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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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A Very Busy Day in Metstown

I’ll give the Mets this much: They do keep you interested.

I started Sunday in the park with Emily and Joshua, securing visors and nice tickets in section 101, another one of those sections that didn’t exist at Shea and so are irresistible to me. The best thing about our seats? This time, they were in the shade.

The Mets then went out there and won the damn thing, 8-7, barely withstanding the Pirates to complete a three-game sweep.

It’s a win, and every win is inherently good for its effect on team record and standings. But it didn’t particularly feel like one, and let’s just say this game was not one to inspire odes to the majesty of baseball. The Mets started off by jumping on Chris Archer for a six spot, but hopes that they would then slowly pull away were unfounded. Archer settled in, or the Mets settled — hard to tell from beyond the center-field fence — and the Bucs crept back to 6-3 against a serviceable but unimpressive Jason Vargas, were pushed back to 8-3, and then came storming back against Tyler Bashlor and Edwin Diaz.

Bashlor’s brief bout of recent competence seems to have been the universe’s ruse to lull us: He walked Colin Moran, gave up a two-run homer to Bryan Reynolds, and surrendered an infield single to Starling Marte (which Adeiny Hechavarria arguably should have converted to an out) before being excused further duty. Enter Diaz, who promptly surrendered a bolt into the left-field corner by Jose Osuna, a no-doubter in Diaz’s no mas season.

Diaz got the last two outs, but he also got loudly and roundly booed — by me. I have nothing against Diaz — I thought bringing him to New York was a fine idea and didn’t sweat the price paid — but one can only take so much Looperesque/Francoian/Benitezite serial incompetence before the frustration has to go somewhere. Apparently, today was the day the relief valve deployed and I wound up furiously booing a Met while people in my section wondered if I was having a stroke.

Diaz’s struggles made me think about the plight of Off the Cliff guys. A couple of years back Chris Archer looked like a star in the making; his time in Pittsburgh has been an out-and-out disaster. What in the world happened to him? Is he hurt? Caught by a perfect storm of bad luck? At least what happened to Jung Ho Kang seems fairly clear: He set fire to his career with a flurry of DUIs, missed the better part of two years, and has reportedly quit drinking but never seen his baseball skills reignite. Kang struck out four times Sunday and is hitting .170.

The Mets have their own Off the Cliff guys — unfortunately, two of them used to be Mariners. Robinson Cano hit three home runs against San Diego not so long ago; what he’s done since, alas, has served as a reminder that Babe Ruth hit three in a game for the Boston Braves, shortly before the end. I figured Cano would be at least serviceable as a Met, at least for the first couple of years left on his mega-contract, but he’s looked like a statue at second, been below replacement value at the place and done himself no favors with bouts of on-field sloth. And he’s here for four more seasons. Gulp.

And then there’s Diaz. Hopefully whatever happened to Diaz is a blip: Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard have seemed to harness previously missing sliders under Phil Regan, allowing us to imagine Diaz will go back to being Edwin Diaz. But maybe he won’t. Maybe he’s hurt, and not telling anyone. Maybe he’s just lost it — a hazard for all players but relievers in particular, one we unfortunately remember keenly when their plunge coincides with becoming a Met. (Ramon Ramirez, don’t answer the blue and orange courtesy phone.)

Oh yeah, and there’s Jeurys Familia. But honestly, I’ve depressed myself and probably you enough with those last two paragraphs.

Anyway, the Mets won and have crept back into what you could fool yourself into thinking is contention, particularly entering a stretch in which they’ll play 10 against the White Sox, Pirates and Marlins. (And oh, what could have been with two of those mind-boggling losses in San Francisco going the other way.) If the Mets play well, they could conceivably poke their noses back above .500 and be on the first screen of the wild-card standings again.

Great! But even if they do pull that off, it’s a mirage. This team doesn’t have the bullpen or up-the-middle defense to survive the last six weeks of the season, which will be heavy on games against the Braves, Cubs, Phils, Nats and Dodgers. The Mets played a brutal stretch against such solid competition in June and early July and were exposed as pretenders; I’m pretty sure the same thing will happen again. (As always with Mets pessimism: I’d love to be wrong! Please let me have to print out this post and eat it!) Their focus ought to be on 2020 and 2021.

