Wednesday, December 27, 2023

(Really) Getting Better

Although it hasn't always been easy to believe, I have to admit it's getting better for the New York Mets.

When I was very young, The Beatles were still together making music. I remember when the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was released in May 1967 when I was 8 years old, just in time to dominate the airwaves in the ensuing summer, which would become famous as the Summer of Love. It was the first rock music I was ever aware of, living in a house where the music of my Mom's generation and my Grandmother's Italian music dominated our stereo. There were many classic songs on Sgt. Pepper's, including the title song, "With a Little Help from My Friends," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and "A Day in the Life." When I got a little older and started acquiring my own music, the album remained in rotation of the stuff I listened to throughout my teen years.

One song from Sgt. Pepper's that has stayed with me was "Getting Better." It was a straightforward rock song on an album that tended more to the psychedelic stuff that continued a transition from the early Beatles sound that began with Revolver, the band's previous album. "Getting Better" was primarily written by Paul McCartney, with a disturbing verse added by John Lennon where he confessed to being "cruel to [his] woman" both physically and mentally. This darkened the song considerably and forever complicated my feelings about Lennon's genius, although John did conclude this somber admission on a more hopeful note:
Man I was mean but I'm changing my scene
And I'm doing the best that I can
The main part of the song was brighter and more optimistic. Paul's lightness contrasting with John's darkness was part of the tension of The Beatles, and this song showcased that edginess. It was the optimism of the early verses that stayed with me the most throughout the ensuing decades of my life:
I've got to admit it's getting better (Better)
A little better all the time (It can't get no worse)

Those words have played in my head during many tough times. Sometimes, it was just whistling in the dark, trying to convince myself that things would get better when I really didn't believe that to be true. Other times, I felt optimistic that things were about to turn around.

In my Mets fandom, I have resorted to trying to believe things were getting better many times over the years. From time to time, things actually did improve. Still, those good times tended to end all too quickly. The last years of the Wilpon era stand out as truly dark times when the owners had little money to conceal their inability to grow a real organization. It was great fun when the club made it to the 2015 World Series. Still, it was hard to see it as anything more than just a brief, fabulous stretch of baseball where everything went right. When the penurious owners allowed Daniel Murphy to sign with their chief Division rivals in Washington, I just knew things wouldn't end well, and they didn't.

The main reason I stopped blogging for over a decade was an inability on my part to feel that things could get better with Fred, Jeff, and Uncle Saul running the show. And it wasn't just because the Madoff Ponzi scheme unraveling left them broke. I felt that this financial disaster, as destructive as it was to how the Wilpons operated the Mets, gave them one last chance to reevaluate their failure to create the sort of infrastructure that teams in much smaller markets used to succeed in MLB against wealthier opponents.

But, sadly, predictable as always, the Wilpons refused to change, instead trying to bluff their way through their lack of resources by claiming that things were fine and dandy. They weren't, of course. It was heartening in the early months of 2020 when Steve Cohen was first trying to purchase the Mets, then devastating when it fell through due to ridiculous demands that Fred and Jeff continue to run the franchise for five more years.

Still, it became clear in the spring of 2020 that the Wilpons would have to find a buyer, complicated by the arrival of COVID-19 and the ensuing shutdown of much of life as we know it, including baseball. The time on my hands, thanks to the pandemic and then my first back injury, got me back into blogging. But it was the feeling that it really, finally had a chance to get better with the club that inspired me to write about the Mets again, as I dreamed about what a new owner could bring to the club.

2020 was almost over when Steve Cohen finally did succeed in buying the club, with Fred and Jeff mercifully exiting stage left. In the three ensuing years with Cohen running the show, there have been ups and downs. There have been enough setbacks with the club for folks who opine about baseball to claim that these are the "same old Mets."

Steve Cohen spent a lot of money last winter to try and retain the momentum from the club's 101-win season in 2022. But it proved to be a hugely expensive swing-and-miss, with a trade deadline selloff and yet another sub-500 season in Queens. The Mets finally landed David Stearns to run the show. Ultimately, the good from that hiring will cancel out the disappointment of the costly faceplant of a season that preceded it. With all due respect to Billy Eppler, who did some good things here, Stearns has a real chance to be an all-time great running Mets baseball ops.

The final disappointment of 2023 was missing out on Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto to a Dodgers club that had signed Shohei Ohtani to a roster that already boasted stars like Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. The Dodgers and the top Divison foe in Atlanta are formidable clubs and will likely be so for years to come. It's easy to look at them and wonder how the Mets could ever compete for an NL pennant, much less a World Series championship. It's tough to envision a time when we could look at the Mets with the optimism that it's getting better.

For myself, it gets easier to find the sanguinity for the Mets' future when I put aside the stumbles and look at the positives that weren't there just over three years ago when the Wilpons were still running the show:

  • An owner with a vision for the future who is willing to be aggressive when it's called for and strategic when it's not. After so many years of the club trying to overcome their owners, Steve Cohen has proven to be a real asset.

  • A President of Baseball Ops acknowledged as one of the best in MLB and who is familiar with the non-glamourous work that is the foundation of strong operations.

  • Investment in technology, such as the new pitching and hitting labs, will enable the Mets to compete with more advanced clubs.

  • Hiring the right coaches and organizational people to take maximum advantage of the technology.

It would have been great if the Mets had landed Yamamoto. It certainly would have made the club more competitive next year. Instead, we hear that the Mets will be doing smaller, short-term deals, making it hard to see how the club can realistically compete for a modest Wild Card berth in 2024. But that certainly should be a goal for David Stearns, who clearly understands that even the most patient element of the fanbase isn't willing to grant him a complete pass next season.

David Stearns has made quite a few moves around the edges but still needs to add some quality to the meat of his roster. His front office must construct a serviceable bullpen behind Edwin Díaz and find some lineup protection for Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor. I understand the 2024 Mets roster won't be loaded with superstars, but it has to be a top-to-bottom improvement over 2023. Rookies like Francisco Álvarez and Brett Baty need to get better. The Mets have a good deal of talent at the top of their system that will likely debut in 2024. The club must enable some of these players to make a successful transition.

The Mets have a lot of work to complete the transformation of their organization. At last, however, there truly seem to be the correct folks in place to make it happen. As frustrating as it may have been, things are moving forward. If the Mets succeed in their club makeover and do what needs to be done, there is room to thrive against the top teams in baseball. If the Mets do things right, there is no need for their fans to feel like they will be forever relegated to second-class status. I understand there is much work to do, but I honestly believe — in a way I simply didn't not all that long ago — that the evolution from LOL Mets to a perennially competitive Mets team is well underway. It is getting better, and I'm thankful I'm around to see it happen.

Be well and take care.

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  1. Seeing at least one solid bat, one solid starter and one solid reliever will go a long, long way towards reducing fan anxiety and frustration. Traipsing around the periphery of the roster isn't cutting it for most folks and the improvements in development won't be known for 2-3 years at the earliest.

    1. Sign Justin Turner, Robertson, Ottavino

    2. They won't compete at all next year if they don't make meaningful signings like the ones you mentioned. I have to believe that will happen I don't believe Cohen or David Stearns wants to put on the whole year


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