Let’s take a moment and see what could have happened if the Mets had slipped into an alternate reality at the 2015 trading deadline:
February is upon us and it’s nearly time for the start of Spring Training. After the lackluster 81-81 finish to the 2015 season, Sandy Alderson is forced to answer many of the same questions he faced last spring. Will the team finally take a step forward? Will the Mets reach the 90 win goal that management has set forth for the second season in a row? Can the Mets finally beat the Nationals who have won the NL East for 3 of the last 4 seasons?
Mets fans are restless and want to know what can be expected from Carlos Gomez in CF. Gomez, who was acquired at the trade deadline for Zack Wheeler and Wilmer Flores, failed to propel the Mets anemic offense over the final two months of the season. After injuries plagued Gomez down the stretch, Mets fans want to know if he will be healthy this year, and if Sandy regrets giving up Zack Wheeler for just one full season of Gomez before he inevitably tests free agency. In addition, Mets fans wonder how Juan Lagares will react to being relegated to the bench in favor of a player with a similar skill-set just one season after signing a 20 million dollar contract.
The signing of 35 year old utility-man Ben Zobrist to play 2B has provided some excitement for the fan base as he represents the Mets first significant free agent acquisition since the 2013 signing of Curtis Granderson. Zobrist, coming off a World Series championship with the Royals, was courted by the Nationals in the off-season and reportedly had interest in returning to his home state of Illinois to play for the Cubs. However, due to Zobrist’s age and the success of Starlin Castro at 2B during their run to the NL pennant, the Cubs were reluctant to get involved in the bidding. Many experts questioned the Mets decision to give a 4 year contract to a 35 year old player with a recent history of knee injuries. However it was clear during their pursuit that the Mets loved Zobrist and were willing overlook the risks associated with the back-end of the contract.
Ruben Tejada will once again enter Spring Training as the favorite to start at SS despite fans clamoring for an acquisition at the position. Sandy Alderson has remained firm on his view that he is not open to an acquisition at SS (e.g. Alexei Ramirez, Asdrubal Cabrera etc) if it does not represent a significant upgrade over the options on the current roster.
After finishing .500 with a 25th ranked offense that consistently failed to score runs, overtaking the Nationals in the NL East will be more challenging than ever. This is especially true considering the Nationals have had an off-season full of high profile acquisitions headlined by former Met Daniel Murphy and Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes.
Aside from the Nats, the early favorite in the National League is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs are fresh off of beating the Nationals in the NL Divisional Series, taking out the Dodgers for the NL pennant, and going on an unexpected run to the World Series before losing to the Kansas City Royals in 6 games. In addition to retaining Dexter Fowler, Starlin Castro and the other core players from their NL Championship team, the Cubs added Jason Heyward, John Lackey and traded Jorge Soler for Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians in an effort to bolster their rotation.
The Nationals have added to their already talented roster in the hopes of winning the NL East for the third year in a row. The Cubs are brimming with confidence and feel they are ready to take the final step to win a World Championship. The Mets just hope that in 2016 they can finally take a step forward and show their fans that the franchise is finally trending in the right direction.
The story above represents a not so far-fetched Parallel Universe that the Mets could easily exist in right now if not for a few key events.
I’m not a physicist so I won’t pretend to understand the actual feasibility of the existence of this alternate reality. However, I do know that the Mets were a doctor’s blessing away from that Gomez for Wheeler/Flores trade. A trade the Astros made just a few days after the Mets rejected the deal. Now in hindsight, we can all confidently say that the acquisition of Gomez would not have had the impact that the Cespedes deal had on the Mets 2015 season. Hell there’s almost nobody that could have had the impact of Cespedes.
We also know that in November, the Mets were a handshake and signature away from signing Ben Zobrist to play 2B. If the Mets had acquired Gomez instead of Cespedes at the 2015 deadline, its not likely that their off-season strategy would have changed that much. Clearly Mets management loved the versatility that Zobrist would have brought to the roster. And theoretically, if the Cubs had gone on a pennant run instead of the Mets, perhaps the Cubs offseason thinking would have changed. Maybe Starlin Castro has a big performance in the NLCS and the World Series and the Cubs decide to keep him in the fold, creating an opportunity for the Mets to actually finalize a contract with Zobrist.
The only thing separating the Mets from the mediocre parallel universe above and the sweet reality of the Cespedes acquisition, 90 win season, NL East crown, NL pennant, and ultimately World Series appearance is….dumb luck. That’s right. The Mets got a little bit of the Luck O’ the Maverick. Our quack team of doctors, for the first time ever, actually saw something concerning in their medical review and nixed the Gomez deal. Despite the Mets offering more money to the aging Zobrist, he could not resist the urge to return to his home state. Now the Cubs get to deal with the risks associated with giving an expensive contract to an aging player.
Luck is something we have hardly ever had in the history of the franchise (see: Seaver trade, Nolan Ryan trade, Gooden/Strawberry crack addiction, Bonilla signing, Mo Vaughn trade, Duaner Sanchez cab injury, Jason Bay‘s inexplicable deterioration, Ike Davis‘ magic career ending illness, owners being involved in a Ponzi scheme, and most recently David Wright‘s spinal stenosis. Just to name a few). However, it would seem with Sandy the Maverick at the helm, the Mets are finally beginning to see some random luck in this elegant universe that we inhabit. We just have to hope that the luck continues because without it, we may wind up getting sucked into an injury-riddled black hole of a season that takes us to the division cellar. But as Stephen Hawking said, “The past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities.” Let’s hope one of those possibilities is a 2016 World Series Championship.