Sunday, December 27, 2020

Here's to a Future Lurker

This is my first full offseason blogging in a decade. One thing I learned my first time around is to have some writing ideas at the ready for the long periods with no news, particularly over the holidays. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I have a "saved stories" folder in my newsreader with stuff going back to October. I didn't have time to write about this stuff then, but It's a great source for content at times like this. Or maybe I do what I did during the weird coronavirus extended offseason this spring when I came back to blogging, and write a series of posts on a particular past season that had a special meaning for me. I'm interested in a lot of facets of baseball and enjoy writing about them, so I usually don't struggle too much coming up with writing topics.

Of course, I don't write for a living, and my content doesn't have any role in driving traffic and selling ad content for a major publication. I don't have to worry about whether my work is sticky. "Going viral" for me means getting a couple of hundred extra reads on one of my posts, and there is no pressure to have that happen every time I write. The only pressure I feel is to write something that interests me, do as good of a job as I can on it, and hope that some people find it entertaining. That last part is ego, I guess, but the point in writing something is for someone else to read it, and if people are going to read it I want it to be as good as I can make it. I even find myself fixing a typo or awkward phrasing that I catch in something that I wrote back far enough that it's unlikely that more than a handful of people might read the corrected piece. I put pressure on myself to get things right.

Still, that pressure is a lot different than the kind that the folks who write for a living feel. There's been so many layoffs and jobs lost in mainstream media outlets. NBC Sports had the terrific Hardball Talk site that they suddenly shut down earlier this year. Local news outlets continue to cut their staff. Some of the best writers on ESPN's site have moved on to different employers. Many sites I used to enjoy for free are behind paywalls now, and I honestly wonder how long the rest hold out. So, while I make fun of some of the excesses of these writers, I respect the pressure that they're under to deliver the clicks. Most of us understand the pressures of keeping the boss happy.

The New York Post isn't behind a paywall, and baseball columnist Joel Sherman is one of the best in the country. He's the one guy I'll pretty much always read. I'll always get something out of his columns, even if I don't always agree with everything he writes. So, while I want to stress how much I respect the guy, I have to say his column yesterday made me chuckle a bit. Sherman painted the Dodgers as a scary dark force, lurking in the shadows on free agents coveted by Mets fans, Yankees fans and others. The whole thing ends with the ominous, one sentence paragraph: "They lurk."

A little over the top but, in fairness, I've written weirder stuff, and not as well. I admired the dramatic ending, and imagined the piece must have been fun to write for Sherman, as some of my quirkier stuff is for me. But the piece also stuck in my head beyond the dark, scary image of the Los Angeles organization as a horror movie villain for fans of other teams hoping for a hot stove splash.

The idea of the Dodgers as quietly lurking in the background has its foundation in the fact that the Dodgers don't desperately need to make a move right now. They finally have their World Series win, as heavily asterisked as it may be — sorry Dodgers fans, but a 60 game season just ain't the same — and don't desperately need anybody to compete next season. Barring a blitz of catastrophic injuries, they'll head into 2021 as a heavily favored team to win again, no matter what they do this offseason.

What makes the Dodgers the perfect villain for Sherman's piece is achieving the very status that the words of Steve Cohen, Sandy Alderson and Jared Porter have allowed Mets fans like myself to dream about for our own team in the future. A team that is so well run, so ideally set up for future success, that they can afford to wait on how the market develops for top free agents while they decide if it's worth dipping a toe in the water:
The defending champs have set themselves up — payroll flexibility, minor league depth, a good reputation as a place to play, a winning culture/history — as to be viable in any market.
The Mets are just at the beginning of a process that might, if things are done right, lead them to a position some years down the road where something like Sherman's take on the Dodgers might be written about them. As much as I want to see the best team on the field next season, I do understand that the ultimate goal is further down the road. So I don't get upset when Steve Cohen says in an interview that the Mets might not exceed the Luxury Tax threshold in 2021, and talks about payroll flexibility. If the Wilpons talked about that, you know it would just be an excuse not to spend money. When Cohen says it, you know it's because he envisions a time down the road when the Mets have both a loaded roster and the flexibility to make the right upgrade to it.

There's a lot that has to happen now to make that future vision a reality. It begins with being smart with the prospects that you do have, but then continues through making changes to deepen and broaden that pool of prospects. It means doing the type of ground-level work that Bill James wrote about in that piece that we discussed Wednesday and Thursday. It means not just finding a way to get more high-ceiling guys into your system, but also hiring the right people to help you turn more young players into solid, useful major leaguers.

It means finding more hidden gems in more places and smoothing off their rough edges, turning them into players who can help you. And sure, it means having the resources to sign some high-profile free agents, but also the smarts to sign the right ones to deals that make sense and won't hamstring you down the road to where you have to give up on a year or two to regain the flexibility to compete again. It means complimenting big signings with smart, unheralded ones that enable you to compete without spending like that drunken sailor Steve Cohen talks about.

It's one thing to build a deep and productive farm system by tanking multiple seasons and having higher picks and more to spend on international free agents. It's quite another to win year after year, have lower picks and less to spend, and still make it work. It's why ranked the Dodgers' system third this spring while picking the Mets twentieth, despite the fact that the Mets haven't been a playoff team since the 2016 wild card game and the Dodgers haven't finished below first place in the NL West since 2012.

If the smart people that Steve Cohen hired do the job that needs to be done here, I look forward to a day when I as a Mets fan can be a little greedy about competing every year, and having the type of first-class organization that can be seen as some sort of dark lurking presence over free agents in future seasons. If any fanbase in sport can be said to have "earned" the right to be a little spoiled by the team they root for, in a just world Mets fans would be right up there towards the top of the list. So, if at times I seem inclined to be a little extra patient with the club's brain trust right now, it's only because of my fearful, all-consuming greed for what the future might bring. Trust me, it's scary.

That will do it for today. Please stay safe, be well and take care. And, if you are so inclined, allow yourself to be a little greedy. Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha...

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos


  1. So what you're saying is that the Mets failed at stocking their farm system while losing under the guises of proven mediocrities like Terry Collins?

  2. Still don't understand why they didn't make the playoffs more with such a strong game plan. Go figure ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

  3. Ah the light at the end of the tunnel finally isn't an oncoming train (lets hope)


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