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Live Long & Maybe Eventually Prosper

Before heading out in short order to the Mets’ holiday party where I will eat their sweetmeats and drink their wine — part of the organization’s alleged co-opting of my judgment and objectivity [1] — I need to digest this Cliff Lee news [2].

Oh, that did not go down easy.

Whenever it was that the Nationals laid a Washington Monument-high stack of cash at Jayson Werth’s doorstep, I told a friend, well, at least the Yankees didn’t get him. My buddy reminded me that (contract excesses aside) having one of the better hitters in baseball remain in your division to torment your pitchers nineteen times a year wasn’t really a preferable alternative. Yeah, I suppose, I said…but at least the Yankees didn’t get him.

I told myself the same about Lee when I first heard he was going to the Phillies last night. Then I nodded off. When I woke up, I realized Cliff Lee will be pitching for the  Phillies in the same rotation as Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Jim Konstanty and that computer-generated extra Roy Halladay they’re going to pick up at the trading deadline in exchange for Joe Blanton.

Man, that’s a deep rotation.

Advocate for fair play that I consider myself, I’m still reflexively thrilled Cliff Lee didn’t take the mint and scurry to the Bronx despite Hal Steinbrenner’s promise to spit money at his wife [3]. There’s something life-affirming that not every ballplayer yearns to be a Mark Teixeira-type robot [4] fueled by millions upon zillions of Steinbucks. Not that Lee will be sweating mortgage payments in King of Prussia or wherever Philadelphia royalty holes up, but he took less than he was offered by the Empire to go where he presumably enjoyed himself the season before last. That, if you ignore the downside for us, is moderately admirable.

What kind of man enjoys being a Phillie is a whole other matter, but at least the Yankees didn’t get him.

It’s bad news for the Mets in that the merry band of Phillie moundsmen will account for the vast majority of nineteen starts against the swingin’ Hudge Heads [5]. The good news, once the Yankees not getting him is factored out, hinges on petty thoughts about age and injury and overwhelming long-term commitments to unpredictable human body parts like arms and backs.

Really, there’s no tangible good news for 2011 except that 2012 will follow it. That’s the entirety of the Sandy Alderson appeal, that the Mets will be reconfigured for competitiveness a mere 163 games from now. Larding on megacontracts this offseason while the clock ticked stubbornly slowly on Perez and Castillo and even our beloved Beltran [6] was not really a viable option. If we were one star pitcher away from meaningful games in April and other months, we wouldn’t have needed a new GM. The last guy knew how to throw multiple years and multiple millions at free agents. It didn’t work.

The overall effect of watching other teams wheel and deal at the Winter Meetings while ours sat back in what appeared droll amusement was to make me think we as Mets fans were being sent to bed without supper. The Aldersonian approach (before he conference-called [7] sweet nothings into my ear) had me emotionally uneasy even if it struck me as logically sound. Sandy and his boys were an occupying force with their we’re new here, but we know what’s best for you demeanor. Others greeted them [8] as liberators. I wasn’t so anxious to make with the rose petals.

Yet I’m honestly convinced what they’re doing — and not doing — is the correct course of action (or inaction). 2011 may be something of a lost cause, but it was probably going to be anyway. Waiting it out and clearing the books of massive commitments to the aged, infirm and inept while laying the groundwork to move forward and invest…it’s exciting. You just can’t put it on the cover of a pocket schedule. What’s the marketing theme going to be for this year: STAY HUNGRY?

I was revisiting one of my favorite gripes late last season for another friend, kvetching about Omar Minaya’s tendency to scour the bargain bin for “fifth starters,” as if the games put on the shoulders of his endless stream of Liván Hernandezes and Tim Reddings and Pat Misches were worth less in the standings than those entrusted to Johan Santana. My retroactive solution was we should’ve beefed up the pitching following 2008 by going after CC Sabathia. It would have been worth it.

Then how about Cliff Lee? my friend asked. It was the same principle, yet it didn’t sound right entering 2011. The Mets before 2009 seemed the right piece away from not just contending but winning. The Mets after 2010 seemed a mess that no single personnel infusion could help measurably, unless it was a general manager who wasn’t going to behave like Omar Minaya.

That we’ve got. Lee we don’t.

The Mets with $20+ million annually devoted to Lee for the next five, six, seven years…who knows what it would have wrought here? It wasn’t going to happen, it didn’t happen, it’s not happening. This year we’ll match Lee, Halladay, Hamels, Oswalt and Whoever with…not those guys. I keep trying to see a 2011 downside for the Phillies, like they won’t mesh, or their egos will get in the way, but then I remember it’s baseball, not basketball. They’ve already meshed in various combinations. They’re going to mesh fine.

Mesh vs. Misch. I know whose chances I like best in the short-term.

Long-term? All I can think about are those stories of the elderly Red Sox fans who hung on through the 2004 postseason, warding off the Great Beyond [9] in a sustained effort to experience, at last, what had eluded them and their Nation since 1918. Not until the Sox won the World Series could they, per New England’s own Andy Dufresne, get busy dying.

STAY HUNGRY is one possible theme for 2011, though KEEP YOURSELF ALIVE might be more apt. Or LIVE THROUGH THIS, with the implicit promise that IT GETS BETTER.

It has to, eventually. I mean, c’mon, at least the Yankees didn’t get Cliff Lee.