This year has been a weird one for the Mets, and given that the Mets are pretty weird to begin with, that's something else. Right now, the team is three games out of first place in their division, and two games over .500. In any other year, this would be great -- but not this year. This year, Mets fans are a roiling boil of frustration, as the team's truly unbelievable pitching staff is being held back by the third-worst offense in baseball by wRC+. Currently, most everyone on the roster can't hit, can't field, or can't do either. But hey, the pitching is great!
By itself, this is less of a problem than you might think. It's trade deadline season, and the Mets are in a prime position to capitalize on a market flush with perfectly-good positional talent. The team's greatest area of need is left field, a position they haven't been able to fill effectively despite investing much money and opportunity cost this offseason. Best of all -- the team also has two decent corner outfield prospects in the minor leagues: professional hitter Michael Conforto and professional walker Brandon Nimmo. Conforto looks ready to take on major-league pitching, and the #CONFORT hashatag is strong. Jeff Sullivan thinks that Conforto could help the team, and Mets Twitter seems to agree.
Yet, nothing is happening. Though trade rumors swirl, the Mets have demonstrated a fundamental lack of interest in taking on money. That leaves them in the space between -- a rare form of baseball purgatory.
When I was younger, I did what a lot of teenagers do, and got really into music -- punk and indie rock. You know, big into a local music scene, going to shows on the weekends, start your own band, that kind of stuff. While now I'm older, and have decidedly grown lame and removed from any sort of "scene", I still have a very strong connection to the music I listened to at those times. That connection ebbs and flows as the months go by, and a lot of it has fallen away or mellowed with time, but there's a mess of songs stick with me.
I find that my relationship with the music of that time, the songs I used to put on over and over in my car stereo, is a lot like my relationship with the New York Mets. Both types of fan experience are similar in a lot of ways, both create a unique visceral experience that tugs at an inner part of you that craves connection and thrill. For a kid who never felt like he belonged to a particular place, music and identification with a sports team gives you a little bit of a sense of belonging. You can find people who share that connection. You land somewhere, even if you don't know where you're going.
Long story short (too late), I fell on the borderline between "traditional" punk rock outfits and the emerging pop-punk / ska-punk / photo-emo types of bands. I wasn't rebellious -- or probably old -- enough to identify wholly with all of the Epitaph / Fat Wreck Chords / Lookout bands of the era, but I found something compelling in the energy, and occasionally the message. Anyways, one of the songs that really stood out to me at that time was a two-minute drill by Lagwagon called 'Violins', and I still listen to it today.
Like most songs (I think), Violins is about a relationship -- and though the line reading is about a relationship with a girl, I listen to it now and see just how much it applies to my relationship with the Mets. Because when I hear this song, my reading of it is that it's a confused, messy relationship that's bound for disaster. The songwriter acknowledges his own failings, accepts his complicity in the problem, and cannot, will not, let go.
That sounds about right.
Michael Cuddyer, man. Anyone looking to criticize the New York Mets can probably start at that name, and work their way down from there. The signing -- bringing on an aging hitter with little surplus value, while costing the team a mid-first draft pick -- seemed silly from the start. But the Mets are, at this point, probably the least equipped team in baseball to spend money poorly. It's crazy, how a team based in the largest market on the planet has to be even more of a penny-pinching apparatus than the lowly Oakland Athletics, but here we are, in the middle of some Sandy Alderson fever dream from which there is no escape. The wells have all dried up, and we're prying up the floorboards for firewood.
More on the Mets
More on the Mets
On the baseball side, there's a lot that's going wrong -- but the Mets' ownership makes other mistakes outside of baseball that make it hard to love this team. The Wilpons seem to be bad, if not corrupt, businessmen. Fred seems to have had a weird relationship with Bernie Madoff. Jeff Wilpon's situation with Leigh Castergine -- where he disparaged and reportedly fired a VP for having a child out of wedlock -- might be one of the worst things I've heard about any baseball COO. This is a team that is decidedly hard to love.
It's a hard thing to extricate yourself from fandom for your favorite baseball team. In my case, part of me would never want to abandon the franchise that has never abandoned me. I mean, don't get me wrong, it's a franchise that can't abandon me -- it doesn't even know I exist. But that's not the point. It's stable, even though sometimes it doesn't seem that way. The Mets have been around for a long time, and they'll continue to be around.
