There were some good things and bad things again during the season’s first homestand. Some positive surprises, so far so good, Jose Valverde. Negative surprises too, goodbye and good luck Bobby Parnell. What was not a surprise, again, was that Citi Field was empty and dreary. For yet another year, people are not buying what the Mets are selling. But not only are fans not buying it, there continues to be an undercurrent of disgust and anger.
The number one reason is obvious enough, the Mets have not been in the playoffs since 2006,
at a time in baseball history when making the playoffs has become much easier than in the past. Winning would certainly change this situation. But even though the team has staggered for years now, I do not think the record on the field is the total problem. When it comes to consistent sellouts, and demand for tickets like the Mets had from 2006-2008, yes, you need a very good team to achieve those levels. But the depths we see these days, the ballpark a sea of green empty seats daily, is something I could not have imagined a few years ago. Of all the teams in the major leagues last year, only three were calculated to have lost value in 2013, the Astros, the Marlins and the Mets.
I read a nice article by Ken Davidoff about the problem the other day, and think Ken did a good job of illustrating a point that is not made enough, that there is a severe disconnect between what the Mets charge and what they spend. There has become a perception that Mets fans are a bunch of whiners when they lament the size of the current payroll. Mets fans are mocked for expecting the team to spend. However, as Ken shows, those very same Mets fans are expected to pay, and pay big. That math doesn’t add up and creates ill will with the customers.
However, today I don’t want to only focus on payroll. As long as these owners are in place and revenues do not rise, it probably can’t go up. That is a joke, but not so easy to fix. But payroll is not the only problem right now which is eradicating goodwill with Mets fans. There is a factor that is a lot more controllable than expecting an owner drowning in debt to find money under a pillow. I want to talk about the good old “Year of Control” and “Super 2.”
The Mets GM, Sandy Alderson, has no large-market experience. As a trained lawyer, he knows how to read the CBA, and he has a full grasp on how to save expenses. And as every Mets fan watching knows, Sandy has instituted a system-wide process to attempt to hold down potential Mets players’ salaries as long into the future as possible. It’s a nice parlor trick, and it is not against the rules. Years from now, we can look at all the players Sandy is currently holding back and figure out how much money he saved. For now, of course, it is nothing more than an estimate, as without a crystal ball it cannot be calculated, and will be dictated by player performances that have not occurred yet. I do think that Alderson, no dummy, has data, and an estimating model.
It all is logical, and unless our farm system ends up really blowing, there should be some money saved in the future. But this is not San Diego, and as Davidoff mentions, fans here are not being charged like it is. And those fans, who already have no choice but to swallow the fact that the owners cannot properly fund everyday operations, are also being asked to swallow a GM who refuses to put the best 25 men in the organization on the field. This is true even though the men he keeps holding back would make the major league minimum right now.
I don’t know how that plays in the sticks, but fans here get it. The front office is not making every attempt to field a winning team. These are the same fans already dealing with the payroll/cost of a game discrepancy. Well, those fans are getting more and more angry, and it’s like the deal in It’s a Wonderful Life. Only, it’s not every time a bell rings an angel gets it wings; It’s every time Omar Quintanilla gets sent up to hack a Mets fan vows to never go back. Losing is one thing, not trying is another.
I think Sandy Alderson does not understand the market this team operates in, and the owners have huge short-term financial problems. It’s a bad combination, and it has combined to create nothing short of a mess. Because when all is said and done we all know baseball is a business. The Forbes results are just another example showing that the Wilpon/Alderson duo does not understand how to run it. A National League baseball team decreasing in value in New York is not an easy thing to accomplish.
Can it all still work out? If the team begins to win consistently, things are going to improve. However, there is a deep mistrust between the Mets and their fans, a mistrust the team has worked hard to earn.
How quickly that can be changed is hard to say and will bear watching.