Which brings us to the other shoe that dropped on Sunday: the Mets’ acquisition of Marcus Stroman from Toronto for two prospects, the bespectacled Anthony Kay and young fireballer Simeon Woods Richardson.

Wait, the Mets are buyers? Holy Victor Zambrano!

Except industry scuttlebutt is that the Mets are not buyers — that the Stroman deal is a prelude to trading Syndergaard or Zack Wheeler.

Which lands us back in a familiar place, one that makes me angry and has stopped making a lot of people as angry as they should be.

The Mets’ writers and a good chunk of the fanbase have accepted a poisonous narrative that ought to be unacceptable: that the Mets’ financial limitations are as unchallengeable as the laws of physics. It’s become accepted wisdom that in July the Mets will sell players off for cash considerations and/or mediocre relief prospects, and in December they’ll shop in the clearance aisle of the free-agent supermarket, shuffling to the register with a dented infielder and a scratched-up fifth starter. And so all of their moves or potential moves are assessed this way: What’s the ceiling for this empty-headed Double-A power arm? Is this aging fifth starter good for 150 innings?

It’s infuriating.

The Mets are still being run on the cheap, hobbled by the Wilpons’ refusal or inability to operate the National League’s New York franchise in a manner that Major League Baseball should expect. Their payroll figures are fundamentally dishonest, swollen by millions in MLBPA money, naming rights and recouped insurance money that the Wilpons continue to count against payroll instead of reinvesting in the team. And that’s led to their current blinkered existence. There’s a lot of talk around the Mets being “creative,” but they’re creative because that’s what you have to be when you’re cheap. The point shouldn’t be that the Mets’ creativity is so often ineffective, but that it’s self-inflicted.

Yeah, the Mets extended deGrom. Terrific! Why did we all treat it like a miracle, instead of like what any competently run big-market franchise would do? Why don’t we ask where the other extensions are?

The Mets ought to be pushing all their chips in for the next two years. Besides the superlative deGrom, they have a vibrant, exciting young core in Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Michael Conforto, Syndergaard and Wheeler. They control Syndergaard through 2021 and can make a qualifying offer to Wheeler keeping him through next year. The question ought to be whether they should sign those two pitchers to long-term deals. Instead, they’re talking of trading them. It’s madness — madness that too many of us have come to accept as normality.

Which brings us to Stroman.

Look, I really like Stroman — he’s been a wonderful pitcher when healthy and he’s a player who’s easy to root for, an undersized hurler who’s withstood baseball prejudices and ridden his own talent and smarts to the upper ranks of his sport. He’s a clear upgrade over, say, Jason Vargas — to say nothing of Walker Lockett.

But is Stroman here to replace Vargas? I doubt it. I think he’s here to replace Wheeler or Syndergaard. The former would be a lateral move at best and quite possibly a downgrade, given the stretches of success Wheeler has had over the last two seasons. The latter would be a disaster in the making, a move that could easily haunt the Mets for a decade or more.

When pitching at his peak, Syndergaard is quite simply the best Mets starting pitcher I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and deGrom. His arsenal seems stolen from videogame cheat codes, he’s cerebral and interested in outthinking hitters as well as overpowering them, and he’s got the essential meanness that a top starter needs. He’s been hampered by a rash of odd injuries, MLB’s experiments with the baseball, and his teammates’ horrendous defense. None of those things is insurmountable or ought to blind a smart fan to his otherworldly talent.

And yet the Mets want to trade him. Why? Because he’s the most valuable chip on the market and they need to do some retrenching? Again, that’s the false narrative the Wilpons have force-fed us until it’s been accepted as true. Or is it because he’s ornery and outspoken and loves the spotlight? You better believe that’s a part of it too — which is both deeply stupid and richly ironic, given that the Mets have literally marketed Syndergaard as a deity.

