The Mets Rebuilding Truck Stalls

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Rebuilding projects aren’t a simple matter of formulating a plan and sticking to it. They’re not about stats. They’re not about finding players who fit into the scheme or making maneuvers that are applauded by the press.

In the end it comes down to what happens on the field.

As bad as the Mets look now, they did essentially what they needed to do going back a year when Sandy Alderson was hired as GM.

They had to get some value from trading Carlos Beltran and they did in acquiring Zack Wheeler from the Giants.

They had to clear Francisco Rodriguez‘s performance-based option from kicking in and/or trade him; they traded him to the Brewers in a nifty sleight of hand trick by Alderson to deal him before his new agent Scott Boras could submit a list of teams to whom K-Rod could not be traded.

They incorporated young players Lucas Duda, Jonathon Niese, Ruben Tejada and Josh Thole into the lineup; they got production from a journeyman pickup Justin Turner; and a fine year at the plate from Daniel Murphy.

The team is now playing to their talent level; the effort—as Terry Collins said during his post-game press conference today—has been atrocious and that has to be addressed; but apart from that, I don’t know what people were expecting. The Mets played over their heads for this entire season in part due to playing hard and fundamentally sound baseball; in part due to league-wide parity. But reality has set in.

It has to be understood that this is not a short-term thing where the Mets are going to make dramatic leaps from wherever this season ends to an outlying Wild Card contender in 2012, then to a legitimate contender by 2013 as if it’s a fait accompli, step-by-step process.

They have to get better players.

There’s a lot of work to do.

For every rebuilding project that works like those of the Rays, Rangers and Giants, you can easily forget teams like the Orioles who are constantly starting over; the Pirates who haven’t had a winning season in 20 years under different owners, GMs and managers; or the Rockies who tried to find a way to win in a home ballpark that was essentially arena baseball and attempted—on a year-to-year basis—to win with speed, defense, pitching, power and a combination of all; they didn’t start winning until they stuck the baseballs into a humidor to come close to replicating the actual game conditions in 29 other parks.

My symbols for proper reconstruction are the Twins of the early-1990s and the Pirates of the late 1980s-early 1990s.

It’s easy to point to the Braves and Yankees during that era, but there were extenuating circumstances with both; the Braves were lucky with a few draft picks, made some savvy trades and spent money. The Yankees were lucky with late-round draft choices Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada and amateur free agents Bernie Williams and Mariano Rivera; it was also the suspension of George Steinbrenner that allowed Gene Michael to restock the team correctly.

The Twins made a masterful trade in 1989, robbing the Mets by sending Frank Viola to New York for Rick Aguilera (the eventual closer); Kevin Tapani (a consistently durable and solid starter); and David West (a lefty reliever).

The Pirates had been horrific for years before Syd Thrift took over as GM and hired a young, upstart, chain-smoking minor league managerial wizard who’d served his big league apprenticeship as Tony LaRussa‘s third base coach, Jim Leyland. Thrift acquired Doug Drabek from the Yankees for Rick Rhoden; Andy Van Slyke and Mike LaValliere from the Cardinals for Tony Pena; acquired Bobby Bonilla from the White Sox for Jose DeLeon; got Sid Bream from the Dodgers for Bill Madlock and found plug-in players for Leyland to mix and match. Of course Thrift was fired after the Pirates broke through into contention in 1988 and he wasn’t around when they won three straight division titles from 1990-1992.

It can go either way.

So far we’ve seen evidence of the hard-liner with a blueprint Sandy Alderson from the Athletics with his intimidation of the media bullies like Mike Francesa and the cheap shot artists Joel Sherman, his intelligent decisions with the trades he made and his handling the obligatory Mets crises with aplomb.

We’ve also seen the credit-seeking, faction-fomenting fascist Sandy Alderson from the Padres with the subterfuge used with Johan Santana in an attempt to drum up interest in a team that was double-digits out of a playoff spot and fading; he didn’t exactly lie, but he wasn’t truthful in the insistence that Santana might be ready to pitch a couple of innings in the big leagues before the season ended. I knew it was silly bordering on the nonsensical, but other fans don’t look for an ulterior motive when a baseball executive is saying something ludicrous; they don’t generally forget when they’ve been betrayed.

The Mets fans have mostly been supportive of the rebuilding project the club has undertaken; but if there isn’t a coherent plan with measurable progress beginning this winter, the club’s going to sell fewer tickets for the 2012 team than they sold in 2011. After the way the players bailed on this homestead, patience is wearing thin. If they don’t keep Jose Reyes—and I’m not saying they should—there’d better be something believable and realistic to present to the fans or 2012 will be very, very messy starting in late-October of 2011.

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