The 2010 (and beyond) Mets

August 25, 2009

News reports today say that Johan Santana is going to need elbow surgery.

I have no doubt about it: now I’m really going to become a Mets fan.

I wanted to be a Mets fan when I moved to New York, and certainly carried an affinity for them as one of my close friends is among their most zealous devotees.

But it was no fun rooting for this team when they had a bunch of overpaid, aging but still talented veterans; a profligate general manager who blew his boss’s money; an owner who lost hundreds of millions in Bernie Madoff’s fraud; the game’s best pitcher; a $900 million spit-shined clean stadium in Queens; and they did it all on the world’s biggest stage every night.

Going into next season, the Mets will be classed in the weaker half of the National League. The Mets have one of the best star cores in baseball: Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes. That group of four players, absent of twenty-one others on a Major League roster, should make the Mets automatic playoff contenders in any division.  Each player was arguably the best in baseball at his position … two years ago.

All four will face serious health questions; neither took the disabled list with rashes, pneumonia, or fractured metatarsals. The list reads grim: David Wright’s post-concussion syndrome, Jose Reyes’ hamstring (remember, he’s a base stealer); Carlos Beltran’s knee (keep in mind, he covers more ground than any center fielder in baseball), and Johan Santana’s elbow (well, I don’t have to explain that one). Wright will probably finish this season with ten or fewer home runs. Santana has posted his highest WHIP since 2002. Reyes and Beltran hardly registered enough time to judge their seasons.

Teams like the Giants, Marlins, even Pirates and Padres have supporting guys that you could guess to take leaps or certainly improve on their performance next year as they gain experience. The Mets surrounded their stars with Tim Redding, Gary Sheffield, Brian Schneider, Fernando Tatis, Luis Castillo, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Delgado. Granted, there was hope for Delgado this season…then he, at 37 the oldest of the Mets regulars this year, got hurt.  Shock.

And then there was K-Rod, stranded on an island in Flushing.

Among no young talent and five All-Stars coming back hurt, the Mets also only have two players on Baseball America’s midseason Top 50 prospects list, both in the lumped 25-50 grouping. There’s no player like Andy LaRoche or Dan Bard or Dexter Fowler or Mat Latos who could breakout next year, no Tommy Hanson or Gordon Beckham who scares you with his potential.

To just heap it on: the Mets hosted the season’s most comically surreal press conference when general manager Omar Minaya not only fired assistant general manager Tony Bernazard for removing his shirt and challenging his Double-A team to a fight, but squarely blamed the scandal on a covetous New York Daily News beat writer who wanted a job with the Mets.

This is typically when someone writes, “But the Mets enter 2010 with high hopes for…” but no one can complete that ellipsis.

Still, after living in New York for two years, I was surprised at how much I just didn’t care about the Mets. I could draw some labored allegory about how I was baptized near baseball’s pulpit in Boston, and how these two teams both endured such curious periods of despair, but I think deep down, I just never thought that I’d fall in love with another team. Even Mets fans shared enmity toward the Yankees couldn’t draw me in.

Maybe it felt like I was just picking up a team that was finishing that sob story, and maybe I never thought I’d consider another team given my devotion to the Red Sox.

The Financial Times recently published an excerpt of Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski’s ‘Why England Lose: And Other Curious Football Phenomena Explained’” and in it, they call on scientific research and anecdotal evidence that contends that fan support can change over time for various reasons, illustrated through shifts in English Premier League fandom, which could be considered the most committed sect of sport’s supporters.

And come to think of it, we often hear of our fathers who “started off as New York Giants fans but have rooted for the Mets for the last thirty years” or similar baseball diaspora who believed in a new team after relocation.

Maybe it will take these hopeless Mets to finally draw my interest, because at this point, the Mets are a blank white board and it will be a new story to watch them develop from the ground up.