Five Unlikely Reasons to Optimistic About the 2012 Mets

Occasionally we like to stray from our usual posts about TGIF and Jason Sudeikis and talk sports.  As much as we love pop culture and television and Internet nonsense, a lot of our time is also taken up by watching, reading up on, and listening to sports (which, unfortunately, leaves us little time for much else).  And with the 2012 Major League Baseball season nearly upon us, we thought we’d take a few minutes to explain why things may not be so bleak for our beloved NY Mets, even if these reasons seem completely counterintuitive.

1. Jose Reyes is No Longer a Met

Yep, the same Jose Reyes that won the NL Batting Title last season, and who was the best player in baseball for stretches in the first half.  That guy.  The same Jose Reyes who is the Mets all-time leader in triples, runs and steals, who can excite a ballpark like no other player we’ve ever seen.  When he’s on his game, there may be no more dynamic, electric player in the sport.  Yep, that’s the guy we’re happy to have off our roster.

Listen, we loved Jose Reyes.  And we wanted to resign him, we really did.  When Reyes and David Wright came up together we thought, for the first time in franchise history, that we were going to have two guys who were going to play side-by-side for their whole careers, who would go into the Hall of Fame both donning Mets caps, perhaps going down as the greatest, most consistent, most accomplished left side of the infield in, if not baseball history, at least Mets history.  And when the Mets and a still young Reyes and Wright made it to the playoffs in 2006, the future looked bright.  Even if our souls were crushed along with Carlos Beltran’s knees on that Adam Wainwright curveball, the future looked bright.  These were our guys, the ones who were going to take us to the top of the mountain.  And even after season after season of disappointment and collapse and calamity, we remained steadfast.  Yes,  things looked bleak, but we stayed committed.  And as Jose entered the final year of his contract and the trade winds swirled around him we held to our hope that he would stay in the orange and blue, and we clung to that feeling in the off-season when he became a free agent, because we made a decision a long time ago to go all-in with this team, with those two players.  Even if we had endured a half-decade a misery, even if we didn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel, we had willingly put all our eggs in that basket, and were determined to see it through.  Unfortunately, neither the Mets nor Jose Reyes felt the same way, and essentially the day after the season ended Jose was sporting a Marlins hard hat, and he was a goner.

But then a funny thing happened.  We didn’t feel anger or despair.  What we felt was relief.  Because while we’ve seen that Jose Reyes can be the best player in baseball, the Porsche engine in the Mets Corolla body, we’ve also watched him limp through season after season, and as effective as he can be when he’s going 100% we know how his game suffers when he engages the restrictor plate.  And we know how apprehensive he seems to be whenever he comes back from injury, taking weeks, months to release the shackles and really fly.  And now we don’t have to endure those periods.  Even moreso, we didn’t commit $100 million and then spend the next six years holding our breath, praying his hamstring doesn’t pop.  Because it’s a when, not an if.  He might not have a career or even season ending injury as a Marlin, but those same issues will crop up, and as he gets older (and, as crazy as it is to consider, he is getting older), there’s a good chance they’ll be more frequent and more severe, and probably more difficult from which to recover.  There’s a likely scenario where the Marlins end up paying for several years of a 3/4-speed Jose Reyes, at a pretty steep cost. The Mets have been down that road with Pedro and Carlos Beltran and now Johan Santana.  There was no need to revisit that path with Reyes.

In addition to the great risk of injury (and our relaxed heart rates now that we don’t have to wait for that injury), the other reason Jose’s loss is not so severe is that they’ve moved in the Citi Field fences.  The park as originally conceived was built for Jose Reyes and for pitching.  And that was how the team was constructed, to take advantage of that configuration.  The contours of the outfield walls were designed for triples, with deep, high walls and quirks and coves that would allow Jose to run for days.  Not so anymore.  Yes, lots of his triples may now be home runs, but by cutting down the available real estate out there, there’s only so much room for the ball to roll around, which would be prohibitive for a triples specialist like Reyes (and, conversely, beneficial to David Wright, Jason Bay, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda).

2. Daniel Murphy is the Starting Second Baseman

Yes, Daniel Murphy is defensively challenged, across the diamond but especially at second.  Yes, he looks particularly awkward out there, making every play, no matter how routine, cause for alarm.  But he’s got an experienced coaching cadre (notably Wally Backman and Tim Teufel), and he has an incredible work ethic.  And he’s got something else he’s never had before in his misadventures at second base.  The time to practice the position.  It should be noted – neigh, stressed – that while Murphy was technically in the 2nd base derby last spring, he saw limited in action at the position, and spent most of Spring Training serving  essentially as a utility infielder.  As you may recall, the Mets took every opportunity they could to showcase Luis Castillo, or at least prove that he was washed up, and then made it clear that they wanted rule 5 draft pick and sudden golden boy Brad Eamus to win the job (how’d that turn out?), while also giving cursory looks at Justin Turner and Ruben Tejada at the position.  And while we haven’t looked at the numbers, that probably only left a handful of games in which Murph got some legitimate experience at 2nd base, and it’s possible he went all of March without getting a double play chance.  Then, it’s also worth noting – neigh, stressing – that when Murph busted hit knee trying to turn a double play he was at that time the everyday 1st baseman, taking over after Ike went down (and after he quickly wrested the 2nd base job from Eamus, while also filling in at 3rd for the injured David Wright). Murph was only at 2nd base that night because Reyes had gotten hurt (see? Don’t have to worry about that anymore) and Turner moved over from 2nd to replace him, and it’s highly likely that Murph hadn’t recently been taking any infield practice at the position, let alone had any in-game experience.  Yes, he tried to make the turn awkwardly, haphazardly, but he was frankly playing out of position, and to ask him to be the utility infielder is asking too much.  But with a full spring working on the position and (hopefully) not getting moved around the infield everyday when the season starts, it’s not out of the realm of possibility to think that Murph can do a serviceable job at 2nd.  We know he’ll hit, so serviceable will be enough (we also think that Reyes was lucky that Murphy went down with that knee injury.  It’s a stretch, but the way that he was lacing the ball, ripping double after double, we felt like Murphy was coming for Reyes, and when all was said and done could have eclipsed Jose for the batting title.  We at least know that Murphy would’ve gone down swinging, and played the whole game too).

