Today, Keith Law of ESPN gave his thoughts on when the so-called "worst" teams in baseball would contend again. Regarding the Mets, Law opined that they wouldn't contend again until 2016. Yes, 2016. The year after Marty McFly and Doc Brown first took the flying Delorean for a spin. Law noted that the Mets lack high upside players on their current roster and in the minors (even though he's a big fan of Zack Wheeler, Matt Harvey and Brandon Nimmo - calling them potential stars), which would seem to contradict one of his main points. He also notes that the Mets won't be able to obtain high end talent via trades (as they did last year in the Carlos Beltran deal after most "tuned in" writers said they'd get nothing of value in return). His main reason, though, is everyone's main reason. The Mets' lack of money. Things are not all rosy in the land of the Mets. That can't be denied. However, it seems that the negativity has turned into a living, breathing, super-pessimism that has clouded the judgment of people who ordinarily have good judgment.
Here are the facts (on the field first): The Mets' win totals in 2010 and 2011 were in the high 70's. Their total most likely would've been above 80 last year had they not traded off lots of pieces with an eye on the future. See: Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran. Those moves, of course, were necessary. The Mets' farm system is viewed as average overall, with a handful of potentially high impact arms ready to contribute in 2012 or 2013. The bats are further away. The Major League roster, while devoid of established stars save for David Wright and Johan Santana, contains lots of pieces who can contribute to a contending team. Among them Ike Davis, Daniel Murphy, Ruben Tejada, Lucas Duda, Jon Niese, RA Dickey, Bobby Parnell, and Ramon Ramirez.
I don't think anyone is expecting the 2012 Mets to win the World Series, or make the Playoffs. They're being covered, though, as if they've been a perennial hundred loss team. As if they have a barren farm system, a terrible Manager, an inept General Manager, and zero talent on the Major League roster. As if the GOP is running a fact free smear campaign against them.
In actuality, they're a team that's hovered around .500 the last few seasons, with a roster made up of mostly younger players, a Manager who has done a fine job, and a front office that's one of the most well respected in the game. Why, then, is the team viewed by some as doomed to the land of not being able to contend until 2016? It's not the talent on the field, and it's not the talent in the minors (regardless of the reasons given by those who cite them as drawbacks).
The Mets are supposedly doomed because of the Bernard Madoff situation. It's that situation that has clouded the coverage of the team. It's that situation that has led to a somewhat average team being covered as if they're the second coming of the '62 Mets. It's quite clear that the on-field product is currently being affected by the Madoff situation. Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz may be on the hook for close to $386 million dollars in the event of a guilty verdict. Or they could be on the hook for a sliver of that amount. The trial is set to start on the 19th of this month, and the Judge has repeatedly expressed doubts as to whether there is any evidence linking Wilpon and/or Katz to so called "wilful blindness" as it relates to whether or not they knew about Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Even if the jury looks the other way and convicts them based on nothing but speculation, the Judge could still reverse the decision. Or order them to pay substantially less.
In the absolute worst case scenario, where the jury convicts Wilpon/Katz, the Judge upholds it, and orders them to pay the full $386 million, the Mets would likely be forced into bankruptcy. Under that scenario, the team would continue to operate while new owners were found. The two most recent Major League Baseball teams who went through bankruptcy were the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rangers made it to the World Series the year they went through bankruptcy, and the Dodgers franchise has been valued at anywhere between 1 and 1.5 billion dollars. One would imagine they'll make it out of this fine in Los Angeles, and one would have to imagine the same would be true if the Mets went through it.
Back to the field: There's no need to cite all of the teams in baseball history who've gone from worst to first, or fourth to second, or 78 wins to the Wild Card from year to year. It happens constantly. And with the addition of the 2nd Wild Card, teams will only need to have win totals in the mid to high 80's in order to contend. If Keith Law's definition of the word "contend" means "be a preseason favorite to win the World Series," he's simply ignoring the fact that it's often the hot team, or the 83 win team, or the team with one shutdown starting pitcher, that comes out on top in October. Buying the offseason guarantees nothing as far as Championships are concerned.
Yes, hoping for a mid 80's win total is setting the bar low, especially for the National League team from New York. But a mid 80's win team appears to be the Mets' ceiling in the short-term. It's not outlandish to think the 2012 Mets could have a win total in the 80's. The bullpen should be better than last year, and the starting pitching should be about the same. The offense lost an enormous piece in Jose Reyes, but welcomes back Ike Davis - who missed nearly the entire 2011 campaign. In a likelier scenario, the team hovers around .500, and the impact arms get closer to contributing - which would make 2013 a year where the team could potentially take a big step forward. 2013 may be a big step forward because even if the financial uncertainty is still hovering, the Mets will enter the 2012 offseason having only $51.4 million committed in player contracts for 2013. In 2014, that number falls to $8.5 million in committed player contracts. In 2015, the Mets have no money committed as far as player contracts are concerned. Insert joke here about how the Mets won't have any money to pay players by 2015. Let's all laugh. Now come back to Earth and realize that there's no way it would ever come to that. The Wilpon's will recover, or they won't. In either scenario, the Mets will go on. And they're set up to have tons of flexibility down the road.
To conlude, do most Mets fans wish they could travel in time back to 2006? A time when Reyes was 22, Wright was 23, and it looked to all the World like the Mets were going to be a powerhouse for years to come? Of course. I'd even settle for going back to 2007 or 2008, seasons that ended poorly but where the team was in it until the last pitch of Game 162. We can't go back. We can only move forward. And bashing the team over every miniscule thing, throwing your hands up in the air in surrender, and/or buying into the "woe is us" attitude won't solve a thing. People are denying themselves the enjoyment that has always come with the start of baseball season, and it's a damn shame. The situation isn't hopeless. The team isn't hopeless. It's only the majority of fans who seem to be hopeless. And that needs to change, because this isn't hopeless. Less than ideal at the moment? Sure. Hopeless? Not even close.