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When is It Realistic to Expect the New York Mets to Contend?

January 15th, 2013 at 3:23 PM
By Mike Phillips

The New York Mets have been very quiet this offseason. This may seem like an unusual statement since the team signed David Wright to an eight year contract extension and completed a blockbuster trade with the Toronto Blue Jays for R.A. Dickey. Aside from those two moves, however, the Mets have done almost nothing of note. The team has signed a collection of minor league free agents (like Brian Bixler, Andrew Brown, and Omar Quintanilla) and has been rumored to be looking for several other pieces to improve the roster. It is very interesting to note that the Mets remain the only team in baseball who have not signed a free agent to a big league contract. After two and a half months of free agency, the Mets have let several players who contributed to last year's team (Jason Bay, Andres Torres, Mike Pelfrey, Manny Acosta, Jon Rauch, Ramon Ramirez, Ronny Cedeno among others) all walk and have not brought in a big league caliber talent to replace them. 

'DSC02614' photo (c) 2010, Bryan Horowitz - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Even though General Manager Sandy Alderson won't publicly admit it, the team is clearly in the third year of a rebuilding project. While rebuilding from the disaster Omar Minaya left seems to be a good strategy, Alderson is likely being advised by ownership not to admit that they are rebuilding in order to keep fans interested in coming to the ballpark. While Alderson has done a good job of removing some of the underachievers from the Mets, he has yet to replace any of them at the big league level. The Mets opening day outfielders, as of today, would be Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Lucas Duda, Mike Baxter, Andrew Brown, and Brian Bixler. This group is actually worse than the group the Mets trotted out last year, as it has less than five years (combined) of major league experience. The rotation (on paper) looks good, but the team is banking on a lot to make sure it runs smoothly. Johan Santana never looked the same after his no hitter last year, and he and Dillon Gee are both coming off of surgery. Matt Harvey is promising, but remains a young starter who needs to develop. The team has a hole in the rotation's fifth spot it has yet to fill, so at this moment Jon Niese is the one proven commodity in the rotation.

Fans have been willing to accept a rebuild thus far, and have even been accepting of the Dickey trade. The fan base has displayed remarkable patience with the pace of the rebuild, and they even know that 2013 is likely a lost year. While the Mets figure to eventually get an outfielder (likely Scott Hairston) and a couple of pitchers to agree to their one year offers as spring training approaches, the opportunity for them to add a true difference maker to this year's club has passed. 

The question for the franchise has become when they expect to contend again. They clearly do not expect to contend in 2013, which is why they let a lot of free agents who could fill holes for them (particularly in the outfield) sign with other clubs without even a phone call from the Mets. 2014 has been widely speculated as a target date for a return to contention since the Mets would be rid of Johan Santana and Jason Bay's financial obligations as well as having the two young starters (Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler) firmly entrenched in the rotation. The 2014 plan gains even more support when you factor in that Travis D'Arnaud should be the starting catcher by that point, giving the Mets a solid young corps in the middle of the lineup with David Wright, Ike Davis, and D'Arnaud. The problem lies with the fact that the Mets seem to be relying on these three young players to develop before supporting them with outside talent. While all three look like solid bets to develop into good major leaguers, the Mets have gone down this road before (remember Generation K?) . If one of these prospects does not develop into a solid big leaguer, which is always possible, the team will be set back for years.

The Mets need to do their fan base a favor and let them in on a little bit of the plan for the future. The Mets clearly do have a plan to get back to contention, otherwise David Wright would not have been willing to sign an extension to stay here for the next eight years. Wright wants to win as much as the fans do, and there should be (we hope) more to the plan than just hoping prospects pan out. Assistant GM Paul DePodesta was quoted as describing Alderson's approach to building this team would encompass "Moneyball with money". Mets fans have certainly seen the Moneyball aspect so far, but the money hasn't followed (Wright's extension not withstanding). Alderson's hands were probably tied the first few years due to the Wilpon's financial difficulties, but with the team's finances apparently in order the Wilpons need to show their fans they are committed to building a winner in the next few years. The team has not been to the playoffs in six years or a winning record since 2008, and a lot of fans are losing patience with the poor product being put on the field. The team's high ticket prices don't help matters, as fans are being charged top dollar for a product that isn't anywhere close to top value. If the Mets are not adding quality pieces to the big league roster by next winter, they should be prepared for some justified outrage from the fan base. Telling the fan base that they are not giving up on a season and making no visible improvements to a club that has won less games each of the last three years is just insulting. 

Tags: Baseball, MLB, New York, New York Mets, Sandy Alderson

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