I completely understand the way that most Mets fans feel as we approach the final week before the MLB trade deadline. This team has been mediocre for nearly three months now (35-37 since April). Last season at this time the Mets were 2 games out of first place in the NL East. This season we sit 6.5 out of first and a game out in the Wild Card. There is no Yoenis Cespedes type of player coming to this club on July 31st to carry the team in August and September. Although the Mets have had stellar pitching in 2016 (ERA 3rd in MLB) and have hit a lot of home runs (6th in MLB), they haven’t been able to score runs (28th) and hit with runners in scoring position (last). The bottom line is the Mets may not be the luckiest team this year, but they don’t get clutch hits or comeback late in baseball games. That has made for an uninspiring product on the field.
It’s Okay To Be Okay: With all that being said, the notion that the Mets should sell or stand pat at the trade deadline is completely and utterly insane. Why? Because almost every team in the league is mediocre at best. The Mets went to the World Series last year, and openly stated the goal was to win a championship this season. As a result of that, every fan set the Mets 2016 baseline for success at a high level. Everyone expected elite regular season play from this team, and they’ve been about as mediocre as a team can be since the end of April. But the bottom line is very few teams are elite and we don’t have to be to make the playoffs.
The Land Of Mediocrity: Last year at the end of the season, there were 3 NL teams (Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates) in that 95 win, .575 winning percentage realm of success. Right now in 2016 there’s three teams trending in that direction (Nationals, Cubs, Giants). But everyone else stinks! The Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Reds, Rockies, Padres, and D-Backs are all well below .500. The Cardinals and Pirates are hovering around .500 but are nowhere near the regular season juggernauts they were in 2015. The Dodgers are mediocre at best and injured and may lose Clayton Kershaw for the season. Oh and remember those “elite” teams I mentioned? Well the Mets took 5 of 7 from the Cubs this year and 2 out of 3 from the Giants. Sure we’re 4-9 against the Nationals, but they’ve just been Murphing the hell out of us.
It’s Called A Window, Pal: This season will be a war of attrition. Keep pace with all the mediocre teams. Keep the core players on the field. Get the injured bodies back by August. A hot three week stretch in August or September will lead to a Wild Card berth. Let’s see if we can hang around the longest. Why not? I’ve actually heard some crazed fans comparing holding on to Cespedes at the 2016 deadline to when the Mets held on to Reyes in 2011. That’s completely ridiculous. Our current situation is the exact opposite of 2011. In 2011 we were on the verge of a rebuild. In 2016, we are playing in our championship window and Cespedes is part of our core. This young pitching staff is in place right now, and we have to make the most of the 3-6 year stretch where the arms are under team control.
I realize Matt Harvey is out for the season and that sucks. But the core players are here and producing at a high level. Yoenis Cespedes, Noah Syndergaard, and Jeurys Familia were all All-Stars. Jacob deGrom is having an All-Star caliber season. Steven Matz has struggled of late, but he’s still having an impressive rookie campaign. These are the core players. How can we even consider waving the white flag with the core producing? No. I don’t want to hear about bone spurs and sore quads and next year. Giving up on this team and on this pitching staff in 2016 would be insane.
This Is Life In MLB: There’s no denying that the quality of Mets baseball we’ve seen in 2016 has been far from elite. But it’s never elite for 6 months, and it doesn’t have to be. We certainly learned that lesson last year. Baseball nowadays is 4 awful teams, 4 very good teams, and 22 mediocre teams hanging around and trying to get a ticket to the playoffs. That’s just the way the league works. Dave Cameron at FanGraphs wrote a great preseason article essentially dismissing the notion that MLB has a tanking problem. In the article, he highlights the larger point I am trying to get at above.
The point is that MLB is experiencing a “golden age of parity” as Cameron puts it. This isn’t the NBA where the Warriors vs. Cavs is an absolute lock to repeat as the 2017 NBA Finals matchup and where one player can turn a team from garbage to playoff caliber. This isn’t the NFL where there’s like four to six real contenders that make the playoffs every single season and having an 8-8 or 9-7 record is a pretty strong indicator that your team doesn’t have a great chance of winning the Super Bowl. MLB is a league where the average fans spend half the season ripping their hair out because their team fails to live up to a standard of winning that probably wasn’t achievable to begin with. How often do we say over the course of the season “just win this series”? Well good luck maintaining that .667 winning percentage.
Sure We Need A Lot But…: The bottom line is the Mets have a number of areas where they need to improve. They need to do so through internal improvement and via some external acquisitions. But that’s the same situation almost every team is in. If we fail to make the playoffs then we take the roster and tweak what we need to in the offseason. We’re trying to win a championship after appearing in the World Series last year, and we have a window to do so with the core players I mentioned above. You try to win and then you tweak. Try and tweak. It’s all we can do. Giving up is not an option. After all, the Mets just need to be the best damn mediocre team in Stink Town! How hard is that?