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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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In Need of a Distraction

In a few short days, pitchers and catchers, David Wright and any players wise enough to understand Terry Collins’ odd definition of “on time” will all have assembled in Port St. Lucie for spring training. Which will be nice — but not because it’s a sign of spring.

That doesn’t really work for me any more. Spring training is way too long for everybody except pitchers, and for my initial joy now lasts about 10 minutes, to be replaced by grumbling that we’re looking at six weeks of boredom, frustration and eight to 10 variants of the same story of the day, while sifting through small-sample-size tea leaves (“Ike Davis is hitting .483!”) and phrenology (“Coaches are praising Jordany Valdespin’s new attitude!”) to make predictions that will prove absolutely useless when the real games start.

No, the pop of balls in mitts will be nice because it will mean one of the weirdest, most frustrating offseasons in Mets history is finally nearing an end.

There’s really only one question that matters in assessing the Mets these days: When will the National League’s New York franchise once again be funded in the way the National League’s New York franchise should be funded?

To that, if you want, you can append a related question: If no one knows, or the answer isn’t “soon,” what needs to change and how does that happen? But that’s a follow-up question, one that depends entirely on the answer to the first one.

Seriously — nothing else particularly matters. Can Lucas Duda play a semi-capable left field? Will this year’s bullpen be better than last year’s? Can Daniel Murphy, Jon Niese, Dillon Gee and Ruben Tejada take steps forward? When will Zack Wheeler be ready? All interesting, to be sure, but they’re just curiosities compared to the real question.

Even without the Wilpons’ financial woes, it’s wise for Sandy Alderson to get out from under big contracts such as the ones paid to Jason Bay and Johan Santana. It’s wise for Alderson to eschew Omar Minaya’s hideous habit of giving out expensive, easily obtained option years. It’s wise to see the farm system rebuilt and the team reconstructed on a sensible, unsentimental foundation of developing cheap talent and controlling that talent’s prime years.

But without the ability to build something on that foundation, none of this matters — the Mets, at best, will be trying to catch lightning in a bottle. And at worst, we’ll continue to see what we’ve seen in recent years: financial uncertainty that’s so pervasive that a fan has no idea of what’s possible and no sane expectations except to shrug. Ultimately, I think that’s more damaging to a fan base than fallow years of rebuilding. Rebuilding ends. What the Mets are doing right now might end, or it might not — because nobody can tell exactly what is that the Mets are doing.

Personally, I don’t believe Sandy that the decisions to spend or not spend are his — I think he’s being a good soldier for owners who remain in a perilous position, and whose orders are constantly changing. But I’m no longer interested in debating the question. It’s pointless and I just want it to go away, because questions like that and posts like this are no fun. But that leaves us stuck where we before — debating, say, the future of Matt Harvey when the real question is if Matt Harvey will have to be traded away before a postseason club can gel around him.

Which makes the farcical Michael Bourn saga perfect for this weirder-than-weird offseason. The Mets indicate they’re interested in Bourn, an honest-to-goodness big-name free agent. Provided they can get MLB to rule that they don’t have to surrender their 11th pick. But MLB won’t decide on that unless there’s  a deal in place. And the Mets won’t make a deal unless they don’t have to surrender their 11th pick. And even then Scott Boras might just be creating a stalking horse for someone else. And even then this is a Mets team that seemed to think Scott Hairston was too expensive. And round and round we go, until the pointlessness is downright dizzying.

I’m not sure I can get past this corrosive uncertainty and manage to give a fig about Daniel Murphy looking better turning the pivot or LaTroy Hawkins offering veteran leadership. But after a winter like this, it will be a relief to try.

22 comments to In Need of a Distraction

  • Steve B

    I am just so sad the Wilpons haven’t realized that their time to steward the Mets is past. Trying to control things they can’t control. It’s just sad.

