Upon news breaking of Jose Reyes signing his six-year $106 million contract with the (Miami) Marlins, a beleaguered Mets fan whose face I can almost picture in my mind, wailed something like this: "it is a dark day. Perhaps the most exciting player in Mets history gone, without the Wilpons ever really trying to sign him long-term." This I could sort of roll along with, though you can read my thoughts on Jose Reyes and his long-term benefits here. But then he added, with not insufficient poutiness, "I think I'm following Bobby V to the BoSox. The Mets have nothing for me." Boston fans should take note, that despite the Red Sox epic 2011 collapse and the ensuing circus of sandbox foolishness, there remain baseball fans who lust for your lot. Surely this Mets fan was indulging in histrionics; he is, after all, a Mets fan. But to help ease the pain of waving goodbye to "the most exciting player in Mets history", I will offer a helping hand in the art of patience. And as a Cubs fan, I know a bit about it. After all, the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs are in eerily similar positions.
Reyes leaving New York is not the real problem. Nor is the real problem that he signed with the division rival Marlins. The real problem is that the Mets deluded themselves into getting nothing for him. And they did this by succumbing to the pressure cooked up by hordes of Met fans like the man mentioned above (and of course, NY media blowhards). The Wilpons knew they had to let go. To let go of the team they had. To let go of any possibility of competing in 2012. In 2013. In 2014. They knew this before the 2011 Trade Deadline and before Reyes was injured...again. And yet they paid service to the belly-aching and sadness of short-sighted fans and feigned the possibility of re-signing Reyes. And that has backfired now, because as most everybody knew (outside of New York), there was never a real possibility of signing Reyes. The Mets financial debacle has been well-documented (if you like, you can read a bit about it here). Curse rich, greedy, unaccountable owners all you like; we will never be rid of them. But we've got what we've got. And it's no reason to bail on a team, and certainly not the game. Owners have always done their part to ruin this most wonderful game. And they always fail. Flushing, New York is simply the most recent and well-executed attempt by an owner to sever the fans from the game (hyperbole admitted). In their initial exuberance, Met fans appear to be falling for it, some fan outlets even crying boycott of the 2012 season. I say boo-frakking-hoo. Hate your owner, love your team.
|Fred the American|
The Mets have no tangible reason to look forward to 2012. And that's fine. Every team has similar periods of flushing the waste and starting over. The problem with Met fans, the same as with Cub fans, is that they were buoyed by a new-found sense of richness and possibility. Expectancy created by free spending. Omar Minaya built a team to win around his young homegrown talents, namely Jose Reyes and David Wright. Mets fans along with all of baseball were excited by these two very good ballplayers. Everyone loves a dynamic farm talent. Minaya bolstered this core with Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Johan Santana, Fransisco Rodriguez, and others. The team was built to win, and they did for a while. A lot of money was spent. They should have won the pennant in 2006, and if it hadn't been for those slippery stairs in Miami that felled Pedro, they might well have. There is no doubt having a still formidable Pedro hurling instead of Oliver Perez against the Cardinals would have yielded better results. But of course, things happen. Mets fans must let go. Those teams had their chance and came up short. It is time to move on.
And yes, that means letting go of Reyes and Wright. I love one-team career players more than most, but Wright and Reyes being homegrown does not make them more precious at the end of the day. Trading them is not a slap in the face to fans. Holding on to them and their huge salaries when there is no possibility of winning is a slap in the face. The Mets should have traded Reyes. They screwed the pooch on that one. And now, they damn well better trade David Wright, hopefully after a first-half that sees Wright surging with the pulled-in outfield fences. Wright will definitely NOT be around when the Mets are competitive again regardless of any potential extensions. And his salary will only delay the Mets climb back to relevance. New York may be a big market, that should allow the Wilpons to spend big money. But that is not the way it is right now. The Mets must operate as if they are a small market club, like the Rays or Diamondbacks or Indians or Brewers. They must build with cheap youth until the debt clears.
The good news is that they have the perfect GM in Sandy Alderson to do this. He is a master of selling high and buying low. Just look at his Oakland tenure. He has smart men on his executive team. Unfortunately he has a most impatient fanbase and an owner who forces him to be a PR mouthpiece when he should simply be scrapping and scratching to build a team. This adjustment will be difficult for Mets fans, who have grown accustomed to pursuing top free agents right along with the Yankees, Red Sox, and er, the Cubs(some teams just aren't good at buying high). But the Mets extravagant spending hasn't brought them a pennant. So it's time to try something new. Give it time. It will take a while. Who's taking bets on which team gets to the top first: Cubs or Mets? I am wildly optimistic about my Cubs in the years to come, but I suspect the odds may be even.
And yes, there is still reason to go to the ballpark in 2012. I don't care how bad the team is. Reyes is a dynamic player, probably will continue to be for a few more years (if perhaps for only 125 games a season). But I don't buy that seeing him play was the primary driving force for attending games or watching them on television. Especially not in the last three seasons. There are only a handful of players in history that draw solely on their name and presence alone. Ty Cobb was one. Babe Ruth. Dimaggio. Williams. Musial. Feller. Clemente. Mantle. Mays. And in fact, most of the drawing power was exercised on the road. Obviously Reyes cannot even sniff the jocks of those ghosts. I like Jose Reyes. But with him (and Wright) the Mets are maybe an 80 win team. Without them a 65-70 win team, and that's being generous in relation to their average WAR. And when you get down to it, what's the difference? The future cannot emerge until the shadows of the past are relinquished (there is a bad poet living inside of me that must occasionally vomit a few choice phrases). Some pieces of that future might emerge next summer. There's no better place to find out than the ol' ballpark. Withholding fanship will only make it take longer.