When Jesse Orosco fanned Marty Barrett my dad and I instantaneously flew off the couch. This wasn’t the man who taught me how to ride a bike, how to drive a car and (tried to) teach me math. There wasn’t 23 years between us. Instead, at this frozen moment in time we were both two little kids, jumping up and down, relishing the fact our team was World Champions. I was too young to remember 1969 and after losing my dad nearly five years ago, this would be the only championship we’d share as father and son.
After my mom turned in he and I reminisced until sunup about the season that just concluded. We drank coffee, my dad smoked. And although I was a college senior and a few weeks shy of turning 21, I was still too embarrassed to light up around him. My smoking—of all kinds—remained on campus. My dad commented, “Now, we (the Mets) have to go home, rest up all winter and prepare for next year. We’re champions and everyone’s going to be coming after us.”
Wow! My dad seemed almost Yoda-like. Wise, knowledgeable. After all, he was the ripe old age of 44.
Today the Mets are not World Champions but NL Champions. And in 2016, 14 other clubs will once again be coming after us. Are we ready?
One thing that makes Baseball the greatest game ever devised is that it remains the most unpredictable sport there is. I, my fellow MMO bloggers, the best Baseball minds, the nation’s top sportswriters and the most ardent fans spend all winter theorizing, hypothesizing and conjecturing. Then comes the first pitch on Opening Day and it all goes out the window.
Coming into 2015, who would have imagined a player that had largely floundered for much of his career in Baltimore, Jake Arrieta, would emerge Cy Young Winner? Or that some guy named Dallas Kuechel would win only one less game than Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander combined?
While many expected the Mets to be competitive and possibly reach 500, who expected a NL pennant? In 1969, the Mets were 100-1 underdogs. On the flipside, in 1985 and 2007 they were picked to win it all. That’s what makes this a beautiful game.
To digress for a moment I now apologize to Sandy Alderson. Almost from day one I’ve been extremely and perhaps unfairly harsh to the Mets GM. I preferred the approach of his predecessor. Big names, big bucks. I falsely blamed Alderson for the last several seasons of futility. After winning the pennant, I realized he can only do so much with what he is given. Blaming Alderson for several season of sub-500 baseball is like me blaming my boss for the fact I drive a Toyota and not a Lamborghini.
It is on his watch the Mets have developed a starting staff that is the envy of 29 other clubs. As good as Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard were in 2015, they will only get better. These young pitchers not only survived their first pennant race and post-season. They thrived. They excelled. Performing on Baseball’s biggest stage did not rattle the nerves of our young inexperienced staff.
I’ve often said pitching allows you to compete, but pitching, in and of itself, does not win. From 1969 through 1976, the Mets had arguably the best 3-man rotation in the game. Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman teamed first with Nolan Ryan and then later Jon Matlack. Add Tug McGraw in the pen and it’s easy to see why for 8 years the Mets were always in the thick of things, always in a pennant race and always had a legitimate shot. Yet, during that 8 year span, despite the stellar staff, we captured just two pennants and one Championship. Good, not great. Not exactly a dynasty.
The Mets Achilles Heel in 2015 was offense. They say good hitting is contagious. On July 30, the Mets were 52-50, 3 GB of Washington. Then, Yoenis Cespedes arrived. The Mets caught fire, went 38-22 and left Washington in the dust.
Cespedes didn’t don a Mets jersey until July 31, yet finished 5th on the team in RBI’s (44), 3rd in HR’s (17) 2nd in BA (287) and 1st in slugging (604.) And when Cespedes cooled in the post-season, it was Daniel Murphy who put the team on his back and almost single-handedly carried them to the Promised Land. The Mets homegrown second baseman became the first player in history to go deep in six consecutive post-season games and joined Lou Gehrig as the only player ever to have a hit, run scored and RBI in seven straight post-season games.
This winter Mets ownership made a token effort to retain the two biggest offensive weapons a team with very little offense possesses in the first place.
In all fairness to the owners, I can understand their reluctance to open their wallets. After all, they forked over almost half a billion dollars—billion with a “B”—to Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Billy Wagner, Johan Santana, Jason Bay and Francisco Rodriguez and came away with just one post-season appearance. Not exactly a Bernie Madoff return on your investment.
The Mets are now on the cusp of becoming the dominant team in the game for the next 6-8 years, maybe longer. But money will need to be spent. Not for the sake of spending, but spent wisely. If ownership is reluctant to spend big bucks now, what does this say when it comes to retaining the pitchers we have? Are the Wilpons simply avoiding spending now and saving up for big contracts coming down the road? Or are we seeing a glimpse into the future?
My concern is that when a team gets oh-so-close, when they get a taste of October Baseball, they ratchet it up. The 2014 Royals returned to the World Series for the first time in almost three decades. They came within one hit of winning it all. That winter they resigned Eric Hosmer, Yordano Ventura, Edinson Volquez, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and added Alex Rios. And we all saw what happened in 2015. The Giants, after winning 3 times in 5 seasons, fell short in 2015. This winter they spent $210 million for Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija and now have the best staff in their division. Last off-season, after handing over $88 million to Hanley Ramirez and $100 million to Pablo Sandoval, Boston went out and finished last. Yet, they didn’t become gun-shy. This winter they signed David Price for $217 million.
And while Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera are nice additions and Michael Conforto can be a major asset, do you feel that, as of now, the Mets are better or weaker than the team we had on August 15? I’m not saying ownership should spend just for the sake of spending, and yes, I know we can trade a half dozen prospects next trade deadline. I am saying, however, that money will need to be spent eventually. As the saying goes, you can pay me now or pay me later. What kind of signal does this send to our young aces? If management is hesitant to reward Cespedes and Murphy for their accomplishments, will our pitchers be rewarded for theirs? And with anemic hitting and lack of run support, will our big three—and Matz–wind up as nothing more than a bunch of .500 pitchers? In time, the agents for our young stud pitchers will come calling? And when they do, will ownership pick up the phone?
The only thing more difficult than getting to the top is staying there.