David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
ORLANDO, Fla. - So maybe Jeff Wilpon got a bit carried away on Day 3 of the GM meetings when he casually suggested the Mets might get something done by nightfall. To be fair, the team's chief operating officer didn't specify what that something could be.
But in this overheated environment, with the hair-trigger hysteria surrounding the Mets as they look to improve this offseason, we're all getting jumpy. And so Wilpon's morning slip -- we'll politely call it a misunderstanding -- put everyone on edge heading into the afternoon of lobby-prowling.
Truth is, it's a little early for DEFCON 1 alerts on Nov. 13. Yes, we know the Mets missed out on Marlon Byrd and Nick Punto this week, but we'll give them the next six weeks or so to recover. It's just that the Wilpons have used up every last ounce of patience from the team's fan base, and the pressure for Sandy Alderson to act is at an all-time high.
Alderson insists there are moves on the horizon. But we'll guarantee he's the only general manager in the history of the GM meetings to be considered a failure for returning home empty-handed. That's hardly a rational way to think in the second week of November. But we're not dealing with a normal offseason here. For the past three years, we've been told this would be it, the time for the Mets to step up and be counted.
And that means everyone will be hanging on the smallest hints of progress, such as Wednesday night's revelation that Alderson & Co. secretly met with free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta somewhere in Orlando. Still, the Mets can't be satisfied with covert dinners and near-misses on the free-agent front.
As they move into the next phase of the offseason, the three-week stretch between the GM meetings and MLB's winterfest Dec. 9 at Disney, Alderson believes we may see some movement. From a PR standpoint, the Mets can use a bump, if only to turn down the thermostat in the front office for a few days. Outside, people are getting anxious about their team.
"Do I sense it? Yeah, to some extent," Alderson said. "Do I tune it out? Yes, to the largest extent possible. Because for us this is a day-to-day proposition and it's not that predictable, so I sort of have to take it out of the equation. I sense it, but work through it."
Frankly, Alderson gives the impression he's more insulated than most. But if it's at all possible, speeding things up a touch, and throwing a bone to the win-starved masses, wouldn't be the worst strategy. The Mets have $40 million coming off the books, and an Ike Davis to deal, so that should help get the ball rolling, however slowly.
Momentum is momentum, and the Mets have been on the sidelines for so long during this time of the year that Alderson probably can't remember what it's like to get his fleece vest dirty. That's what everyone is waiting for. "I think all things being equal, in our situation, we'd like to do something early," Alderson said. "It'd be great -- if it's the right move. We're working at it."
The GM insisted that the Mets are now "viewed differently" at these meetings, with "more credibility" -- the assumption being that they have money to invest in free agents again and a willingness to do what's necessary to compete. But no one is going to believe it until that first $10 million is spent. We'll consider it a good-faith deposit.
The Mets aren't there yet.
On Wednesday, during Scott Boras' annual lobby session, the agent took his usual jabs at the Flushing penny-pinchers. This time, Boras compared the Mets to NASA, an outlet with big rockets but few astronauts. Not one of his more successful analogies, but he did mix in a comment about them having the "Wright stuff" and a few Arm-strongs (pitchers, get it?), so Boras got the laughs he wanted.
Those outside his circle don't find that stuff very funny anymore. They want the Mets to be taken seriously again, something that hasn't happened very often since Alderson replaced Omar Minaya after the 2010 season.
They're also tired of waiting.