As the Mets fumbled to consecutive 88 loss seasons in 2012 and 2013, fans held out hope that 2014 would be the year that everything would change. After all, even management said that they would have more payroll flexibility as the contracts of Jason Bay, Frank Francisco, and Johan Santana came off the books. Owner Jeff Wilpon told the media that money would be no object entering the offseason and they would not be afraid to spend in the marketplace. There were other reasons to hope. The Mets had the makings of an elite and dominant staff, with ace power pitcher Matt Harvey, phenom Zack Wheeler, Jon Niese, and the underrated Dillon Gee all under team control.
Unfortunately the Mets’ plans for 2014 took a huge hit before the 2013 season even ended. It was announced that Matt Harvey had UCL damage after being shut down, and would need Tommy John Surgery and would miss all of 2014. There was a palpable sense of loss on social media, as Mets fans took to twitter and voiced the opinion that this franchise is snake bitten. However the front office staff continued to encourage fans to be patient and have faith.
On 11/15/13 Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson went on New York sports radio icon Mike Francesa’s show to discuss his offseason plans. He stated that he had a “board” with names on it that he was targeting to bring to New York. He said that the 2014 opening day roster would have 2 new outfielders, a new shortstop, and a starting pitcher. Mets fans again got excited, with names like Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, Curtis Granderson, and Shin-Soo Choo floated around.
In the following days the Mets met with Jay-Z, agent for Robinson Cano. Rumors were confirmed that they had asked the Brewers about controversial outfielder Ryan Braun. But in both situations Mets officials made it clear that they were simply talking and that nothing serious was occurring. John Harper of the New York Daily News came out and stated the Mets had approximately $30 million to spend in the offseason. Other reports were that the Mets had “sticker shock” at the contracts that high-profile free agents were seeking.
The Mets’ fanbase has started to erode, and the primary cause is a mixed message coming from management. While ownership has publicly said that they will spend like a big-market team they balk at large contracts and continue to operate as a small-market team. Sandy Alderson in his 4-year tenure with the Mets has shown a propensity to build from within. The largest contract he has offered was to Frank Francisco for 2 years and $12 million in 2011. He brought in highly touted youngsters like Zack Wheeler, Travis d’Arnaud, and Noah Syndergaard by trading popular stars R.A. Dickey and Carlos Beltran. While both trades have been widely raised by industry analysts, fans have been waiting for money to be spent to compliment the young core and give the front office some credibility.
The Mets’ credibility was publicly questioned on 11/13/13 by industry legend and superagent Scott Boras. He stated “the Mets are like NASA, They have big rockets, a lot of platforms, and very few astronauts”. While his comments brought a lot of laughter, Mets fans were infuriated by the reality that their team is not taken seriously.
The Mets announced one free-agent signing on 11/26/13, Outfielder Chris Young to a 1-year $7.5 million contract. He is coming off a season where he hit .200, with an OPS of .659 and only 335 AB’s. When the word broke social-media reaction was mixed. Some felt it would be ok if he was a 4th outfielder, or a platoon guy. Many felt that perhaps it was a good low-risk high-reward move. But then word leaked that the contract would account for approximately 25% of Sandy Alderson’s off-season budget, AND that Young was told he would have ample playing time as a starting outfielder. Predictably fan reaction was a mixture of confusion, anger, and frustration. And confidence was further eroded.
One-by-one the names on Sandy Alderson’s board are disappearing. Jhonny Peralta signed a 4-year deal with the Cardinals. Speculation is that Stephen Drew will be seeking a contract beyond the Mets’ financial limitations. Fans and media are beginning to wonder if Ruben Tejada will in fact return at short following a bad year in 2013. Now the talk is of trades. Maybe someone will want Ike Davis, who had a horrible year in 2013, and will offer a serviceable player in return. Maybe Daniel Murphy, their second best offensive player will be traded to make room for Eric Young Jr. to play 2nd. Herein lies the problem. Fans have to convince themselves to be ok with mediocrity so they can stomach what is occurring with this team.
The Mets’ cross-town rivals have made big moves, signing Brian McCann and Jacoby Ellsbury to long-term deals. Meanwhile the Mets have reportedly met Curtis Granderson for dinner with no financial terms being discussed. Jokes pervaded the internet as the quotes coming out of that meeting were in regards to Granderson’s menu choice: salmon. So baseball minds and fans alike wonder this: are the Mets relevant in the 2013 market?
The bottom line is this. The New York Mets play in a large market and have an impassioned fanbase. The team has continuously sent the message that fans must be patient. However patience runs out. The Wilpons have talked a good game, and now they must walk the walk. Is this Sandy Alderson’s fault? Probably not, he must work within the constraints of the budget that he has been given. But if the Mets do not make an effort to draw proven players from the free-agent market and make the fans believe they are serious about winning, they will continue to play in front of an empty stadium and lose fans.