New York Mets: The Undulating Curve Of Shifting ExpectationsS

Will Leitch will be previewing/musing on every baseball team each weekday until the start of the season. You can pre-order his book and follow him on Twitter. Today: The New York Mets.

At a certain point, relentless negativity and shame must give way to shards of optimism. A team can only bottom out for so long, and so often — the Mets, the last couple of seasons, keep finding new bottoms — until everyone's worldview shifts accordingly. At the magazine, we call this the Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations. If everyone hates something, just wait: They'll come around to at least tolerating it. (See also: Nathan Rabin's spirited defense of Freddy Got Fingered.)

The Mets have had a Freddy Got Fingered offseason, or maybe even a Battlefield Earth one. All it has been missing is Omar Minaya openly apologizing and saying he put together the roster because of his "Willy Wonker." I'll let the great Jason Fry, of Faith And Fear In Flushing, run down the last few months of Mets world.

[Y]ou would have been hard-pressed to program a more-depressing offseason for this team so far. Jason Bay aside, the Mets front office spent the winter stumbling around as if they were confused, broke or both. If they weren't bidding against themselves for eminently replaceable players, they were failing to even pick up the phone to contact guys they were supposedly interested in. (Even with Castillo parked at second, this rotation would look so better with Joel Pineiro in it.) The Mets then managed to get in an embarrassingly public feud with Carlos Beltran, an episode that made it obvious that the team's own players don't trust it to handle injuries. And now, the usual buzzard's luck: If I'd told you last November that Jose Reyes and Frankie Rodriguez would be shelved by a thyroid condition and pinkeye, respectively, you'd have laughed and taken me to task for such broad satire. Yeah right! And then Jeff Francoeur will go on the DL with river blindness! Seriously, can you think of an offseason more perfectly designed to keep the horror of 2009 fresh and keep us from the park in droves?

Mets fans have clearly had enough: An offseason like that, on the heels of three absolutely tragic seasons (which came on the heels of a tragic postseason), it's no wonder the dread has taken over. I've found that many Mets fans have a certain operatic quality to them, particularly when that opera has a lot of dudes in Members Only jackets yelling the f-word. (By "the f-word," I mean "fuck.") In Flushing, mediocrity cannot reign: There must be dominance, there must be thwarted dominance or there must be destruction. The Mets either have to win the World Series, they have to finish in dead last or they have to miss winning the World Series in epically painful fashion. The Mets finally get a pretty new stadium — and it is pretty — and what happens? The Yankees open a new stadium, play the Phillies in the World Series and then win it. You must hit bottom. You must be Freddy Got Fingered.

Thing is, the more and more I look at the 2010 Mets, the less they look like a historic abyss of hurt. Jose Reyes, who will remain my favorite player in baseball to watch until Jason Heyward peaks, appears ready to be back by Week 2; Johan Santana is healthy; and Carlos Beltran isn't going to be out that long. The Mets don't look as if they can challenge the Phillies (or, from this angle, the Braves), but they don't look like a last-place team either. This looks like a .500 team, maybe a little better, maybe a little worse. In most years, this would be unacceptable: If an 83-79 season were the result of a season in which the Mets were expected to compete for a title, there would be executioners opening up next to the chop shops. (Well, theoretically: The Mets are not always experts at finding the right time to drop axes.) But this year? I bet 83-79 looks rosy. It might not be enough to save Minaya's and Jerry Manuel's jobs, but I suspect most Mets fans, if you really tied them down and injected them with sodium pentathol, would take it. If the Mets are within, oh, five or six games of first by the middle of June, well, that's more hope than anyone currently has for this team. The Mets have fallen so far that the Undulating Curve of Shifting Expectations has them primed for an uptick in spirit. The 2010 Mets: Not Nearly As Bad As You Would Otherwise Suspect. You can't fit it on a season ticket renewal packet, but it sure beats the alternative. Heck, maybe they'll end up a cult hit someday. Thank heaven for small favors.

Photo of famous sad Mets guy Seth Fleischauer by Becky Levitt