When the New York Mets' front office started to spin 90 win talk during spring training, it was a hard sell for most Mets fans. The Mets did make some splashy additions in the offseason, adding outfielders Curtis Granderson and Chris Young as well as pitcher Bartolo Colon. The sizzle hasn't translated to more wins for the Mets, as the team has gone an abysmal 22-28 through their first 50 games of the season. If the Mets are to fulfill the 90 win talk of the preseason, they will have to go 68-44 over their final 112 games of the season, a .607 winning percentage.
Expecting a team that's floundered in May after a strong April to play .600 baseball the rest of the way is unrealistic, but that is not what the biggest concern for us is with the team's direction at the moment. There appears to be a building disconnect between the organization and the fans themselves, which is a massive problem since the Mets are having financial problems. The Mets have reduced their payroll over the past five years, indicating that they will increase the payroll if fans come to the ballpark. Fans, however, have stayed away in droves due to the poor product the Mets have fielded the last few years. The Mets have essentially been rebuilding without using the word rebuild, and fans aren't stupid enough to continually pay big market prices for a small market product.
The Mets have been desperate to get fans back to Citi Field, and have done good marketing moves by offering ticket discounts through their website and social media outlets. They have undone those moves, however, through some very poor public relations work and comments to the media. The latest comments come from former hitting coach Dave Hudgens, who was fired after yesterday's 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hudgens was critical of the team's fan base in an interview with MLB.com, indicating that he felt his players were trying to hard at home to appease the fans. Hudgens cited statistics that show the Mets are a better offensive team on the road, and was upset with fans for booing Curtis Granderson during his early struggles this season.
Hudgens even took shots at the team's popular television broadcasters. Hudgens told Newsday's Marc Carig that he was "amazed" at the old school guys who have hitting all figured out. Reading between the lines, you can see that Hudgens is taking shots at SNY broadcasters Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling, who have said during broadcasts that the Mets hitters are far too passive at the plate for their liking. This is an indirect shot at GM Sandy Alderson's organizational hitting philosophy, which is based in seeing more pitches to get better pitches to hit. The approach hasn't really panned out too well for the Mets this season, who rank towards the bottom of the major leagues in batting average (.237, 25th), on base percentage (.309, 20th), home runs (34, 28th) and slugging percentage (.352, last).
The fact that Hudgens was able to blame the team's fan base and broadcasters for the Mets' struggles at the plate is absurd. Mets fans pay a premium for tickets to Mets games, and they can get frustrated when they see the team constantly blow great pitching performances by failing to score runs. Major league players are also paid handsomely to play the game, so the idea that fan criticism is impacting their performance is ridiculous. The fact that the Mets aren't hitting (and this isn't true for everyone, see Daniel Murphy, David Wright, and Granderson in May) isn't due to the fact that they are mentally fragile and need to be coddled by fans to play well. The simple fact is, many of the team's hitters aren't very good.
The even more damning fact is the idea that the front office hasn't issued some kind of response to Hudgens' remarks. Even though Hudgens is no longer employed by the Mets, his remarks are a direct shot at their paying customers. The Mets have developed a bad habit of feeling the need to talk down to their fans over the past decade, particularly under the Alderson regime. The front office insists that there is a plan to improve the team and that they are following it, but the Mets have looked and played like a rebuilding cellar dwellar for the past four years. Alderson in particular is notorious for using lawyer speak with the press, making it difficult to read his comments and figure out what the Mets are going to do. Alderson has also angered fans with his sense of humor over the past few years, making jokes about the state of the outfield and payroll limitations. Those jokes again make it seem like the Mets are pulling one over on their fans, charging major market prices for a minor league product.
Mets fans are not stupid, and with all the resources available to them on the internet they can tell the Mets weren't serious about raising their payroll. The Mets spent a lot of money to sign their big free agents last offseason, but nearly all of it came from money that was coming off the books already. The Mets payroll on Opening Day this season was 89 million dollars, well below the 100 million dollar projections Alderson was tossing out at the beginning of the winter. That mark is even below the dreadful 2012 squad's payroll, which was 93 million dollars on Opening Day. The Mets essentially ignored holes at shortstop, first base, and in their bullpen and left the winter with extra money in their pocket. Many Mets fans have come to believe that the Mets are using Alderson's rebuilding plan as an excuse to trim payroll and hide the team's financial problems. The 90 win talk was ludicrous in that sense, and nothing the Mets have done on the field has backed up Alderson's expectations.
The Mets made matters worse for themselves earlier in the season, when they started the ill advised fan letter campaign. The campaign, which featured a letter signed by numerous former Mets, was sent to season ticket holders and basically insinuated that the Mets weren't playing well at home because the fans weren't showing up to watch them play. Ron Darling, who signed the letter, admitted in interviews later on that he hadn't read the letter through before agreeing to sign it and felt it could have been executed better. The fact that none of the organization's more notable stars (Tom Seaver, Mike Piazza, and current players like David Wright and Matt Harvey) signed it shows how idiotic the whole idea was. Pretty much every former player who signed the player is on the Mets' payroll in some way, whether it is as a broadcaster or an organizational ambassador.
The idea that the Mets felt the need to shame their fans into buying tickets is disturbing. It's no secret that the Mets are hurting for ticket sales, as the building hasn't been more than half full outside of Opening Day and the Subway Series. Talking down to their fans and not calling them true supporters of the team because they don't buy tickets is not going to lead to a boom at the box office. Winning will get fans to show up, and the organization doesn't appear committed to winning at all costs. Former Met Kyle Farnsworth essentially accused the team of cutting him to save a few bucks, and the worst thing the Mets can do is continue to be cheap and blame the fans for not supporting the product.
Mets fans are loyal, but they don't like to be insulted. The current run of mediocrity has essentially cost the Mets an entire generation of fans, who don't have the patience to sit around and wait for the Mets' ten year plan to pay off. Most of those fans have either become Yankees fans, follow out of market teams, or simply don't watch baseball. Alienating the current fans is not a winning tactic, and talking to them like they don't understand how building a winner works isn't going to help.
If the Mets want to get the fans' attention back, they need to stop with the gimmicks and public relations stunts and dramatically improve their product on the field. The Mets desperately need to bring in a marquee offensive player to show the fan base they are serious about winning, much like the Mike Piazza trade did in 1998. The Mets have ample young pitching they can use as the center piece of a deal, and there are bats out there that could fit their needs. Giancarlo Stanton has come up as a potential trade target for years now, and he has the ability to hit it out of any yard he plays in. The same goes for Rockies' shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, although that might be a harder sell to Colorado right now with the team in contention.
Either way, the Mets have been saying for the past few years they know what they are doing. They speak of having a master plan to become a perennial contender, but the results haven't come four years into Sandy Alderson's tenure. The product on the field is bad, and firing the hitting coach and possibly the manager won't fix it. The Mets need to improve the product on the field very soon or else the fan support they have will continue to dwindle away.
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