By Jason Keidel
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If you just started following baseball in the last few months, you’d have no way of knowing the Yankees were supposed to be rebuilding over the last year while the Mets were the it and trendy team in the Big Apple back in April.
But it’s true. The Mets made the World Series in 2015 and somehow lost four games despite leading every one of them by the eighth inning. They had a scrappy lineup, a bona fide power-hitting star and a conga line of baby-faced, flame-throwing pitchers who were going to keep them in the next 10 pennant races.
You know the rest. The Mets, much like the Giants in football, quickly eroded under the weight of injuries and incompetence. They didn’t have Big Blue’s public player mutiny or take a giant eraser to the general manager or head coach (or manager, in baseball parlance), but gone is Terry Collins, along with any pretense that the Mets are now a budding dynasty.
In fact, a simple Bing or Google search will yield rather solemn results. On Thursday morning, such a search produced a somber screen that, at the top, flashed the Mets’ last game of the 2017 season — a box score/autopsy detailing an 11-0 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, a game in which the Phillies had 11 hits and the Mets scratched out just two. The Mets ended the game with a 70-92 record, pummeled by a club with a 66-96 mark. You can be forgiven if you’d forgotten such a game in a forgotten season.
The search also featured an Associated Press piece announcing that the Mets and relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal. And then there was an article from NJ.com featuring Michael Conforto, who asserts the Mets can win without any big-name additions. Only one Met we know of vaguely endorses or agrees with that assessment. (We will get to him in a moment.)
Not to be outdone by such glittering headlines, the Mets announced via their Twitter account that they selected pitcher Burch Smith from the Tampa Bay Rays in the Rule 5 draft and traded him to the Kansas City Royals, for cash.
This epic transaction was followed by online chatter that the Mets are listening to offers for Matt Harvey. Yes, the Dark Knight of Gotham, who once had the entire city dangling from his divine right arm, is now damaged trade bait, his last golden moment coming in the final game of the 2015 World Series, when he couldn’t finish his brilliant shutout for just three more outs.
Yeah, it’s like that. While the Yanks, who came within nine innings of the World Series, donned their Darth Vader mask by trading for NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, the Mets are dishing about Rule 5 drafts.
All of these inconsequential moves are extensions of GM Sandy Alderson’s declaration earlier this week that the Mets would not be big-game hunters during the offseason, rendering any hot-stove chatter little more than a murmur and leaving fans scratching their scalps in disbelief.
And it’s not like the Mets are scrambling to duck the battle ax of luxury tax. According to Spotrac.com, the Mets have a paltry payroll of $71 million. By contrast the NL-champion Dodgers are spending $180 million in 2018, while the Yanks are at $118 million. Out of 30 MLB teams, the Mets’ budget ranks 21st. That is simply unacceptable for a team that plays in New York City.
And that’s the foundation of frustration from Mets fans, who know you can’t control injuries — though the Mets have challenged that notion — and you can’t win in December. But the relative inactivity is even harder to stomach when buttressed against the Bronx Bombers, who not only accelerated their rebuild to become instant contenders and just acquired the National League home run champ to pair him with the American League home run champ and Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge.
The Mets might pair slugger Yoenis Cespedes with, well, no one. At least no one new. And Alderson, a Marine officer, lawyer and Harvard man, knows this better than any of us. He knows the epic shadow cast from the Bronx, and that his Mets are swallowed by it.
Yet rather than squeeze the competitive juices from his bosses, the Wilpon family, implore them to crowbar open the checkbook to sign at least someone of note, the Mets slither into the darkness, tail tucked between their legs, and leave the stage and the city to their rivals across the Harlem River.
Consider this line from NJ.com: “The splashiest move they (Mets) can make for 2018? Stay healthy.”
There’s something wholly unhealthy about that, and about the Mets.
Please follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel