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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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At Least They're Keeping Me Guessing

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

8 comments to At Least They’re Keeping Me Guessing

  • ljcmets

    That’s the best thing I’ve ever read on Seaver, period. Second place is Bart Giamatti’s brilliant piece in Harper’s after the trade in 1977, but that was more analytical, focusing on Seaver’s place in our culture at that moment. This piece by Jordan has more insight into the man and is beautifully written besides. Thanks for the link, Jason.

  • I attribute the Kid’s Club thing directly to the departure of David Howard…

    • I give credit to Lou DePaoli, the new chief revenue officer. We did a blog call a while back in which he discussed the changes, and both his head and heart were in the exact right place. Nice to see. The business folks can’t control the on-field product, but they can do a lot to affect the fan experience, and they’ve fixed this one.

  • metsfaninparadise

    I’ve always believed that Alderson isn’t going to, and shouldn’t, say anything in public that’s potentially useful to the competition. I don’t think he should EVER say how much money the team actually has to spend. I think he only says something because he HAS to, because the media is constantly crying out, on the fans’ behalf, for something to fill up all those talk radio hours. So I’m not bent out of shape about any apparent inconsistencies or goalpost moving. Remember, their initial payroll will be augmented by the cost of any acquisitions, whether callups or from outside the organization, necessitated by injury. AND, regardless of what we start with, we’re now being told that we have money to use on bolstering the roster if we’re in contention. I know, the same was said last year, but I’m not sure that a couple of additions would have made us competitive enough, so I’m just as happy that the money wasn’t spent. If we’re close this summer, though, it had better be a different story.

    I wonder if ljc or anyone else can provide a link to the Giamatti article?

    • ljcmets

      I went looking for the article, but it is paywalled on Harper’s website and I couldn’t find a full copy anywhere else. It is included in a Giamatti anthology “A Great and Glorious Game” and is called “Tom Seaver’s Farewell” so you should probably be able to find it at the local library if you can’t find it online. It’s a good read.

  • I have given my son the Kids Club package the last few years. It is not always as well organized as it could be when you’re there, but a rep spent 15 minutes with me going over the options last year for our game to figure out which date and circumstance was the best value. And the game we agreed on they actually won–though it took 12 innings. Mets Kids Club will be under the tree again this year. The kids are the future for us and this team, it’s important to keep them connected or they will go off and do 100 other things and another generation will be gone. (NOT a paid advertisement.)

  • Joe D.

    Hi Jason,

    I will give Sandy and his people credit for finally trying to improve this club for the now while also building for the future. However, if the moves stop at this point, then Colon is bascially a replacement for Harvey and Granderson a replacement for Byrd (more power gained, more base hits lost) and thus nothing gained for 2014 or the future. So were the signings more for noise?

    If the organization is serious about 2014 yet money still at issue, would not the $17.25 combined for Colon and CY have been put to better use to fill more pressing holes instead? Not that one gets what one wants but could we not have attempted to beat the Cardinals who signed Jhonny Peralta to a four year deal that averages $13 million a year? Though I have my suspcisions that PED played a part in his great 2013 season, wouldn’t it had been worth the risk and re-sign Byrd for the $750,000 more than we paid for a declining Chris Young who last year hit .200 and whose power numbers came mostly in his home ball park in Arizona? And if we are willing to gamble $10 million on a 41 year old who is also a former PED user could we have not instead given Latroy Hawkins the $1 million more he wanted from the Mets? Both Byrd and Hawkins said they would have loved to return to the Mets.

    These players would not jeapordize the future since we do not have the minor league talent in these areas at this time. We have young arms who are and perhaps could make up for Harvey’s loss with a less expensive starter obtained instead.

    Granderson – $15.00 million
    Chris Young – $ 7.25 million
    Bartolo Colon – $10.00 million
    $32.25 million total

    Granderson – $ 15.00 million
    Byrd – $ 8.00 million
    Hawkins – $ 2.50 million
    Peralta – $ 13.00 million
    Starter – $ 5.00 million
    $43.5 million total

    Though still leaving us with unresolved problems, which group would give us a better chance to be competitors in 2014 and 2015?

    The problem is that another quality player like Granderson is not going to come for just two years and that is the stumbling block, not the annual salary.