How do you know that the worst has finally past? How can you tell whether our team will continue to perform at the superb level it did during the second half of 2015, or regress to prior levels?
In short, how do we really know whether we’re good enough?
I don’t know, because surely, at its most concrete level, that must come down to analytics: wins per dollar, strikes per plate appearance, bases per out, however you measure it.
You know what analytics can’t measure? Smiles per game. Life-defining experiences per inning. Happiness per fan. But I’ll let that go for the moment.
The Mets held a press conference today, and introduced a player who I’ll stop just short of calling a superstar because somehow, it seems like no one likes when you call players superstars, just in case they suddenly turn bad again. I’ll meet those people halfway, and say that today, the Mets held a press conference, and introduced a player who we can surely agree is very good.
The last time they did that, besides David Wright, who is on a whole different level? Probably Jason Bay.
Now, let me stop you before you get there, because I am NOT comparing the two. Jason Bay’s average dipped from .286 in 2008 to .267 in 2009, and apparently no one noticed the trend. Bay was going downhill the whole time: anyone could have seen it, and professional baseball executives probably should have.
Cespedes is coming off a career year. He’s a year younger than Bay was when we signed him, and coming off a great year. Not that he’ll keep producing at his 2015 level, necessarily, but we know one thing: he hasn’t started regressing yet.
Even more than the player we’re getting, however, there’s a significance to the move, and the press conference, that goes beyond the team on the field. We’re legitimate again. We’re a – the – team to beat. We’re a great place to play.
We are, in short, once again the New York freaking Mets.
For a while, from the ‘80s through about 2009, it seemed like we had a shot at every free agent who hit the market. We usually did, sometimes to our detriment. Then we went through five years of hurt where our biggest free agent signings were the likes of Frank Francisco and Collin Cowgill.
And then we got Cespedes, and we went to the World Series. And here we are, three months later, and we’ve got, finally, a helluva team put together, ready to hit the season running.
Back when the Nationals signed Jayson Werth, everyone said that they were sending a message. They were ready to spend; they were ready to compete; they were ready to win. It didn’t matter that the contract ultimately became a flop: it was the thought that counted.
Well, I like to think – and, in the case of divisional records, I know for a fact – that we’re better than the Nationals. Is Yoenis Cespedes a message? Maybe. It certainly sent a message to the fans, that we’re ready to get going again. But just as he’s more than just a very good player, he’s also more than a message: he’s both. We’re smart. We’ve got good people in our offices, and Yoenis Cespedes is here because they thought he would be valuable. So do I, come to think of it.
So no, I can’t know for sure whether we’ve really reached the promised land of long-term competition and having a fighting chance year in and year out. Anything can happen. We could lose a pitcher or three, or, just as likely, three of our pitchers could have 20-win seasons. Maybe Michael Conforto’s development will falter, or, just as likely, he’ll turn into a perennial 30 home run, .300 batting average hitter. I don’t know; you don’t know; an outfit calling itself zIPS doesn’t know.
But, thanks to today’s press conference, we do know a few things. We’re spending money again. We’ve got smart people in charge of giving that money away. And we’ve got a pool of players ready to take that money.
And as I said, neither you nor I know anything for certain, not least whether we’re ready to take a repeat run to the World Series and, this time, come away with a title. But with those three things in place, I know one thing: we’ve got, at least, a good chance to do so.
And sometimes, that’s all you need. It’s all we needed in 2015, and it may be all we need to do it again this year. And if we can be even better than we were, not even Fangraphs can predict how far we’ll go.