  • Skill Sets

    That’s the problem with a private partnership like the one that runs the Mets. Always hard to figure out, but when certain things come up and expose the Mets’ financial situation [Madoff/Picard court filings, public information re: the bonds that fund Citi Field, information via publicly traded SNY partners Time Warner Cable and Comcast] and other news accounts, one can find that the Wilpons really have a hard time financing their dream with their own money. And like thousands of other people in the real estate gambit have done, they’ve used other people’s money to help finance that dream. One apparent source was the ROI on Madoff investments. That’s gone forever. Now what? Sadly, rebuilding for this team isn’t just on the field and front office. And as Fred Wilpon fades out to a fruitful retirement, Jeff Wilpon, as Nelson Doubleday predicted years ago, doesn’t know squat about dealing with people, and with baseball in general.

  • FL Met Fan Rich

    Spring training is not boring if you live in Florida!

    You actually should embrace it, as it will be the only time this year the Mets play basball and will actually be tied for first.

    I dread when they go up to New York and they actually show how inept they are!

    Something about being out of the pennant race by May, that does not appeal to me!

  • March'62

    But wait!!! Don’t you get the feeling that if they could just get a veteran corner outfielder, one with a history of winning, he could be this team’s Keith Hernandez? And then watch out. Maybe a Pujols when the Angels fall out of contention. Or even a Matt Holliday. Sandy and the Wilpons would surely go for that. Wouldn’t they? Huh?

  • IB

    Personally, I’m pumped. Cmon!! It’s baseball! I’ll be hang-dog in late August, no doubt, (or maybe not!) but right now it’s the glorious start of a new season. Go Mets!

  • Skyking

    Amen, IB! Even though I may have wait til next year printed on my checks, I am always excited for baseball to start. We have as much of a chance as the A’s did last year. I believe they were picked for last. That is what makes this time of year fun, there is always a chance. LETS GO METS!!!

  • The Mets Ken

    You would have had Sandy overpay for Haiston? He is not even a starter. Who would you have picked up this offseason that the Mets did not pursue. From my perspective, the few worthwhile signings were way overpriced and would not guarantee a playoff spot given our other issues. I understand the beatwriter and blogosphere’s frustration with the current rebuilding, but I do not see any of them offering up a better (both business-wise, more strategic, base-up rebuilding)plan for accomplishing a sustainably good team. Call me a believer, tell me I am drinking the cool-aid, but everything that has been done has made sense to me. Everything that has been walked away from has also made sense. With the exception of last years bullpen, what would you have done differently. Show me a salary line that is as high as the highest in baseball and use signings in the last 3 years and show me a team that makes sense, while still rebuilding the farm. I understand the emotional points you are hitting, but logically what Alderson has done, whether with access to no money or all of the money in the world, has made a lot of sense. Which is more than I can say for past Mets owners or GMS, and for most MLB clubs for that matter (ie. last years Marlins or Angels). I am glad we did not pull a last years Marlins or Angels, this year.

  • metfansc

    To me I will stop watching the Mets if a player like Harvey has to be traded away because we can’t afford him, this is NY after all and that would just be unacceptable. However, we did just lay out a large contract to Wright (whether that was the best move or not), and I just don’t think we have seen that that is what we should expect going forward. To me, we may be acting like Tampa Bay in the short term because it is what makes sense for the team right now, but we shouldn’t be going forward like that is our long term modus operandi. To me we seem to be building the right foundation and we have to assume that when this team needs to spend money it will spend money. It may not always spend money on every piece of bling we would like to see, but if they make smart decisions and pick up the right pieces we should be able to build something we can all rout for.

    I know I am looking forward to TDA, Harvey and Wheeler and seeing if Tejada, Davis and Niese can take big steps forward. If you still want to spend all the time worrying about will we or won’t we spend money I just don’t quite understand it. I think the Mets did what they could to show that they can spend money this off-season and the future will happen in 2014 or whatever when the team has put together a decent core and we need to get those veteran pieces to fill out the team.

  • Tom

    Right – what’s the point of rebuilding if you just have to trade away or not resign the up and coming players eventually? Or the bright spots like R.A. Dickey who were a bet that just happened to work out (and then some)?

    They had all the make-up of a winning team (batting title, Cy Young, star 3rd baseman, Beltran – who is still playing despite Met doctors saying his career would have ended years ago, and an up and coming pitcher in Matt Harvey). They just didn’t have the owners to support the structure.

