Have the Mets Reached a Turning Point?

strawberry hernandezThe 1983 Mets finished their season winning 31 of their final 60 games, including a stretch from July 31st to August 23rd where they went 15-7. They also won six of their final eight. Many will point to 1984 and the way the Mets stormed out of the gate as the turning point, but for me, the writing was on the wall as early as the second half of 1983, when their run in early August signaled a team that was playing .500 baseball with real signs of promise. I’ve been waiting for a similar moment in a Mets season for the past 3 years without so much as a smidgen of hope.

That may be changing. The Mets have gone 20-14 since a pivotal June 16th walk-off win against the Cubs. They are currently 9 games under .500. They have not only been playing better lately, they have managed to beat some pretty good teams. The Mets have been scoring more, pitching better, and the bullpen has been surprisingly solid. While Sandy Alderson’s moves over the past three years have been suspect or inconsequential, 2013 has seen a pronounced string of good signings and shrewd trades.

Marlon Byrd, Scott Rice, LaTroy Hawkins, Carlos Torres, David Aardsma, Eric Young Jr have all played their parts well.

The good moves are starting to pile up, but I wonder whether part of that may have more to do with the organization as a whole turning their focus and resources more to the major league club? For the past three years the focus has clearly been on building up the farm and improving development programs, that also appears to be shifting.

The thing about Alderson is he is fairly conservative in that he will do what’s been proven. Stockpiling quality pitching in the minor leagues is a no-brainer … doing it during a period when the owners are distressed and unable to spend much makes it all the better because they have an excuse for not fielding a competitive team.

Alderson’s catchphrase since he’s gotten here has been sustainability. I don’t think he cares all that much about the Mets’ win-loss record over the past few years, but I think Alderson and his assistants are starting to because the fruits of their labor in the minor leagues are getting closer, and the fan base has finally had enough. They’re pushing their luck asking for a 3 or 4 year rebuilding phase from a beleaguered Met fan base. It’s all about timing. We’re getting to the point where even a lengthy small market rebuilding plan would have run it’s course, and the natives are getting restless.

The real effect of Alderson’s tenure probably won’t be felt until he’s gone. The plan to propel the Mets into perennial contention involves a sustainable minor league system focused on producing quality pitchers and a budget where big contracts are staggered, allowing for flexibility … we get it. If you need a model for the kind of pitching based sustainability we speak of, look no further than the Rays, who continue to churn out ace caliber pitching year after year (Chris Archer anyone?). That they would actually consider trading David Price in the midst of a season where they are not only contending but are probably the most dominant team in the game over the past month, is mind boggling.

syndergaard montero nimmoAlderson’s plan is clearly to construct something along these lines. Whether it will work or not remains to be seen, but honestly, as a Met fan you can’t help but be excited about Harvey, Wheeler, Montero, Syndergaard and the slew of quality arms moving through the system. The hope, for the Mets, is that sometime in the very near future we will finally see a confluence of this pitching reaching maturity, and a sizable bump in spending, which should theoretically move the team into almost certain contention. But this isn’t Kansas City, it’s not even Pittsburgh … New York has been remarkably patient with this down period and we’ve reached the point where the team needs to show us something. It is increasingly looking like this something may indeed occur as soon as 2014, but is it happening even now?

Was the June 16th win against the Cubs the turning point? It was also around this time that something else occurred. On June 18th the Mets called up Zack Wheeler. Has a legitimate second fire-balling threat on the Mets rotation, triggered a kind of tipping point? Two aces, that’s been the recipe, from Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, to Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, to Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum, there have been numerous examples of teams who’ve managed to win with two aces atop their rotations and little else.  Alderson and his brain-trust have hedged their bets on their ability to augment Harvey with at least one more ace caliber pitcher over the next few seasons. Between Wheeler, Noah Syndergaard, and Rafael Montero, you’ve got to like their chances.

It’s true that one reason Alderson was brought in was to slash the budget and right the financial ship, but Alderson almost certainly also saw it as an opportunity to tear the system down with impunity and build it back up in a very different way. An opportunity that, ironically, would not have been available were it not for the Madoff disaster. They knew they had a good 2-3 year window during which time the Wilpons and their spending cuts would be perceived as the main culprits, so they had a chance to implement strategies and program models typically seen in smaller markets while the fans lamented a financially challenged ownership group.

Whether you are an Alderson apologist or a detractor, there is no doubt that signs are pointing up. Pitching wins, and there is nothing like having a couple of lights-out no-doubt show stopping arms in the rotation with several more in the pipeline. Whether or not you believe that dawn is finally breaking over this long dark baseball night for Mets fans, and regardless of where you stand on current management, the team is winning. Granted it’s a limited sample, but, dare I say it, the team’s current play has a sustainable feel to it. That they rebounded Tuesday night the way they did after Monday’s heart wrenching loss says something.

wheeler, harvey, geeThe question that looms as we head towards the trade deadline increasingly appears to be whether this Met team has a miracle run in them. They are 11 games back of both the first place Braves as well as the Wild Card with 66 games left to play. Crazier things have happened and did so with this franchise twice before. It nevertheless sounds as if Alderson is content to stand pat with one or two minor trades, and then only if the moves stand to benefit the team “moving forward.” Another way of saying they do not intend to trade away any core prospects. While trading Byrd and Parnell would likely be a death knell to the season, trading any of our prized pitching prospects for a bat may take away from the “critical mass” of pitching they’ve been stockpiling. We’re not quite where the Rays are in terms of being able to trade from a known and established talent pool.

It’s a tough call, and, as always, Alderson appears to be straddling the fence. He may trade Byrd and hold onto Parnell, he may trade a lower level pitching prospect but not any of our bigger names, he may simply continue to bide his time until he can spend and more of our prospects come on line. Personally I’d rather he take the conservative route.

As much as I’m beginning to enjoy the games again with an eye on an outside shot at some real drama, I wouldn’t risk 2014 by trading from the pitching that appears to be at the center of the limited success we’ve been enjoying for the past month. I’d rather stay the course, particularly as the present course appears to be winning more games than it’s losing.

About Matt Balasis 151 Articles
A Met fan since August 1969 when the Red Cross placed my family on the 6th floor of a building in Willets Point because of a fire. I could see Shea from our balcony. I missed the fall of 86 because I was in Boot Camp and I've been serving penance ever since in Minnesota. I write about the Mets to share with a tradition that made much of my childhood worthwhile. Follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/MatthewBalasis