Editor's note: Yahoo Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the New York Mets.
2013 record: 74-88
Finish: Third place, NL East
2013 final payroll: $95.1 million (17th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $82 million (24th of 30)
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 27th
Mets in six words: Bartolo Colon is running the bases
Over his first three offseasons with the New York Mets, general manager Sandy Alderson guaranteed a total of $27.6 million to free agents, or $100,000 more than the crosstown Yankees promised Alex Rodriguez every year for a decade. Nearly half of this money went to a pitcher named Frank Francisco, who logged 48 2/3 innings of 5.36 ERA ball in Queens. The rest of this cast of luminaries included Shaun Marcum (1-10, 5.29 ERA), D.J. Carrasco (53 innings, 6.11 ERA) and Jon Rauch, whose most memorable moment as a Met was the time he threw cold water on Matt Harvey and backed down when Harvey threatened to beat him up.
Fred Wilpon, the Mets owner, has been unkind to Alderson by padlocking his checkbook. Free agency, fickle beast it is, has been the same. As the former finally relented some this offseason, the Mets can only hope the latter does the same.
The Mets still aren't conducting themselves like, you know, a team that plays its games in the media capital of the world, owns a successful regional sports network and used hundreds of millions in tax-exempt bonds to finance a sparkling new stadium that nobody goes to anymore because perpetual mediocrity ain't New York's thing.
If dropping $60 million on Curtis Granderson and feeding Bartolo Colon $20 million and purchasing a $7 million Chris Young lottery ticket signals a thawing of funds held up by the Wilpon family's significant debt – which was brought about, in part, because of their connection to Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff – perhaps the Mets will go back to being the sort of team worthy of congregation.
At this time last year, Granderson was coming off back-to-back 40-home run seasons. Two freak injuries later, Granderson is a soon-to-be 33-year-old headed to a corner-outfield spot and a bigger ballpark that has the potential to go all Pac-Man on woulda-been home runs at his old haunt in the other borough. On the bright side, Granderson can't be any worse than the last outfielder to whom the Mets gave a four-year, $60-or-so million deal, Jason Bay.
Under their breath, the most hardened Mets fans whisper that question, because they've been conditioned to expect the worst from their baseball team. The Mets are going to be good someday – wait a couple more paragraphs for that scenario – but until that happens, the #LOLMets stigma slimes every attempt to maintain optimism with a franchise that long ago lost its benefit of the doubt.
Just because the Wilpons more than tripled their free agent spending from the last three years does not suddenly absolve them from years of letting this franchise rot and forcing Alderson to pull rabbits out of his hat. The Mets should not have to slum it with a 40-year-old starter whose BMI is infinity. They could do better than an underachieving outfielder on a make-good contract, especially with next year's class of free agent outfielders dreadfully thin. These are the Mets, of course. Could and should long ago escaped the lexicon.
Had Matt Harvey's elbow not relented under the stress of his awesomeness, this season looks so much different for the Mets. He presented a legitimate challenge last year to Clayton Kershaw for the title of baseball's best pitcher. Scouts were almost unanimous in their opinion that he had the best stuff in baseball, a fastball, slider and changeup that all flashed plus-plus at times, and the requisite mental badassery to weaponize them. Losing Harvey was not a loss. It was a nuclear bomb on 2014.
Still, the forecast for July and August and September looks far better than the first three months of the season, because by then, the Mets may get a fair glance at their future. Zack Wheeler should be halfway through his first full season after a successful debut last year. Noah Syndergaard, the prototypical Texas pitcher, should arrive midseason. Same goes for Rafael Montero, the control-and-command specialist who profiles as a nice back-end complement to a rotation that already boasts Colon, Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee.
Pitching, more than anything, will pull the Mets out of the doldrums and allow them to challenge Washington and Atlanta (and even Miami, which has some nice young arms itself) in the future. Pitching begs for good health, too, the sort of impediment that turns power-arm revolutions into folk songs about what could've been. The Mets saw this with Generation K, and with Harvey down already, palpable fear of déjà vu exists.
For the bats – or at least the bats in the organization now – are not the sort to rescue the Mets from themselves. Ever-steady David Wright patrols third base. Beyond him, the Mets haven't a single staple. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, acquired with Syndergaard in the magnificent R.A. Dickey deal, could become one this season. If Juan Lagares' bat ever catches up to his glove, same goes. Beyond that, they need Granderson to hit 40 homers again, need second-half Ike Davis (.286/.449/.505) rather than first (.165/.255/.250), need Daniel Murphy to get off to a good start so they can flip him for something valuable.
The bullpen should be an adventure, with Bobby Parnell coming off neck surgery and the rest of the bullpen a mish-mash of mediocrity (c'mon down, Josh Edgin, Jeurys Familia, Gonzalez Germen, Vic Black, Scott Rice!). Maybe they'll get something from Jenrry Mejia, whose fastball lost 2 mph since his Tommy John. Perhaps Carlos Torres, maestro of the cutter, can fashion himself into a serviceable piece again.
These Mets are little more than a preview for next year's incarnation. Transition years are boring, sure, but this one is vital for the Mets, if only to figure out who will still be around when they actually start to try and win.
Barring an unusually fast recovery and a break from the Mets' conservative nature, Matt Harvey won't return until 2015, a full 18 months after surgery. The timing of the procedure actually works in Harvey's favor. He's a maniacal worker, the sort who might push to get back in under a year if it made any sense. It doesn't, really, not when he can work out the usual command kinks coming off Tommy John, when he can ensure typical post-surgery complications like bone chips don't rear their ugly head, especially when 2014 represents a transition year for the Mets anyway. Come back in '15, lead the rotation and remind New York that it can have two teams worth watching.
Wonder if Harvey
Has spent his downtime working
P.R. for Qualcomm