By Mike Steffanos
Before I get into this, a reader named Cliff pointed me to a couple of User Journals he contributed to the MetsGeek.com web site: Dead Dollars and Dollars and Sense on the subject of payroll. Check them out.
The New York Mets franchise was at a crossroad in the off-season of 2003-04. Steve Phillips had been finally been sent packing the previous June. Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz were gone, and Roger Cedeno soon would be. Mo Vaughn was an unhappy (and expensive) memory.
After years of trying to spend their way to the Promised Land, the Mets were going to do it the "right way" with patience and emphasizing player development.
You have to wonder what might have happened if the Mets hired a strong GM with a background in development after the 2003 season. Jose Reyes was already with the big club with David Wright soon to follow. There were some interesting players in the system such as Aaron Heilman, Scott Kazmir, Matt Lindstrom, Lastings Milledge, Brian Bannister and Carlos Gomez.
Mets fan, tired of quick fixes like Alomar and Vaughn, were ready to give the club some time to build a winner as they had in the 1980s, the glory years of the franchise. Who knows what might have happened if the right man was hired and given real control.
Sadly, though, the decision was made to give acting GM Jim Duquette the full-time position in an odd, unwieldy hierarchy where Superscouts, coaches, the owner's son and some players all seemed to have input in decisions. Ultimately it seemed that no one was truly in charge, and mistakes were inevitably made.
Trading a pitching prospect like Kazmir for the journeyman Zambrano made a mockery of the Mets "plan." In truth, it signified yet another change in direction for a franchise whose strategic vision has too often resembled the frantic anarchy of a squirrel crossing the road.
Instead of being in the enviable position of building a club around Kazmir, Wright and Reyes, the Mets had, for the umpteenth time, broke their word to the fans.
The arrival of Omar Minaya in the winter of 2004-05 signaled another change in direction. Even if you didn't totally believe Minaya's assertion that he had complete autonomy in running the team, it was clear that the decision-making process was now centralized.
There's been a lot of revisionist history of late, but Minaya's signings of Carlos Beltran and Pedro Martinez revitalized a team and a fan base that was on the verge of mutiny. While basking in praise for landing two of the top prizes of the off-season, Minaya solemnly promised fans that the player development system would been completely overhauled, with the idea that eventually the Mets would be the type of organization that other teams would emulate.
As mentioned in the previous installment of this series, had the Mets managed to take the next season's NLCS from the Cardinals, there could well be a different strategic plan in place by now. Certainly a title would have bought a little time for a philosophy of building a new champion.
The Mets lost that series in 7 though, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Despite the disappointment, there was a residue of good feeling after 2006, but I thought the Mets made a huge mistake in their marketing after that season with a campaign that promised that 2007 would be the Mets fans year. Instead, you had a team with some older, brittle key players and flaws in key areas. Add to that a seeming indifference to their inability to separate themselves from the .500 mark during the middle of the season and the infamous late season collapse, and any residual good will from 2006 was long gone.
As I said in the last installment, the series of events from the Kazmir trade to the tough NLCS loss to the twin collapses of the past two seasons has put the Mets in a mode where they once again seem to have an inconsistency in focus -- veering back and forth between long-term goals and short-term moves to mollify an unhappy fan base. The sad truth is that the only thing that can mollify the fans is success, and the best way to achieve success is to have clear goals and maintaining a steady course.
Next time we'll look at some of the moves that have been made, particularly in the last couple of years, that have inflated the payroll without improving the team much.