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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.