Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Silver Lining

While the Phillies and Braves streak towards the playoffs, the Mets' season will mercifully come to an end in just a few short weeks.  This will make five seasons since the Mets last tasted the post season, since Endy Chavez's miracle catch, since Carlos Beltran watched a knee buckling curveball end the Mets' World Series hopes.  Two monumental collapses lead to the bottom falling out and a 92-loss season.  Last year the Mets sniffed .500, and this year they are so close they can almost taste it.

There is your silver lining.

It has been a disappointing season, but not a disappointment on par with the last few years.  This was a rebuilding year no matter the result, and the Mets brass successfully cleaned house and built towards the future.  The team had a lot of positives this year, but is still on pace to win just one more game than last year.  So was this the best Mets season since their dominant run in 2006?

The 2011 Mets were supremely snakebitten, losing significant time from Johan Santana, Ike Davis, David Wright and Jose Reyes.  The team traded away Carlos Beltran, gave significant time to players like Jason Pridie, Willie Harris and (ugh) Jason Bay, and sent DJ Carrasco to the mound much too often.

And yet, certain guys came through.  Jose Reyes had a tremendous year and may become the first Met to win a batting title.  David Wright has been on fire recently and may be building momentum towards a comeback year in 2012.  Johan Santana left Terry Collins and Dan Warthen salivating after his recent bullpen session. Beltran played his best baseball in years for half a season, netted a top prospect and has just two home runs for San Francisco. Nick Evans has looked great in limited playing time, Ruben Tejada may actually be able to hit in the majors and Lucas Duda looks like a future masher. Dillon Gee and Jonathan Niese look like they will contribute, and RA Dickey is still able to spin (or not spin) some magic with that knuckleball.

The fact that the Mets have been able to hang tough throughout this season is a testament to Collins and GM Sandy Alderson.  The two of them took over a team with a lot of dead weight, a lot of players on the downswing of their careers and an ace with a bum shoulder.  They had the benefit of an all-world year from Reyes, but even when Reyes has gone down, this team has played well.  There is no worse baseball euphemism than calling a team scrappy, or saying they have "heart," so let's just say these Mets win a lot of games they shouldn't.

So if this wasn't the best Mets season since they made the playoffs in '06, it certainly had a lot of positives. Of course, the brutal truth is that this may be the best Mets season for a long time.  With news that the Wilpon family will look to sell minority shares of the team to friends and family, there is a chance that the Mets will look very different next year - in a bad way.  As in, no Reyes or Wright.  As in, a significant drop from the $120 million payroll, perhaps all the way down below $100 million.  Teams like the Rangers, Diamondbacks and Brewers have all won this year with sub-$100 mill payrolls, but those teams don't have to battle the super rich Phillies in their division or share back pages with the behemoth Yankees.

There were certainly some good deals on the 2011 Mets, but another offseason of small signings and shedding payroll is not the way to compete in 2012.  There is no way to predict if this team of castoffs and superstars will be able to approach .500 next year.  So have fun watching the next 20 games or so - it may be the best Mets baseball you see for a long time.

Evan is also the author of Umpire State. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_S_S.

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