There is no doubt that the trade Sandy Alderson is in the process of pulling off is a good one. We still aren’t aware of some of the finer details, but the Mets are adding two top prospects, John Buck, and a third minor leaguer, for R.A. Dickey, Josh Thole, and a minor prospect. Dickey is one of the best pitchers in the league, and he still may be a top of the line starter for a couple of years, but the Mets are adding players that may still be having a positive impact on the team six years from now. It’s certainly possibly they may not flourish, particularly the much farther away Noah Syndergaard, but the probability favors the Mets in that regard.
The problem is the immediate future. Travis d’Arnaud, the catcher the Mets are receiving, will probably be up to the majors very soon, if not on Opening Day. John Buck will likely be on the team in the interim, and probably shift to a backup role when d’Arnaud gets called up. Together it’s unlikely they provide as much value as R.A. Dickey, and that means a team already under .500 is probably taking a step back before pushing forward. That’s disheartening for most fans, whose number one concern is the current roster of players on the field. Many of us would rather root for the guys we have to succeed, particularly when they’re great ones like Dickey, than reinvest emotion in new guys that are merely promising to be great. Ultimately though what the fans want doesn’t matter because winning is what brings in the fans, the attention, and the money. It’s not out of the question that d’Arnaud plus the pitcher the Mets replace Dickey with is worth more than Dickey and Thole would’ve been, but it doesn’t seem like a good bet for 2013 nor the type of improvement the Mets need to climb out of 4th place if it does happen.
That’s where the disappointment comes in; this trade does not make the Mets better in the foreseeable future. Sure, it raises the probability that they are better down the line, but it’s also important that this player is going to be cheap and under team control for a long time. Fans can forgive losing star players, whether homegrown ones or adopted ones, when the team placed in front of them excites and captures their attention, but so far I’m not so sure the 2013 version is in position to do that. Especially if we don’t get an impact bat for the outfield and instead go with Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis and a platoon of Mike Baxter and 2013′s version of Scott Hairston. We heard a lot about the present value of contracts with the David Wright negotiations, and that concept applies to winning seasons too; a winning season in the present is worth more than one in the future. Good process only gets you so far, and there are plenty of inherent risks between now and then that could sabotage the plan. A clearly improved 2013, even if it ultimately falls short, could create the excitement that draws fans in, fans that will continue to come in 2014. The message lately has felt like it’s not worth investing in this team yet, which keeps ticket sales and revenue down; revenue that could make the job of creating a winner in 2014 easier. It’d be unfair to assume Sandy Alderson’s going to take the rest of the offseason off at this juncture, meaning he could still improve the team and the outfield, but it’s hard to see the type of players coming that give this team a “If everything breaks right” chance at the playoffs.
As always with the Mets these last three years, the money question is always looming. Partial sales, which included Sterling money invested in the Mets, helped pay off loans and seemed to at least point the Mets in the right direction. Allusions were made to a payroll in 2013 at or above 2012′s number. The deferred contracts and negotiations seem to point in a different direction, although it is still possible that Sandy Alderson spends most of that money on players that make the Mets better. It’s never a good idea to expect much direct truth from a general manager, that’s not their job, but given the message that the actions are sending it feels pretty hard to do more than guess at the plan. The Mets appear to be in a holding pattern and I just hope they get clearance to land before they run out of gas.
The Mets have a big second half of July before the trading deadline. They play nine big games against the two teams closest to them in the division. If the Mets are going to make some roster moves, whether it’s by trade acquisition or minor league promotion, you’d like to seem the do so coming out of the break. In fact, you do already hear rumors of the Mets being linked to possible relievers on the trade market.
There is still a lot of baseball to be played, but it’s important to put your best team forward when you’re playing the teams you’re probably going to be fighting for a playoff spot down to the wire. A strong second half showing in July could get the Mets into first place and allow them to put the pressure on the other teams in the division.
The Nationals have talked about limiting Steven Strasburg’s innings this season. That’s easier to do if they maintain a 3.5 game lead, but if the Mets can push them to the bubble, it forces them to make some hard decisions. The Braves collapsed last year, and as this season comes to a close that could weigh on their minds. Why give them a cushion to be comfortable with? Keep the doubt that they’re good enough fresh in their minds as the second half rolls along.
The flip side of this is R.A. Dickey. The Mets have talked about the possibility of using Dickey on short rest and/or in relief if they need to. Knuckleballer or not, he’s still 37 years old. It’d be nice to not have to use this bullet, at least not too often, in September. Getting into first and maintaining a playoff spot would allow them to not have to squeeze every last drop of production out of Dickey and keep him fresher for a possible playoff series.
It often feels like the mainstream media has a story they want to write, and look for the facts to fit the story rather than watching the game and writing a story that matches the facts. They can get hung up on narratives they like and beat them to death. Part of the reason I named this blog what I did was to counter the idea that the Mets are cursed, never spend, are inept, or Latin-biased, etc etc.
One of the common stories this year was that the Mets are broke and can’t afford Reyes, so they will trade him. They stuck to this; it seemed like every day there was another story about how they’d have to trade him, or who would be a good suitor. As the season went on some of these writers had the occasion to glance down at the field, and happened to notice how unbelievably awesome Jose Reyes is, and how much he is adored by Mets fans. Slowly but surely more articles came out suggesting, as many bloggers have been writing all along, that the Mets should and could keep Reyes. It’s so refreshing to watch a player that’s just that awesome, that leads the league in so many categories, and is having a blast doing it. That his great season has caused writers to use the delete button more than usual is just a bonus.
Speaking of which, here’s a post from Ed Ryan at Mets Fever that wonders if maybe the Mets should be thinking about adding, not subtracting, players at the trading deadline. Personally I think the Mets will add someone. Alderson has been known in the past to like to wheel and deal, and I suspect this year will be no different. He’s claimed to this point to have the financial ability to do so. This doesn’t mean no one will get traded though, it just means it doesn’t have to be a fire sale. Sandy Alderson won’t need to trade major league pieces for guys that may or may not help the team at some future time. He’s got the options of trading major league talent for equal major league talent, maybe shuffling off an extra bat for an extra relief pitcher, or trading prospects for a good player that’s still got a couple of years left on his contract to help the team out both this year and next.
Winning or losing, it’s never too early to start bringing in talented players. Even if you don’t believe the Mets are one or two players away from making the playoffs, if you make them one better right now, that’s less work needed to do in the offseason. I expect a lot of activity in July, and some of it will probably be pretty exciting.
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