A number of seasons back, in the heyday of the Alderson regime, I coined a phrase, “rebuilding for it,” which expressed concern of what the tepid Mets ownership and front office moves were in terms of building a perpetual winner. The idea of this mashing of thoughts stemmed from the annual off-season big words of 90 or more wins, the “going for it” aspect, despite never really acquiring top talent, and running out the likes of Ruben Tejada, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, and Josh Thole on a daily basis, which has all the earmarks of “rebuilding.” This article explores the unusual path the team has taken, and views the 2020 season in this context.
What this has done is brought the team to Spring Training with huge hopes and big talk, yet in reality exposed the regular season to jeopardy pending even small aberrations in the plan. For reasons that defy explanation, apparently the Mets cannot survive a rebuild or genuinely go for it. The rear-view mirror look at this has shown the plan crafted by ownership and the front office to be unsuccessful almost to a point, bringing Mets fans to incredible, but fleeting, highs that punctuate long periods of fan frustration and baseball mediocrity.
The annual sweep of emotions is exhausting. In the decade from 2010 to 2019, the Mets have finished above .500 only three times, and only once had 90 wins. On average the Mets have finished in third place in this time span. The results have left the Mets without being in the post-season or the ability to get top draft picks, leaving them in the middle 10 of 30 teams in the MLB.
For years the team has sacrificed emerging talent through trades, or failed to let emerging talent take root, at the expense of playing well known, but irrelevant players. We all remember the yearly additions of the likes of Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, Austin Jackson, Nori Aoki, James Loney, Bobby Abreu, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (Dice-K). Fans are told these players are brought in because of proven MLB talent and the need to “win now,” at the expense of ever seeing whether actual talent existed in the upper pipeline. Of course every successful team has some veterans that can be a rudder in the water in tough times, but not necessarily expected to be every day performers. A critical component to the decision making is the potential high upside for rebound-type seasons that might, but pretty much do not, occur. Is there reason to see the 2020 season as somehow looking different, or will Mets fans see more of the same?
With an energetic Winter Meetings behind us, a calendar flip to 2020, and Spring Training next month, the thought of a great season fills Mets fans hearts with hope. Accomplished players with substantive big league resumes have flooded the team; we have some young kids with talent. A look over what this team composition is still looks reminiscent of past seasons with a hope for younger kids to play at a high level consistently and a baking on rebounding of high-upside veterans. That is a lot to hope for.
Lets look at things around the infield. Pete Alonso has first base locked up with an incredible rookie season culminating. I don’t expect a repeat as much as I hope for one, but Alonso has the skills to be a consistent hammer in the middle of the line up with improving defense. Second base counts on a bounce-back from Cano, which few metrics like for aging every day players. Rosario at shortstop is still an unknown. While finishing strong, when the opponents were below .500, his play up to the All Star Game was atrocious. Who will he be? Third base remains unknown, but apparently will focus on Jeff McNeil there. He’s awesome, but third base has a way of exposing defense in a hurry. Wilson Ramos is who he is at catcher.
The outfield situation is interesting as the team plows ahead without an every day center fielder, a position that has been vacant since Angel Pagan was traded. Yoenis Cespedes is being counted on for bounce-back, if he actually can play. Jake Marisnick is an unknown and a defensive replacement. Can Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto carry the outfield into the post season?
Perhaps the biggest counting on bounce-back seasons sits on the mound. After the remarkably consistent and potent Jacob deGrom, the starters require surprising seasons from the likes of Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello, and Michael Wacha. Moving to the bull pen, major bounce-backs are required from Edwin Diaz, Jeurys Familia, and Dellin Betances.
The 2020 Mets look pretty much the same as many of the previous incarnations, albeit with a somewhat higher floor. The team remains old, slow, and defensively poor. For success to come to the team this coming season, and in classic “rebuilding for it” mode, a number of major bounce backs from veteran players and consistency from younger players has to occur in order to be a force in a division with three other teams that are loaded with weapons on offense, defense, and pitching. Winning the NL East is not impossible, but neither is finishing in fourth place.