10 Steps for the Mets to Steal New York City from the Yankees
Most of New York and indeed most of the country will be rooting for the Yankees. 'Tis the way of things, and the Mets are used to it.
Playing second fiddle to the Yankees is the Mets' lot in life. They are the Art Garfunkel to the Yankees' Paul Simon. The Scottie Pippen to their Michael Jordan. The Star Trek to their Star Wars (you know this to be true).
It would be one thing if the Mets were a lovable underdog, but the general perception of them these days is that they're more like a joke, a novelty. This is especially true if you ask Yankees fans (i.e. most New Yorkers). Even with all their success this year, Yankees fans still think of the Mets as that funny little team from Queens that is loved only by fools and contrarians.
But hey, where is it written that this must be the Mets' lot in life? Who says they can't steal New York from the Yankees?
That would be difficult...but not impossible. If the Mets walk a certain path, they could very well steal the heart of New York.
To save them the trouble, I drew up the plans for said heart-stealing operation. There are only 10 steps.
Step 1: Beat the Yankees This Weekend
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The first step in stealing New York from the Yankees is doing something to shake the overmatched little brother image.
To do that, the Mets have to at least show that they can go toe-to-toe with the Yankees and deliver a few bruises in the process.
The Mets didn't do this when they and the Yankees hooked up at Yankee Stadium a couple weekends ago. The Mets had their moments, but they ended up getting swept by the Bombers. Russell Martin put the finishing touches on the series with a walk-off home run.
Yeah, Russell Martin. Not Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Robinson Cano. Russell Martin. A dude with a .205 batting average.
The Mets were beaten by the worst hitter in the Yankees' lineup. Cue the trolls.
The Mets can't let this happen again. Unfortunately for them, they're scheduled to face the Yankees' three best starting pitchers in Andy Pettitte, Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia. That would be fine if R.A. Dickey could pitch every day. But alas, he's only pitching on Sunday against Sabathia.
That's a game the Mets can win, but one win won't be enough to convince the general public that they deserve to be taken seriously. It will take at least two, preferably three.
If the Mets can manage a series victory, they can move on to Step 2.
Step 2: Own the Underdog Label
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We know that Yankees fans regard the Mets as a joke underdog team, and you get the sense that most people throughout the nation think the same. All you have to do is go on Twitter after a Mets loss and check out all the trolling.
If the Mets manage to win this weekend's series against the Yankees, they will have made a statement. They will have gotten the better of one of baseball's best teams.
And because they will have won at least eight of their last nine games against AL East competition, they'll be able to boast about having gotten the better of baseball's best division.
Because they lack star power and the general look and feel of an elite team, the Mets aren't going to be able to convince people that they are an elite team even after taking on and beating the Yankees. Joining the elites is not so simple.
But they will be viewed as a cool and fun underdog team as opposed to a joke underdog team. They'll be like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays or the 2010 San Francisco Giants (or the 2000 New York Mets, for that matter).
This is a reputation that they can wear like a badge of honor. The only thing people like more than an underdog team is an underdog team that knows it's an underdog team.
I'm looking in your general direction, David Wright. I want to see you wearing one of those underdog shirts that you spurned back in February.
I'm also looking in your general direction, Mets Twitter account. The #Underdog hash tag is already being used in conjunction with the Mets. That's something you can take advantage of.
Step 3: Make the Postseason This Year
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Words are cool. Actions are better. The Mets can talk all they want about making the postseason, but it won't mean anything unless they actually make it.
So go forth, Mets. Make the postseason.
This would have been easier said than done in years past. But this year, asking a team like the Mets to make the postseason really isn't asking a whole lot. The extra wild-card berth in each league really opens things up, and it's worth noting that the Mets would sneak into the playoffs as a wild card team if the season ended today.
There's going to be plenty of competition down the stretch, though.
The Atlanta Braves are not to be taken lightly in the NL East. Ditto the Miami Marlins, who could get hot again like they did in May. There's even an outside chance of the Philadelphia Phillies making a move once they get healthy.
If the Mets miss out and all this early-season fun ends up being for naught, it's going to be way too easy for people to continue to clown on the Mets for being a wannabe.
Don't oblige the haters, Mets. Shut them up.
Step 4: Convince People the Best Is Yet to Come
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It would be great if the Mets won the World Series this year. That would be a hell of a story, and they'd have no trouble whatsoever stealing fans from the Yankees if they were to win the Fall Classic.
Unlike asking the Mets to make the postseason, though, asking them to win the World Series this year is asking too much. They're a good team, but they're not that good.
But let's not kid ourselves. The Mets don't need to win the World Series for their 2012 season to be a success. Making the playoffs would be good enough.
In order for this season to be a huge success, all the Mets would have to do is at least show some fight in the playoffs. This would entail things like not getting knocked out in the one-game wild-card playoff or getting swept out of the division series.
Ideally, the Mets will at least advance past the division series to the NLCS. If they happen to win a few games in that round or even advance to the World Series, that would be great.
At the very least, they should take their NLDS series to five games.
The point will be to show the city of New York (and the rest of the world) that there's a lot of promise in these Mets. They may not be good enough this year, but they could be good enough next year.
Step 5: Lock Up David Wright
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This is going to be a very interesting offseason for the Mets, and that has everything to do with Mr. Wright.
