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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
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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Changing My Narrative

Sometimes you find yourself a defender of the conventional wisdom.

Here’s Brian Mangan on the Mets signing Curtis Granderson. His take is smart, and it ain’t pretty. But I’m still happy.

The baseball stuff I’ll deal with quickly: I take heart from the fact that Granderson’s nightmarish 2013 was driven by not one but two bone-breaking HBPs, the first one on the inaugural pitch he saw in spring training. (Geez, how’s that for a star-crossed year?) His skill set seems like it will age better than Jason Bay’s. (Caveat: Like my blog partner, I was in favor of the Bay deal at the time, though tepidly.) From the overlays I’ve seen, I’d expect Granderson’s power to play just fine in Citi Field. He’s a good guy in the clubhouse, a quality I don’t put enormous stock in but could be valuable if Sandy Alderson tries to move Granderson. Ideally, he’s a Cliff Floyd figure for the Mets — helps bring along some young players, does OK out on the field, and is a bridge to a better future.

But as always with the post-Madoff Mets, it’s not really about the baseball. Except this time I can say that without despair creeping into my voice.

This may be the most surreal and depressing era in Mets history. The early Mets were terrible, yes, but fans at least had the honeymoons of National League baseball returning to New York and a brand-new stadium. The Mets of various post-1986 valleys were awful, but they were big-market awful: You knew the collapses and teardowns would be followed by attempts to rise anew, however ill-conceived.

The closest comparison to the post-Madoff Mets would be the Mets of early free agency. Like this team, that one was a dreadful outfit that had alienated its fans and refused to admit economic reality: The Mets showed interest in free agent Gary Matthews by sending him a telegram asking him to contact their offices, which somehow didn’t work. They were baseball’s North Korea — but their situation was so comically awful that you knew it couldn’t last, that new ownership was going to come from somewhere.

In recent years there’s been no such promise at Citi Field. The Wilpons looked crippled, continually moving the financial goalposts on Alderson, playing accounting games with payroll and operating under the shadow of massive bills coming due. But they also looked determined to hold on at all costs, and there wasn’t even a hint that the feckless Bud Selig would pressure them into a sale. (Selig’s tenure as commissioner will be argued about for years, but even if you’re one of his defenders the bookends are pretty awful: He arrived as the product of an appalling coup and will depart having let the Mets be run like an orphanage, shrugged off the cynical shell games played by his fellow Expocutioner Jeffrey Loria and marooned the A’s in a backed-up sewer.) The Mets have looked destined to become baseball’s Chicago Blackhawks, a wreck of a franchise that only divine intervention can save.

And maybe that’s what they still are. But whatever one might think of the Granderson signing, it isn’t shopping in Scott Boras’s fruits-and-nuts aisle. It’s not two years of Frank Francisco or a flier on Shaun Marcum or maybe seeing something in Marlon Byrd. Even in today’s suddenly expensive free-agent landscape, it feels like Real Money.

As for those who scoff at the idea that there’s a value to Changing the Narrative, I’d counter that it’s sure changed mine.

I can’t recall being less enthusiastic about the Mets than I was in October and November. I missed most of the last week of the season and didn’t care. I left the blog in Greg’s capable hands for the early part of the winter because there was nothing I wanted to say about the Mets — past, present or future. Someone sent around a clip of the Ball off the Wall and I felt … nothing. Occasionally I would rouse myself to snarl something vicious on Twitter, but that was about it.

Some of those Twitter bleatings were both vicious and inaccurate. A question about where to play Young in the outfield left me snarking about not wanting Young in the starting lineup at all … oh wait a minute, he meant Chris Young. I lost my mind about what I saw as penny-pinching Justin Turner out of a job and it took me an embarrassingly long time to realize this was a good sign, as the logical read on the situation was that the Mets planned to bring in another shortstop and slide Ruben Tejada into the backup role he’s earned, making Turner superfluous. I’d stopped paying attention and started becoming a generically angry fan. Look, I’ve said plenty of stupid things over the years and will say plenty more, but I’d never fallen into that particular trap. I’d never been disengaged like that.

