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Stark Contrasts

Jayson Stark is okay in my book. (I'm sure he can sleep better knowing that.) I've taken him to task on a few occasions, but I've softened in my old age, and I now find him one of the more enjoyable writers at The Worldwide Leader (not to damn him with faint praise), even at times when his Phillie homerism gets the better of him. But he wrote something over the weekend that bugged me, not so much for what he had to say about the Mets, but how it was all too typical of what everyone writes about them these days.

Stark's piece was a long one, covering the winners and losers of the offseason, with the Mets predictably chosen as the top winter losers. Which is fine; it's hard to argue otherwise, and I'm certainly not going to try. You can't say they've improved themselves in any concrete way. Once again, the Mets' future hinges on a series of if's.

The problem I have is Stark's piece, like many, admits that the Mets had their hands tied in the payroll department, then proceeds to blast them for not making big moves.

Before he took the Mets job, Sandy Alderson probably thought a Ponzi scheme was something that went down in a "Happy Days" episode he once saw on Nick At Nite.

Alderson is an Ivy-League-educated lawyer, Jayson. He's probably heard of Ponzi schemes before. Just a hunch.

But this is one GM who has been getting an education this winter in all kinds of stuff that doesn't involve trolling for somebody who might hit more than six home runs a year in Citi Field. It sure isn't the new GM's fault that he had no money to spend and no hope of moving the Oliver Perezes and Luis Castillos who are cluttering up his roster.

No, it isn't. So I assume you'll take it easy on...

But the bottom line is that the Mets had a laugh track of an offseason.

Oops, my mistake.

A two-year contract to D.J. Carrasco, after he got non-tendered? A major league deal for Ronny Paulino while he was still serving a PED suspension? A bargain bin full of Boof Bonsers and Willie Harrises and Taylor Tankersleys? A hunt for inning-eating starters that led to the signings of Chris Capuano and Chris Young, two guys who have spent a combined 720 days on the disabled list over the past three seasons?

Of the moves Stark mentions, I personally only find the Carrasco one questionable, and that simply in terms of contract length. I like the Paulino signing, as he can serve as a righty-batting platoon partner with the lefty rookie, Josh Thole. As far as I'm concerned, his suspension--which will cause him to miss only the first eight games of the season--is irrelevant to the discussion. Capuano and Young are low-risk reclamation projects, each signed for a year; if they work out, fantastic, and if not, the money and the years won't kill the team.

The other names mentioned are spare parts destined to be triple-A depth, the kind every team makes, but which only become punchlines when the Mets make them. The Yankees signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract and the news is greeted with shrugs. The Mets give Jason Isringhausen a minor league deal and suddenly every writer's a (bad) comedian.

Look: The Mets are easily mockable. I understand that. They are anything but a narrow target. The Madoff Mess would be enough humiliation for three teams, and the Mets have plenty more where that came from. If you want to bust on the team for that, or for anything else that's happened to them in the last four seasons, go right ahead.

But reacting to things like the trade for Chin-Lung Hu by saying WORLD SERIES HERE WE COME--really? Especially since one of the Mets' biggest failings during the Minaya years was the inability to add depth. And any time they did, it was grossly overpaid for (see: Alex Cora). Moves like these represent a step forward, as far as I'm concerned. That says more about where the Mets were than where they're going, but it still doesn't make such moves worthy of mockery.

Someday, when the Madoff Mess gets sorted out and the bloated contracts disappear off the payroll, the sharp minds the Mets brought in to salvage this operation will be able to make an impact. But they had no shot this winter.

Again, if their hands are tied, what is the point of taking the Mets' front office to task for what they were able to do? It almost seems like that horrible car commercial where a snotty kid mocks a classmate whose parents can't afford a cooler set of wheels. (Granted, for this simile to work, you have to forget that the Mets will still have a payroll in the neighborhood of $140 million.)

But what bugs me more than Stark's swipes at the team, and what bugs me about similar takes on the Mets' offseason: There is no articulated opinion about what the team should have done. If you're going to criticize the Mets' moves (or lack thereof), presumably you have an idea of what course of action they should have taken. In 99.9 percent of such pieces, this goes unsaid. In fact, most admit that the Mets are hamstrung by bad contracts, but go ahead and blast their lack of moves anyway.

Is there one free agent the Mets let slip away who was worth the money this year? Absent Cliff Lee--who, it appears obvious to me, was hellbent on returning to Philly--the answer is no, there was not. Is there one player they could have traded for who was worth weakening an already weak farm system, in a season where their prospects for making the playoffs can charitably be described as iffy? Again, I'd say the answer is no.

For a team that is in rebuilding mode, the first rule should be Do No Harm, and I feel the Mets have done well in this regard. They've added many pieces at little cost and commitment. Is it going to add up to winning baseball? Maybe, if by "winning baseball" you mean "not having a losing record." But I'd rather a team be mediocre and plan for the future than be unreasonable about its short-term expectations (see: The Scott Kazmir Trade). That's what got the Mets into this mess in the first place.

If anyone has a better idea of what the Mets could have done to make themselves contenders this season, I'm all ears. In this, as in all things, I'm willing to be proven wrong. But it seems that posts like Stark's are less about what the Mets should be doing and more about obeying the KICK ME sign on the team's back.