picked him in the third round. Typical Mets BS, try to sign an x-round pick with round x+5 round money by saying he's x+5th quality.
    So which is worse, proving you're a cheap SOB or denigrating one of your draftees right after you sign him? That's the kind of management and public relations skills we've learned to expect from this bunch.

  • Anonymous

    reyes was AWESOME last year. statistically he hit as well as he did in 2006.

  • Anonymous

    Jason,
    We're too afraid to take out our ouiji board to see what's in store for the Mets future.
    Let's just suppose everyone comes back healthy – if they can sign a power hitting left fielder then Murphy can stay at first. The bullpen should be more stable with a healthy Putz setting up Krod. With Maine and a healthier Perez (sic) our starting staff is shored up through the first four spots.
    Better doctors and a better left fielder might be all we need in 2010. That, and pulling in the fences a bit.

  • Anonymous

    Pull the fences in a bit? No way. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the dimensions. It's a pitcher's park, but what's wrong with that? Besides, other teams have come in here and knocked the ball out like it was nothing. What's the point of moving the fences in if the opposition is just going to hit more home runs? It's the Mets' lineup, not the fences, that is the problem. And the Mets are dead last in homers so it's not the park. They don't hit them anywhere.
    There have been about 110 homers hit at Citi so far this season, about 1.7 a game. How many do you want? Over 3, like Yankee Stadium? I guess some people just can't enjoy baseball unless they're treated to a bunch of home runs.
    Plus, it's not that hard to jack one out if you pull the ball. It's deep in the gaps, but so what? It should be. With all the bandboxes in baseball yielding cheap home runs that should be doubles or outs, I'm glad this park plays honest like it does. It's the one thing the Mets did right.
    I would make one change, though. I'd extend the home run line along the base of the apple. If you hit it to the 408 marker in dead center, you shouldn't have to clear a 16 foot wall. 12 feet is fine. But that's IT.

  • Anonymous

    Comment deleted. Let's please leave race out of it.