Baseball fans are a passionate community, loyal to a fault, only too willing to root, root, root for the home team through thick and thin.
There are long-suffering fans all over the baseball landscape. It is part of the deal between teams and their followers. Chicago Cubs fans waited 108 years between World Series championships. The Cleveland Indians are still waiting after 68 years.
That said, the New York Mets are really testing the patience of their followers. It’s not that they are out of the race and have been for a while. That’s not unusual. It’s not that they chose to sell off veteran players. That happens all the time.
It is what has surrounded these conditions that is troubling.
When it became clear a couple of months ago that this would be a difficult summer at CitiField, general manager Sandy Alderson decided to unload some Mets assets.
Good thinking. Across town, it was the same strategy Yankees GM Brian Cashman used a year ago to restock his farm system which now oozes with big league-ready players.
So, the Mets hung “For Sale’’ signs around the necks of some attractive veterans who will become free agents at the end of this season. But instead of reconstructing this woebegone team, each move instead reconstructed management’s pocket book.
The first player to go was first baseman Lucas Duda, who had 125 home runs in eight seasons with the Mets. In exchange, the Mets acquired pitcher Drew Smith, the 30th ranked player in the Tampa Bay Rays system. Oh, and by the way, the Rays picked up the remainder of Duda’s salary, $2,6 million or so,
Reliever Addison Reed was the next to leave, moved for the Boston Red Sox. Reed had 19 saves for New York and the Mets received three minor league pitchers for him. And, oh yes, the Red Sox took on the $2.2 million remaining on his 2017 salary.
Then it was time for Jay Bruce and his 29 home runs and 75 runs batted in to hit the road, sent to Cleveland for a Class A pitcher named Ryder Ryan, who was the Indians 30th round draft choice.
In exchange for their best hitter?
What exactly were the Mets up to? There’s an easy answer. The Indians also took on the remaining $4 million of Bruce’s 2017 salary.
You can see the pattern.
So it was no surprise when New York unloaded second baseman Neil Walker, another good bat, to Milwaukee for the proverbial player to be named later. The Brewers also agreed to pay a chunk of the $4.7 million remaining on Walker’s 2017 salary.
All the wheeling and dealing saved the Mets around $9 million, petty cash in the current baseball economy, and left the roster in transition. Because their pitching staff has been so woeful, the team was carrying 13 arms, leaving the bench a little slim. So when Jose Reyes and Wilmer Flores both came up with injuries during the Subway Series against the Yankees, there were no spare infielders to replace them.
The solution was to have catcher Travis d’Arnaud masquerade as an infielder and play hide and seek with Yankee hitters. Asdrubal Cabrera, who really is an infielder, flip-flopped with d’Arnaud between second and third base 22 times in a game, a comical scenario designed to keep d’Arnaud away from the baseball. The tactic worked. No balls were hit his way. The Mets, however, lost the game. But it was a sellout, adding important revenue to the franchise’s bottom line.
The answer to the Mets’ riddle is rather simple. Follow the money. It is a technique this team has used before. Keep it up and sooner or later the fans will follow the money right out the door.