Oh, you suddenly wacky Mets.
No sooner had I fallen back into despair and trotted out my Sandy as Charlie Brown, Jeff as Lucy cartoon than it was announced that the Mets had signed Bartolo Colon — who’s equal parts huge, old and good — to a two-year contract that, like Curtis Granderson not long before, also counted as Real Money.
If Colon does something bad to a knee in February and is damaged goods after that — a fate not exactly unknown among hefty old dudes — the deal’s a disaster. If he keeps on walking nobody and pitching ably for two years, it’s a steal. If he pitches well enough for half a season or one season or a season and a half and is then flipped elsewhere for a decent prospect, it’s a Sandy Alderson special. And will probably be a pretty shrewd one, going by past results.
But is it more evidence of the changed narrative that I was happy about last week?
I dunno. Or I keep changing my mind. Or something. The Mets have me suffering from both emotional and logical whiplash.
On the one hand, they’re actually spending money — they’ve added the non-gigantic Chris Young, Granderson, Colon, and will add a shortstop if Sandy can pull it off. That’s a far cry from your winter consisting basically of Marlon Byrd and a bunch of Triple-A guys who barely got a baseball card.
On the other hand, the Mets still aren’t spending as much money as they’ve previously said they will.
Let’s go to Howard Megdal, who keeps track of these things. In June, Alderson told Joel Sherman (who wrote a fine column the other day, BTW) that he saw 2014′s payroll at between $90 million and $100 million. Now, it seems to be $85 million. (I’ll spare you a couple of years’ worth of fiscal goalposts moving around before that.) That $85 million cap is one reason (though not the only one) that we keep hearing about Daniel Murphy being traded and Ike Davis being the misfit first baseman most likely to become someone else’s problem.
The problem isn’t the dollar amount (though it’s that too) so much as it is that the amount seems to be a constantly moving target.
If the 2014 payroll is $85 million, the Mets essentially have to move Davis or Murph or both for financial reasons if they plan to make any more moves worth caring about.
If the 2014 payroll is $100 million — the upper end of what we were told this summer — Stephen Drew comes into play without the necessity of a trade. A lot of things come into play.
But it’s no longer summer, so the payroll’s no longer $100 million. It’s $85 million. Or maybe that’s wrong now too. We’ll all have to await what Sandy says next time he’s enduring an hour with Mike Francesa or cornered by beat writers with microphones.
Money doesn’t fix everything, as a near-infinite number of self-help books and pop songs warn. It can bring its own problems, as evidenced by Mets teams that spent gobs of it and were still terrible. But a lack of money fixes nothing, and the problems it brings are predictable ones.
And not knowing how much money you have? That’s a ridiculous way to run a business — though it turns out to be an excellent way to leave a fanbase reflexively suspicious and anxious.
I pin blame for the magical bouncing payroll on the Wilpons. You can pin it on Sandy if you like — or on sunspots, the Rosicrucians, or mole men from Europa. I don’t really care anymore. All I know is I’m tired of it.
The Mets haven’t done what I feared they’d do this offseason, which was strip the team even further, shrug and wait for Matt Harvey‘s elbow to heal. They’ve spent money, and a lot of it by their recent standards. That’s changed the narrative, yes. But I still don’t know what the payroll is — or more to the point, I don’t think the general manager knows what the payroll is. That narrative is familiar, and it’s the one that really needs to change.
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Here’s a Mets narrative that really has changed for the better, one you might not have noticed.
The Mets are touting their Kids Club, which now has two membership levels.
There’s a free level (blue) where you get a free ticket voucher good for any Sunday game, three buy-one, get-one-free ticket offers good for any Sunday game, and a membership card and lanyard that you can use to “check in” at Kids Club Sundays, with rewards ranging from an autographed player photo to a duffle bag depending how often you come.
There’s also a $24 level (orange) that gets you a t-shirt, four free ticket vouchers for any Sunday game, all of the above and some other neat stuff besides.
It’s a pretty great deal. But the key change is the “any Sunday game” part. Joshua used to be a Kids Club member, and in previous years the club had a fatal flaw: You could pick your free ticket from about a dozen dates scattered across various days of the week — and nearly all of them were night games.
Taking the subway back from Citi Field after a typical night game gets us home between 11:30 pm and midnight. My kid just turned 11, and having him go to bed that late is only now becoming a possibility — and even then, we have to accept a high likelihood that the morning will be a mess. A couple of years ago, preventing such a disaster would have meant leaving around the third inning, which isn’t exactly the stuff of happy baseball memories.
So the ticket part of the old Kids Club was basically worthless — if the couple of available day games didn’t fit your family’s schedule, tough. The effect of this was to undermine an otherwise nice program for children in a way that would be blindingly obvious to anyone with a child. It was baffling and infuriating.
Now, all that’s gone. There are 13 Sunday games on the 2014 schedule, they’re all day games (pending ESPN shenanigans the Mets can’t control), and you can get a free ticket to any of them.
The difference is, well, night and day — a Kids Club that’s simple, fan-friendly, and how it always should have been.
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Here’s something else to lift your spirits. It’s Pat Jordan on Tom Seaver, and a little bit of Tom Seaver on Pat Jordan, and it’s smart and funny and quietly moving.