Leave aside the image of a shirtless executive challenging minor leaguers to fist fights, or a general manager accusing a good reporter of being out for a job running the farm system, or rumors that the team's owners will soon be seen on what's left of the Bowery shaking tin cups. What matters about the New York Mets is that, Sunday's sound 4-1 (
On their annual visit to Chicago this weekend, for example, the Mets lineup counted one player good enough to start for a championship team. That player,
This is horrifying in its way, but of course the Mets' disabled list is currently populated by players earning salaries of about $87 million this year, comparable to the payroll of the St. Louis Cardinals and greater than those San Francisco Giants, Colorado Rockies and Texas Rangers. The Mets' four best hitters, their three best starting pitchers, their top reliever, and their top hitting and pitching prospects are all injured, and even if this is in part because of bad management and bad medical care, you can still forgive them a bad lineup, or even three.
What was really appalling was that Castillo was joined not by limited but useful players forced into roles beyond their talent, but by one of the stranger collections of broken toys you'll ever see on a major league field. The number three and four spots in the lineup were taken by
The problem isn't that these players shouldn't be playing -- someone has to take the field, and this is who the Mets have. The problem is that they were on the team to begin with. Except for
What might (or might not) soothe the nerves of Mets fans, though, is that this team was probably fated never to do anything at all, even if it hadn't lost four MVP-type players and a Cy Young candidate. Teams structured like the Mets -- the reigning world champion Philadelphia Phillies, for one -- have done well in the past and will do well in the future. But they rarely do quite as well as they should. The injury plague, with the attendant spectacle of Francoeur batting cleanup, is a MacGuffin.
The Mets are a stars-and-scrubs team. Like the late 1950s Milwaukee Braves (who had
Why any team would ever be built like this is an interesting question -- after all, there is a lot of advantage to be had in making sure that your lesser players aren't actively bad, and no general manager is so dumb or inept that he doesn't realize this. The obvious reason is that star players suck up a lot of cash, leaving less money to fill out the rest of the roster. Another reason is that it can actually be useful to have a lot of C-grade talent around; if someone like Reed or Sullivan gets hot, you ride him, and if he doesn't, it's no big deal.
Structurally, though, this puts immense pressure on management already under stress because they have a team with lots of great players and are expected to win a championship. And this is a key reason why organizations set up like this tend to bleed talent. (Think of the Mets giving away players like
Put together a team that's built around iffy secondary talent and a structure that's -- if anything -- not built to accommodate it and you get messes like the
That, though, doesn't seem likely at all. For decades now the Mets have operated on a boom-and-bust cycle under management with sketchy lines of authority. This has gone on under enough different regimes that one suspects it has less to do with Minaya and field manager