Wait ’til Next Year — A 2020 Mets Post Mortem

It seems only appropriate to steal today’s headline from Fred Wilpon’s favorite ball club, the Brooklyn Dodgers. And I suppose such a statement really sums things up when it comes to us parting ways with Fred and Jeff Wilpon this winter. Our owner, the soon to be former owner of the New York Mets, is a Dodgers fan.

I can somewhat relate to Fred, at least today I can, on the last day of this drive-thru version of a baseball season. Once again I’m left to consider what team to root for during the month of October. I check the Mets score, disinterested, as the lowly Nationals put the finishing touches on a shellacking of my Mets that will earn us a share of the NL East basement for 2020.

It’s become an annual exercise, me telling myself that the Mets being out of the postseason tournament actually makes it easier to just watch playoff baseball. You know, enjoy the beauty of our National Pastime without the constant worry that my favorite team is preparing to rip my guts out when the games matter most.

So what’s the big deal, right?

The Mets will miss the playoffs again this year, making it four years in a row (five if you want to dismiss the one-and-done wild card loss to the Giants in 2016). But somehow this one hurts just a little bit more than one of our usual eliminations.

Why is that, some fan of a team that’s not the New York Mets might ask?

Well, for starters they were letting eight teams into the NL playoffs this year. Yeah, more than half of the entire population of National League clubs will play on. A Senior Circuit that included hapless names like Pirates and Giants and Marlins and Diamondbacks. And Mets, apparently, since we didn’t survive.

No, we didn’t make it. Not even with seemingly every team on the bubble for the final wild card slots doing all they could to keep our faint hopes alive these last few days. Let’s take a minute and let the magnitude of this failure sink in:

*We had arguably the top starting pitcher in the game on the mound every fifth day for pretty much the entire, abbreviated season.

*Robinson Cano, who many considered washed up, remained reasonably healthy and hit .315, with power.

*Pete Alonso hit 16 dingers to lead the team, which equates to 42 if applied over a 162-game season.

*Dom Smith, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto all hit over .300.

*Closer Edwin Diaz had an E.R.A. under 2.00.

And yet we couldn’t find our way into the most watered-down playoff field in the history of Major League Baseball.

What do we make of our unsuccessful 2020 moving forward?

Honestly I’m not sure, other than to say this was a very Mets kind of season.

Our fans know exactly what I mean by that statement. They did just enough for us to never tune them out completely. There were enough flashes of promise to raise our hopes on occasion. But yet we never really felt like we were going to make the playoffs, because, well, you know, we’re the Mets.

Think about this — Mets fans’ biggest reason to celebrate this season came when it was announced our team was being sold.

SportsAttic Note: The second largest cheer was due to the fact that the team would NOT be sold to Alex Rodriguez.

And that’s a perfect place to begin — with our deep-pocketed new owner, Mr. Steve Cohen. Mets Nation has already labeled Mr. Cohen a franchise savior, expecting big spending right out of the gate, immediate positive results, and in short order, world championships. Nothing like high expectations, huh Steve?

I feel good about Cohen’s decision to bring back Sandy Alderson, giving the cancer-surviving Marine another crack at things without the tight-fisted, dysfunctional Wilpons in his shorts on a daily basis. My guess is Sandy brings along one of his boys as the new GM, thus mercifully ending the Brodie Van Wagenen era.

And the new GM will hire a new manager.

Now I realize it is hard for a rookie manager to succeed in MLB under any circumstances. Especially a rookie Mets manager. Add in the broken timeline that was the 2020 baseball season, a funky dual spring training approach, and the loss of his number two and three starting pitchers before either would toe the rubber even once, and Luis Rojas was dealt a hand from a deck stacked for failure.

I’d still let Rojas go. A fresh start is what’s called for. The Mets have win-now pieces on this roster, and an experienced manager who can come in and fix the fundamentals — starting with putting position players in place that can actually field their position –restore self-respect in the clubhouse, and hold players accountable, is a must. Experience handling a big league bullpen would be a plus, too.

So goodbye Luis Rojas, we hardly knew ye. I’m sure there’s a spot in the organization for the guy that had his big shot sabotaged by a global pandemic, but not at the helm of our big league club in 2021.

And what of the roster? I know position flexibility is one of the buzzwords making the MLB rounds these days, but it seems to me a little stability might go a long way with the blue and orange. The only position we appear loaded at may not even exist next season, depending on whether MLB caves to the abomination known as the universal Designated Hitter.

It’s ironic (and so very, very Mets), that the only position where we possess strength and depth heading into the offseason is at DH, and we may not even field one in 2021. But think about it — Cano is best suited to DH at this stage of his career. And DH is really Pete Alonso’s best position, if we are being honest. And J.D. Davis’, too. You could argue that McNeil might also be best suited to DH, rather than manning a position that requires a glove every day.