The Mets ought to be selling off 2019’s deadwood: goodbye, Vargas and Todd Frazier. They could certainly explore trading pieces that don’t seem to fit, starting with Dom Smith and maybe including Amed Rosario. They ought to listen on any other proposed deal (you always listen), but always asking if that makes them better for 2020 and 2021.

Lock up Syndergaard and Wheeler and get to work on the up-the-middle defense. Yeah, you’re stuck with Cano, but improvements could and should be made at catcher, shortstop and in center. Does that mean trying Rosario in center? Trading for a center fielder? Signing an actual free agent who’s not north of 33 years old? Figure out a plan around that remarkable core of young players and go for it, the way a team playing in what’s still the capital of baseball ought to.

But here’s what I think the Mets will do instead. (And let’s be clear: Boy oh boy would I love to be wrong.) They’ll sell off Vargas and Frazier for cash considerations and maybe a couple of lightning-armed dimwits who’ll put up a 4.83 ERA over chunks of three seasons. They’ll trade Syndergaard for something that might or might not help in other areas, then anonymously whisper about how he was uncooperative in the clubhouse. They’ll then beat us over the heads with how wonderful it is that Steven Matz and Stroman are both Long Island kids — as if anyone with a brain cares whether a given Met grew up in a nice house in Stony Brook, in a missionary’s cabin in Botswana, or in a scientific research station on the Ross Ice Shelf.

The Wilpons will see that local story as a PR win, and the Mets will keep flacking it all the way to another 74-win campaign. Meanwhile, Syndergaard will hoist hardware for the Twins or Padres or Astros and when he returns to beat us we’ll get sentimental and admit that it’s all kind of a shame. And no one in the media will seriously ask if any other story was possible.

28 comments to A Very Busy Day in Metstown

  • Greg Mitchell

    Hoping Brodie not misled by good stretch against mainly weak teams. For one thing: As I tried to note yesterday but comment cut off: Alonso now in 6 for 51 funk which is far, far beyond the usual “he was due for a slump.” Even the 4 dingers help prove the point of post-derby malaise. And it has hurt some hitters for entire 2nd half, not just two weeks. So can make a run given that and Cano still sucking? And bullpen?

    The Stroman deal is ridiculous even if they pick up prospects in future deal. I am never against trading always super-risky pitching prospects–but trading them for another pitcher when they could have gone for one very good position prospect? Absurd, unless they now deal him to someone for such a prospect! Then genius! Trading essentially pitching prospects for position player! Now if we can only get Kelenic back…

    Obviously my view on trading Wheeler and/or Noah falls into same–if get a top position player, fine. Though I keep coming back to–why would anyone praise Brodie for any deal done given his track record?????

  • SeasonedFan

    Yes. It’s infuriating especially the Syndergaard situation. We’ve got cheap Owners who operate the Organization strictly as a cash cow. Evidently not willing or even interested in developing the young Talent that’s already on the Team for the long haul. Every Season all we get is the same old baloney.

  • mikeL

    you hit it on the barrel jason.

    syndergaard will leave nyc and win a cy young in ’20

    if only we could trade brodie and his bosses!

    yes the media failure is strong, and not just in the sports beat writer arena.

  • Ken K. in NJ

    ….which Adeiny Hechavarria arguably should have converted to an out..

    Yep, and he’s the best infielder they have. So of course they trade for one of baseball’s premier ground ball pitchers.

    And why do I think this Dom Smith Foot Problem is going to wind up reminding us of the Ike Davis Foot Problem, from which he never really came back.

  • Dave

    My take is that the Mets swooped in on Stroman as some sort of strategic move to raise the demand for Thor and Wheeler. If there were a postseason award for overthinking it, Brodie wins. There’s a freaking reason why 4th place, sub-.500 teams normally don’t trade four of their best prospects in less than a year. We know this, why does the GM not know this? Why doesn’t the owner’s silver spoon son not know this?

    You made a typo on the lightning-armed dimwits’ ERA, Jason. It should read 8.43, not 4.83.

