I’ve been reading many pieces in the national and local press suggesting that 2013 stands to be an especially fallow year for the New York baseball fan. The reasoning behind this assertion is based almost entirely on two assumptions:
1. The Mets will continue to tread the path of mediocrity with little or no hope of securing a post-season berth.
2. The Yankees, with their roster gutted of talent by injuries and free agent defections and having entered the new Hal Steinbrenner era of suddenly tightened purse strings, will likely join the Flushing crew in the steerage section of this year’s cruise to October.
As a lifelong Met fan, I have had to deal with the reality of a Yankee-centric world view for what seems like ages. Yes, the Bronx outfit has the history, the pageantry, and the 27 championships that every Yankee fan loves to flog us with, but is it right to assume that if one club faces the possibility of a down year and the other is engaged in a rebuild that the fan expectation should be the same for both? I think not.
A comparison of the two teams’ rosters and short-term outlook reveals a startlingly different dynamic at work. The Yanks, having sworn to hold the line at a payroll of $189 million and carrying the albatross of A-Rod’s contract for years to come, find themselves with an aging, patchwork roster and a farm system that lacks sufficient talent at the higher levels to compensate. To a degree, this is a natural outcome of having competed so well for long. Looking to seize the opportunity to “win now” during their impressive run, the Yanks quite understandably swapped many of their better prospects for the pieces that are now characterized as over-priced and under-productive.
The Mets by contrast look to me to be a team ascendant. Yes, my faith in the Alderson plan has been tested at times, and my frustration at having so many articles on my favorite team take the form of cautionary tales in the financial section rather than headlines on the back pages is still fresh in my mind. Still, I think that there is every reason to be optimistic about the present for this team, as the backbone of the rotation looks to be taking shape in the season just ahead. The relative youth at core of the lineup, soon to be bolstered by what portends to be one of the better catching corps in the game gives me hope. And not the kind of hope that springs from a hollow wish for a miracle, but rather the kind that recognizes a strategy that has worked both recently and in the past. Essentially, a strategy that reflects the belief that “pitching wins pennants.”
Given the relatively low levels of the Mets’ current payroll, should we not expect that money will be spent to strengthen the roster if the need and opportunity arise? Yes, we’re all skeptical of the Wilpons’ declarations of solvency and of Sandy Alderson’s purported “choice” to hold back expenditures on previous occasions, but as the current edition of the team continues to take shape, I believe that even a Johan-less rotation that features Niese, Harvey and Wheeler by mid-season will be one to be reckoned with. Management knows that fans will come out for a team that wins often enough, even if they do not necessarily figure to land in the playoffs that year. A COMPETITIVE team is what we all yearn for, at base, because that is what gives us a reason to believe. I see this year’s team as rating the decision to pull the trigger on a few possible moves if circumstances dictate it.
So please, do not lump the Mets in with the Yankees oh mighty sports press. The Citi Field squad may not boast the apparent thunder of the Braves or Nats, nor the free-spending ways of the Dodger brass, but they elicit some positive adjectives that sound like they come from an ad for a local natural foods store: “home grown,” and “organic.” The old-fashioned approach of building a team from within and letting its farm system form a base for fan loyalty has worked before and worked in Queens (let us not forget the success of the Frank Cashen regime). Those who say that one cannot use a patient approach in New York have often found themselves with no choice once other strategies have failed. I think that the Mets’ position at this point must look positively enviable from a Yankee’s perspective.
We want to welcome Gerry to the MMO staff and most of you may remember him from his MMO Fan Shots. We’re glad to add him to our team and you can look forward to some more great pieces from him in the future.