Hold The Champagne

An article by posted on December 12, 2013

We’re all such Mets fans.

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Give us the smallest spark of hope, the tiniest roster change, one decent WHIP, or a great year two or three seasons in the past for an aging player, and we’re practically giddy with excitement. Oh, the Mets – serious wild card contenders at last! We never should have doubted zen master Sandy! What a starting pitching staff! We’ve gone from “no outfield” to “what an outfield!” in words of a great New York baseball sage.

It’s like a hostage tape. We’ve been conditioned so long to seeing Willie Mays in every Matt den Dekker infield single, to looking inside advanced statistics on every scrap-heap signing to find that one tiny glimmer of upside, to continuing to think of our front office as “world class,” that even the smallest sparks are like brilliant bonfires after a long, deep night of diamond discontent.

So this is the big off-season for 2014, the Promised Land for long-suffering National League fans in the largest sports market in the baseball universe? The big contracts off the books, the budget back up to nine figures (so said Alderson as recently as June), the Mets with open checkbook going big-game hunting to fill those empty seats and move up in the standings.

Hold the champagne, people. I’ve lived through big acquisitions from Willie Montanez to Ellis Valentine, Randy Jones to Mickey Lolich – and this, not to put too fine a point on it, feels like that. Which is to say, duct tape rather than a real renovation.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m bullish on exactly one area of Mets development – the young arms. But even that group, as a whole, carries a 50/50 house line on success long-term. Who knows if Wheeler will perform in the glare of a year without Harvey. Who knows if Mejia comes back yet again after flashes of brilliance. Who knows if Syndergaard moves from list hype to major league success. Who knows if Montero really is among the most polished young starters in organized baseball. Frankly, I think we know what we have in Niese and Gee. And the rest.

The Big Three that has so many fans and Mets Twitter analysts pogoing like they’re at a Ramones concert just after the Mets grabbed Keith Hernandez? Curtis Granderson, Chris Young, Bartolo Colon.

Let me say that again, slowly.

Curtis Granderson.

Chris Young.

Bartolo Colon.

Hosanna in the highest, hail to Sandy on earth. Here’s the thing, folks – these are all players you sign to complement an existing core of talent. They’re the kind of guys the Red Sox, or Cardinals, or Yankees traditionally bring on mid-winter to add depth, make a decent-sized bet, buy some insurance, or create competition for a job. They do not constitute, in any meaningful way on their own, a core of talent. For one thing, all but Granderson is signed for the immediate short-term. For another, they range in age from 30 to 40. And they’re all significant injury risks. You know their upsides by now – heck, the Mets have really done a great job pushing the “big off-season” narrative – so let the resident Mets Misanthrope have a quick shot at this, shall we?

Granderson – The best acquisition of the three, Grandy is a fine baseball fellow who loves playing in New York and does hit for serious power. That would be when he hits, of course. He’s a .230 hitter the last two seasons, and over the last five seasons, hit just .246 – which includes his fantastic 2011 career year when he finished fourth in the balloting for American League MVP. His on-base average for those years hovers at just above .320. His strikeout average is 27.7% for the same period – and getting worse. All that said, Granderson has legit power, a premium in today’s game. He may still hit 30 homers in Citi Field, but the Mets will be asking him to bat clean-up – a lineup position he’s held exactly seven times in his major league career. Put his strikeout rate next to David Wright‘s – and potentially next to Lucas Duda and Chris Young – and there will be quite the breeze behind the plate at Citi Field this year. Oh, and then there are the unfortunate Jason Bay age parallels, brilliantly covered by Joe Janish over at MetsToday.

Young – Chris Young is a .235 career hitter who hit .200 last season and has a .315 lifetime OBP with decent occasional power. For a winning team, he’s a nice fourth or fifth outfielder signing, especially for an American League team. As a bulwark of “what an outfield!” – remember, this remark comes from one of New York’s keenest baseball minds – he’s the caliber of a longshot in a claiming race out at Belmont. The new Mets slugger slugged .379 last year. His OPS+ was 85 (heck it was only 98 the year before). It’s hard to see where Young, 31 in September and signed to a one year deal for $7.25 million, is a better move for the Mets than playing Eric Young and a cohort of youngsters. And if Chris Young takes any playing time away from the quickly developing Juan Lagares – and you know Terry Collins loves him some veterans! – this front office should resign en masse in a ceremonial parting on the Shea Bridge, where they can then find gainful employment helping to deconstruct the businesses across 126th Street from the Mets offices.

Colon – Veteran pitcher. Great late career renaissance. PED user. Lengthens the Mets starting staff significantly, particularly without Matt Harvey. I get the strategy, and don’t think it’s a horrid gamble – but it’s hardly “we’ll win the wild card!” news. Colon put up some great numbers last year, but here’s the number that matters most for a 40-year-old pitcher moving to the National League: Colon, who turns 41 in May by the way, is listed at 265 pounds. That’s listed, which as you know is pretty much akin to “paid attendance” at mid-week games on cold September nights at Citi Field. Let’s kindly call it an estimate. Now, see what I’m seeing – Bartolo Colon batting, Bartolo Colon bunting, Bartolo Colon “running” – sorry, had to put that in quotes – and you won’t be surprised to see what I also see: Bartolo Colon on the DL by Memorial Day.

Perhaps Alderson and the world class front office have more tricks up their sleeves, beyond these complementary acquisitions. Perhaps this is merely the start of a massive infusion of major league talent in Queens. But I see the rush to off-load the smallish money due Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy (merely the team MVP in 2013) and I’m seeing a grimy tinkerer’s workbench rather than a brilliant magician’s lair.

So cheer if you must, my fellow hostages! But hold the champagne.

mmo

About the Author ()

Tom Watson became a Mets fan in 1969. His favorite player is Cleon Jones. He is two weeks older than Darryl Strawberry. Tom writes the Social Ventures column for Forbes and teaches in the philanthropy masters program at NYU. He is president of CauseWired, a consulting firm serving nonprofits and causes and has written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, techPresident.com, Social Edge, Industry Standard, Inside, Worth and Contribute magazines, among many other publications. Tom is the author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008 ) a best-selling book that chronicles the rise of online social activism.

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