3. The Mets Play in the NL East

How’s this for counterintuitive?  The Mets play in arguably the strongest division in baseball, and that might actually be to their advantage.  Yes, they have to go through the buzzsaw of the dominant Phillies, the always tough Braves, the up-and-coming Nationals and the revamped Marlins, but they all do.  And, while on paper the Mets seem like the weakest matchup in the division, those teams may wind up beating each other up, giving the Mets at least a decent chance at ending up north of the division basement.  Plus, we happen to think that the Marlins, while seemingly loaded for this season with the acquisitions of Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle, Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen, are a ticking time bomb.  Too many big personalities, too many undisciplined players, and a manager who might be the biggest loose cannon of them all, in a market that has yet to prove it can sustain baseball.  Yes, their ownership committed millions of dollars to put a talented team in their shiny new stadium, but all things considered, we’ll take the franchise based in Flushing (and, looking forward, the Phillies mortgaged their future to go for it with Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and they’re only a season or two away from a roster dotted with bloated contracts and broken-down, aging players).

4. Fred Wilpon is the Owner/Omar Minaya was the GM

Yes, Fred Wilpon has been vilified for cutting the Mets payroll, and for refusing to acknowledge his financial crisis and sell the team in the wake of Bernie Madoff mess.  But despite the tightening of the purse strings and the apparently empty coffers, we can take heart in the commitment of our owner.  Whether or not he’s struggling to pay the bills or just taking a crack at fiscal conservancy, we don’t question that Fred Wilpon wants to win, that he bleeds orange and blue (even if that’s Mets orange and Dodger Blue).  And as crazy and irrational as it sounds, we’d take him over some other owners, because even though the front office has clearly been scraping the bottom of the barrel with their off-season acquisitions (or avoiding the barrel entirely and hoping someone in-house can do the job approximately as well and even cheaper), we still believe that if, by some miracle, the Mets wind up in contention for one of the wild card spots, then Wilpon will dig deep and find the coin to add pieces.  Call us naive, but we have to hold onto something.  The franchise will have to be pried from his cold, dead hands.  We just have to pray that there will be a couple more World Series rings on those dead fingers.

On the other hand, over a year removed from Omar Minaya we can actually look back and be thankful for some of the moves that he made, while being eternally grateful that he’s no longer steering the ship (into the ground).  There’s no denying that he was woeful as GM, giving far too many expensive contracts to far too many older and/or mediocre players, but on the other hand, we can’t ignore the talent that was brought into the system under his regime.  Guys like Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese and Matt Harvey.  And if David Wright does leave the Mets during this season or after, it’ll be those guys who will be the leaders, the core (and it’s worth noting that Wright was drafted under Minaya’s original tenure with the team, when he served as Assistant GM).  So, as has already been discussed at length, while Minaya’s time as GM ended in disaster, we’ll be seeing the fruit of his labors for years to come (and, with Minaya out of the picture, we’re more likely to watch these players blossom, instead of being shipping off for overpriced veterans).

5. Moneyball Doesn’t Work

But how could that be a good thing?  The Mets have both of Billy Beane’s chief deputies in their front office, Paul DePodesta and JP Ricciardi, the human embodiments of Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand, so if there’s any team in the majors other than the A’s that’s going to cling to the principles of Moneyball  it’s the Mets, right?  Well, we say no.  Because while those A’s teams of the early 2000s were the poster children for Moneyball, with those two guys providing the numbers and council for Beane, no team has won a World Series strictly adhering to that approach.  Yes, Theo Epstein and the Red Sox broke the curse by importing some of those Oakland ideals, but also with a significant bankroll to back it up.  And Ricciardi and DePodesta went onto general manage the Blue Jays and Dodgers respectively, with neither achieving great success, while also showing a willingness to open the checkbook ($47 million to BJ Ryan, $55 million to JD Drew, respectively).  So to think – or fear – that the Mets will be a strictly Moneyball team that will value OBP above all else is a bit foolhardy.  In addition, it’s possible that Sandy Alderson, the man who hired Billy Beane in Oakland, has been lumped in somewhat unfairly with the Moneyball revolution.  Yes, he has longtime ties to the these people, and obviously trusts and values DePodesta and Riccardi (and spending wisely), but he’s also the man who presided over the Bash Brothers.  So, perhaps, while Alderson has stressed payroll flexibility above all else, he may also dig the long ball.  Which means that, when the right players are available, he won’t be putting this ball club together with just chewing gum, spit and base-on-balls.

So there you go.  If Jose Reyes blows out his hamstring, Daniel Murphy doesn’t blow out his, every team in the NL East plays .500 ball against each other, Fred Wilpon finds some $1000 bills in the couch, Minaya’s draft picks uniformly breakout, Sandy Alderson decides to go for broke, and Jason Bay and Johan Santana have bounce back seasons, things may just turn out okay for the 2012 Mets.  Ya Gotta Believe.

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