Why Dodgers fans believe, and Mets fans refuse to

David Wright. (mlb.com)
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The New York Mets lost Sunday to the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-3. As is often the case when the Mets lose, the defense and bullpen were primarily to blame.

But the four-game set, during which New York won three games on the strength of their starting pitching and offense, was a success for the Mets and revealed a number of truths about two teams currently in possession of the National League's wild-card spots.

For one thing, the Dodgers, like the Mets, have gotten to this point on the backs of a few star performances, despite some significant holes elsewhere on the roster. Center fielder Matt Kemp is the Dodgers' answer to David Wright; other than catcher A.J. Ellis and outfielder Andre Ethier, no other regular on the Dodgers is even a league average hitter. The starting staff includes a Cy Young Award candidate in Clayton Kershaw, a pitcher with a reconstructed shoulder pitching like an ace in Chris Capuano, and a capable 3-4 in Aaron Harang and Chad Billingsley.

But for all their similarities, there are significant differences as well.

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For one thing, the Mets faced the Dodgers this weekend without seeing Kemp, who is expected to miss another week due to injury, and Ethier, who could return this week from injury as well. No such answers are forthcoming to shore up the Met defense, which is built with precisely the same players who are responsible for the strong offense, or the bullpen, which is league-worst despite a reasonable June.

The other difference is hinted at in a Wall Street Journal article discussing how far both teams have come. A year ago, the discussion was about the Dodger bankruptcy, and the Mets' ownership's financial and legal problems.

A year later, the Dodgers have been sold, and it shows. By virtue of even being in bankruptcy, the Dodgers were able to sign Matt Kemp to an eight-year, $160 million contract, since it was determined to be part of the course of reasonable business. It doesn't take much imagination to think of a Mets team in a similar state last winter therefore signing Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran.

Moreover, the new owners in Los Angeles have aggressively moved to try to improve the team's talent base in light of the frugalities necessitated by the previous owner's financial woes. Ethier was signed to a long-term deal; Yasiel Puig, an outfielder, was signed to a seven-year, $42 million contract.

“We’re the DODGERS — put that in all caps,” team president Stan Kasten told Ken Rosenthal. “We’re supposed to be big. We intend to be big.” 

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, retaining your best developed players and signing international players before this coming July 2 was the best way to utilize a financial advantage, and the Dodgers did it. The Mets were not active for Puig or Jorge Soler, who signed with the Cubs for $30 million. They haven't done anything to demonstrate that the minority sale, and concurrent settlement with the trustee for the Bernie Madoff victims, did anything more than patch their financial hole--no surprise, given the amount of money they still owe.

This is not to say that the Mets should be spending money foolishly, as they so often did before they were ravaged by their owners' Bernie Madoff problems. But it has been presented as a consistently false choice that a team can either spend often and poorly, as the Mets did under Omar Minaya, or fail to spend on anything at all, as the Mets have under Sandy Alderson. Theo Epstein proved that in Boston; Alderson himself expressed an interest in doing the same thing when he first came to the Mets, before the full extent of their precariou financial position had been revealed.

The result has been a difference in the relative buy-ins of the two fan bases. The Dodgers are up more than 5,000 fans per game, on pace to draw more than 425,000 additional fans over 2011. The Mets, thanks to their success and aggressively discounted tickets, have arrested an attendance decline that saw them drop from 3.1 million in 2009 to 2.56 million in 2010 to 2.35 million in 2011. But they're still down; as of now, they are on pace to finish down around another 40,000 fans. That understates the decline in revenue that brings, given the reduced ticket prices and giveaways.

The truly problematic part of this is that because the Mets remain in the hands of the same financially compromised ownership, they desperately need every ticket sale possible to earn the kind of capital that will stave off financial reckoning, let alone get them in a position to once again help the team.

So far, the Mets' fan base has not responded to winning the same way the fans in Los Angeles have. They're not buying in to the product the owners are selling. And who can blame them?

Elsewhere in New York sports:

YANKEES

Thanks to a 4-2 win on Sunday over the White Sox, the Yankees are now up six games or more on everyone else in the American League East. Accordingly, three Yankees will start in the All Star game on July 10: Derek Jeter Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson.

NETS

Dwight Howard has reiterated a desire to sign with one team. For legal reasons, he hasn't revealed which team that is, but it seems fairly obvious the team is the Nets. However, the Nets are moving aggressively to acquire one of the worst N.B.A. contracts in Joe Johnson, which could make it quite difficult to add Howard as well. They also came to an agreement with Gerald Wallace on a four-year, $40 million, which sure seems high.

KNICKS

While Steve Nash still seems like a longshot, there is a path to acquiring him; it just requires Phoenix's cooperation. In the meantime, the Knicks are making noises about not signing Steve Novak or Jeremy Lin if the price gets too high. Chances are this is simply negotiating in the press.