    And all this talk of rebuilding, and the Mets’ still don’t have that great a farm system, just one or two people who keep it high on the list.

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  • Kevin From Flushing

    Spring Training? Pssh. Am I gonna be the only one watching the World Baseball Classic again?!

  • cpins

    I’m hard pressed to believe Sandy’s Bourn Pursuit is all for show.

    He clearly doesn’t have an unlimited budget but it seems he’s in control of the one he has.

    And if he can make a Bourn work within it there’s a chance it’s turning point.

    It’ll require lot’s of things to go right (MH, TDA, Wheeler) but if they can stay competitive into Sept. attendance could rise which means more revenue which is the heart of the issue you raise.

    Lot’s needs to go right but at least Sandy appears to know how to play the cards he’s dealt.

  • Ron M

    Would you prefer to be the Marlins? Sign every imaginable FA to huge contracts … then immediately blow it up when it doesn’t work? And please – a $100M payroll is nothing to sneeze at. We aren’t the A’s, Padres, Marlins, Pirates …. spring training is awesome, if you can’t enjoy it, just admit you aren’t really a baseball fan.

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason and hope you’re making it through this blizzard OK.

    The salaries became an issue only after the Mets were swindled out of a half billion dollars of investment and annual returns in the neighborhood of $80 million (the approximate 16 percent of that half billion that Madoff got for his clients annually). At most, Omar can be cited for being irresponsible with his spending but it wasn’t the spending itself that caused any of the fiscal problems facing the ownership today. Most teams have been burned with more expensive multi-year contracts than we were. That didn’t discourage them as it did teach them to be more prudent in their signings.

    Why else would we need some sort of five-year plan to begin with? Most every current successful team that was bad and wanted to build a long-term contender based on youth didn’t just wait around for youth to develop – they made moves to make things happen as the young kids were developing.

    One should take notice of the many players the Giants acquired after 2008 when they finished at 72-90, their fourth straight year of being below .500. At that time, outside of Lincecum and Cain, their pitching was below average. It was ninth in the league in ERA and 12th in whip. At the same time, they were 15th in runs scored and 8th in team batting average. By not sitting still and waiting for the other kids to develop in two years they were world champions. They won it due to those kids but those kids could not have won it without the six position players acquired from the outside – four of them coming after that fourth dismal season when they lost 90 games.

    I would say that after the 2008 season their young nucleus was no more developed than ours is today. Our team ERA was 11th in the league while we we were 12th in the league in scoring and seventh in team batting average.

    Same with the Nationals. After the 2010 season they were still a bad team – eleventh in the league in team ERA, 14th in runs scored and 12th in team batting average. Except for Strausberg their big nucleus of young talent also needed time to develop with no assurances, just like it is for all clubs with their prospects.

    But the Nationals didn’t sit still waiting for things to happen, either. They went out and got LaRoche, Werth, Morse and Burnett. They traded good prospects for Geo Gonzalez (not knowing he was using HGH). They also signed Mike Gonzalez for the same amount we paid Francisco. Not all superstars but good players. And with those six moves they went from a 59 win team to one that worked itself up to 98 wins in two years – and again, by not waiting around for the kids to develop over a course of a few seasons first.

    I am talking about methodology. These teams all started trying to put the pieces together as the kids were learning their trade. The Giants did not let their early failures (Molina, Zito, etc.) discourage them and five of their eight position players from that 2010 team came from the outside with four of them acquired no later than 2008. Same approach used by the Nationals. Same even with the Reds.

    However, if one wants to look at the franchise that really turned itself around, one need go no further than the Tigers. They were a pathetic organization for years before things got so low that they almost eclipsed our 1962 record of futility in 2003. The team had many promising youngsters but obviously nowhere ready for prime time and though they showed improvement each of the next two seasons they still could only win 72 and 71 games respectively. No, even after 2005 the nucleus was not deemed developed.

