It’s nice to be thinking about baseball during a January blizzard. For Mets fans it’s particularly nice because Cespedes is coming back and all is well in Metville! In the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? So why does my joy feel tempered? Why do I feel like the abused child who has just been given a cookie? Why am I still suspicious and waiting for the next lash of the belt?
Tyler Kepner in today’s The New York Times wrote that the deal for Cespedes means that the Mets may actually know what they’re doing–and that they’re doing things the right way.
Sorry to disagree Mr. Kepner, but just because you draw to a gutshot straight and hit it doesn’t mean it was a smart play. It could be a good play, if you were getting the right implied odds, but it’s not a good play merely by virtue of the result.
I like Sandy Alderson. I think he’s a smart guy. He’s done a really good job of putting the Mets together under some pretty trying and compromising circumstances–namely the Wilpons and their money constraints. But Sandy has also gotten very lucky, hitting inside straights even when the odds weren’t giving him the right price. The Mets wouldn’t have gotten to the World Series last year without Cespedes, but they only got him because Sandy’s original and ill-considered trade for Carlos Gomez (which would have cost the Mets Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler) was derailed by a medical problem at the 11th hour.
Similarly, whatever praise Sandy is garnering now for having stuck to his guns and won the day by signing Cespedes on his terms should be put into a like context, i.e. he got lucky. He got lucky because Cespedes actually wanted to be a Met. He got lucky because the market for Cespedes turned out to be a good deal less active than many thought it would be, including Cespedes and his agents. He got lucky because Cespedes decided to gamble on himself and leave money and years on the table by turning down an offer from the Mets arch rival Washington Nationals. He got lucky because the Nationals interest in Cespedes actually prompted the Wilpons to offer more money than you know they wanted to, lest they suffer through a public relations nightmare. He got lucky because if Cespedes had signed with the Nationals, we would right now be screaming bloody murder, knowing that Alderson didn’t have the flexibility to match what the Nats offered. And we know, from that vantage point, that the stance he adopted was actually less a strategy than a restriction.
Nevertheless, there are people, including the aforementioned Mr. Kepner from the Times, who seem to think that the Mets conducted their business in a smart way and see the result as an affirmation of the approach. The Mets may actually be going about their business strategy in the right way, but it’s not because it’s the best way. It’s because it’s the cheap way and it happened, in this case, to align with the right way. But we actually know that because of the Wilpons, Sandy would be doing things the cheap way even it was the wrong way. He doesn’t have a choice–or the flexibility.
As with poker, most people use results as their measuring stick in determining whether they’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Getting lucky encourages them to stick with bad practices and strategies. Right now the Mets have a small window of about two or three more years when they have what is arguably the best pitching staff in baseball under their control at bargain basement prices. Their sole and only strategy should be to surround those cheap and amazing pitchers with the best supporting cast they can, even if they have to overpay some of them. Yes, that is correct. Even if they have to overpay some of them. The opportunity to build a dynasty around a core of young talent comes around once every thirty or forty years. And when that opportunity comes, you need to do everything you can to take advantage. The reason Mets fans have been so enraged this offseason, up till now, is that the Mets owners and front office have been acting as if there is some principle they’re supporting by refusing to overpay the players they need, when in fact they’re just being cheap.