By Mike Steffanos
The Post's Joel Sherman has written several times this spring advocating for the Mets to go into full fire sale mode. I don't agree with this point of view, of course, but I do understand the logic behind it. In his Hardball Blog yesterday, however, Sherman made the following point which made me shake my head:
I still think the Mets are under the belief that they are just a piece of two away from being a strong organization again. And that is just not true. The perception around baseball is that every team in the NL East has better prime-aged players than the Mets and also has a better farm system
I like and respect Joel Sherman, but he really lost me with that one. Don't get me wrong, I do think the inability to see the true picture is what ultimately sank the Omar Minaya era. I think if the Mets were willing to take a step back after 2007 and really look at themselves they would be in much better shape today, and Minaya would probably still be GM.
I'm curious, though, on what exactly Sherman bases his belief that current management still labors under this delusion. Sandy Alderson and his lieutenants have no ties to any of the expensive pieces of this roster, and absolutely no reason whatsoever to see this club as stronger than it really is. Indeed, the easiest way for Alderson to buy himself time would be to blame everything on the mess he was left and tear it all down.
The "perception around baseball" that Sherman quotes may be true, but I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. The Mets are in a position over the next couple of years to turn over their prime-aged players, and the farm system comparison is somewhat volatile. If the Mets farm system can develop a relative handful of solid major leaguers in the short- to medium-term, that should be more than adequate. Ideally the new regime will ultimately make this system deeper, but it's really not the disaster right now that it often gets portrayed as being.
It seems to me that Alderson came in with a multi-tiered plan to try to maintain some level of competitiveness in the near future while working hard to improve the Mets developmental system. For a team in a large market, that can certainly work. The Red Sox never go into fire sale mode, but they're not afraid to take a step back when they have to. The result is a team with a couple of championships that competes every year in a division tougher than the NL East.
I do agree with Sherman's point about the strength of the rest of the division going forward. The Mets really have to up their game to compete with everyone else, including the Nationals. If they don't, it could get much uglier here as cellar-dwelling becomes the rule rather than the exception.
On the other hand, provided the Mets can right their own organizational ship the improvement in their division can actually be looked at as representing an opportunity. Responding to better competition usually strengthens a well-run organization. Look what the Rays have done with far fewer resources than Alderson will have.
I've had a couple of Mets fans I spoke with make a comparison with how the Dolans allowed the Knicks to be a terrible team for so many years because they were unwilling to do what needed to be done to turn things around. Where I believe this comparison falls apart, however, is that the Knicks were hamstrung by a salary cap. They had no opportunity to improve themselves until they were willing to take a step back and get some cap room. Alderson has no such impediment in running the Mets.
I need to see what Alderson does during and particularly after this season before I even feel like I can begin to pass any judgment on how clearly he assesses his own organization. If he exhibits the same troubling blindness that personified the end of the Minaya era, then I will criticize him. I just don't believe he needs to throw in the towel on being competitive this season in April to impress me.