Wright, who is currently hitting .358 with a 1.027 OPS, is due to become a free agent after the 2013 season. This is assuming the Mets pick up his $16 million option for next season, which should be an easy call after watching Wright's play this season.
Wright has been insisting for a while now (as recently as early June to ESPNNewYork.com) that he has no interest in talking dollars and cents during the season. If the Mets are to lock him up for the future with a new contract extension, it will be this offseason.
Locking up Wright would be a crucial move for this franchise, which has had to go through some troubling financial issues in recent seasons. They let Jose Reyes walk this past offseason. If they pick up Wright's 2013 option only to watch him walk at the end of the season, they won't exactly be dispelling the notion that they'd rather pinch pennies than spend in order to build a winner.
Signing Wright to an extension would all the Mets to tell their fans, "Hey, we want to win as much as you do."
It would tell the rest of New York, "You see, we're serious about this."
Step 6: Make at Least One Significant Move in Free Agency
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Spending money on David Wright would be a great way for the Mets to signal to New York's baseball-loving populace that they mean business.
Spending even more money on at least one significant free agent would drive the point home even further.
Ah yes, but how are we defining "significant" here?
I'll put it this way: the Mets don't need to go out and sign Cole Hamels or Zack Greinke in order to make a "significant" signing. Somebody like Melky Cabrera, a really good player who's not a superstar, would qualify. Ditto somebody like Brandon McCarthy.
The point is that significant free-agent signings can be made for less than, say, $100 million. Which is a good thing, because that's a lot of money for a team like the Mets to spend.
They can get away with spending far less. As long as they spend on the right player(s), of course.
Step 7: But Don't Be Like "Them"
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People hate the Yankees.
That's not an opinion. That's a fact.
People hate the Yankees for two reasons: They win too damn much, and they spend too damn much.
It's hard to imitate the whole winning thing, but a lot of teams try to do that by imitating the whole spending thing. This is all well and good, but it breeds contempt among fans.
The Boston Red Sox have spent a lot of money in decidedly Yankee-like ways recently, and that's a big reason why so many people hate them now. It'll happen to the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers too.
The Mets have tried their hand at being like the Yankees, and it didn't exactly work out. Pedro Martinez and Carlos Beltran were both big-money busts. The same goes for Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Bay.
After going through all of that, the Mets probably don't need to be told twice that they don't want to go out and throw money around like the Yankees. They should be in no hurry to re-bloat their payroll.
If so, good. Because bloating payrolls is what "they" do, and people hate it when "they" do it.
Don't be like them.
Step 8: Own That Image Too
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You know what's better than an underdog team that knows it's an underdog team?
A self-aware underdog that also knows it's on the opposite end of the spectrum from the Yankees.
Again, it bears repeating that the Mets tried their hand at being like the Yankees for a while there. Because it didn't work, they looked all the more foolish for trying.
Right now, the Yankees' payroll is more than twice as high as the Mets' payroll. All that extra cash has bought them just three more wins than the Mets so far this season.
If the Mets improve over the offseason, there's a good chance they'll be just as good as the Yankees next season for a fraction of the cost.
If that's the case, they should go out of their way to rub it in.
Mets fans should too, though I doubt they'll need to be told to rub it in.
Step 9: Sell the Kids
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As of right now, the Mets do not have one of baseball's stronger farm systems.
It's coming along, though. Matt Harvey is looking like a good young pitcher and could arrive in the big leagues in the very near future.
Zack Wheeler (pictured), who the Mets got from the Giants in last season's Carlos Beltran trade, is also looking like a good young pitcher. He could start the 2013 season in the Mets' rotation.
These guys will be with the big club in the near future. Youngsters like Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Jordany Valdespin already are with the big club, and they're playing alongside talented 20-somethings from the Mets' system like Lucas Duda, Daniel Murphy and Ike Davis.
So the Mets already have a youth movement going on. All they have to do is keep it going, and they can further help themselves by selling all their youngsters to the fans.
Yes, the Mets should get fans excited for players like David Wright, Johan Santana and R.A. Dickey, tried and true veterans other clubs would love to have. But selling the kids has its advantages too. It would help the whole anti-Yankees image, and it would be a way to attract New York youths who haven't yet picked a side.
Get 'em while they're young, as the saying goes.
Step 10: Just Watch
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So what's the Yankees' role in all this? While the Mets are building an empire meant to steal the heart of New York, what will the old Bronx Bombers be doing?
It's simple: They'll be getting old.
Mariano Rivera finally got bit by the injury bug this season, and there's no guarantee he'll ever throw another pitch in pinstripes. Derek Jeter will soon be 38 years old, and he's simply not the player he once was either at the plate or in the field.
Alex Rodriguez is also getting old, and it's looking like he may never again hit 30 home runs in a single season. Mark Teixeira is getting older and more mediocre every season. Andy Pettitte is nothing more than a stopgap answer.
Make no mistake about it, the core of the Yankees is crumbling.
They've solved problems by spending money in the past, but they say they don't want to do that anymore. They'll spend the next few seasons cutting payroll, while in the meantime their older players will only get older and less worth the vast sums of money they are being paid.
They've been so good for so long that it's hard to imagine the Yankees ever being bad again. But the way things are looking now, it's not hard to imagine the Mets being better than them on a consistent basis.
They like winners in New York. If the Mets are winning more than the Yankees, people will come.
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