Some years or decades hence, the Mets will field a team that wins the World Series. When it happens, it will wipe the slate clean, causing fans and media to forget, if temporarily, the franchise’s everlasting twin love affairs with mismanagement and mistake. Until such time as that happens, however, we, the hangers-on, the ones who haven’t taken the reasonable course of action and tuned out or turned away, are subject to these whips and scorns as they occur in all their ridiculous inevitability.
Franchises screw up, managers make bad decisions, and players commit errors. Success in baseball, is, to a large degree, predicated on a team’s ability to mitigate their many inevitable failures and misfortunes. As a fan, you buy this ticket and take this ride, fully understanding there will be pain—you just hope it doesn’t last very long, and that the fun you’ll have along the way makes it all worth it.
So what do you do when the ride is mostly painful and not seeming to lead anywhere interesting? Moreover, what do you do when you realize you’ve been on this ride before—this disappointing, aimless ride rolled into town by the same hapless carny barkers running the same stupid grift?
Here we are yet again, watching this boring thing: The Mets are bad, and, thanks ultimately to the Wilpons, they have limited prospects for improvement. As a fan, you can deal with a bad team if there is hope on the horizon, and you can enjoy the hell out of a good team regardless of what comes next; but this Metsian, Wilponian combination of mediocrity (at best) and hopelessness is toxic.
Yes, it’s only May. Right, every team goes through a series of highs and lows throughout an impossibly long season. Sure, even good teams look bad when they lose.
The Mets aren’t a good baseball team, though. Even setting aside the wretched embarrassment of batting out of order(!!!!!!), the Mets just lost a series to one of the worst teams in baseball in a ballpark that almost rivals Yankee Stadium for its proportional absurdity; and yet the Reds outscored the Mets 15 to 10 in this three-game series.
Lest readers scurry to YouTube to retort with Ted Berg’s Magna Opus, “Small Sample Size,” remember that the Mets’ performance in this series wasn’t new. The Mets were not on a tear heading into this series; they weren’t even treading water. No, the Mets were dead on arrival in Cincinnati, with injuries piling up and players not playing well.
From a narrative standpoint, it was fitting that the Mets DFA’d Matt Harvey before the series and flipped him to the Reds during it: If there is a more fitting and timely symbol for the lost hope of these once-exciting Mets than Matt Harvey, it is beyond me.
But even that development and all its implications—even that—should be laid at the feet of the Wilpons.
It is a truth so well-established that it feels silly to say it at all: Pitchers break. We can and should expect it, and teams can and should plan for it. One always hopes, of course, that one’s favorite pitchers are somehow exempt, as a select few around the league seem to be, but it usually isn’t true.
This has been litigated before, but it bears repeating: 2017 was the Mets’ Year of the Injury—their starting pitchers very much included. (2016 was no slouch, either.) The offseason’s free agent class featured a handful of top-to-mid-rotation-type starting pitchers. The solution was obvious but for, maddeningly, the Wilpons. Imagine how much better the team would have looked heading into 2018, and would look now, with Jake Arrieta in the fold instead of, or in addition to, Jason Vargas.
It’s just another example among many. That there was never the remotest chance of the Mets landing a player like Arrieta or any of the other intriguing, potentially upper-tier starting pitching options when the team so very clearly needed reinforcements on that front is just another damning knock against the Wilpon-led ownership group.
Now that position players are undergoing Tommy John surgery with seemingly increasing frequency—probably, as Jeff Passan documented in The Arm, due to the long-term effects of the uptick in year-round youth baseball in the last 10 or 15 years—sudden weird, devastating injuries are probably going to be an even more regular part of the game. The teams who are balanced and deep will find ways to overcome, and teams like the Wilpon-led Mets will not.
In a game in which luck already plays an outsized role, it is foolish to gamble on the health of a few oft-injured players. Yet the Mets have done precisely that in their own half-assed way. The results show it, and, one suspects, they will continue to show it to varying degrees as the season plays out. And with no significant reinforcements available in the upper minor leagues and the Wilpons unwilling or unable to significantly improve the major league roster through free agency, it seems likely this franchise will remain adrift for the foreseeable future.