Recently uprooted to California, I haven't had the chance to commiserate, ruminate or lamentate with fellow Mets fans about how the year has gone. Or how the decade has gone.
Then recently a Mets fan friend came to visit. We had some moments of solidarity. We kvetched.
I was left wanting more. I'd like to step back from the numbers for a little bit to talk about the experience of being a Mets fan and some general feelings about the team in the upcoming days. The first was a cross-sport analogy that recent occured to me.
Somehow, the Mets of the late 2000s remind me of the Atlanta Hawks of the early 1990s. I'm serious. Those Hawks had a mid-level star in Dominique Wilkins, and tried to surround him with all sorts of different attainable talent and low draft picks. Sure, Doc Rivers and Spud Webb were fun to watch, but they never did help the team over the top.
It soon became pretty obvious that Wilkins was never going to match Michael Jordan or Larry Bird in anything but one-on-one duels that were exciting but resulted in Atlanta losses. They seemed to find a new mediocre pickup every year - Kevin Willis, or Jon Koncak, even Dikembe Mutombo late in his career - but never enough to be better than okay. The team was never bad enough to get a lottery pick, never good enough to contend. They just were.
It can be problematic to make a leap from basketball to baseball, but the recent post on Mets buying or selling at the deadline christalized this connection. The Mets have not been good enough or bad enough recently to get momentum going in any one direction. Yes, they had the historic collapse - but they were in playoff position before and just barely missed out. That's not bad enough. Even this year, they're not bad enough to make the decision to sell.
The prize here isn't a high draft pick and possible superstar as it is in the NBA, but there are benefits to being bad enough in baseball. If you are the Phillies of the early 2000s or the early Tampa Bay Rays, you sell anything worth selling until you are squarely a buyer once again. You pump and dump veterans and flood the minor leagues with talent until some stars rise to the top at the same time, and you capitalize on your window. You save money until it makes sense to spend money.
But, as a commenter on the buyers/sellers post wisely pointed out, the Mets are in a huge market. So they have the pressure to win every year, like the Hawks did with Dominique in the fold. Go out and sign Jon Koncak because you don't have a center. Make sure you are active every free agency period and sign Jason Bay because 'his swing is better suited to Citi Field than Matt Holliday's.' Make sure you have a veteran at every position. Make sure even your friggin' back up middle infielder is a veteran. Make sure you have three veteran catchers - because you just can't get enough.
If the Mets were worse, they could have saved money, developed a nice farm, and be in a position to capitalize on the next few peak years for David Wright and Jose Reyes. If the Mets were worse, they could have sold Carlos Beltran, Pedro Feliciano, and possibly even Johan Santana - for talent that would help during their window. If they were even worse than that, they could have traded away Jose Reyes and focused on 2012 and beyond.
No, the Mets are better than bad, though not good enough to be a contender, and probably not good enough to make the playoffs this year given the single-digit playoff odds they are currently facing. They aren't terrible enough to sell all their pieces, and their market demands they are active in free agency every year.
That's the sort of mediocrity that begets $8 million spent on a hole at second base. Yes, the Mets can call themselves set at every position but second base next year - but whom can they depend on for superlative work? Will they have the guts to even give Reese Havens a chance to win the second base job, or will they go and sink more money into an Orlando Hudson to be a veteran to replace the veteran that currently is aging rapidly in front of our eyes?
It's been an okay season, and there are some good players on this Mets team, but it's hard to see their future because of their recent past.
If only they were worse. Or better.