The Mets most glaring needs seem to be the same every year. A catcher with defensive skills who isn’t also an automatic out heads up our shopping list. And a center fielder who actually is a starting center fielder, not a defensive replacement or a right fielder in disguise. Of course, if we can’t play one of our extra right fielders in center, that begs the question what to do about our glut of corner outfielders.

Let’s think about this one, too — Michael Conforto, J.D. Davis, Jeff McNeil, Brando Nimmo, Dom Smith. Of the bunch, Conforto and Nimmo are the only real outfielders, but of course they both belong in right. Assume Conforto plays every day (he’s our best player, after all), and a numbers problem in left begins to become apparent.

We simply can’t have Jake deGrom take the mound next opening day with Brandon Nimmo as his center fielder, so that leaves four imperfect options for left.

Yes, we can stash one of the others at DH (but then what about Cano and Alonso), if we have a DH. But if not, we now have to deal with a line forming at both first and third for playing time. Davis and McNeil both play third as though they are thinking about their next at bat. Smith is an excellent first baseman (which in another very Mets way must explain why we’ve tried to turn him into an outfielder), but with no DH, what about Alonso?

McNeil seems most comfortable playing second, but if the DH goes away (as the Baseball Gods intended), what do you do with Cano? Move him to first or third? Yeah, we’ve got some problems.

At least we have a promising young shortstop.

Well, actually we have two of them now, don’t we? Can we trust Andres Gimenez to pick up in 2021 where he left off as our most exciting player? Was it really only a year ago that articles were being written about how Amed Rosario had finally turned the corner and would soon take his anticipated place alongside Francisco Lindor as one of the game’s top, young shortstops? Do we give up on Rosario now? Or leave him at short and move Giminez to second.

Hmmm, Gimenez at second? Again, it’s very Mets to play our best shortstop at second (anyone remember when we did that to Jose Reyes so we could put Kaz Matsui at short?). But then what about Cano? And McNeil? Well, maybe try Cano at third? Then where do we put Davis and McNeil (again)?

And the every day lineup ended 2020 as our supposed strength, remember?

At least we have pitching. Check that. Had pitching.

Can we start deGrom every day? Yeah, probably not. Noah Syndergaard will be back sometime, ready to resume teasing us with amazing stuff, while pitching 5 2/3 innings of three-run ball. Steven Matz? We can stop with all those Jon Matlack comparisons now, can’t we?

The bullpen? There’s promise there, isn’t there? We’ll have the resurrected Diaz back to close, right? I guess, but is anybody really ready to trust Diaz in important moments yet? And don’t forget Dellin Betances and Jeurys Familia. Nice to see we’ve cornered the market on enormous right-handers who’ve lost their electric stuff to set up Diaz. Betances is a free agent, but we’ve got Familia for two more years. Good grief, Brodie.

Since it seems safe to assume that Seth Lugo and his six-plus E.R.A. as a starting pitcher will return to the pen next year, at least we can feel good about him. I guess so.

Enough already, there’s gotta be some positives, right?

Yes, there are. We’ve already referenced what certainly appears to be the maturation of Conforto and Smith into above-average major leaguers, if not downright All Stars. And we will have deGrom back.

Gimenez appears to be the real deal, flashing leather like Harrelson and Ordonez used to, but maybe with a capable bat, too.

Thor will return at some point, and maybe he does realize his potential following Tommy John surgery.

And perhaps Cano isn’t done? Maybe he’ll figure out how to be a multiple-position weapon, wielding a dangerous bat in spot starts at first, second and third, not to mention DH’ing when we travel to AL parks?

Sure, Alonso suffered a big-time sophomore jinx, but the kid still appears to be a stand up guy and future team leader. If we can get 30 and 90 from him every year, we’ll put up with a .240 average.

There are also multiple assets to deal, assuming such responsibility is placed in the hands of a capable GM. Sandy and whoever he identifies as the new General Manager will be far more trustworthy to turn some combination of Nimmo, Davis, McNeil, Matz, Rosario or Smith into front line starting pitching and an elite center fielder.

And then there’s the savior — Steve Cohen can’t get his approval from MLB owners fast enough. And then start spending that Monopoly money of his like any of the rest of us fans would, if we were put in place as Mets owner with more cash than we could spend over five or six lifetimes.

Cohen can start by paying J.T. Realmuto whatever his number is and put him behind the dish for the next five years. Then get a stud number two starter to slot in behind Jake, so Noah can slide in as the best number three starter in the league when he gets back on the hill.

As much of a mess as the team appears to be today, ending their season on the wrong end of a 15-5 beatdown, we may not be that far away from contention.

It’s been hard, Steve Cohen. Real hard. But you know that, because you’ve lived it alongside the rest of us. It’s good to have one of us — someone who bleeds Mets blue and orange — at the helm. Let’s start the restoration of Mets pride and change this sorry dialogue before too many of us long-time fans run out of summers.

Remember when the Mets slogan was “Baseball Like It Oughta Be?” I’m ready to sign up for that right now.

Wait ’til next year, indeed.

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