This coming Friday is Groundhog Day: a day in which an animal who has no meteorological background steps out of his hole and makes a determination as to how bad the rest of the winter will be. And while we celebrate this day annually, we all know that the information provided by the groundhog on that day will not really tell us anything. In anticipation of this holiday, Jeff Wilpon, the Mets Chief Operating Officer, held a rare Q&A session with reporters last week. The team’s payroll and budget was the main topic of conversation, but did Wilpon actually have anything to say?
Things started off pretty well for the COO. When discussing the payroll he said, “It doesn’t have to come down. We’re not at spring training yet. We’re not at Opening Day. So I can’t tell you where it’s going to end up.” In other words, the idea that the Mets have a very specific budget in mind and GM Sandy Alderson must construct this team within those confines is something of a misconception. That seems…hopeful. This means that if a player who can help the team is available at a reasonable deal, the Mets will try to get him. Oh, this is promising. This would seem to suggest that, with the slow free agent market this offseason, and with most of the top free agents still available, and with their respective prices (in terms of annual salary and/or desired length of contract) seemingly being reduced, the Mets MUST be in hot pursuit of some of these guys, right? Right?! Somebody? Is this thing on?
So, maybe we should take a look at some of Wilpon’s other comments from that day…
“Being top 5 in payroll, I don’t think that won us a World Series.” Let’s be very clear here, I don’t recall any fan demanding that the Mets be in the top 5 in payroll. The Mets fans want a better team than what they had last year. They want a team they can believe in. They want the Mets to sign some of these free agents because they honestly believe that those players will make the roster better than what it currently looks like. Furthermore, last year was the second year in a row that injuries played a bigger role in the Mets season than any player did. The first time that happened, the Mets returned with virtually the same roster and said that things would be different. And they were different. They were much worse. Everything was worse. The injuries, the performances on the field, the frustrations within the fanbase – all worse. The credibility of the Mets ownership and front office took a significant hit last year. Wilpon’s glib statement about the lack of value of being in the top 5 in payroll did not do terribly much to restore that credibility.
And then Wilpon said, “I understand the fan base’s frustration.” Wait, hold up, major record scratch here – no, Mr. Wilpon, no, he definitely does not understand the fan base’s frustration. Based on his comment from the previous paragraph, it’s obvious that he underestimates the Mets fans. He is trying to sell his team’s fans on the same roster from the past two remarkably disappointing seasons, trying to convince them that this time is really going to be different. It’s not working; they’re not convinced. Few things are as aggravating as someone telling you they understand you and then very clearly proving they don’t.
Maybe Jeff Wilpon knows something Mets fans don’t. Maybe the new medical staff and the new manager and coaches will make such an impact that the team will improve by more than 20 wins over last year’s team. Maybe an infield of a likely over-the-hill first baseman, a platoon of historically underperforming and out-of-position players at second base, a highly touted but unproven young shortstop, and a broken down and out-of-position third baseman will work for this team. But if Mr. Wilpon wants his fans to believe in something like this, he should probably stop trying to convince them that he knows how they feel. If he really wanted to show that he has his finger on his fan base’s pulse, he’d put a different team on the field than the losing ones they’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
Otherwise, he’ll probably just have to crawl back into his hole and come out next year to deliver the same meaningless message.