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Managing Expectations

This just in (and in…and in again, because boy does the novelty of Spring Training wear off fast): wave after wave of Met after Met has descended upon Port St. Lucie, led by approximately 54 power-armed young pitchers, all of whom brandish can’t-miss stuff, a couple of whom might even be permitted to make the Opening Day roster and not be shut down by mid-September…but probably not.

Pardon my impatience in the face of the wise long-term planning that it is sworn will be our ultimate salvation. After enduring five years of nothingness in the standings and staring at six months that will (very likely [1]) refuse to include a single Harvey Day, I want to be Syndergaarded and Monteroed and perhaps deGromed as soon as possible, never mind Wheelered as much as possible. I’m not in the mood for the caution preached by pitch-limiters and the logic calculated inside the Department of Super-Twoitude. I want 97 MPH fastballs crashing into Travis d’Arnaud’s mitt to drown out the nagging voice of John Fiedler as Mr. Duke reminding Felix and Oscar that every safety feature built into the impregnable Security Arms [2] is there “for your own good”.

I want the Mets to be good. The wait continues to grate.

Although he turned back time over his last few 2013 starts — or at least stopped the gears of the Matsuclocka [3] from grinding ever so slowly — I’m not delirious for Dice-K. Even if he and I share a hometown, I’m not shaking the Long Beach sand out of my shoes in a race to see John Lannan do the ol’ City by the Sea proud. Invite [4] all the experienced hands you want to Spring Training, but back here in the world, the only thought that truly warms my Metsian soul amid this endlessly stubborn dead of winter is those kids pounding the strike zone in the next available regulation baseball season. And as long as I’m dreaming, how about fewer positional question marks and more bold-faced exclamation points to end this hellish period of Met noncontention?

The Mets are preparing to pounce pretty soon, but not now. They’ll be ready later. Check back in a dozen or so months and the time should be arriving. If everybody else promises to not get any better in the interim, that shapes up as a clever Tortoise v. Hare strategy. Yet the division does not stand still. In Washington, they’ve loaded up on pitching. In Atlanta they’re signing young talent to contracts that will keep them Braves long past the life of Turner Field. In Miami, they have Jose Fernandez, the subject of an adoring Sports Illustrated profile in which his mentor dares to compare him, rather than Matt Harvey, to Tom Seaver: “Same body, same intelligence — both aggressive, but with quiet and balance on the mound.” They’re still the Marlins, but didn’t we used to say that about the Nationals?

At the moment, the National League feels particularly top-heavy. Get past the Dodgers, Cardinals, Braves and Nationals and nobody else feels like a preseason postseason lock. If a half-decent team can cobble together a Plan B — stay vaguely viable for four months and create a little trade-deadline luck — one can envision a genuine Wild Card II bid materializing. Goodness it would be great to chase a playoff spot from March 31 onward. Imagine being in the market for that one additional piece on July 28 instead of somebody trying to convince us how healthy it will be for our self-esteem that we’re gonna spend August and September lunging toward .500 until that ad-hoc goal slips inevitably into the sunset.

Up Flushing way, where the facility is regularly fuller than the one in Florida and doesn’t seem noticeably emptier than the one in Georgia (including at playoff time), we’re told that if we don’t get our asses to more games, you ingrates can forget more money being spent on more players. At least that’s how it sounds when the general manager suggests “ya get what ya pay for [5]” to season-ticket holders on the eve of Pitchers & Catchers, a stance that comes off as nervy to express no matter how sensibly it plays in a vacuum.

Don’t send out more than you take in? It’s a fairly basic business principle, which is perfectly reasonable to invoke until you remember the Mets aren’t the humble dry cleaners up the block trying to squeeze out a livable profit. They’re a Major League Baseball franchise in New York whose annual goal, you grew up believing, was to pursue a championship.

I miss the days when it was assumed teams tried to win every season even when they had no great shot nor the deepest well of resources. Sandy Alderson — the man who has brought us Zack Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard and Vic Black if not as much as a 78th win in a given year yet —knows how to present his opaqueness in the most transparent manner possible. He doesn’t make a show of holding his metaphorical cards close to his vest. So when he says [6] “our goal is to try to make the team as good as it can be for this season. I think we’ve gotten pretty close to achieving what we hoped to,” it’s hard to not infer short-term resignation has edged out urgency yet again where the franchise that hasn’t legitimately competed in six years is concerned.

Dice-K at his most Trachsellian works faster than that.

Winning isn’t framed as mandatory. Trying like crazy to win isn’t necessary. Nodding silently that it’s not worth trying, but give it a couple of years and it will be fantastic — that’ll be plenty adequate for now.

Thus, we are left to shuffle the tantalizing hopefuls among the proven mediocrities and cross our fingers that we can draw a few extra wins from the deck. We have pitchers who we’re holding off fully unleashing until 2015 and players who you thought would’ve been moved along after 2013. Somewhere in the middle is 2014, perhaps infused with the wherewithal to pump up the present…but probably not. Loans are allegedly being restructured, television windfalls are supposedly landing, Stephen Drew and Nick Franklin are names that loiter on the margins of possibility, yet until further notice, the Mets we have are the Mets we have.

Sometimes the most effective way to improve a team is by removing its lesser players and replacing them with better players. That’s not wholly the Mets’ style right now. If it was, Tejada and Davis (and probably Duda) would be telling somebody else’s beat reporter that as much as they enjoyed being Mets, this change of scenery they’ve received is exactly what they needed. And maybe we’d be giddily constructing lineups in our heads while pretending to pay attention as somebody who isn’t a Mets fan talks something other than baseball to us.

The Mets we have will be enough for exhibition purposes. We’ll be so delighted to see them in anything approximating action that we’ll squeal at the televised sight of them. That’ll last two, maybe three games. Then the pitchers at whom we figure to ooh and aah will be whisked to the minor league side of St. Lucie and we’ll be left to sort through the assets we know plenty well. Barring trades and signings you’d guess would have been made by now, we’ll satisfy ourselves with the notion that this year is one year closer to the year after.

Consider my expectations managed.