It feels like 2010 has been the year of the eventually solved, self-created problem for the New York Mets. Yes, they bring in Gary Matthews Jr., but eventually realize he can't play baseball. Yes, they put Mike Jacobs at first base, but eventually determine that Kansas City non-tendered him for a reason. Yes, they sign Alex Cora instead of a reasonable alternative to backup Luis Castillo, but eventually they dump him before his 2011 vesting option creates a similar problem.
This is a welcome development, naturally, for a team that seemed unable to self-correct within a season before. (See Guillermo Mota for details.)
The problem is that, as everyone can see, the presently constructed Mets are not at the level of the Phillies, or even the Braves. So they need to do more than just figure out how to stand in place, with each day that ticks by bringing the team that much closer to the unconscionable wasting of David Wright and Jose Reyes in their primes.
It was certainly telling that Wright spoke out about the future direction of the team. Listen to what he said to David Waldstein of the New York Times on Saturday:
"Of course you wonder. I assume there is a plan. It obviously doesn't look all that good when all of a sudden, after a tough loss, you hear that they want to start playing the young guys. So you kind of get mixed signals about that. You want to make sure that there is a plan and that if this is the case, then so be it and we go out there and do the best you can. But, obviously, it sends mixed signals when something like this happens."
In other words: Wright doesn't know what the plan is. And for him to speak out publicly like that is a big deal. Wright doesn't say those things.
Naturally, this being the Mets, the solving of the Cora mistake was complemented by the creating of another one: the so-called platoon between Fernando Martinez and Jeff Francoeur.
Look, we don't know if Fernando Martinez will be a productive Major League corner outfielder. Here's what we do know:
Francoeur, barring a miracle, will never be good enough to play regularly in the Major Leagues, and may not be good enough to deserve a spot on a Major League roster.
Martinez, due to a combination of injuries and youth, needs more at-bats. His needs consist of oxygen, followed closely by at-bats. He needs to hit so that he can develop the ability to hit and allow the Mets to find out if he can play every day for an extended time without getting injured.
Given these two unassailable facts, how on earth does giving Francoeur any playing time at all make sense?
And at the risk of sounding viciously anti-Francoeur, the amount of deference the guy gets for his public complaining about playing time is nothing short of astounding. We've had to hear years of speculation about various members of the Mets and their inability to think team-first.
But Francoeur comes along, and not by dint of any particular accomplishments, or even tenure with the club, gets to have sympathetic public airing of his frustration over not playing as much because he is performing terribly. Somehow the stories are written not as "Selfish Francoeur puts self ahead of team", but sympathetically, about how his struggles are making him upset.
And naturally, after meeting with Jerry Manuel, the manager publicly went back on his platoon vow of the day before. So that will cut into Martinez's playing time even more.
The problem is, Martinez may be the only path to 2011 that means much of anything for the Mets. They need to improve in several areas, while locking in their 2010 gains, to challenge for the division title. And as Adam Rubin pointed out, the Mets have about $120 million committed to seven players.
So while additional spending would likely be limited anyway, it is compounded by the drop in attendance: as Matt Cerrone pointed out at MetsBlog.com, the team has a drop of around 6,000 per game from 2009.
Let's assume for a moment that the drop remains there. 6,000 fewer fans, times 81 home games, with the team's average ticket price of $32.22 means a shortfall in revenue of roughly $15.7 million in ticket sales alone (leaving out concessions, obviously). In other words, the difference is roughly what Carl Crawford will make next year.
Now, clearly this is a degenerating situation. The reason ticket sales have slumped is because the team on the field simply isn't at the same level as it was during the last years at Shea Stadium. (It isn't a decline in venue, that's for sure.) And if the Mets really wanted to improve ticket sales (and generate more revenue), they'd put a better product on the field, which requires more money.
But even with healthy spending this winter, it will be difficult to fix all that ails the Mets overnight. Without it, the team needs players like Fernando Martinez to mature rapidly.
In the meantime, every at-bat Francoeur takes will make the path the team appears destined to take that much less likely to result in success. By early next year, Francoeur will hopefully be gone, and Martinez will finally be getting everyday at-bats.
But just as the money wasted on Alex Cora kept the team from getting a real alternative to Luis Castillo, just as the time and energy spent on Matthews Jr. (not to mention the $2 million in salary commitment) kept the Mets from fixing their bullpen depth, just as the months Jenrry Mejia spent in the bullpen will keep him from figuring in next year's rotation plans for a full season (hello, innings limit), it appears the Mets will once again spend a few months getting back to where they started.
Meanwhile, Wright will celebrate another birthday, and Reyes will be that much closer to his next one, too.