Do You Want Fan Rage or Do You Want the Truth?

Scanning Wilpon reactions in the various New York papers yesterday, I was been pleasantly surprised: precious little insanity. There were varying degrees of condemnation, speculation this signals an imminent fire sale, tsking that this distracts from what could have been at least an entertaining season, but nothing too koo-koo bonkers.

Naturally, I don't agree with everything I've read--for instance, Bob Klapisch's tea-leaf-reading that this signals an impending Stalinist purge of the Mets' best players seems a bit much. I believe Wilpon's comments might reveal what he truly believes, but don't necessarily represent a warning shot or the details of some master plan. Even so, I saw little writing that infuriates me on a day that seems calculated for just that purpose. Hooray?

However, there were a few columns whose premise I take issue with. They echoed a sentiment that was expressed by many on Twitter in the immediate Wilpon aftermath (prominent example: Will Leitch). The premise is: Wilpon shouldn't have said what he said, but he wasn't wrong. That, in expressing the angry id of the average WFAN caller and tapping into a well of Steinbrennerian bluster and entitlement, he tapped into some greater truth that had to be expressed about the Mets.

Wilpon's diss of Jose Reyes, David Wright, and Carlos Beltran does in some way reflect the feelings of a segment of the Mets' fanbase. That doesn't make it true, or right, and it should not be celebrated in any way.

Mike Lupica's Daily News piece hinges on this thought:

Reyes isn't worth $140 million and Wright, whom I like as much as any ballplayer in town, isn't a superstar. Beltran isn't what he was. All true.

Particularly the part about Reyes. I love watching the kid play, and hope he stays a Met. But as much fun as he is, he is a shortstop with one home run and 15 RBI and if somebody is willing to pay him $100 million, Reyes should run for that money the way he runs from first to third.

In the Star-Ledger, Jeff Bradley has similar thoughts:

How about this for starters: What [Wilpon] said wasn’t off-base. Not totally, anyway.

Reyes will only get seven years and $142 million — what Crawford was given by the Red Sox — if he gets to free agency and some team with deep pockets has overrated his value, or thinks he’s the final piece in their puzzle (as the Sox did with Crawford, on both counts). The Mets shortstop is exciting, flashy and talented. He’s also missed 150 games to injury the last two seasons. The Mets are likely to try to re-sign him for a lot of years and money, but something south of Crawford.

Beltran, while a very solid all-around player, got more than he deserved based on his epic 2004 postseason (.435 with eight home runs in 12 playoff games with the Astros). The Mets, by the way, were not the only schmucks who were ready to open the vault for Beltran, who was 28 years old at the time he signed the contract, and seemingly ready to be a megastar. At the time, getting Beltran was considered a coup. Anything else is revisionist history.

Perhaps the only assessment of Wilpon’s that is off the mark is what he had to say about Wright — and that’s just because the term "superstar" can be defined in different ways.

Wright is as polished with fans and media as any player in the game. He is a spokesman any team would be proud to put out front and center. And he is the kind of player all fans want on their team. He runs out groundballs, gets his uniform dirty, plays to win. So while Wright is not Albert Pujols and his streakiness can be maddening, he is still a .300 hitter who can hit you 30 homers and drive in 100-plus. To some, that’s a superstar.

What I find most striking about comments like these (and Lupica and Bradley are not the only ones to make them) is that, up until this point in the season, I felt that the Mets' Big Three had largely outgrown such criticisms. In what is surely his last go-around with the team, Carlos Beltran has been healthy and productive. If he hasn't won over everyone, at least the bitterness against him has faded to a large degree. Reyes has enjoyed a renaissance, both on the field and among fans. As a result, the Resign Reyes crowd is much larger and more vocal than it was at this time last year. As for Wright, his stock has risen and fallen eratically, but the revelation that he's played a good chunk of the year with a broken back earned him some points with a fickle public.

Amazingly, all it took was a few words from Wilpon to dredge up the basest, most irrational attitudes about the Mets' best players. Beltran is a whiner. Reyes is a malcontent. Wright isn't an elite player. They're emotional reactions, ones we've all no doubt heard a million times on the airwaves. They're also completely untrue.

This idea that Carlos Beltran got paid based on one monster postseason lies somewhere between historical revisionism and delusion. Beltran was already one of the best center fielders in the game before the Astros acquired him at the trade deadline in 2004. He was a five-tool player and one of the most sought after free-agents-to-be. In the economic climate that existed at the time, if the Mets had not given him a seven-year contract, some team would have. His postseason performance that October certainly inflated his value. But the way it's being painted now, it's as if the Mets were the only team dumb enough to give him a monster contract on the basis of a few good at-bats against the Cardinals.

Bradley concedes this point, but he also calls Beltran "a very solid all-around player," which undersells his achivements by a large margin. Joe McEwing was a very solid all-around player. Beltran, in his prime, was one of the game's best. Saying otherwise implies the Mets did not get fair value on the money they paid him. Beltran's tenure with the team is now looked upon as a total failure, as if his MVP-worthy 2006 campaign never happened, or as if he was responsible for the collapses of 2007 and 2008, despite the fact that his stats in both years (particularly in the last months of those seasons) were remarkable.

As for Reyes, if he doesn't get Carl Crawford Money from someone this winter, it will only be because the aforementioned economics of the game have changed so much. Reyes is one of the best players in the game at a premium position, where he also plays much better than average defense by any measure you care to use.

To damn him with the label of "frequently injured," you have to ignore the fact that he was only truly injured in 2009, when the Mets grossly mishandled his hamstring injury. He recovered from a freak thyroid condition in spring training last year and has seldom left the field since. I'm not sure how this idea of Reyes as the Domincan Ken Griffey Jr. took hold in people's minds, but it won't get go, and I'm sick of trying to dislodge it with the pieces like these.

And Wright? Bradley lists all the various reasons why Wright is the face of the franchise, then says, "to some, that's a superstar." I grant that it's hard to interpret his intended tone, but exactly what is a superstar if Wright isn't one? What other factor not listed here would put him over the top? If he queried people if they'd been to his web site lately 24/7, would that seal his superstar status? He's "not Albert Pujols"? Even Albert Pujols isn't Albert Pujols these days.

When times get tough for a team, fans have a tendency to blame the players who are least to blame, the stars who, when a situation calls for miracles, can't heal the sick and walk on water. Hopefully, in more sober moments, fans realize how counterproductive such thinking is. Perhaps Wilpon can apply the same perspective. In the meantime, let's not confuse his channeling of badly focused Fan Rage with anything close to the truth.

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