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The Mets could learn from the 2017 Brewers

Building for a flexible future can lead to pleasant surprises.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The Milwaukee Brewers have gone into the 2017 All-Star Break with a record of 50-41. It’s a good record, if an unexceptional one. They are currently two games out of a second Wild Card spot. They also have a five and a half game lead in the NL Central, ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and the defending World Champion Chicago Cubs.

They entered the season with the lowest payroll in baseball, and were all but ceding the division to the Cubs. But they had prospects—good ones—and made some bold signings to bolster their chances for long-term success. The upside, the potential, was always there. Now it’s here, and the Brewers have gone from conceding the season to looking at buying at the deadline. At this point in the season, FiveThirtyEight gives them better odds of making the playoffs than the Cubs. It’s something that would have been unfathomable in spring training, and now it has happened.

“Isn’t this site about the Mets? Why is this post about some fictional team from Milwaukee?” You’re right! The Mets can learn a lot from these Brewers. They sit at 39-47, good for fourth place in a historically bad division, in no small part due to their contributions of terribleness. And yet, the potential is there. It was there in 2015, when the Mets stunned the baseball world by stealing the NL East from the Washington Nationals.

It’s a scenario, in many ways, that resembled what we’re now seeing with the Cubs and Brewers. The Nationals were anointed as one of the best teams in baseball, and the rest of the division was supposed to make way for their majesty. Until the Nationals crumbled, the potential of the Mets emerged, and that dreamlike season ended in a pennant and a World Series appearance that, whilst disappointing, didn’t feel like a fluke.

But the potential that was realized in 2015 never crystallized into sustained excellence. The 2016 Nationals were what they were supposed to be, and 2017 has shown an even stronger divide in the talent of the two teams. The Mets need to improve. They can’t sit idly by and hope the Nationals collapse again, or that they’ll somehow wring another Wild Card appearance out of aging sluggers and minor league call-ups playing beyond their level.

They might have to get worse before they can get better. It might mean—and should mean—selling off every single player at the deadline with an expiring contract. It might mean dropping the money on another expensive free agent. It might even mean trading Jacob deGrom to the Astros if it ultimately improves the team. It’s one that’s not likely to go anywhere, but it should be a phone call worth answering.

The Mets can look to Milwaukee for inspiration, and they can also take comfort in being in a firmly better position than the Brewers. They have Noah Syndergaard, a man who, when not hurt, belongs in any discussion about the best pitcher in baseball. Michael Conforto and Yoenis Cespedes are—or should prove to be—one of the best outfield slugging tandems in baseball. Amed Rosario, shortstop of the future, is in Las Vegas, along with a number of other players that make up the Mets’ highly ranked farm system. And they have money. Their willingness to spend may seem paltry compared to their cross-town rivals, but compared to the Brewers—or most other teams in general—the cash is there. The future begins to look very bright once we stop focusing on the gloomy present.

The Brewers may come back down to earth, and the Cubs may climb back out of their pit of mediocrity. The Mets probably aren’t as bad as they’ve been this season. The Nationals might not actually be this good. But it’s important for every team to honestly evaluate where they stand, and at this point, the Mets are clearly not as good as the Nationals. Yet with some tough trades, ambitious signings, and bold managerial choices, they have the potential to be. And that potential may re-emerge sooner than we think.