Bear with me: The Mets have had, to date, a successful offseason.
Before you click away or jump to the comments section to accuse me of abject shillery or horrifying optimism, check out what I wrote in October, after the fateful press conference where Mets brass called 2009’s results “unacceptable” and pledged change for 2010.
I argued then, as I have since, that the Mets — faced with so much uncertainty coming off the injury-addled 2009 campaign — should prioritize the future above all. I said that their offseason mantra should read:
First, do no harm.
That’s not to excuse all the minor failures of the winter, of course. The Mets had opportunities to inexpensively improve their chances for 2010 without jeopardizing their future and missed them. I don’t know if there’s truth to the reports of budget constraints or bureaucratic inefficiency, or if the problem stems from either or both or is simply an innocent — and damning — misreading of baseball’s marketplace, but whatever it is, it isn’t good.
But the Mets haven’t traded a Minor Leaguer since they sent Greg Veloz to the Nationals for Anderson Hernandez in August. And considering how tempting it must have been for the team to package prospects for veteran help this offseason, I will call that a victory.
Because the Mets are in no position to mortgage any little bit of the future for the success of the 2010 team.
I know what you’ll say: You must win every year in New York. This city won’t abide a rebuilding process. I hear you.
That’s not what this needs to be, though. The Mets don’t need to rebuild anything in 2010, they need to reassess. Entering the season with question marks at nearly every position, the Mets must figure out what they’ll get from all the players who were injured, ineffective or irregular last year.
If Jose Reyes, Johan Santana, Oliver Perez and John Maine are healthy, and Mike Pelfrey, David Wright and Francisco Rodriguez perform more like they did in 2008 than they did in 2009, and Jeff Francoeur plays like he did for the Mets and not for the Braves, and Daniel Murphy and Omir Santos prove they’re Major League regulars, and Carlos Beltran comes back healthy as soon as we hope he does, the Mets will be just fine.
That’s a lot of ifs, of course, and should some of them not pan out, the Mets will be less fine. The more ifs that don’t, the less fine they’ll be.
Fans have killed the team for the lack of clear-cut contingency plans, and to some extent, that’s fair. The Mets probably should have found a more capable backup shortstop than Alex Cora for the event that Reyes gets hurt again and another starting pitcher for the brigade.
But to me, the biggest contingency plan for the 2010 Mets is the 2011 Mets. Because if things go horribly awry this season — and after 2009, we’d be foolish to dismiss that possibility — the team at least won’t have to look far to see the future. Top prospects Ike Davis, Fernando Martinez, Josh Thole and Jon Niese — should he not earn the fifth starter’s role in Spring Training — should all start the year in Triple-A.
Behind them, the team will have another crop of talented young players entering their first full seasons in the high Minors at Double-A Binghamton. The Mets may not be able to boast a star-studded crop of prospects on par with the Rangers or Rays, but theirs is hardly the dreck it’s been made out to be in the local media. ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked the Mets’ system 15th out of the 30 Major League clubs.
And much of the Mets’ young talent is concentrated in the upper Minor League levels. Seven of Law’s top 10 Mets’ prospects should start the season at Double- or Triple-A, as should Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who missed Law’s list but ranked ninth on Fangraphs’, and Ruben Tejada, who placed ninth in Baseball America’s ranking.
Now I can’t say if this was all held intact by accident or design. For all I know, the Mets were eager to trade all their best prospects for one year of Bronson Arroyo but couldn’t get the paperwork in order.
But I’m hoping that’s not the case, and that there’s real reason for optimism here. I’m hoping someone in the front office — and who knows who it is — recognizes that the best way to develop a sustainable winner is to build one from within.
And so I’m hoping that the Mets’ biggest failure this offseason was not in roster construction, but merely in communication when they threw around terms like “unacceptable” and “change” and “spend” and “trade.” Maybe they would’ve been better off starting with the slogan I suggested back in September:
The 2010 Mets: Please Be Patient While We Get Our S@#$ Together
Instead, we’ve got, essentially, “The 2010 Mets: Losing is unacceptable, so here’s Jason Bay,” and a very angry fanbase.
I can’t imagine that’ll do much for ticket sales or advertising dollars, but I’ll chalk it up to another of the small losses that have shrouded the offseason’s larger win.