In case you haven’t been near the Hot Stove since yesterday afternoon, the Braves have signed B.J. Upton to a five-year, $75M contract. Suddenly, it feels like 1977 all over again.
I figured for sure that Upton would sign with either the Braves or Phillies, and seeing him in Atlanta is to me good news / lesser of two evils. Here’s my logic: Upton was a PERFECT fit for the Phillies, in that they need a centerfielder, they need someone with speed on the bases, and they desperately need a righthanded power bat to balance the lefthandedness of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Upton would have fit nicely into the #5 or #6 spot in the order, replacing the hole left by Hunter Pence (or more appropriately, Jayson Werth). Playing half his games at CBP, Upton was a lock to hit 30+ HR — even if it came at the expense of a .245 AVG and 160+ Ks (again, sounds a lot like Werth circa 2009, though with more defense and less OBP). In short, adding Upton, I think, would have significantly bolstered the Phillies and been a big piece in their quest to compete for the division crown. Not to say they still can’t, or that there isn’t another addition or three for them to make this winter toward that end, but just saying that Upton would have been a big step in that direction.
On the Braves, however, I don’t see Upton having as significant an impact, because I already had Atlanta penciled into second place and fighting for first regardless of who was patrolling center field. I figured that if Upton went elsewhere, they would have brought back Michael Bourn and not missed a beat. Even Angel Pagan would have fit their need in CF (he might still fit in LF). Bottom line is this: Braves will vie for first place in the NL East with or without Upton, while the Phillies still desperately need a guy like Upton as a first step toward building a playoff contender. Which means that right now, there’s still an outside shot that the Mets can compete with the Phillies for third place. Make sense?
Of course, it’s sad when one goes through scenarios like this and comes to the conclusion that the result is the Mets maybe not finishing fourth. Which is why I’m suddenly reminded of 1977. Those who remember that far back know that the Mets were coming off back-to-back third-place finishes heading into the 1977 season. During that winter, free agency was a big new pot on the hot stove, but the Mets weren’t lifting the lid to sniff what was inside. They had a strong starting rotation with a mix of veterans and youngsters, led by Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Jon Matlack. They had two or three decent hitters and a few holes that could have been filled via the free-agent market, which included players such as Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Rollie Fingers, Bill Campbell, Don Baylor, Gary Matthews, Bobby Grich, Sal Bando, Richie Hebner, Nate Colbert, and Eric Soderholm. I highlight those names in particular because the Mets needed to upgrade their infield and outfield corners, and could have used a lights-out closer. However, the Mets chose not to dip into free agency at all, and didn’t make any significant trades to improve the club, either (unless you consider the acquisition of utilitymen Rick Auerbach, Luis Alvarado, and Sheldon Mallory to be significant). This lack of action irked the face of the franchise, a.k.a., “The Franchise” — Tom Seaver. One quote led to another and before you could say “Dick Young,” the June trade deadline came and Seaver was on his way to Cincinnati for four bright young prospects who ensured the Mets a succession of fifth- and sixth-place finishes over the next seven years.
So today I see the supposedly small-market, fiscally responsible, usually stingy, overly conservative Atlanta Braves sign a center fielder the Mets need but aren’t even sniffing, and wonder if it’s 1977 all over again. Further, I wonder why the current face of the franchise, David Wright, would want to lock himself up to a seven-year sentence in Flushing. How is Wright not thinking like Seaver did 36 years ago, wondering if Mets ownership would ever again have the cash or care to bankroll a winner? Seaver was smart enough to know that “homegrown players” like Lee Mazzilli, Bruce Boisclair, Mike Vail, Wayne Garrett, and John Milner were a nice group of guys, but not the foundation of a championship club — isn’t Wright aware of a similar situation with the 2013 Mets? Contrary to the spin out of Citi Field’s executive offices, a playoff run is at least 4-5 years away. Or does Wright really believe that Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and Wilmer Flores will all mature into All-Stars immediately, and the Mets newfound “flexibility” next winter will result in a $350M spending spree on marquee free agents?
I get that the Mets are rebuilding. What I don’t get is why rebuilding prevents them from considering pieces that can help them right now and through the next 3+ years. I’m not suggesting that the Mets should have given B.J. Upton 6 years and $90M to outbid the Braves; all I’m asking is that they at least kick the tires on a 28-year-old centerfielder who can help them win in 2013 — as well as 2014, 2015, and 2016. Building a long-term winning organization happens in the farm system — but what is the logic in forcing the big-league club to stink during that process? Are the Mets going to spend $75M on scouting and development over the next five years? Somehow I doubt it.
The first official day of winter is still a few weeks away. Yet, it’s already feeling like a long, cold, dark winter for Mets fans.
About the Author
Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers.