It’s been a few years since I felt good about the New York Mets heading into the season and even longer since I felt good about them once the season was over. Expectations are especially low heading into tomorrow’s season opener. If you’ve read anything about the Mets in the past 12 months, you’re aware that the team’s owners lost a fortune as a result of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Ticket sales plummeted as the Mets finished 77-85 last season, fourth in the National League East, only adding to their financial woes.
As a result, the Mets orchestrated the biggest payroll slash in MLB history, going from $142 million to $91 million. They traded two of their stars last July and didn’t offer a contract to free agent Jose Reyes, who signed a nine-figure deal with the rival Miami Marlins in December. New York made no major acquisitions. ESPN the Magazine predicts the Mets’ best-case scenario is not losing 90 games.
In talking with other Mets fans, particularly the optimistic ones (yes, I found a few), it is not impossible to start thinking this team could compete for a wild card spot. Though no big names were added through free agency, Opening Day starter Johan Santana returns after missing all of last season with an injury. First baseman Ike Davis didn’t play after May 10th. David Wright and Daniel Murphy each missed two months. Remember, the Mets scored more runs than the mighty Phillies last year despite all those injuries.
If I keep talking I’ll remind myself that the Citi Field dimensions were changed to be more hitter-friendly, which should give Wright his confidence back and help him return to All-Star form. Davis and Lucas Duda could combine for 50 home runs. There’s a fair amount of young talent: Davis, Duda, Murphy, Ruben Tejada, and Jon Niese, to name a few. Forget what the payroll was last year or the year before. A $91-million roster projects to be middle of the pack. The Texas Rangers went to the World Series last season with that payroll.
I walk away from this discussion feeling good. Ya gotta believe, I tell myself. If Santana looks like his old self…If Murphy can play a decent second base…If Jason Bay can just get close to his career averages… If Mike Pelfrey can figure it out…
Teams with that many “ifs” typically don’t make the playoffs. There’s a reason most predictions have the Mets finishing last in the division. The Phillies, Marlins, Braves, and even the Nationals appear stronger.
There has been a cloud of negativity surrounding the franchise for a few years now, and much of it in the past year has dealt with the financial problems. That’s fair, considering a team can’t have much success if its owners can’t pay the bills, but it hasn’t been much fun for fans.
There’s an old baseball saying: Everyone’s in first on Opening Day. So why does it feel like the Mets are already eight games back?