    But look what happened after 2003 – they signed Ivan Rodriguez and took over Carlos Guillen’s salary from Seattle. The following season they signed Magglio Ordenez. Those were THREE BIG BATS they went after instead of waiting for a five-year plan.

    As the kids began to develop they had that deadly trio of hitters there to compliment them. And Detroit has been a competitive club ever since, finishing below .500 just once in the six years that followed.

    So why the wait? We have that fine young and developing pitching staff, a highly touted prospect behind the plate and a solid infield. He should start making things happen now as other teams in the similar stage of development did.

    But he isn’t. He is conducting business they way they do in Pittsburgh, Kansas City, San Diego and Oakland. Add the four other teams cited above to these four and that is only one out of eight that has had success doing things Sandy’s way.

    That is why many of us suspect Sandy’s moves from the beginning have had less to do with getting the Mets back on top and more to do with keeping the Wilpons as the men on top.

  • Andee

    If the team was going ultra-cheap, why not trade Ike, Murph, and Parnell before they went to arbitration? That’s what luxury-tax-slut teams do. Another thing luxury-tax-slut teams don’t do, ever, is make a commitment of over $200 million to one player for eight years. Ever. No matter who it is.

    Also, what would be the purpose of Sandy pretending to negotiate with Boras while having no actual interest? People don’t buy tickets to see players who haven’t been signed yet, and Sandy would just look stupid if Boras revealed him to be lying (which would be easy to prove).

    But this is Boras he’s negotiating with here. You say you don’t want a return to the old days when the team bid against itself, but that seems to be exactly what you’re asking for. Just sign him! Give him anything! Now! You can’t do that with Boras. You have to make him sweat it out if at all possible, and this is a rare opportunity to do so, since now those owners who might have pounced on Bourn in past years (at least for a pillow deal) are balking because they don’t want to have to give up the first-round bonus money. And if it means some other team swoops in and gives Bourn a 5-year deal, so be it, but if they were going to do that, why wouldn’t it have happened already? Why involve the Mets at all, if he really has “more attractive offers” elsewhere? He knows the team isn’t in “spend anything they have to to get this guy” mode any more.

    Personally, I don’t think Sandy would have passed on Hairston unless he thought he had a good shot at Bourn. And let’s get real, do you really want Hairston out there playing every day for the next two years, even against righties? When June rolled around with him hitting .225, all anyone would have done was whine about it — “this is what we’re stuck with for two years?” At least if D’Arnaud is hitting .225 in June, he figures to improve over time.

    • Andee

      (scuse me, I meant *almost* 200 million. zzzzzz.)

      • Joe D.

        Hi Andee,

        Right now the three you mentioned combined make less than $7 million.

        Last night on clubhouse confidential, off-season moves made by each of the NL East teams were being evaluated. The discussion focused on if the replacements could compensate for the players lost over the winter. When it came to the Mets (I forgot who the guest was but I recognized the website immediately) after the host opened by saying they were indeed now rebuilding, the guest didn’t focus on who left and who was added and what the result might be for 2013. He instead said the Mets were looking at loose ends, not spending, really had no idea what to do and shouldn’t be expected to be competitive for another three years. He did not pick up on the host leading in about the Mets re-building and talking about that in a positive light.

        Note, he said “competitive” which doesn’t mean competitors.

  • Brian Danny Heep 25

    Picking up on where Mets Ken left off – seriously, coming from a SOLUTIONS point of view, if the Mets had all the money in the world, what would you have done this offseason? I think Alderson has made very shrewd moves. And I don’t think the answer is to overpay players just so we can put out a product that’s marginally better than the team we’re going to root for this year. And in 2014, when the Mets could potentially feature a fearsome pitching staff, in addition to picking up a marquee player or two when burdensome contracts (read: Santana) have finally been lifted, what will you say then? Rebuilding is a process and it frustrates me that regardless of how many times fans are told this, it’s just not good enough. And lastly, if you want to spend money for money’s sake, and you think the best solution is to throw as much money at the problem as you can, then there’s a team in the Bronx you might want to consider rooting for.

    • Joe D.