    And Thor at his best is great, but the other 3 at their best top him. Either way, that’s something we’ll be trying to ignore when he’s pitching for the Braves or the Padres or I don’t even want to think it.

  • mikeL

    ^^ dave: brodie’s just passing through. he got his old guys’ bad contracts refreshed. he’s shown quickly that he’s not likely to ever be invited to GM another ballclub and will take a revolving door ride back to his old gig – or one just like it.
    folks like him are where you go when you’ve depleted your farm system.

    in a few years he’ll be trying to sell to wilpon (and others certainly) the mets prospects he’s all but given away.

  • flmetsfan

    Mr. Fry,

    Let me first say that I was quite entertained by your post for a while. Your take on how the Mets almost stole defeat from the jaws of victory again was spot on. I also enjoyed how you made excellent points about this franchise’s ownership and their bargain basement stewardship of our team.

    However, your commentary took a Toonces the Cat drive off a cliff when you talked about Syndergaard. Now, granted, I have to agree that Syndergaard has great physical ability and command over a vast arsenal of pitches. However, to compare him with Seaver, Gooden or deGrom is laughable. There is one thing that Seaver, Gooden, Santana, Glavin, Leiter, Ojeda and deGrom have in common that Syndergaard doesn’t have, maturity.

    You spent a substantial amount of time in your post making excuses for why Syndergaard has never put together a semblance of a successful run that any of the other pitchers I mentioned before. You almost rise to a parental level enabler in his defense in this post.

    The odds are that Syndergaard will eventually reach a level of cognition that will allow him to achieve his potential. The real question is how long will that take, and will he rise to that potential in enough time to be of help to the Mets? At this point, I am not that optimistic. There comes a time where we need to put away childish things like the love of comic book heros. Thor needs to find a home in the fitting confines of Minnesota or in his home state of Texas.

  • Ive been watching since 83. Noah has never once consistently dominated a game in the same way as Gooden or DeGrom. Or even Dickey that one yr. Although we have been waiting for him to for a while now. Other than that I agree with everything you wrote.

  • mikeL

    ^^blue oyster cult eric bloom??

  • Agree pretty much down the line, except for just about everything you said about Noah. Cerebral, he’s surely not. He’s a boneheaded pitcher and he may or may not realize his full potential one day. I’m not against trading anyone, but what comes back in return better improve the club, and I don’t mean financially. Don’t be fooled by these transactions where the Mets sent prospects for veterans and money. The reality is the prospects were sold for money, attached to player trades as a smokescreen.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    Well, the first domino has fallen. Jason Vargas to the Phillies for a catcher hitting under .200 in double-A. He will be catching all the Jacob Rhame clones in Syracuse.

    Funny thing. I was wearing a Mets Michael Conforto t-shirt in the local mall this morning and I met a young man who identified himself as Jason Vargas’ cousin. We discussed the fact that he might be traded. You didn’t have to be a prophet to read the tea leaves.

  • Steve D

    When pitching at his peak, Syndergaard is quite simply the best Mets starting pitcher I’ve ever seen — and I’ve seen Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and deGrom.

    As others have stated, I can’t agree with the implications of this statement. I could say that when Matz is pitching at his peak (duration – his last start) he is one of the best starting pitchers. Best raw stuff? At least he would be in the conversation. This was a pivotal year for Noah…despite his stuff, he did not dominate last year and this year he is about the same, but his era is even higher due to crappy defense behind him.

    I don’t think the Mets will trade him. The whole marketing of Thor has value to them. I think he is overrated and if he is traded, let’s see if he proves his detractors wrong and haunts the Mets yet again.

  • JoeyBaguhDonuts

    Excellent piece. First rate analysis. It’s always about the money with the Wilpons — not winning.

  • Curt

    Trying to figure this out and I end up with two questions: 1. Why trade for Stroman unless we’re trying to win now? 2. If we’re trying to win now why trade a pitcher to the team just in front of us?

