Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Game Changer

Apologies for not posting for a while. I'm going through a difficult time personally. I had to endure another back surgery on December 16 — my fourth since September 2020. It's been a lot to deal with. It's been hard to maintain optimism to get past these problems after many setbacks. I have to admit that I was down in the dumps for a while.

Much happened during the time I was dealing with my personal issues. Since I last posted in mid-November, much has changed with the Mets. The Mets have hired a new GM and followed that by making quite a splash in the free-agent market. It's remarkable how quickly the perception surrounding the club changed. We're no longer subjected to endless takes on how nobody wants to work or play for the Mets.

Fans of the New York Mets are a diverse group. There isn't much short of a World Series victory that will make every fan dance with joy. Still, it's fair to say that a large percentage of Mets fans are much, much happier with their team than they were back in the dark days of October and early November.

Billy Eppler wasn't the executive of my dreams for the Mets, but he was a solid choice and seems comfortable in the spotlight of New York media. Someone qualified to handle the job needed to be brought into the fold. I'm not a Sandy Alderson hater, but I didn't want to see Sandy making the critical baseball decisions any longer. Eppler didn't cover himself in glory while running the show for the Angels, but he's free from the heavy hand of Arte Moreno, and we can all hope that he learned from what went wrong in Anaheim.

There are rumors that David Stearns wants the job once he's fulfilled his contractual obligations with the Milwaukee Brewers. If that comes to pass, Stearns will be elevated above Eppler next offseason. While that would be a terrific outcome, put me down as skeptical of that playing out. A lot can change in a year. 

With a new GM in place, the Mets were able to quickly pivot into the free-agent market. Everyone in the game knew that things would come to a crashing halt on December 1 when the agreement between MLB and the union expired. With limited time, the Mets acted quickly to make a splash with some big signings. In a blinding flurry of activity, they signed OFs Starling Marte and Mark Canha, along with INF Eduardo Escobar. They followed that up by inking Max Scherzer to a 3-year deal. None of those signings are without risk, but the Mets roster was suddenly much stronger than it looked a couple of weeks earlier.

With his willingness to open the coffers and spend lavishly on talent, owner Steve Cohen also quickly changed the narrative of his club being just a punchline for the amusement of the rest of the baseball world. I can't say whether it was always Cohen's intention to spend big this offseason. He might have acted differently if the Mets managed to lure one of their top executive choices into the fold, or this may have been the plan all along. Only Steve Cohen and his closest confidants know the answer to that.

What's undeniable is that the Mets pre-lockout spending spree served to accomplish much more than improve the Mets' chances for 2022. It dramatically reversed the almost non-stop negative coverage of the club from the disappointing end of the season through the hiring of Billy Eppler. Don't get me wrong. The Mets still have a lot of work to do if they hope to build an organization that other clubs will admire and try to emulate. Still, reversing the constant negative coverage was an important step.

To that end, bringing in a respected manager to tighten things up in the clubhouse was an essential next step. Buck Showalter isn't perfect — he's 65 and has never won a World Series — but he'll command respect in the clubhouse, something that Luis Rojas never quite seemed able to do. I liked Rojas, but he didn't seem quite ready for the job. There was a definite perception that the inmates had been running the asylum for the past couple of years. That will certainly not continue with Showalter in charge.

Of course, there's a lot of work to be done if the Mets hope to compete in 2022. The signings of Marte and Canha seem to signal that the Mets won't be going hard after free agent Michael Conforto. It doesn't preclude an attempt to re-sign him, either. Having 4 strong outfielders heading into the season would place the Mets in an enviable position. Really, it would depend on how the Mets and their competition value Conforto.

It seems to me that the Mets need one or two more potential middle-of-the-order bats if they're serious about challenging for a playoff spot next season. Even if they foresee a bounce-back from Conforto and re-sign him, I think they need another bat. If Conforto goes elsewhere, they might need a couple. We can all hope for a strong comeback from Dom Smith and an effective return for Robinson Cano, but I don't believe the Mets should go all-in on either of those outcomes.

But we'll leave speculation on what the Mets should do for a later time. Unfortunately, I find myself among the most skeptical regarding MLB and the Players Association coming to an agreement any time soon. I believe Rob Manfred has repeatedly tipped off a strategy of putting pressure on the players by allowing the start of the season to be threatened by protracted negotiating. They're not even trying to negotiate now.

I wish this all wasn't hanging over the heads of baseball fans right now. Still, there's no denying that things look bad currently. As a Mets fan, I would love to see what moves the club makes to augment the late-November signing spree. Still, there's a lot to be done, including hiring coaches and continuing to remake the Mets front office. The international signing period begins on January 15. By all accounts, the Mets will be much more aggressive in that market than they were under the Wilpons.

Despite my own ups and downs, I continue to believe that this is a great time to be a Mets fan. I look forward to seeing how 2022 plays out for us if Rob Manfred and his odious cronies can only get the hell out of the way. I will do my best to touch on all of the important happenings here in this space. Take care and be well.

 Follow me on Twitter @MikeSteffanos.

3 comments:

  1. hi Mike: glad to see you're back. wow, four back operations in just over a year, hope four is your magic number and your problems are now solved or at least manageable. as to the Mets, I share your optimism. with a strong all-around outfield, a growing payroll w an owner who's willing to spend more to fix the remaining problems, a shallow farm system, but with a number of top prospects close to the majors, plus soon to have six picks in the first two rounds, plans in place both in the front office and dugout, Steve Cohen's wish for a World Championship in the first 5 or 6 years may well come through. of course, I'm assuming that the powers that be actually allow a season to be played this year instead of refusing to negotiate with the player's union. guess I shouldn't get too carried away... Jon Messinger

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  2. Mike's contributions were most definitely missed. Having gone through a myriad of injury and illness problems in my lifetime, I know how difficult it is to get back on track when you're sidelined with pain meds and frankly just misery. Hopefully there will be some meetings soon between the two warring kindergarten factions that will result in at worst a shortened spring training but a regular on-time start to the season.

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  3. Sorry for the late reply to these comments. Thanks for the well-wishes.

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