There is a sober wintertime axiom in baseball, both a balm for the spirit of the empty-handed and a warning to those whose cups runneth over with the spoils of trades and free agency, that fans everywhere surely know: you don’t get anything for winning the offseason.
While that is true enough in the sense that what you really want as a fan is for your team to win the World Series, I am here today to tell you that it is, in fact, quite good and fun to win the offseason by signing free agents and making trades that improve your team “on paper.” I would also venture to say, though it is a bit beside my point, that such endeavors are also very good for teams’ “brands” and for the health of the sport writ large.
This isn’t some novel idea. Not so long ago, before the majority of Major League Baseball teams and their stewards and minions seemed to become more concerned with “efficiency” and “value” than with trying to win baseball games, free agency was a gaudy, delightful bonanza—practically an industry unto itself. Teams had to compete with each other and pony up if they wanted to get their guy; and together with the hot stove rumor mill, deranged phone calls into sports talk radio shows, speculative blog posts, and bedlam on the front (or back) pages of the sports section of your local rag, it was high entertainment.
All that free agency malarkey was fun for the same reasons, and in the same ways, that the days leading up to your birthday or favorite holiday were when you were a kid. You were excited and full of anticipation; you felt a sense of possibility; you let your imagination run a little wild. And when there was an actual chance for your team to get that guy—hell, if your team actually did go out and get that guy—it juiced it up and made you feel all the more excited for the season to come. Also, excited fans watch games, and one could argue that such widespread “engagement” helped make the case on the demand side for all the big TV deals that have generated so much revenue for MLB over the past 20 years.
I know these things to be true because I am living through one such amazing offseason now, and, though it’s been a long time, have lived through a number of others the Mets tried (or “tried”) to win. Outcomes be damned, those offseasons were, and certainly this offseason is, 100% more entertaining than the comparative clunkers of the post-Madoff Wilpon years.
And listen, I understand that I am an excitable, cringe-posting rube, but this isn’t just an exercise in dopey, misguided hope: Attempts to win the offseason usually lead to actual winning baseball. To use an example from our own lore, most readers can probably remember how stunning and exciting it was when Omar Minaya convinced the Wilpons to spend and landed Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran. It was a turning point in spirit and a triumph unto itself, but it also led, a year later, to the very best wire-to-wire iteration of the Mets so far this century, and a couple of other pretty good versions of the team to boot. It was all entertaining as hell. That’s cool, you know? As a fan, that’s what you want! In retrospect, I can forgive a Jason Bay here and some unfortunate vests there, because as ill-advised as they were, they represented actual efforts to fly a flag.
For the Mets, those wild and wacky efforts faded into bleak memory after the Madoff scandal. A few years later, the rest of the league, in an astonishing display of synchronicity that was definitely not actually collusion among MLB owners who individually and collectively commanded historically vast resources and revenue streams, more or less followed suit, and the wonderful wintertime ritual of teams competing against each other to bring in better players that they might also become better at baseball sort of just stopped, a few exceptions notwithstanding.
With due respect to the Padres, who made some moves recently that improved their team and positioned them to make things interesting in the NL West, the Mets can reasonably be said to have won this offseason thanks to the trade that brings Francisco Lindor (!!!!!!!!!!!!) and Carlos Carrasco to town. That move, on top of the signings of James McCann and Trevor May earlier this offseason, leaves the Mets an unmistakably better team than they were a few months ago.
Yes, these guys have to go play the games, and yes, this is still a team with some needs. But with a new owner who is willing to spend, a revamped front office, and a group of good-to-great new players in the fold, things are looking, dare I say, good. At the very least, I’m excited for the season to come in a way I haven’t been in a very long time. I suspect I’m not alone in that.