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Monday, March 25, 2013
Season preview: Ya Gotta Believe

By Matt Meyers

It seems as if there are two kinds of Mets fans these days -- pessimists, and those who actively loathe the franchise.

For a team whose mantra is "Ya Gotta Believe," this is a shame, albeit understandable, when you consider the club's descent into mediocrity over the past half-decade, and the fact that financial troubles have prevented the front office from spending like the big-market club that the Mets are.

However, the fact of the matter is that winning teams are not built through free agency, and if you look closely at the current club, you can see a lot of parallels to some of the great turning points in franchise history, not to mention the team that has won two of the past three World Series.

Seaver
Could the 2013 Mets look like the 1983 team, which featured Tom Seaver?
Think back to 1983 for a moment. At that point, the Mets had not been relevant since the midnight massacre (aka, the Tom Seaver trade) of 1977. But fans were treated to the debut of Darryl Strawberry that year, who would go on to be named National League Rookie of the Year. They also got their first glimpse of Ron Darling, a first-round pick in 1981 who had been acquired from the Rangers a year earlier in a trade for Lee Mazzilli.

The summer of '83 was also when the Mets acquired Keith Hernandez from the Cardinals. Although the team finished 68-94, fans got to see three cornerstones of a winning club, and sure enough, the team would win 90 games the following year and the World Series two years after that.

The 1967 season might be a better parallel to the current club because of the exciting pitchers who debuted -- Seaver (who won the NL ROY) and Jerry Koosman, who was a late-season call-up. The team went 61-101 and finished in 10th, but those two hurlers ended up being the anchors of a title-winning rotation just two years later.

Last year, Mets fans got to see the debut of Matt Harvey, who exhausted his rookie eligibility by just a few innings. But based on his electric stuff and results, it’s easy to foresee a front-end starter for years to come. The same can be said for Zack Wheeler, who has been the talk of spring training and, like Darling, was another team’s first-round pick acquired via trade.

The team the Mets acquired Wheeler from is a model for what the Amazin's should be trying to do. The Giants have won two of the last three World Series thanks to a homegrown core comprised mostly of elite pitching and impact bats at catcher (Buster Posey) and third base (Pablo Sandoval). None of their key players was a high-dollar free-agent signing. In fact, San Francisco won those two titles almost in spite of its one big money signing, Barry Zito.

With Harvey and Wheeler (and to a lesser extent Jon Niese), the Mets have the makings of stellar young rotation. And behind them there are plenty of promising pitchers on the farm -- such as Jeurys Familia, Jenrry Mejia, Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero -- who will eventually fortify the back end of the rotation and bullpen.

And, like the Giants, the Mets just happen to have a star third baseman in David Wright, not to mention Travis d’Arnaud, an impact prospect behind the dish who should make his debut this summer.

If this team is to become a winner in the near future, it’s going to be because the likes of Harvey, Wheeler and d’Arnaud fulfill their potential, not because of a big free agent or two. Obviously, there is no guarantee that the Mets will be a first-place team in two years, but the makings of a winning team are there, and that makes this club worth watching.

It would seem to me that dreaming of what might be while enjoying the exciting talent on hand is a more enjoyable fan experience than dwelling on past failures or players the club couldn’t afford to sign. Ya gotta believe, right?