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Mets Could Go From Bad to Dreadful - Nov 9, 2011 NY Times
12 years ago  ::  Nov 12, 2011 - 7:29PM #1
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By TYLER KEPNER Published: November 9, 2011

We are conditioned to think of the American League East as baseball’s superpower division. The Yankees and the Boston Red Sox spend lavishly. The Tampa Bay Rays have made three playoff appearances in the past four seasons. The Toronto Blue Jays have stockpiled young talent and are expected to spend when the time is right.

The Mets have had a 403-407 record with Jose Reyes and David Wright in their peak-age years. Reyes is a free agent and Wright has value around the league should the Mets seek to trade him.

The Philadelphia Phillies have won the division five years in a row. The Atlanta Braves have a stable of young, major league-ready starters. The Washington Nationals are like the Blue Jays, but in more of a hurry to spend. The Florida Marlins are aggressively courting free agents as they move to a new ballpark. “Those two divisions are so much alike, it’s sort of scary,” said Larry Bowa, the MLB Network analyst and a former manager. “I’ve played the game, I’ve coached and managed, and you want to be as competitive as you can. That being said, reality eventually sets in, and you say, ‘Look at the stuff we’re competing against.’ ” In a loaded division, one team must absorb a lot of losses. In the A.L. East, that team has long been the Baltimore Orioles. And in the N.L. East, that team could well be the Mets. That may be true no matter where Jose Reyes ends up, but it is especially likely if a division rival snags him.

The Marlins gave Reyes a stadium tour on Wednesday. Their retractable-roof park is only one prong in a rebranding that includes a new manager, Ozzie Guillen; a new name, the Miami Marlins, which becomes official Friday; new uniforms; and a festive new logo that calls to mind the colors of a Wonder bread bag. All that is missing to draw fickle South Florida fans is the talent to lift the team from last place.

The Marlins went 72-90 last season, five games worse than the fourth-place Mets. Both teams have an ace coming off shoulder surgery — Josh Johnson for the Marlins, Johan Santana for the Mets. Swiping a marquee player from the Mets would be a coup for the Marlins, who could slide Hanley Ramirez to third base. The Marlins have also met with the free agent left-hander Mark Buehrle, hoping to reunite Buehrle with Guillen, his former manager on the Chicago White Sox.

Meanwhile, there are no signs that the Mets will pursue any high-impact free agents. Their rotation appears set, with Santana, R. A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey. Trouble is, with tighter outfield dimensions at Citi Field, Gee, Niese and Pelfrey could be different pitchers. Statistically, all three benefited greatly from the previous configuration, each with an earned run average of 3.54 or better at home last season. On the road, all three had a much higher E.R.A. — 5.33 for Niese, 5.49 for Pelfrey, 5.74 for Gee.

Moving in the fences will presumably help David Wright and Jason Bay. But the decision to alter the dimensions was not a signal that Wright will be with the club in 2012, no matter what. Privately, the Mets acknowledge they must listen to any potential offers for Wright, who still has value around the league and will make $15 million next season. General Manager Sandy Alderson is viewed as a realistic decision maker. He could let things become worse for a while if it means a sound future for the organization.

The healthiest thing Alderson did last season was trade Carlos Beltran for the minor league pitcher Zack Wheeler, who is now considered the Mets’ best prospect. “Sandy’s not afraid to say, ‘If we’re not going to finish first, it doesn’t matter if we’re last,’ ” said an official of a rival team, who was granted anonymity so he could talk candidly about another team’s plans. “He’ll break it down if he has to. The question is, can it get by ownership?” If it means saving money — considering the organization’s debt and cash-flow problems — the answer is probably yes. Remember, when Fred Wilpon posed as a tough-talking executive in a New Yorker article last spring, he made it clear that he did not consider Wright a superstar and that he worried about Reyes’s health. (what a doofus of an owner Fred is - he cuts his own throat and then chokes on his own blood 78B)

Reyes won a batting title last season, the first in Mets history, but it is hard to imagine he would stay for anything but the best offer. He just finished a contract that was widely perceived as team friendly, and several teams besides the Marlins (and maybe the Nationals) could need a shortstop, including the San Francisco Giants, the Milwaukee Brewers, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Phillies. The Brewers, the Cardinals and the Phillies could lose one or more of their own well-paid free agents — meaning they could potentially sign Reyes without raising their payroll. All three were playoff teams in 2011, and the Giants won the World Series in 2010, so there is motivation to remain contenders.

For all the anguish the Mets have caused their fans since 2006, they have not truly bottomed out. They have always avoided last place, and their five-year record — with Wright and Reyes in their peak-age years — is 403-407. Staying mediocre would accomplish nothing.

The Mets should let another team give Reyes his fortune and use the compensatory draft picks wisely. They should trade Wright while they still can. Most of all, they must face who they really are, and where they stand in a thriving division. Years of short-sighted decisions have taken them there, and only a consistent, long-range vision — and the courage to make unpopular decisions — can lift them out.

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