Better Luck Next Year: An Early Obituary for the 2009 Mets

You know your post-season chances are slim when, with still a month left to go, you have already reached your loss total from the previous year. Such is the case for the 2009 Mets, a story of injuries and blunders so tragic that it tests the fortitude of any baseball fan’s stomach. Try this on for size: in the same season, the Mets watched half their team fall to injury, lost a game by making a Buckner-esque gaffe in the field and then, most recently, hit into an unassisted triple play to end a game. Their new ballpark has fantastic food and amenities but is so imposingly large that their team home run leader (Gary Sheffield, of all people) has only hit 10 bombs.

Perhaps even more heartbreaking, though, is the optimism that was rampant throughout Mets fandom to start the season. General Manager Omar Minaya had managed to sacrifice prospects and cash to solidify their bullpen, considered the only weak link on the squad. Suddenly, on paper, the Mets had a team that was not only built to compete in the NL East, but could also handle its own against the beasts of the American League.

Of course, behind each signing and trade is a lost young player and a depth chart that gets more top-heavy, with fewer backup plans should injuries occur. The 2009 season had a clear message: win now.

This pressure did not come out of thin air. 2007 and 2008 were also billed as seasons of opportunity yet, in dramatic fashion, the Mets managed to squander large divisional leads in the final days of the season, and missed the playoffs both times at the final moment. Even further back, in the 2006 NLCS, Carlos Beltran watched a called strike three end the Mets’ postseason and their chances of playing the beatable Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Something is wrong with the Mets of the 2000s, an indescribable “funk” that takes hold of their aspirations and keeps them down in key situations. Whenever a clutch moment comes along, a bad feeling of déj? vu envelops the team and Murphy’s Law dominates. How else can a team with so much talent falter so regularly? How else do you lose a chance at the playoffs two years in a row by blowing the last two weeks of the season?

This year’s iteration of Mets baseball was not so lucky as to have the opportunity to mess up the last couple weeks of the season. Injuries have been this year’s favorite excuse for the Mets’ poor play, as the replacements for their high-priced, injured athletes have been a litany of has-beens and never-weres from their minor league affiliates. Playing for them now are the men GM Omar Minaya couldn’t trade for veteran talent, and the level of play, understandably, has dropped significantly.

The future of the New York Mets is not as bright as it once was. The Mets are not a finely tuned machine like their high-spending counterparts, the Yankees and Red Sox, a symptom of less than stellar management and some bad luck. The win-at-all-costs attitude of the past few years has taken its toll on the Mets’ farm system, and there are few young players worth mentioning as potential contributors, even multiple years in the future. Investing in young talent may not be a viable option, either; the Mets’ owner has been embroiled in fiscal difficulties, and money is tight throughout the organization. Manager Jerry Manuel is signed for another year, and so is Omar Minaya, so don’t look for any major overhauls in their administration either. To start next season, the Mets are likely to trot out a healthy team remarkably similar to this years’ edition.

And, somehow, that may work out fine. The Mets have a fine, albeit thinly stocked, team, one that should have competed for the playoffs this year and will certainly set its sights on the same goal in 2010. There is no way that injuries will have their way with the Mets roster as catastrophically as they did this year. The funk that sometimes causes teams to lose their collective lunch in key situations is as mysterious in its arrival as in its departure. Sometimes, when everything looks right but is wrong, all you can do is keep on plugging away and putting in the effort, hoping that the next time is better than the last.