The exhaustion of being in perpetual ‘rebuilding for it’ mode

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.

15 comments for “The exhaustion of being in perpetual ‘rebuilding for it’ mode

  1. Mike Walczak
    January 6, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    Wow Chris, this is a realistic look at our team. I want to be excited, but I would like to see more.

  2. January 6, 2020 at 12:20 pm

    The team is slow, but not really that old.

  3. January 6, 2020 at 12:39 pm

    I don’t agree with the idea that everyone else is invincible and we should expect them to suffer zero injuries and zero bad performances and that the Mets need every available planet to align correctly in 100 separate ways just to have a chance to compete.

    If JD Davis starts in LF, the Mets will have six of their eight starters between the ages of 24-28. All 5 of their SP will be between 27-32. If Diaz rebounds, their closer is 26. And Lugo’s not over the hill at 30.

  4. MattyMets
    January 6, 2020 at 1:18 pm

    When I look at the Nats and Phillies rosters, I see just as many holes, question marks and ifs. The Braves, on the other hand, especially if they bring back Donaldson, look like division favorites.

  5. boomboom
    January 6, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    The Mets lineup, bench, rotation, bullpen, and depth has the chance to be 1st or 2nd in every category. I think their floor is as a 3rd place team, but I don’t think they have as many holes as the Phillies, and the Nats took a significant step back in losing Rendon. I don’t think they sign Donaldson anymore with the recent signings of Cabrera and Castro. And Scherzer has to show signs of decline one of these years. Lots of “ifs” all around the division (especially “if” the Braves don’t resign Donaldson, come on Twins!!!), but I like our chances.

    Who’s got the best 1-2 punch?

    Alonso/McNeil
    Freeman/Acuna
    Soto/Turner
    Harper/Realmuto

    Best 1-2-3?

    Alonso/McNeil/Conforto
    Freeman/Acuna/Albies
    Soto/Turner/???
    Harper/Realmuto/Segura

    • Remember1969
      January 6, 2020 at 7:55 pm

      I agree with this post. In addition, I think the Mets have the chance to be ranked 1 or 2 in the division at every position on the field. I do think the Braves may have a slight overall edge on paper, but at this point they are short in the outfield after Acuna, at third, and in depth. I think the Mets are overall better than either the Nats or Phils at this point. Team speed and defense worries me, but overall, their roster is much more ‘major league’ going into 2020 than the teams throughout the 2010’s.

      • Mike W
        January 6, 2020 at 8:22 pm

        The Nats still have Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin.

        Baseball never plays out based on what is on paper. That is why it is fun.

        I think we have a better chance going into the 2020 season. Look at how many games last year we had a bunch of crappy pitchers.

        With any luck, we could have a great season.

        I hope and think that we could win the division. As I said before, I think it will take an 18-9 season from Syndergaard.

  6. TexasGusCC
    January 7, 2020 at 10:19 pm

    Chris,

    Thought provoking piece, but I stand with Matt’s point of view that all teams are flawed. Taking an example of the juggernaut in the City of Angels, they have starting pitching issues. Every team has an Achilles heel and how they cover it up makes the difference between having enough to get to the finish line, and falling short.

    However, the one area that you didn’t address is as Brian said, the majority of the Mets starting lineup is between 24-28, and that should make “the future so bright, we gotta wear shades”.

  7. Chris F
    January 8, 2020 at 12:24 pm

    MLB just posted its first power rankings for the 2020 season based on moves made up to the new year.

    https://www.mlb.com/amp/news/mlb-early-2020-power-rankings.html

    The results are fascinating. Lets turn our attention to the NL East and see where things lie listed from highest to lowest with full MLB rank numbered.

    6. Atlanta Braves
    7. Washington Nationals
    10. Philadelphia Phillies
    18. NY Mets
    NR. Miami Marlins

    I think the Mets are at a high-stakes poker table and going all in, but to mix metaphors, are they bringing a knife to a gunfight?

    Only time will tell.

    • Remember1969
      January 8, 2020 at 1:20 pm

      I saw that post the other day and just scratched my head.

      I am not sure how the Nats could go up in the power rankings from year-end when they lost Rendon and really haven’t filled their infield very effectively.

      I am also not sure how the Phils could have gone up 6 slots . apparently they like the Girardi, Wheeler, and Gregorius signings. In my mind there are still a lot of holes on that club to rank them that high

      I probably agree with the Braves at 6, but until they fill the third base hole (I am kind of assuming Donaldson will be back there), I don’t know. They are still pretty shallow in the outfield (Markakis and Inciarte as two of the three starters is not particularly scary).

      Call me an optimistic Mets fan, but looking at the division, I don’t see them being 8 slots lower than Philly or 11 slots lower than Washington.

      • Chris F
        January 8, 2020 at 2:33 pm

        Every we all suffer from some level of seeing the world through blue and orange glasses. On MLB radio, the story is no different.

        Its January, and no games have been played so all this is the equivalent of pile of dung, but it is worth noting Mets fans see the team much higher in status than the rest of the baseball viewing world.

        Ill reiterate, in the last decade the Mets finished above .500 three times and hit 90 wins once. Year after year the Mets see themselves as favorites, but year after year that does no happen. Im not saying the Mets are bad team, but that they are banking on a lot of bounce-back from older players (pitchers count) to be successful. Porcello could have a 2.75 ERA, or he could have 4.75 ERA.

        • Remember1969
          January 8, 2020 at 4:35 pm

          Best guess for Porcello is closer to 4.75 than 2.75. Tell you what though, if he can have another year 14 win year with an ERA over 5, I’ll take it.
          And yes, bounce back years from Cespedes and Cano would be nice, but somehow I am seeing a lot more depth and what I call natural progression of the core of the team (Conforto, Rosario, Alonso, McNeil, Nimmo, DeGrom, Syndergaard, Matz, Smith and Davis) than I felt they have had in any recent memory.
          Obviously all those guys are not going to progress or even equal their 2019 years, but there is nothing to think that they will all the sudden forget how to play. A Diaz bounceback would be nice – he is not one of the older guys you reference, and his peripherals were still decent last year, so ..
          The wild cards for me are “how will Beltran fare in his managerial role” and the catching position. Can Ramos sustain his productivity and play as much (and as well) as last year?. They are thin behind him. One of the biggest keys is if they can play better defense up the middle – will Rosario keep growing? . .can Nimmo handle cf? . is Cano done at 2nd?
          I also lean on the fact that they won more (as many) games than anyone else in the National League after the all star break last year – they were 20 games over .500 in their last 72 games with basically the same team they have going forward. That is promising.

        • January 8, 2020 at 4:44 pm

          So those numbers you listed for Porcello give a higher ceiling and a higher floor than last year’s 5th starter. Improvement – I dig it.

          • Chris F
            January 8, 2020 at 6:44 pm

            Unfortunately, I think Matz and Stroman will be around 5 as well. I see a rotation of an ace, a number 2, and 3 number 5s — and after that it’s a cliff.

  8. Metsense
    January 8, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    “Winning the NL East is not impossible, but neither is finishing in fourth place.” That is an accurate assessment. Currently the Mets rank #1 NLE in projected fWAR in Fangraph’s depth charts. Mets 44.0, Nats 42.9, Braves 39.9 and Phillies 36.1. Josh Donaldson has a 4.5 projected fWAR and his signing would tip the scales in favor for Nats or Braves. Another free agent that might a lesser impact in the division is Ozuna with his projected 3.2 fWAR. Even with their signing within the division, the Mets should be in the mix for a playoff berth and hopefully a division title.

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