If the Mets do nothing else this winter, despair and apathy will beckon again. Heading into the winter meetings, they still need that other shortstop, are still shopping Ike Davis and/or Lucas Duda (with maybe Daniel Murphy headed elsewhere too), and still need a warm body or two for the Harveyless starting staff. (Please God not Mike Pelfrey.) If Granderson is their last significant move of the winter, that’s a problem. But for the first time in a long time, I’m not automatically assuming the worst. For the first time in a long time, I actually want to think about my baseball team.

That’s only my narrative. But it desperately needed changing.

16 comments to Changing My Narrative

  • sturock

    Brian Mangan is a little harsh. This is a good signing. Why? Because Granderson is better than Andrew Brown or Eric Young Jr. If he sucks by the third or fourth year, the Mets will cross that bridge when they come to it.

    Does it Change the Narrative? Not necessarily. Matt Harvey changes the narrative as might Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard and Travis D’Arnaud and one hopes Juan Lagares and whoever else is coming along in the future.

    Sure the Wilpons are idiotic bumblers but I can’t believe they want endless repeats of the past five seasons. I do think that Sandy Alderson knows what he’s doing and, unlike most of our previous GM’s, knows how to build a team without overpaying for the biggest-name free agent on the market. At some point, you have to trust the guy in charge or else why bother rooting for the Mets?

    • Dave

      Stu – I agree that it’s a good signing. It’s the first sign we’ve seen that Alderson isn’t 100% risk averse. Does he know how to build a team without paying just for the sake of paying? I don’t think we know that yet. He’s enunciated his plan enough times, but until we see results, we don’t know that he really knows how to do it…anybody can cut payroll and field a sub-.500 team. That takes no skill. Maybe due at least in part to circumstances beyond his control, so far Alderson has only talked a very good game. But signing a relatively big money FA who has skills the team desperately needs is a good sign.

      But why bother rooting without trusting? Because faith (fear being something different)…believing when you don’t really have a logical basis to do so. In 45 years as a Mets fan, I feel like that’s what I’ve been doing at least 75% of that time.

  • Hey Jason! Thanks so much for the link. I always love reading your stuff and have been a fan for a long time.

    I agree with you that there is some value to fandom, some value to “narrative.” We all place different levels of emphasis on that.

    I’m lukewarm about Granderson, and I think that we’ll be getting beat up at the end of the deal — but at the same time, you’re going to get beat up at the end of almost every FA deal like this.

    You’re right in that if there ever was a team that needed a statement move it would be the Mets — not just the Mets in general, but these post-Madoff Mets.

  • Mike

    It took me until just now — literally, I hadn’t thought about it until you said it — to think of the Turner move as anything but stupefying penny-pinching. I hadn’t thought that, hey, maybe this means Tejada will be the backup and we’ll have a brand new SS come Opening Day. I know it’s too much to hope we’ll welcome Professor Reyes back to Flushing, but — one can dream, can’t one?

  • I was so much more depressed in May than I was at the end of the year. Day after day of writing Buck, Davis and Tejada into the lineup – when it was clear that they were actively hurting the team – drove me absolutely crazy.

    Glad to have you back engaged again!

  • Andee

    Commissioners actually can’t force a sale. They work for the owners, not the other way around. Even when George Steinbrenner and Marge Schott were embarrassing the owners’ club, all they got were suspensions, and the fact that those are the only owners who have been suspended in the last 30 years should tell you that it’s really, really hard to suspend an owner; they have to do something either illegal or right on the borderline of it, and even then it’s an uphill battle.

    Schott sold because she was facing a second suspension and her health was failing already. George got suspended twice and just kept right on rolling. Frank McCourt wasn’t forced by MLB to sell either; he had to sell because he lived in a community property state and his ex managed to prove in court that he was worth a billion dollars, which he wouldn’t have been without owning the team. And the owners didn’t trust that any money they loaned him wouldn’t have wound up in his personal piggy bank.

