The word "If", meaning to grant or supposing that something will happen, has been mistreated and should probably look into filing a lawsuit against the New York Mets. The franchise has simply given the word a negative reputation. I need not give examples of how this applies, but since we're 5 weeks to the date away from spring training I'll throw it out there anyway. Does this seem familiar?
IF Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, and Carlos Beltran can make it back healthy before the All Star Break the Mets MIGHT have a chance.
IF Johan Santana can continue to perform, IF Oliver Perez can regain form, IF John Maine isn't a headcase, IF Pelfrey can take the next step, IF Ike Davis is called up and IF David Wright can bounce back the Mets MIGHT have a chance.
IF Jose Reyes has a good year, IF Johan Santana is back by the All Star Break, If Carlos Beltran and K-Rod perform exceptionally, IF Jason Bay can bounce back and IF that kid Brad Emaus can turn into something productive the Mets MIGHT have a chance.
It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that "If" is simply indicative of the very harsh reality that as a fan base we've been collectively looking through rose colored glasses at a team that has shown for years a potential to be great, but a mediocre one at best if things didn't go well. While there were certainly a lot of bright spots in 2011, there are 5 reasons to be optimistic heading into 2012 IF you want to be excited about baseball. IF not, well, I head that the Miami Marlins have a pretty big bandwagon(and stadium) that they'll need help filling.
- Player Development- You will, of course, hear the people that will scream about how player development should occur in the minor leagues and that a franchise in New York City should be acquiring the cream of the crop to play for the major league team whether it be through free agency or the trade market. If that's your belief, fine, and I'm not agreeing or disagreeing with the statement. The reality of the situation is that we're faced with accepting what's happening on the field or diverting our attentions elsewhere. I'd rather watch baseball every night knowing that there's a glimmer of hope than sit in the cold as the days grow shorter---but maybe that's just me. Ruben Tejada is certainly an interesting case and with Terry Collins not opting to put him in high pressure situations early on he should be given the chance to relax and hopefully produce. If nothing else he's a pleasure to watch defend and if he can put up something close to last season, things might be exciting. The return of Ike Davis should be something as well, as he was on a torrid pace last season. Seeing Lucas Duda patrolling right field might not be easy on the eyes, but his big swing and home runs to the Pepsi Porch should be, at the very least, a spectacle. Seeing if Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese can take forward strides will be imperative, almost as much so as if their catcher Josh Thole can reduce the amount of passed balls and improve his game calling abilities.
- New Dimensions- The new dimensions, if anything else, will serve as perhaps the most exciting offseason acquisition. David Wright and Jason Bay will probably benefit the most from this, with both men looking to regain their power strokes after off years in 2011. The new dimensions certainly won't hurt line drive hitters like Daniel Murphy and Andres Torres, who very well may surprise a few with their offense output this year. Let us not forget that while 2010 may have been a fluke for Torres, he did prove he has 15 HR potential. The dimensions should also serve in helping Lucas Duda from misplaying more as Torres will be able to cover more ground. Overall, a win/win.
- Improved Bullpen- I'll try to make this one as simple as possible: The Mets had the most blown leads after the 7th inning in the National League. The back end of the 'pen severely suffered when K-Rod was sent packing to the Milwaukee Brewers, but the bullpen, if anything, should assure that the amount of blown leads(over 20) will be cut down dramatically. Ramon Ramirez has been one of the most consistent relief pitchers since 2008, having posted an ERA under 3 in each of the years. While his walks may be a tad high(3.4/9) his strikeout ratio jumped from 6.6 in 2010 to 8.7 in 2011 with about an even workload. Some may question the Jon Rauch signing, but Frank Francisco was lights out during the second half of 2011 and, if anything, has more experience than Bobby Parnell closing out games. Plus, if Francisco falters or gets injured there's reliable insurance this year in both Ramirez and Rauch, with Manny Acosta and or Bobby Parnell looking to make impressions as they enter critical years of their career.
- Payroll Flexibility- Perhaps one of the most short sighted moves by Mets fans this offseason has been the dramatic drop in Sandy Alderson's approval rating (If there were to be an official one, it wouldn't exactly be in line with Crude Oil prices). While his decision to never make a formal offer to Jose Reyes was criticized, he must also be commended for having two separate plans and not going into panic mode when plan A didn't work out. Spending money to spend money is never a wise decision, and saving some money in order to either take on money mid-season or make a few moves gives the Mets greater opportunities to pick up a piece or two if they can manage to hang around in July. Many see it as a long shot, but if the money had been spent NOW and was preventative of putting them over the top in July, there wouldn't be much of a difference with the end results. Ultimately the team now has less financially restricting contracts, more flexibility to make moves in season if necessary and a solid plan and foundation for the future. Those who praised Alderson for looking to develop the system and sticking to a plan have turned rather quickly. Patience is going to be a key factor in turning this franchise around, but Alderson is no fool.
- The Element of Surprise- Look, the Mets, in all likelihood, won't be having a World Series parade in October after a dramatic 7 game series victory in which David Wright hits a walk-off home run off of Mariano Rivera. That's saved for the video games. The fact of the matter is this: Baseball is the greatest sport because anything can truly happen. The 2012 Mets won't be nearly as bad as the 1962 Mets despite what blogs have lead many to believe and a turnaround isn't out of the realm of possibility...IF a lot of things go right. What's baseball without a few surprises, though? The San Diego Padres pushed their season to the last game in 2010. The Pittsburgh Pirates were a 10 game losing streak removed from finishing in contention for the NL Central crown and the Arizona Diamondbacks, one year removed from the cellar, were crowned National League West champions. Need I remind you of the heroics of Wild Card Wednesday? There aren't any guarantees in baseball, and much like Sports Illustrated crowned the Mets as World Series Champions prior to the 2009 season, there's still that: The season to be played.
For those looking for a reason to cheer, enjoy the spring, summer and America's past time...there will always be one. As fans we can't control the team and make roster changes as we'd like, but we can control our outlook on the game. Time, much like patience, is a virtue, and while sitting through another 70-something win season isn't something that really gets anyone's heart pumping, focusing on the positives and realizing that--hey, let's try to have fun while we can and remember that it's all just a game---can be just as rewarding.
Even if we're cursing out Frank Francisco for blowing a lead.