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The Long March from December

We still reside on the shadowy side of the Baseball Equinox, that annually anticipated milestone on the calendar that sits precisely between the final pitch of the last Mets season and the first pitch of the next Mets season. This offseason’s midpoint won’t arrive until we have passed 89 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes from Sunday, October 1, 2017, at 6:20 PM in Philadelphia and edge to within 89 days, 9 hours and 25 minutes of Thursday, March 29, 2018, at 1:10 PM in Flushing. For those of you scoring at home, the 2017/2018 Baseball Equinox graces the Eastern Time Zone on Saturday, December 30, at 3:45 AM.

So there’s still time. There’s still time every December. The Baseball Equinox reassures us we really and truly are getting there. All we’re doing any December is getting there. We won’t be “there” until Opening Day. Everything else between now and then is about doing the getting.

The Mets did some getting this chilly Wednesday, getting themselves one of those relief pitchers everybody’s talking about. I don’t know that anybody was talking about erstwhile Milwaukee Brewer Anthony Swarzak [1], but reasonably reliable relief pitchers are all the buzz these days, what with baseball’s advanced thinkers dropping the pretense that starters are designed to come close to finishing. The middles of starts are ever more up for grabs, so the more relievers you have who can produce outs, well, the more outs you might get without allowing runs. Analytically speaking, that’s half the winning formula. Generating runs before making too many outs is the other half.

Swarzak is one small step for the Mets. The giant leaps — leaps of any size — have yet to present themselves. A leap from 70 wins and fourth place to respectively more and higher is nominally the ultimate 2018 goal. Perhaps the genuine goal is a leap into 2019, with 2018 simply not serving as another deep puddle of mud. The length of the leap remains to be gauged. It’s December. The small steps, however small, are encouraging.

The Mets have brought in righty Anthony Swarzak and signed a couple of minor leaguers (lefty reliever Matt Purke, lefty outfielder Zach Borenstein). They also have a breath-of-fresh-air manager, a raft of new coaches, a developing training protocol and, on May 5, a Yoenis Cespedes garden gnome that hopefully isn’t as fragile as its inspiration. So the steps are being taken. None besides the manager and maybe the gnome are glamorous. If glamour is your thing, you know better than to look toward the Mets for very long. There are Mets components, maybe even a Mets nucleus, but the entirety of the entity is right now more a matter of Swarzak than swagger.

Which is something of a shame because being the biggest, shiniest object in your division and your league (and your town) is a lot of fun. I remember when the Mets loomed large over the baseball landscape. It was a heckuva coupla hours [2]. I thought it would last longer. It didn’t.

The oft-referenced window, the one representing conditions amenable to contention, doesn’t appear open more than a crack anymore. Could enough steps raise it to where the Mets could leap through it in 2018? Is there a leap to be taken prior to March 29 that would give the next set of Mets a running start? “Someone oughta open up a window [3]!” I hear every Fourth of July. Will we have given up on prying the damn thing skyward by summer? Will the fresh breath of air Mickey Callaway brings have brought a surprisingly bracing breeze? Or is it gonna be another stuffy summer stuck near 70 wins and in fourth place again?

These and other questions…we’ll know answers when we know answers. We’ll know who will be the Mets we don’t yet know about when we know their identities, too. One minute we didn’t know from Swarzak, the next we’re figuring out how to optimally interchange him with Familia, Ramos and Blevins. Not much use in dreaming on the window-smashing celebrities [4] who would accelerate our leap if only they were lavishly signed or traded for. The Mets seem to be on a number of recognizable players’ DO NOT TRADE HERE list and need to work on becoming the baseball team baseball players want to be with. We are getting a pretty solid hint [5] that a mystery Met who would blow the shutters off our expectations probably doesn’t loom in our immediate future.

Our slotting on the industry popularity scale is both too bad — because who doesn’t want more great players, or at least the theoretical ability to procure them? — and maybe not altogether awful — because, as mentioned, the Mets roster maybe has a Charlie Brown Christmas quality to it.

It’s not such a bad little roster. Maybe it just needs a little love.

It has a shortstop we were all figuratively dying to see, and a first baseman who clearly wishes to make an impression, and an ace pitcher who missed virtually all of last season, and another ace pitcher who singlehandedly kept what there was what of last season together, and a gnome-inspiring outfielder who’s supposed to be fully healed, and another outfielder who’s supposed to be on his way to mostly healed, and a couple of catchers who meshed decently, and a passel of relievers who promise to be tactically deployed, and some other familiar cast members whose strengths on a good day make you forget their weaknesses on other days.

It’s a little thin in spots, but no tree is perfect and not every ornament budget is limitless. Or obvious. I don’t know what the Mets can or will spend. I do know $14 million was just committed to two years [6] of Anthony Swarzak. I would think that’s substantial, but baseball’s personnel outlays defy gravity and orbit beyond a layman’s parsing. Swarzak, whether used in the fourth or the ninth [7], will be worth the investment if he gets outs. Great. Get more guys who get outs without giving up runs and more guys who get runs without making outs.

That’s all we want for our version of Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa, the one we unwrap on Thursday, March 29, 2018, at 1:10 PM in Flushing.