Lagwagon was pretty popular amongst my group of friends, because they made catchy songs and the songs made sense to teenagers. During the 90s and even early-00s, there was a nice little wave of mainstream acceptance for the kind of music you got from Epitaph and Fat Wreck Chords -- the stuff of Bad Religion and Rancid and NOFX before punk officially became pop-punk and before. But Lagwagon never seemed to reach the heights of public acceptance that some of these other bands hit.
Did Lagwagon fail to succeed because they weren't good enough, or because they didn't want to do the things required to succeed? Did they, as reported, turn down a host of major label offers, or was Joey Cape's voice a bit too off-putting, their melodies too stale? Did they miss their window? Or were they just not good enough anyways, and any effort would have been a waste of resources?
The Mets have reportedly had trade discussions with every team in this hemisphere, with names like Jay Bruce, Carlos Gomez, and Justin Upton being thrown around like empty water bottles at the Warped Tour. (Do they still have a Warped Tour?) (Editor's note--YES!) Most recently, there's a lot of traction on a Ben Zobrist-for-Rafael Montero rumor. Zobrist is exactly the type of player the Mets need: versatile and competent. Montero is exactly the type of player the Mets don't need: a starting pitcher.
The deal seems to be a match made in heaven, except for the fact that a reason why it hasn't been consummated might be that Zobrist -- due to become a free agent at the end of the year -- might be about $3 million dollars too expensive for the penny-pinching Mets. Never mind the fact that the team has already saved almost $5 million this year just in insurance on David Wright and Jenrry Mejia's contracts, the team may be crying ever-more-poor.
The rumors, of course, may be the usual chorus of lies and exaggerations -- many are -- but the Wilsons have made these assertions easy to believe. The actions of the Mets are the actions of a team unwilling or unable to make The Leap, and unlike in music, this is a sure-fire way to disappoint your increasingly-frustrated fanbase.
So are the Mets in that same position? Are they turning down offers of maybe-greatness because they don't want to expend the resources, make the commitments, change the team's way of doing business? Is it really about the money? Or are the external contexts that we -- as analysts and fans -- aren't privy to holding the team back. Is it that the Mets can't afford $3 million bucks to acquire Ben Zobrist, or is it really that the Athletics are asking for too much back? Could be some of both, and we might never know for sure.
Time heals all wounds, and softens all blows, but time moves differently for the Mets. The great narrative arc of the team has always been thus: a colossal setup leading to heartbreaking failure to reach magical potential. (There's a minor exception in here for the Miracle Mets of '69, but even the '86 World Series is part of a letdown, as that team should have dominated for half a decade.) It's funny -- in sports you can always see how most teams move from disappointment to, at long last, ringing success, then repeat the process ad nauseum. But with special cases -- the Yankees go from success to success, the Red Sox take a century to complete the climb, etc. -- it seems most often that the path is viewed as failure leads to success, and not the other way around. Not so in Queens.
Cult favorite bands always get their second wind, and we look back on the early years with fond memories, not the distressed feelings of missed opportunity and regret that come in baseball. In five years, if the Mets are terrible again, there will be less a sense of "whoa, what a cool rotation!" and more a sense of "I cannot believe the team didn't do more to win."
Now here we are. An upgrade on Daniel Murphy or Wilmer Flores would be huge for this team, and an upgrade on the Eric Campbell / Michael Cuddyer out-machine would be even better. A two-win outfielder would probably be worth a win and a half in just half a season, based on below-replacement work in left field. A three-win infielder could do the same. But I bet nothing major happens.
I've disagreed with almost every stance this team has taken since the beginning of 2014. I don't like their choices, and I don't like the owners in charge as people or as baseball entities. I'm starting to get frustrated with a general manager whom I lauded as the best thing in the world when he came on in 2010. But being a fan isn't always a reciprocal relationship. The team makes frustrating decisions. The band releases a "concept album" or goes on hiatus. We adapt, or move on.
I'm left with a frustrated relationship with a favorite team, whose penny-pinching ways make me want to give up and go be a fan of the Rays or something. (The Rays don't have any problems, right?) Fortunately, it's just sports, and the rest of my life is fulfilling. Even with how much I care about baseball, it's a liner note for this album and nothing more. But for now, a song that's 20 years old makes me feel something about a baseball team that makes me feel something, and that itself a strange feeling.
The last line of the song I've been talking about this whole time is "I'm trying hard to let you go / Violins", and the irony is in my inability to let the music or the team go. Life has all these weird intersections, and things both assumed and unexpected dig into you. I can't let go.
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