USA TODAY Sports
The season hasn't yet begun, but pessimism about the Mets is in mid-season form. Fans and analysts all have their own timetables and levels of patience, but there is room for hope if you look in the right places.
Yes, the outfield won't be a strength for the Mets this year. And yes, the Mets have a spotty track record when it comes to injury prevention and recovery. The team hasn't bought many free agents, and they haven't yet made obvious improvement. Pessimism comes easy when a team is the butt of jokes. There are different ways to rebuild, though, and different ways to appraise the current situation.
There is hope, and there will be sun.
Only the Astros had a worse outfield last season by wins above replacement. The Mets lost their best outfielder in Scott Hairston, and after a long and protracted dalliance with Michael Bourn, settled on a quad-A platoon slugger (Andrew Brown), a bounce-back veteran (Marlon Byrd), and a trade for an undersized possibly platoon-riddled tweener outfielder (Collin Cowgill) to try to improve in the outfield. Perhaps the jokes by the general manager about the outfield weren't taken well by some because the position seemed like such a need and the solutions seemed so underwhelming.
The Detroit Tigers outfield in 2012 only accrued a third of a win more than the Mets.
There are other teams -- like the 2010 Twins -- that have won without a great outfield, too. Even if it's ideal to have above-average production all around the diamond, it's not a death knell to have one aspect of your team lagging behind the rest.
Focusing too much on the outfield also ignores the capacity for change, and the ability to 'find' yourself a passable outfield over time. The Athletics had the third-worst outfield in baseball in 2010, and their 3.3 wins above replacement that year were actually worse than the Mets managed last year. They added a bounce-back veteran (David DeJesus) and traded for an undervalued veteran with flaws (Josh Willingham) and improved in 2011. The next year, they signed an international free agent that was close (Yoenis Cespedes), picked up a good journeyman veteran on the cheap (Brandon Moss), added a platoon guy or two (Seth Smith and Jonny Gomes), and boom -- The 2012 Athletics had the seventh-best outfield in the game by WAR.
If you accept the premise that the Mets are still working on a long-term plan, their moves this offseason are consistent with those that the Athletics made two years ago. They didn't put any onerous money on their budget, they retained their eleventh draft pick, and they picked up some players that might show some long-term value if they pan out this season.
Of current note is the fact that the Mets have not dealt effectively with injuries recently. In 2010, they'd lost more days per DL trip than any other team in the National League over previous five years, and though that comes with old players, the team has also had some high-profile run-ins with their hobbled players recently. Ike Davis' injury, and now Johan Santana's recovery, are exhibits in this argument.
There isn't a great argument against the assertion that they've dealt with injury poorly in the past. But it is interesting that these snafus have spanned different administrations at the team. And this also flies in the face that the New York hospitals that the Mets work with are consistently rated among the best in the country. Perhaps there's an issue of communication here. But, given the way that Johan Santana is recovering from his rare surgery, especially when compared to the success Chien-Ming Wang has had with the same surgery, there could be a few ways to look at these separate incidents. The current rash of injury discussion does surround the Mets' oldest three pitchers, which is not a surprise, given the fact that age is one of the best predictors of injury.
The Mets are obviously a team looking to get younger, and that will help with the injuries, or should. And that explains some of the inaction on the free agency level. Of course, the finances of the owners may have had a lot to do with that too. If we accept Fred Wilpon's recent declaration that the Mets no longer have limitations on payroll, and that his (and the team's) financial woes are in the rear-view mirror, then perhaps we can expect the team to spend more in the future. Then, this offseason of inaction becomes a moment of necessary pain on the way to future gain.
It's probably folly to think that this team, with its current young assets, couldn't look like current National League East stalwarts in the future.
In 2010, the Nationals were last in the division. Going into the 2011 season, the team did have the number one prospect in baseball -- Bryce Harper -- and one of the best young pitchers in the game in Stephen Strasburg. But none of their internal pitching prospects beyond those two was of the quality of Zack Wheeler, who was recently compared to Strasburg himself. So you can make the case that the Matt Harvey / Zack Wheeler combination is at least comparable to a Strasburg / Jordan Zimmermann situation in terms of years of control and value to the team even if neither Mets prospect turns into the singular talent in Washington. But no, the Mets don't have a Bryce Harper. The Nationals didn't have a Travis D'Arnaud either.
The Nationals had four top-100 prospects going into 2011. One of them was top-fifty. The Mets in 2013 have three top-100 prospects, and all three of them are ranked better than 55th. The Mets have the 12th-best farm system as ranked by John Sickels at Minor League Ball this year. The Nationals were 13th in 2010.
The Braves tell a similar story. The 2008 version fell below .500. Like the Mets this season, those Braves had three prospects in the top fifty-five that year, and two more in the bottom half of the top 100. The only player that really panned out from that list was Jason Heyward, but we're still talking about a prospect or two here and there.
If the Mets have prospects that can hang with the 2008 Braves and the 2010 Nationals, they've got at least one good thing in common. Each of those teams had a good veteran third baseman, too. And an undervalued, effective first baseman. And a financially healthy New York Mets would have the money to spend along with them.
In the end, most of your attitude about the current Mets front office will come down to an opinion. The facts are that this team is rebuilding, that financial pain was part of the problem, and that there are some interesting young players in the fold, and that there are moves yet to be made. The probabilities say that this team won't be great this year.
But once we start saying that the team hasn't done enough, or isn't making progress fast enough, or doesn't have a future that currently looks bright enough, we venture into opinion. This team has things in common with successful teams, and it also has flaws. Which facets of the team we choose to highlight will shape our opinions.
They'll still be opinions, and we're all entitled to our own.
Here's mine: This is a painful time. This team also has attractive long-term prospects, a burgeoning young rotation, and has put in place what seems like a comprehensive plan to get younger, more patient, and more cost-effective. That means there is hope here too.