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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 [1]. 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 [2].) 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.