Is It Time to Think 2011?
I’ll admit it: Patience is not one of my virtues. After all, I live in New York City where your blood pressure can reach the danger zone just trying to drive from the east side to the west side or watching Oliver Perez pitch. And when you’re a passionate baseball fan in your 50s, you’re not that fond of channeling dearly departed Brooklyn Dodgers fans and humming, “Wait till next year.” BUT, fellow Mets fans, we have to face facts, read the handwriting on the wall, bite the bullet and all those other wonderful clichés of resignation now that it is obvious (after the Halladay and Lackey non-signings and the likely non-signings of Holliday and Bay) we don’t really have a shot at beating out the Phillies this year unless whatever crippled our team last year is contagious and moves south.
Frankly, the seeds for Omar Minaya’s failure to entice top free agents to the Mets were sown over the last three years of on-field debacles–which when added to the pressurized atmosphere of playing in New York–has likely alienated any free agent who isn’t a client of Scott Boras (who would gladly send one of his non-pitching clients to hit in the Grand Canyon if a team paid enough money). You would think that American League pitchers such as Halladay and Lackey would salivate at the notion of throwing in pitcher-friendly CitiField (the ridiculously oversized house that Jeff built) to lineups without DHs. But no, Lackey stayed in the AL to pitch against the Yankees three or four times a year and Halladay decided to pitch in a bandbox. Nice.
Having said that (to quote “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), I’m in favor of Omar not making a reaction signing to pump season ticket sales or to save his job. Signing Jason Bay for five years? Are you crazy? Only a borderline superstar gets that kind of length on a deal. Bay projects to be the kind of player that will already seem overpaid by year three. While I like the idea of signing Benji Molina, no way a 36-year-old catcher gets three guaranteed years.
Look, Minaya and Manuel are already dead men walking. What Mets fans need to do is steel themselves for a 2010 season where we can be competitive and find out if all our injured players from last season are healthy, if David Wright’s 2009 stats were an aberration, if Jonathan Niese and Fernando Nieve can be reliable starters, and if Daniel Murphy can be a solid everyday player. How can we be competitive? We sign a couple of middle of the rotation “Marquis” names, try to bring in Orlando Hudson to play second base, perhaps use Mike Pelfrey and Fernando Martinez as trade bait for a young outfielder or veteran arm and gear up for a run in 2011. The bottom line is this: Jeff Wilpon should not let Minaya talk him into throwing money at the remaining free agents just so they can save face or possibly contend for a wild card. Does this sound a little like the Mets would be the New York Knicks? Perhaps, but I’m not suggesting throwing away the season, just not bankrupting future pennant runs for a quick fix or to save face.
We need to have–dare I say it?–patience. This knee-jerk reaction to Halladay and Lackey going elsewhere is misguided and just wasted energy. We have to start from scratch next year with a new front office and field manager and use the knowledge gained from this season (i.e. is Jose Reyes ever going to be a championship player?) and the money saved to sign next year’s crop of free agents and make trades. Unless they suddenly re-up with their current clubs or my research is faulty, the following players will be available on the open market: Derek Lee, A.J. Pierzynski, Joe Mauer, Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn, Jason Werth, Cliff Lee, Brandon Webb, Huston Street and Aaron Heilman (just kidding).
Perhaps looking at that list you’re thinking, “Well, Halladay, Lackey and Bay are better than a lot of those guys.” But frankly, I’d rather have Crawford and Werth than Bay, and if he’s healthy, Webb just as much as Lackey. And what if, by some miracle, Mauer doesn’t sign with Minnesota and after the Mets just miss on taking the wild card this year, he feels he’s the guy to put them over the top (like Gary Carter did in 1985). We can dream, can’t we?
So I don’t think we should rip Omar Minaya for not signing stars who weren’t going to sign here this year. We should rip Omar Minaya for creating a situation over the last three years which made it completely unpalatable for a star player to WANT to sign here. And while the 2009 injury bug excuse is a valid one, there were other problems that prevented this organization from competing last season. 2010 has to be devoted to rebuilding the foundation and setting the stage for next season. But the architect and builder must be a new GM and manager (if not a new owner, but that’s too much to ask for).
So my fellow Mets fans, take a deep breath and resolve that starting today you are going to be patient. Except when Oliver Perez pitches.
About the Author: Stephen Hanks
Stephen Hanks (Tom Terrific) is a magazine editor and writer based in Brooklyn, NY, who has been the publisher and editorial director of publications ranging in subjects from sports to health to archaeology. Hanks began his career at the late, great SPORT Magazine in 1977 and in 1983, he co-founded NEW YORK SPORTS Magazine (which ceased publication in 1985). He has written and edited coffee table books on baseball history, penned unauthorized biographies of Bo Jackson and Wayne Gretzky, and in 1990 authored "The Game That Changed Pro Football," an oral history of the 1969 New York Jets Super Bowl Season. Stephen has also played baseball for 45 years and currently plays in an Over-40 hardball league based in Northern New Jersey. Even though he grew up near Yankee Stadium, he loathes the team from the Bronx and has been a die-hard Mets fan since attending his first game at the Polo Grounds in 1963.
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