      Hi Brian,

      As mentioned, the Giants, Reds, Nationals and Detroit were all floundering yet didn’t just go wait for prospects to develop and hope for something to happen – their success came from a planned methodology which included going after the missing pieces from the outside as their young crop was developing.

      Who was it they could have gone after? Plenty. This winter’s crop was one of the best around and there were many young outfielders and relievers to chose – a combination of going after three or four wise choices would do wonders to help make the team competitive again – and possibly a competitor if not this season, then come 2014. Unfortunately those outfielders and relievers who can become free agents next season will all be older than the ones that were available now and would not contribute to long-term success for a team focusing on youth.

      The Mets are going to waste the potential of Wheeler, d’Arnaud, Harvey and the young core we already have by not taking those further measures. The kids will continue to produce while the team continues to falter because of the front office doing nothing to help them. And the mood in the clubhouse will again be like they were kicked in the teeth. I hope I’m wrong, but this has been how Sandy has done things since the day he came on board.

      If the Mets are more financially stable, it’s only because Sandy created a business model that doesn’t allow for the spending on the field and off necessary to produce a good team.

      And what about the issue of Sandy’s credibility by saying the team is better shape because the debt has been re-financed and there will be more flexibility in payroll in 2014? Remember, Sandy said he would have more flexibility in 2012 after the payroll was reduced, saying that WHEN FULLY AWARE OF THE TEAM’S DEBT SCHEDULE AS IT WAS AT THE TIME BEFORE IT WAS RE-FINANCED. Not to mention the payroll itself is now down to around $90 million. If he said he could do it then and didn’t, why believe him now?

      And the other reason used for being hesitant to spend was the civil suit hanging over their heads. Well, that was settled a year ago and cannot be used to explain why the Mets have held back spending since – including when they were “buyers” last season.

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  • Brandon

    See, this is exactly what I mean when I say ‘mets fans should not be listening to mets haters’. We as fans understand that it will take time to build a winning franchise. We havnt been to the playoffs since ’06 and we havnt won a whole lot of games since. Our outfield is terrible and ownership doesn’t have the money that we would like them spending right now. BUT, the NEW mets are being built to win for not just 2 seasons, but for decades. Yes, I said decades. Fans have watched the mets have some pretty solid seasons, but what comes after that? Bad seasons. We need YOUNG players that will be with this team for a long time. And that’s exactly what sandy is doing. He’s stacking up those minor leaguers and staying away from the old free agents. Fans that watch every game are the only ones aloud to speak on behalf of the mets. Because WE know we will soon be winning again. And we will own the NL east for YEARS! Most people might respond to this saying ‘typical mets fan’ and you’d be correct. I am a typical mets fan, and I have every right to believe that in 2014 the nationals, braves, phillies, and marlins will be looking up at us in the standings. Don’t believe me just watch..

  • Joe D.

    Hi Brandon,

    First of all, I am an original new breeder, having seen my first Met game in April,1962 at the Polo Grounds when Al Jackson pitched the first shutout in our history and along the way we had our very first winning streak at two. So I hope you are not including me as one of those Met “haters” because that is completely far from it.

    What I do not like is this front office whose main concern is keeping the owners in the executive suite which is different and criticizing them does not mean one wears the onus of being a Met “hater” as well.

    But what about the points I made about San Francisco, Washington and Detroit? Those teams worked on making their clubs competitive WHILE they were rebuilding as well. And then about Kansas City, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Oakland (up to last year)? They have been in a continual re-building stage for how many years?

    No, a general manager doesn’t take the steps Sandy is when wanting to sustain a long-term competitive plan. They take these steps when the owners do not (or will not) re-invest money back into the team. Good general manages also won’t take the steps those before him did by signing the types of players you mentioned as well. There is a middle ground.

    I love your enthusiasm but the two teams that have built winning organizations for two decades without spending like the Yankees are St. Louis and Atlanta. neither of those teams relied just on the farm system – they traded away prospects and didn’t stop re-investing in viable free agents because they were afraid of being “burned” as Sandy would put it.

    But again, love your enthusiasm and do not ever, ever lose it!