With the team unable to contend now anyway, and the financial situation in such turmoil, this is really the Mets’ only play. But after the torture of the past six seasons, asking fans to stomach still more—to come out to the ballpark, to buy their hot dogs and $9 beers and souvenir Josh Thole No. 30 jerseys—is pushing loyalty to its extreme. The Wilpons seem to know it. When Fred made his remarks about owning the team for a long time, he couldn’t hide a wan smile. “Whether [fans] are happy about that right now or not, I don’t know.”
For a guy who is dramatically overqualified for this job—a job whose bottom fell out within months of his taking it in 2010—Mets general manager Sandy Alderson has a refreshing sense of gallows humor about all this madness. Alderson is a fascinating man: a Vietnam vet, a Harvard Law School grad, the architect of the Bash Brothers championship Oakland A’s team, and a man who had for years been considered a potential replacement for Bud Selig as MLB commissioner (assuming Selig ever gives up the job, which is unlikely). Alderson took over the Mets, after working as an MLB executive for almost a decade, largely because Selig encouraged him to help fix a signature franchise. He’s under contract until 2014, so he won’t confess to any regrets. But this can’t be what he thought the job was going to be.
Not that he’s not having fun with it anyway. Alderson signed up for Twitter last month (@metsgm) and immediately started tweeting jokes about his employers’ financial situation.
“Getting ready for Spring Training-Driving to FL but haven’t left yet. Big fundraiser tonight for gas money. Also exploring PAC contribution.”
“Prepping for trip. Bought 4 like-new tires at chop shop across from Citi. He threw in free wiper fluid. Better than the Wheeler deal!”
“Will have to drive carefully on trip; Mets only reimburse for gas at a downhill rate. Will try to coast all the way to FL.”
The jokes speak well to Alderson’s ability to stay sane in this crazy job. Considering the scrutiny Mets G.M.’s typically face—Minaya, Jim Duquette, and Steve Phillips, the last three, all left town with their reputations in tatters—Alderson has enjoyed a relatively free ride from the media so far. He is seen as the victim of the Mets sinkhole rather than one of its architects and, at this point, the only person (along with old Moneyball cohorts J. P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta, the inspiration for the Jonah Hill character in that film) who can save this team.
Which is why another news item Wilpon dropped in his spring-training pseudo press conference stood out. Wilpon said that even if the Madoff mess weren’t happening, if that were all settled and the Wilpon family had billions of dollars … the Mets still wouldn’t be spending any money right now. This, according to Wilpon, was Alderson’s plan all along. “When [Alderson] came in [he said], ‘I want to do some things; I want to have some flexibility.’ And that’s what he’s doing.”
Even if that’s after-the-fact spin, the strategy is still sound and, to some extent, reassuring. The Mets and Alderson have a plan, and they’re sticking to it. Tear everything down, build up the farm system, stop making those signature Mets huge contract mistakes, and basically pretend you have the resources of the Oakland A’s. This strategy might look familiar because it’s the exact one Brian Cashman has been instituting with the Yankees for the past few years. The difference, of course, is that when the Yankees decide they want to stop pretending they’re the A’s and start spending huge money on free agents, they have the resources to go ahead and do that (this off-season’s relative inactivity notwithstanding). Wilpon and the Mets claim that once this “period” is over, they will have the same opportunity. One can forgive Mets fans, and Alderson, for their skepticism.
So what can Mets fans look forward to this year? How do they keep themselves entertained? If new right-fielder Lucas Duda is what the Mets think he’ll be, he’s gonna be the oversize, thunder-sticked Agbayanian fan favorite that your kid will want you to turn in his Jose Reyes jersey for. Johan Santana will try to justify at least 30 or 40 bucks of the $24 million he’s owed this year. With Tim Wakefield retired, R. A. Dickey will stand as baseball’s last knuckleballer. David Wright will swing for the newly brought-in fences every time he’s up, even if it’s just to build up his trade value. But the sad truth is, the Mets could be better than they were last year and still finish last in the NL East, thanks to the massive improvements from the Marlins and Nationals and continued excellence of the Phillies and Braves.
Perhaps the goal of the Mets fan, then, is to not get too discouraged. With this, I wish you good luck. “Check Back Next Year at This Time” isn’t much of a slogan. But right now, it’s all the Mets have.