As it becomes clearer every day that the 2014 Mets are once again destined to not make the playoffs, a dilemma arises for fans as to whether or not they should hope the team will win on a daily basis. A playoff run is possible yet improbable, and the team currently has the 11th-worst record in the league—meaning if the season ended now, they would lose their first-round pick if they were to sign certain free agents during the offseason,
This is a dilemma with which many Mets fans are familiar. Prior to the 2013 season, the Mets' unprotected pick significantly altered their approach to signing Michael Bourn. At the end of last season, the Mets were very close to falling outside of the top 10 (up until the last day of the season), which surely would have affected their pursuit of Curtis Granderson had they been forced to also surrender a high pick.
One can easily argue that the Mets were better off not signing Bourn and would have been better off not signing Granderson; but that doesn’t impact the importance of having a protected pick going forward.
While this is a similar to a team tanking in the NBA, a major difference is that top NBA draft picks have much more immediate AND long-term value than do MLB draft picks. The biggest difference—and why it’s even a consideration for the Mets—is the power stripped from the front office in the offseason from not having a protected pick.
The Mets are currently in a position where they are still limited by finances, yet have high hopes for the near future. Because of their finances, maintaining a strong farm system—which is much easier with high draft picks and the financial slots that come with them—is essential to their long-term success. At the same time, the Mets may feel that they are a free agent or two away from beingtank a serious contender in 2015, while recognizing that the loss of a top-12-to-15 pick might hurt them in the long term.
Like tanking in the NBA, it’s hard to dispute that losing this season would benefit the Mets in the long run. If the Mets have one of the ten worst records in baseball, they will have the opportunity to add a valuable asset that adds depth to their farm system and makes every valuable piece that much more expendable in a trade; this would be helpful if and when the Mets are in contention for a stretch of years.
However, this analytical mindset about the future can lead fans into mucky moral and emotional territory. Does caring about the future mean hoping Jenrry Mejia blows a save against the Phillies? If Lucas Duda has a big hit that leads the team to victory, is that good because it further proves his importance next season or bad because of the potential talent it costs? In the most basic terms, can you really call yourself a fan if at any point you’re watching a game and you hope your team loses?
This is the more existential issue that fans need to think about through the end of the season. Losing now would be for the greater good of the Mets, but the idea of the greater good has led to huge moral issues throughout human history; tossing the weak aside for a stronger but uncertain future has led to disastrous situations. Is losing the rest of the season worth the harm it can do to young players' confidence? How important is establishing a winning culture?
Are we finally seeing the real Travis d'Arnaud?
A franchise that has enjoyed the likes of Jerry Grote, Gary Carter, and Mike Piazza believed they had acquired another such impact player back in d'Arnaud. Could he still be that type of player?
Also, while this issue has been relevant in the past, it was mostly in the minds of fans during the offseason or at the very end of a season (like last year's) in which there was nothing at stake, as the Mets had been eliminated for a long time. While the Mets are technically alive, sitting at eight games back in the wild card race with a lot of the season to play, as of Monday morning, Baseball Prospectus calculated their chances of making the playoffs at just 0.2%. To think about your favorite team losing one game at the end of the season to help benefit its future is one thing, but hoping for your team to lose a significant amount of games with over a month left to go is a whole different story.
At the same time, the Mets feel so close to relevance. With Matt Harvey returning, Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler shining, and Travis d’Arnaud and Lucas Duda flashing their potential long-term value, hoping for a dominant Mets team in 2015 is not a stretch. They obviously need to add at least one significant piece on offense—likely at shortstop or a corner outfield spot—but barring a major trade, they will need to challenge the Wilpons' budget and sign a free agent. Given the budgetary constraints that have existed for these past few years, this will be no easy task.
I bring up this issue because it is one that I am struggling with right now. I’m currently walking the tightrope pretty closely; I understand that with every loss, the Mets are better off for it. But I can’t help but fist pump when Duda hits a big home run or Wheeler gets out of a jam. I know at the end of the season I’ll be a lot happier if the Mets have a bottom-10 record, but it is still hard to watch a game and not hope for the best from players I have stuck with and hope will be important in the years ahead.
Having thought about this, I recommend a middling mindset. Root for the Mets to win, but don’t be heartbroken over every loss. Hope players who are a part of the future do well, while remain stoic and detached if players such as Buddy Carlyle or Dana Eveland struggle. This may go against everything you stand for as a fan, as you believe there is no way to watch without hoping your team wins every game. This is understandable. However, it's also understandable to cheer for the greater good.
Such is the life of a Met fan, sitting in the middle, watching a team wallow in mediocrity. The fact that fans even have to face this dilemma is a travesty. Hopefully this is the last time in a long time that we'll be confronted with such an unpleasant decision.