During the 2011 Major League Baseball season, there was only one reason to see the New York Mets, and his name was Jose Reyes. While Reyes had always been an exciting player to watch, his ninth season with the Mets proved to be the best of his career, as he led the National League in batting average. Combined with his incredible speed — he also led the National League with 16 triples — Reyes drove opposing teams to distraction all season long.
Even with Reyes in the lineup, the Mets struggled mightily to stay out of last place in the National League’s Eastern Division. But now, with the electric shortstop apparently on the verge of signing a six-year, $106 million contract with the Miami Marlins, it seems as if the team is on the verge of entering a reign of error that the franchise hasn’t experienced since the late 1970s.
Consider the following:
- The Philadelphia Phillies have won five consecutive National League East titles, and will enter the 2012 season still boasting what is generally considered to be the best pitching rotation in all of baseball;
- Winners of 89 games last season, the Atlanta Braves only missed the playoffs by dint of losing a game on the last day of the season;
- The Washington Nationals, a team that finished ahead of the Mets in the standings, are loaded with young talent, including phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg. And lurking in their minor league system is outfield prospect Bryce Harper, another overall #1 pick from baseball’s amateur draft.
- As for the Marlins, they’ve got cash to spend just a few months ahead of the opening of a brand new ballpark in Miami. In addition to Reyes, the Marlins already signed closer Heath Bell to a three-year, $27 million contract a few days ago, and now are also apparently in the hunt to sign free agent first baseman Albert Pujols.
If all that Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson had to do was replace the offensive production the team will lose when Reyes signs with Miami, his job would be difficult enough. Unfortunately for Alderson, he’s going to have to do it on a shoestring budget. The Mets have been bleeding red ink for years as the team has crashed through the standings, something that didn’t turn around when they moved into their new ballpark, Citi Field, in time for the 2009 baseball season.
More importantly, the team’s co-owners, Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz, could be on the hook for as much as $386 million for the alleged role they played in the Bernie Madoff scandal. Bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard is suing Wilpon and Katz, alleging that they should have known that they were collecting phony profits from Madoff. In the meantime, Major League Baseball has been loaning the Mets money to keep them afloat, but one has to wonder out loud just how long that credit line can last.
Looking ahead to 2012, it’s safe to say that the losses on the field and in the box office will likely continue. We’ll see how long the owners of the team can hang on.
Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.