    If the other owners had any obstreperous objections to the Wilpons getting a loan from MLB, I didn’t hear a peep out of any of them — and if Selig had given the Mets a loan over the objections of a majority of the owners, they could have fired his ass right then and there. Fred got special dispensation from them last time because of his status as one of the longest-tenured owners in the game (depending on whose yardstick you use, possibly the longest-tenured), but that was a one-time deal. Jeff will not be offered the same largesse, and Fred isn’t going to live much longer.

  • 9th string catcher

    What’s left on Reyes’ deal? 4/70? He’s 30? That would be enough of a statement for me if we could get him back somehow.

  • Rob

    Mangan, though overly negative, does make some legitimate points in his argument. The Granderson signing is not above question. There are a couple of things falling through the cracks here. What the Mets are doing — building from the ground up — takes time. It took the Rays a long time, and it took the Braves a long time (they made the post-season once in 21 years before beginning their historic streak). The difference is that nobody was watching in those markets. If you compare this team to the Mets of five years ago, we are in MUCH better shape. The 2009 Mets had more talent in the majors, and little in the minors. And long-term salary debt. This team is much stronger down below, and has its holes in the majors. A better problem to have, but unfortunately one that looks worse to more people. The current team has young players that are still developing and very low debt compared to the Mets of the past, which gives them flexibility in the future (assuming reasonable financial health).

    The problem with Granderson is that he is not the final piece of a puzzle, and at 33-years-old when the season starts, he’s really not the first piece, either. I have read comments along the lines of “ok, you signed Granderson, now go sign someone else to prove you really mean it.” This team is NOT going to sign any other big-ticket player this season, nor should they. This is where Mangan has a strong point. This has elements of a “credibility” signing, which is important for a lot of reasons, but doesn’t always have a big impact on the field, and can have a longer-term impact that we can only guess at now because we don’t really KNOW their financial state. Two years from now, this contract can very well be an albatross.

    Painful though it is, this is an exercise in patience. You can’t see the foundation hardening, but it is. You can’t see the longer-term investments developing yet, but they are (the Dickey trade is an example of taking a step back to take two steps forward down the road….we haven’t reaped any benefits from trading a Cy Young winner, yet no forward-looking fan should want to have Dickey instead of D’Arnaud and Syndergaard today). Throwing bad money at these problems is not the fix, nor has it ever been. It’s not a road we should want to go down again. Just look at the past 20 years to see where that road leads.

    • I’m signing on to this opinion in its entirety, including the part where I’m “overly negative” :)

      I’m potentially a TOO rational of a fan. Perhaps this is because I happen to love going to ballgames and drinking with friends and sitting in the sun; or because I love listening to GKR even when the Mets are bad.

      Granderson isn’t a piece for the future, that is certain, so you’re right that I deem it a “credibility signing”, which I despise.

      Everything has a cost, even if we love Granderson as much as we are told we will. Even if Granderson is only a $15M sunk cost, people have been more mad about less than that in recent history (Castillo, Perez).

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    Granderson might be the first step and with that I am glad to see it, however, if he winds up being the only step then it appears simply an attempt of the Mets to make some noise and dispel the fan unrest about them not spending.

    But in retrospect, Curtis should not have been the first move going outside the organization for improvement to begin with. By that, I do not mean during this hot stove league season but the one and two prior. Our starting rotation has been taking shape for two seasons already and the other options to help get them run support should have been taken at the same time. Money, of course, prevented that from happening and what worries so many of us is that money will still prevent further things from occurring as well. With Young and Granderson there is maybe $8 million of the approximate $30 million that Sandy said he has to use and that certainly is not going to resolve much of anything else.

    According to Sandy, we don’t have anyone near being ready in the farm system to step in to fill the other holes we have in the outfield. Chris Young is not a solution for left and thus the luxury of Lagares’s glove and arm in center without his lack of hitting compensated by others is a luxury we cannot afford. That is two outfield positions plus shortstop which were not addressed (CY is not addressing the issue). Will not fault this organization because it was counting on Ike Davis. But now that makes four positions we need to be filled as our young pitching is coming full circle with some more arms on the immediate horizon.

    Will leave judgment on Travis d’Arnaud aside for the moment other than that even this organization recognizes he does have durability issues.

    So we cannot look at the past as being stepping stones because no other steps were taken beyond the obtaining of prospects and since they alone could not address the many issues of which some of this organization are guilty as having created (there is a shortstop in Toronto we could have still had). A plan has precise goals and objectives, not a hope to wait and see how the prospects turn out. That is why if it has to take another two years or so to see the foundation taking shape, one also has to ask why we have so far been unable to see it in the first three.

    Could it be that the financial investment of the owners is more important than the financial investment of the team. Sure would – since baseball is also a part of the business world.

  • vin

    incremental steps are better than no steps. Granderson is a good player and a great man and the Mets need people like that..

    As for Turner, one of my favorite Mets always got big hits at games Iwent to allowing me to get to the 7 in a reasonable time frame! The analysis here is that the Mets are not cheapskates but by non tendering him he is off their clock or the continuim of players in their 1st 3 years..arbitration…free agency…once he gets into the arbitration mode the inflationary system of preemptive contracts to avoid arbitration and offer players a smidge less than outlandish increases which then leads into free agency or pre emptive free agency deals in which the inlation is compunded since the increase is based off an inlated arbitration eligible deal. See Phil Hughes…went from 3 million in ’12 to 7.5 as arbitration eligible in 2013 which put him in the very overpaid column and now as a free agent he gets 8 mill/per for 3 years from Twins of all people. If his 2013 salary was not overinflated by arbitration and say at 3.5 million maybe he would have gotten a 2 year 10 million deal as FA instead of 24mill. Short story is the Mets do not want to risk making Turner a 3 to 5 million arbitration player with greater demands to follow..when he is a 24th or 25th man on a mediocrce he is off the clock and he can sign for 1 million or so saving 2 or 3 million on this type of player is not really cheap but fiscal responsibility!

  • sturock

    Brian deems the Granderson signing a “credibility signing” and to some extent that’s true and I agree with him about the limits of that type of transaction.

    On the other hand, the discourse about the Mets– even on fan sites like this– is almost overwhelmingly negative: they’re cheap, they suck, they’re a joke, they’re not as legitimate as the Yankees (a favorite trope in the Times, with Francesa, et al. ad nauseam). This signing will deflect some of that during the slow gestation of whatever the new, winning Mets club will be.

    People aren’t patient, especially now that the baseball season seems to go on for twelve months a year and we are always talking, reading, and writing about the team. Given current player salaries, Granderson’s contract is not a potential albatross and if he’s a platoon outfielder or fourth outfielder in its later stages, it means the Mets’ farm system has produced some better alternatives.

    • Rob

      Granderson definitely has upside, and if all it is is money, and the money spent here doesn’t bite us down the road, then this is a good signing. But we don’t know that yet, and there is a wide range of financial health the Mets can fall into. They might really be OK moving forward as they say they are, or they may be about to crumble under the debt as others say (which I don’t believe). My guess is they’re somewhere in the middle — they can go into the candy store, but now they have a $20 bill instead of Dad’s credit card. You can still get some good candy for $20, but you can’t get ALL the candy.

      The ability to spend is a finite resource in baseball. Take the Yankees out of this conversation (for now), but we’re seeing even well-off teams like the Tigers unloading salary, we’re reading that the Phillies are also, and the Angels — who not too long ago were an elite organization — will be hamstrung for years to come despite being only two years into the career of one of the best young players ever (they won four games more than the Mets in 2013).

      $60 million, while reasonable in this market, is not an insignificant sum. You can’t spend that much just to shut up guys like Mike Francesa and keep the fans at bay if money is a real issue, which I think is what Brian was saying. The positive sign here to me is that Sandy Alderson knows this, and I have to believe they wouldn’t compromise the future to turn a 74-win team into an 80-win team. But the next real step up the ladder is going to come from the development of young players, not free agent signings.

  • […] is it more evidence of the changed narrative that I was happy about last […]