These are strange times. For the better part of the past decade, things didn’t go very well for the Mets, and the perception of them among fans and media reflected that. So pervasive was this generally negative view of the Mets and their owners, in fact, that even last year’s turn-on-a-dime surge to the World Series proved incapable of changing the conversation. It exacerbated it, actually.
As I noted recently, the various transactions that did and did not occur earlier this offseason—the Alejandro De Aza signing in particular—seemingly confirmed what we all knew: The Wilpons are broke. The Wilpons’ financial limitations have been a hugely frustrating circumstance for years, and especially so as this offseason progressed: Given the Mets' recent accomplishments and the players available via free agency, it seemed like the obvious time for a significant investment in the major league roster, i.e., it was time to go for it. Instead, the front office proceeded with lesser and cost-conscious choices. Frankly, it was at or near the threshold of being too much for fans to accept, and it showed.
Twitter got especially ugly as reports broke that the Nationals (and, we soon learned, the vaunted "mystery team") were in serious pursuit of Yoenis Cespedes. So thorough and widespread was fans’ frustration that if you didn’t know the truth, you would have never guessed that the Mets had played in the World Series mere months ago. The Mets, like any organization in any industry, depend on some degree of goodwill among their customers, and the ensuing blowback from the Cespedes-Nationals reports felt, to me, more like a legitimate public-relations disaster than simply another #MetsTwitter meltdown.
Cespedes signed with the Mets, of course, and suddenly all was right with the world. On paper, the Mets have all the makings of a very good team heading into 2016, chock full of good players and lacking any major weaknesses as they are. Still, it gives me pause that the tone of the conversation around the Mets changed so quickly and thoroughly with the signing of Cespedes.
On the one hand, it was inarguably a monumental development that turns the narrative of recent years on its ear, and it is worthy of whatever good tidings accompany it. Cespedes, as we all know, makes the Mets better, particularly on offense. And, of course, one has to give credit where it’s due: The Wilpons did it. They ponied up for Cespedes and, in so doing, added over $27 million dollars to this year’s payroll, which is a refreshing indication they want and are able to invest in creating a winning team. There had been little or no evidence of the latter for a very long time.
On the other hand, the rapid change in tone among fans and media indicates something heavy and noteworthy about the power of expectations, particularly as they hinge on one person in a larger group. For the first time in many years, Mets fans’ highest hopes for a championship have been reflected in the actions of the Wilpons and the front office heading into a new baseball season. Everyone, it now seems, is looking ahead with the same expectation of a bright future—a shared vision of victory. That a tide could be turned so swiftly, with the signing of a single player, is extraordinary.
Given what Cespedes did for the Mets last year, it makes sense why his signing would have the effect it did. Incidentally, I share in the sense of renewed optimism that his signing brought about. I think the Mets are built for a run as well as almost any team in the game. But just as I try to resist the temptation to catastrophize when something doesn’t break the way I want it to, so should I be mindful of my expectations heading into the 2016 season. Baseball is a game where the weird and the unpredictable are constantly in play. Injuries happen. Projections don’t always work out, and good players have bad or inconsistent seasons.
That’s sort of moot, though, because signing Yoenis Cespedes was a good baseball decision, plain and simple. And as trite as it is to discuss such things in terms of "messages" or "notices" sent to fans (or to the rest of the team, or to the rest of the league), the move didn’t occur in a vacuum: Just like when the front office traded for him last July, signing Cespedes the other day was also an excellent, maybe even necessary, public-relations decision. If the Mets fall short and miss the playoffs in 2016, it will be due to a preposterous string of bad luck, not because ownership didn't invest in the team; and, the lunatic fringe notwithstanding, fans will acknowledge that. But if the investment hadn't been made and the season turned out to be disappointing, it would have been very, very bad.
As it is, fans will flood Citi Field to watch this team. For the first time in many, many years, the Wilpons have carved out a little space, a little buffer of goodwill among the fans. We will see what happens, but the prevailing tone seems quite positive now, and, given recent events, it has a good chance to stay that way. How weird.