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The Mets have come a long way since 2011

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Before his first game as Mets manager, Terry Collins penned an open letter to Mets fans. Looking back, it's a good reminder of how far the organization has come since then.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In his fifth year as Mets manager, Terry Collins led his team to an unexpected World Series berth and was named a finalist for National League Manager of the Year. The Mets recently rewarded Collins with a two-year contract extension that will keep him in New York through 2017.

The Mets have come a long way as a franchise since Collins and general manager Sandy Alderson took the helm in late 2010. To appreciate just how far they’ve come, take a look at this open letter Collins penned—or, more precisely, emailed—to Mets fans prior to his first game as manager on April 1, 2011:

Dear Mets Fan:

With our 2011 opener tonight in Florida, I want to make this pledge to Mets fans -- our team will play the game the right way.

We will always hustle on the bases, run balls down in the outfield and never take anything for granted, no matter the score of the game.

We had a great Spring Training. From Day 1 my message has been look ahead, not backward, and not to worry about what the people outside the clubhouse are saying. If we pitch and play defense like I know we can, we will surprise a lot of people, a lot of people.

I stack our lineup against anyone else's in the league. Getting Carlos Beltran back and hitting cleanup is really big. The way Carlos handled his move to right field was one of the classiest things I have ever seen. Angel Pagan is coming off a great season. While we had a little setback this week with Jason Bay -- who was swinging the bat well -- going on the disabled list, he shouldn't be out too long. We believe with the three of them on the field, we have one of the top outfields in baseball.

Our infield is anchored by the two All-Stars on the left side: David Wright at third and Jose Reyes at short. I think David will add on to his numbers from last year and Jose is ready to have a tremendous season. He is one of the most dynamic players in the game. Ike Davis will continue to develop at first base and Josh Thole is one of the fine young catchers in the game. Brad Emaus, a Rule 5 pick, got better and better as the spring went on and won the second base job.

On the mound, sure, we are going to miss Johan Santana until he comes back, hopefully in mid-year. But this spring, I think we established a solid rotation with Mike Pelfrey, followed by R.A. Dickey and Jonathon Niese. Chris Young and Chris Capuano proved that they are healthy, and they really strengthen us on the back end.

We remade our bullpen and we think we have quality arms who throw strikes to get to closer Francisco Rodriguez. K-Rod has just had a fantastic spring and I never have seen him throwing better. People like Bobby Parnell, D.J. Carrasco, Taylor Buchholz, Blaine Boyer, Tim Byrdak and Pedro Beato -- another Rule 5 selection who is from Queens -- will give us a solid 'pen.

I believe we have fortified our bench with the additions of Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, Ronny Paulino (who will begin the year on the disabled list) and Chin-lung Hu, along with Daniel Murphy.

It's been 12 years since I have started a season as a Major League manager. I can't tell you how proud I am to be leading the New York Mets and am very excited about the season ahead.

Thanks for your support and see you at Citi Field.

Sincerely,

Terry Collins

All Mets fans can identify with the unbridled—albeit misplaced—optimism that Collins felt for his new team. Unfortunately, Mets fans can also identify with the disappointment that followed.

For starters, the vaunted Bay-Pagan-Beltran trio didn’t turn out to be "one of the top outfields in baseball." Bay had his second consecutive disappointing year in New York, while Pagan had a poor season that precipitated his trade to the Giants.

Beltran, meanwhile, was having an outstanding year for the Mets. However, in an acknowledgement that the 2011 season had become unsalvageable, the team flipped the outfielder at the trade deadline for Giants prospect Zack Wheeler. The Mets replaced Beltran by moving Lucas Duda to right field, where his -12 defensive runs saved and -11.5 UZR cost the team nearly all of the (quite substantial) value that Duda provided with his bat.

The infield situation wasn’t much better. Although Reyes had arguably his best year as a major leaguer, David Wright had one of his worst. Ike Davis got off to a rollicking start with the bat, but suffered a season-ending injury in early May after colliding with Wright in pursuit of a pop-up. Josh Thole regressed with the bat and showed that he was probably better suited for a backup catcher role.

The most amusing, inexplicable, and often forgotten anecdote of the 2011 season was the decision to name Brad Emaus as the Opening Day second baseman, while Daniel Murphy was relegated to the bench. Emaus hit .162/.262/.162 (20 wRC+) in 42 plate appearances before the Mets designated him for assignment. Murphy, who took over at second and later moved to first to replace the injured Davis, had an outstanding year, hitting .320/.362/.448 (126 wRC+) before suffering a season-ending injury himself in early August.

The starting pitching was basically what you’d expect from a rotation of Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey (pre-Cy Young), Chris Capuano, Dillon Gee, and Jon Niese. Chris Young only made four starts due to injury, while Miguel Batista and Chris Schwinden (remember him?) also contributed four apiece. Johan Santana did not end up starting a single game for the Mets that year, although D.J. Carrasco did.

Carrasco struggled mightily for the Mets in 2011—and, as a matter of fact, in 2012. In the 53 innings he threw for the Mets over those two years, the righty pitched to a 6.11 ERA.

Pedro Beato, Jason Isringhausen, Ryota Igarashi, and the rest of the Mets’ bullpen was better, but not by a whole lot. In fact, as a group, they finished the year with the second-highest adjusted ERA in all of baseball. Blaine Boyer, whom Collins mentioned in his letter, pitched just 6.2 innings for the 2011 Mets, during which he allowed eight runs on 13 hits. The team quickly designated him for assignment.

The most prescient of Collins’s assessments was that of his team’s bench. While neither Scott Hairston, Willie Harris, nor Ronny Paulino were particularly good in 2011, they all proved to be serviceable backups. Unfortunately, Chin-lung Hu went the way of Emaus and Boyer after only 23 plate appearances, in which he collected just one hit.

In 2011, the Mets finished 77-85, good for fourth place in the NL East. It was the first of four consecutive losing seasons in which the Mets averaged 76 wins per year under the new regime.

Again, this isn’t to knock any individual player on that 2011 team, or even Collins for his wide-eyed optimism for a generally mediocre squad. It’s simply to appreciate how far the Mets have come over the last four years.

Were Collins to write a similar letter today, he wouldn’t need to exaggerate his club’s talent or take such a defensive—perhaps defiant—tone. The Mets are no longer at the point at which they’re trying to "surprise a lot of people." The Mets have earned people’s respect, and will enter the 2016 season with serious expectations for the first time in recent memory.

It’s easy to laugh at Collins’s letter and similar relics of the organization’s darker days. Still, they offer two important lessons: First, to manage expectations of a makeshift team clearly in the process of a rebuild. Second, to remember those losing teams so that, when your organization finally does turn the corner, you can appreciate what a truly good team looks like by comparison.

If the 2011 Mets taught us anything, it's how good the 2015 Mets were, and how good the 2016 team is shaping up to be.