    • Matt in Woodside

      It seemed to me that Toronto sold a year and two months of Stroman pretty cheap. If that’s the going rate, what could the Mets really expect in return for two months of Wheeler, who just skipped a start due to shoulder fatigue, and is a free agent at the end of the season?

      Nothing would surprise me at this point, but has anyone considered the possibility that Van Wagenen surveyed the market for starters, realized he could get Stroman for next year because Toronto didn’t want to deal him to the Yankees, realized that he would be selling low on Syndergaard and his 4.33 ERA in 2019, and that he’ll probably get a better return in the form of a draft pick if Wheeler declines a qualifying offer? That neither of them will be moved unless some desperate team comes through with a lopsided offer?

  • Dave R.

    “The Wilpons will see that local story as a PR win, and the Mets will keep flacking it all the way to another 74-win campaign”…and meanwhile, Mets fans will continue to give them money for tickets, merchandise and concession stands, ensuring that the Wilpons will never sell the team because it makes so much money with so little effort. You can blame the Wilpons and sportswriters all you want, but until Mets fans show some tough love, nothing will ever change. Stop going to games!

  • JoeyBaguhDonuts

    Stroman is a better pitcher and a little cheaper than Vargas, who also has a $2 million payout after the season. That’s $2 million saved to the Wilpons, which we chronic Mets fans know matters to them. Vargas also threatened a reporter and never backed down from it, which the owners could not tolerate. However, based on Stroman’s tantrum when he learned he was coming to Queens and not the Bronx, we might not have changed that mysterious clubhouse much, but $2 million was reduced from the payroll, which matters most, as our host was saying.

  • sturock

    Stand pat. Don’t trade Wheeler or Stroman. Don’t trade Diaz. Don’t trade Thor. Don’t sell low. Plan ahead, work this stuff out in the off-season. These pitchers need to– finally– be supported by a tight defense. That means, as Jason said, a new shortstop and a new center fielder. Maybe a new catcher too, as Ramos is a disaster (if your two best pitchers don’t want to throw to you, it’s a problem). The last thing we need is for Brodie to continue to do some cutesy wheeling and dealing instead of real team-building.

  • Left Coast Jerry

    I find it very curious that of the first 8 hitters in tonight’s lineup, the player with the lowest batting average and the fewest homers and RBIs is batting cleanup. Does Cano have pictures of Mickey or BVW that they don’t want published?

  • 9th string catcher

    I seriously don’t care who they trade Diaz for. Just get him out of here. I cannot watch another pitch from this guy.

  • Lenny65

    I really wouldn’t mind if they dealt Diaz away and if they can get anything at all for junk like Frazier, Cano or Ramos I’m all for it but IMO they really should leave the pitchers alone. Haven’t they learned that there’s no such thing as “too much” pitching? Did everyone already forget 2016?

    If they really do trade Syndergaard for slop they’re going to push me to a point where I’m going to have to seriously ponder my future as a fan. The whole “cash-poor Wilpons” routine is way beyond tiresome. If they didn’t make that dumb Cano trade and invested some money in the bullpen this team might be flirting with contention right now.

  • open the gates

    If the Mets trade Noah now, he won’t be compared to Seaver or Gooden any time soon. I’m thinking more Lynn N. Ryan. And figuring that somewhere, in a kindergarten, is a future Met destined to be Syndergaard’s 6,000th strikeout victim.

  • 9th string catcher

    Lenny, Open – could not agree with you more. Noah is a fan favorite and a personality. He’s a guy you root for. And the Wilpons need to remember that fans will put up with a lot if they have people to root for. Case in point – Vargas was arguably the Mets’ best starter this year and no one cares that he was just given away to a division rival. Noah has earned his fandom and is as much of a draw as deGrom, Mcneil, Alonso and perhaps a couple other guys.

    I do think it’s mostly a bluff, but I don’t want to see any of the starters go. If by some miracle offense, starters and bullpen can align (a big if), there is a run in this team.

  • […] Wheeler are critical pieces of any success this franchise might have with its current corps, but I’ve covered that. Happy because Marcus Stroman is an upgrade over Jason Vargas professionally and personally. Happy […]