Passing Judgment: better days ahead for the Mets

I am not going to sugarcoat the fact that being a Mets fan can be tortuous.  I am admittedly jealous of the many people I know who are Yankees’ fans and have been blessed with several World Series championships and annual playoff teams.  But I can’t help it…my first exposure to baseball was as a 6-year old watching Opening Day in 1985 when Gary Carter made his Mets debut and hit two homeruns including a game-winning blast in extra innings against the Cardinals.  That was all I needed to see and I have been hooked ever since.

After being spoiled as a young kid with the great Mets teams of the late 1980’s, I suffered through my teenage years with some horrendous teams that included the likes of Vince Coleman, Eddie Murray, Bobby Bonilla, and Anthony Young.  Then all hopes for a bright future were quashed when Generation K (Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher and Jason Isringhausen) flamed out instantly.  By the time I got to college, the Mets made a comeback after acquiring Mike Piazza in 1998 and eventually reached the World Series in 2000, only to lose to Yankees.  That really sucked.

Instead of building on that pennant-winning team, things went in the opposite direction with some brutal years in the early 2000’s (hey Mo Vaughn, how ya doin?).  Then, once again, a renaissance came in 2005 with the infusion of Willie Randolph and Omar Minaya’s acquisitions of Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran.  Following that, Carlos Delgado joined the fray with emerging homegrown stars David Wright and Jose Reyes.  In 2006, the Mets seemed destined to win it all twenty years after the magical 1986 season.  But then Adam Wainwright caught Beltran looking at the curveball seen ’round the world.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the Mets followed that up with epic collapses at the end of the 2007 and 2008 seasons.

Since that time, it has been the Dark Ages for the Metropolitans.  Despite moving into beautiful Citi Field in 2009, the Mets have been irrelevant and non-factors in the pennant race.  After another change in leadership, Sandy Alderson took over as General Manager and laid out a long-term plan to turn the franchise around.  The problem was that we would have to be patient.  The Mets had several immoveable contracts while getting little in return, and the farm system had grown thin. 

Maybe I am in the minority, but I had no problem dealing with a couple years of futility in exchange for building a foundation to become competitive year in and year out.  That was the blueprint used by Frank Cashen starting in 1980 when he then drafted the likes of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden.  In 2011, Carlos Beltran was playing in his final year of his contract and would not be re-signed.  Alderson then dealt him to the Giants in exchange for pitching prospect Zack Wheeler.  This signaled the beginning of the rebuilding process because Wheeler was the type of player to build a pitching staff around.

In 2012, R.A. Dickey incredulously won the National League Cy Young award going 20-6 with the most dominating knuckleball in recent memory.  However, rather than invest significant dollars and multiple years into a 38-year old pitcher who would unlikely match that success again, Alderson traded him to the Blue Jays for a package that included catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud and young pitcher Noah Syndergaard.

Oh yeah, the Mets also had this pitcher they drafted a couple years ago named Matt Harvey making his way through the system.  Harvey made his big league debut in 2012 and hasn’t looked back since.  He has become arguably the best pitcher in baseball and was honored with being given the start in the 2013 All Star Game.  Wheeler has also since joined the Mets in 2013 joining Harvey for 2/5 of the rotation.

After this season, the albatross contracts of Johan Santana and Jason Bay come off the books.  Both Jeff Wilpon and Sandy Alderson have said they have money to spend and will spend it on improving the team.  For once, I actually believe them.  Whether they spend that money intelligently is another story.

But you get the sense that things are starting to turn around for this beleaguered franchise.  The Amazin’ Mets, once the loveable losers of baseball and then the butt of all jokes, look like they could be turning a corner after several years of futility.  You can see the building blocks forming with respect to the pitching staff which is the most important component.  Matt Harvey is a bona fide ace.  What he brings to the team is invaluable in terms of his on-field performance, poise, maturity, presence and aura.  Zack Wheeler is a work in progress but certainly has the potential to be a 1A on the staff.  Syndergaard is the guy all general managers have asked about in trade discussions and could easily become the third of a three-headed pitching monster. 

With David Wright under contract for the rest of his career and enshrined as the Captain of the team, the Mets have their leader and the face of the franchise.  Now it is a matter of putting the rest of the pieces together.

Sure there are some disappointments that will have to be dealt with including the regressions of Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and Lucas Duda.  But with a pitching staff like this starting to take shape, the future hasn’t looked this bright since before the Mets said goodbye to Shea Stadium.  After seeing Citi Field sold out with a raucous and vocal crowd supporting Wright and Harvey at the All Star Game, it is a lot easier to envision that type of atmosphere on a daily basis supporting the home team in a pennant race.

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