Well, I'll be Van Dammed! The Mets actually have a chance to make something positive come out of this otherwise dreadful season. Apparently, good things seem to happen to teams that finish with a 71-91 record. Studious Metsimus has searched far and wide to prove this fact. After extensive research (and a brief DL stint for a paper cut) we produced the following results.
The Mets have finished 71-91 three times in franchise history (1974, 1996, 2004). In each circumstance, they finished with a winning record the following season (82-80 in 1975, 88-74 in 1997, 83-79 in 2005).
In fact, since 1983, there have been thirteen other 71-91 seasons in the major leagues. In all but one instance, the team that finished 20 games under .500 in the first year improved their record the following season. The only exception was the 1993-1994 California Angels, who finished 71-91 in 1993 and 47-68 in the strike season of 1994.
Here are the thirteen teams and their records in each year:
1983 Chicago Cubs (71-91), 1984 Cubs (96-65)
1986 Minnesota Twins (71-91), 1987 Twins (85-77)
1991 New York Yankees (71-91), 1992 Yankees (76-86)
1993 California Angels (71-91), 1994 Angels (47-68)
1993 Minnesota Twins (71-91), 1994 Twins (53-60)
2000 Texas Rangers (71-91), 2001 Rangers (73-89)
2003 Baltimore Orioles (71-91), 2004 Orioles (78-84)
2003 Texas Rangers (71-91), 2004 Rangers (89-73)
2005 Detroit Tigers (71-91), 2006 Tigers (95-67)
2005 Los Angeles Dodgers (71-91), 2006 Dodgers (88-74)
2006 Washington Nationals (71-91), 2007 Nationals (73-89)
2007 Florida Marlins (71-91), 2008 Marlins (84-77)
2007 San Francisco Giants (71-91), 2008 Giants (72-90)
Please note that the 1993 Twins had a .438 winning percentage and the 1994 Twins had a .469 winning percentage in the strike-shortened season.
Four of the teams listed above qualified for the playoffs the year after their 71-91 season.
In 2006, the Dodgers won the National League wild card berth before losing to the Mets in the NLDS.
In 1984, the Cubs were National League East division champions before bowing to the Padres in the NLCS.
Also in 2006, the Tigers built upon their 71-91 season and took it all the way to World Series before losing to the Cardinals.
Finally, in 1987, the most amazing turnaround took the Twins from being 20 games under .500 to winning the World Series.
There you have it. In addition to the Mets, 13 teams since 1983 have finished with a 71-91 record. Twelve of them improved the following season. Half of those dozen teams ending up with winning records in the second season. Four of those got a taste of the playoffs. Two of them made it to the World Series and one of them won it all.
The Mets haven't done much right in 2009, but if they can somehow finish with a 71-91 record, perhaps 2010 will give the fans more reasons to be optimistic.