Saturday, November 10, 2012

It took 1 month and 7 days

The Mets ended their season on October 3rd, that was one month and seven days ago. In this span of time, we on the east coast have endured a catastrophic hurricane, property destruction, power outages, and gas shortages. We have also dealt with a heavy snowstorm, which only added to the misery. All of this has reminded us that sports are a distraction, they're not life and death. I've been reminded to keep things in perspective, and for the most part I have. However, as the Mets have done to me for 40-plus years, today I read something that made me hit the roof.

Yesterday as the GM meetings wrapped up, Sandy Alderson told reporters that Josh Thole will likely return, since "it's hard enough to find one catcher, let alone two." Someone please explain this to me. I mean really, someone comment on this blog or tweet me the rationale for this thinking. The Mets (who have some credibility issues already) talk about the need to improve the product on the field. How is keeping a DREADFUL, AND I MEAN DREADFUL, baseball player on this team consistent with that statement? The Mets released Bay. Fine. But Bay can make a contribution (albeit one not consistent with $16 million contract) to a team through hustle and superb defense. Let's look at what Thole can do:

.234, 1 HR, 21 RBI in 321 ABs. 18 passed balls he threw out 23% of base stealers.

Thole also refuses to block the plate (injury or not it's his job), and I don't know about you, but he does not look like he hustles to me. I see a lot of 4-3 put outs, with Thole jogging down the baseline. And this guy is coming back? Are you serious? And please, don't tell me about catching the knuckleball. He did not come out of the womb knowing how to do that (and I still think he's awful at this too). Someone else can learn to catch Dickey, if RA even is in Flushing, which grows more doubtful each day.

With Boston's signing of Ross (thank you, Sox. Ross killed the Mets), Salty may be available. He's far from perfect, as he strikes out often, but he is a switch hitter with power (25 HRs). Why is the talk that Salty could be a complement to Thole? Salty's being a switch hitter means the Mets can get a RH-hitting catcher to be the other backstop (why not re-sign Shoppach?). Okay, rant over on this issue.

Dickey will be traded, and I'm fine with this. If he can return an OF, this is a move that needs to happen. Wright will be signed, I think, and I truly believe that this will be the first step to returning some good feelings between the Mets and their fans.Well, maybe not for me. The first step for me to feel better about the team will be the shedding of Thole, Duda and Torres. Duda's furniture injury almost ensures his presence in Port Saint Lucie. So, I'm not feeling so great right now. But I have an appointment to talk to my ticket rep on Monday for 2013 tickets. Yup, they've got me right where they want me.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Advocating an upopular opinion

Time for hot stove to begin (for Mets fans it just begins a little earlier). Here's how I see the Mets situation, and none of this will be news. The Mets need 3 OFs and a catcher, not necessarily in that order of priority. The Mets also have payroll commitments of anywhere from $75 to $85 million (factoring in arbitration and expected increases of select player salaries). The total payroll is projected to be around $95-$100 million, leaving roughly $15 million to spend on player acquisitions. Yes, the trade market offers some options, and by the way, talk of Peter Bourjos's availability has me giddy. I'd love to add his speed in CF, and though he's struggled at the plate, I'm willing to be patient while he learns. But I digress. It's simple, there are many holes and little money. And don't be fooled by the talk of "it doesn't matter how much you spend....", you need money to compete. So, I offer the following.

The Mets need to decide what to do with RA Dickey. They can choose to not exercise his option and let him walk, which would be insane. They could exercise his option and trade him, or sign him to an extension. The knee-jerk reaction is to sign the 20-game winner to an extension, and baseball "people" say that RA's value is roughly $12-$15 million per year for 3 years. Let's say the Mets sign RA to an extension, at $13 million per year for 3 years. That means they're signing a 38-year-old (as of 10/29) and will be paying him $13 million at age 41 (almost) in 2015. It also means that RA would have a raise from $4.2 million to $13 million, sucking up about half of the budget the team has to fill other holes (and that's not counting a potential raise for Wright).

Option 2-exercise the option and trade him. I don't like this option, since I don't see a lot coming back for a 38-year-old who would have to be signed after next season for what would likely be a significant raise. So, I suggest that the Mets exercise the option, allow RA to work for $5 million next year, and then let him walk. This means that less than $1 million of the available budget will go to RA, leaving some money to fill other holes. It also means that RA would be walking at 39, after next season. Knuckleball or not, I have to believe that his production will begin to decrease rapidly at age 39. I like RA. I think that exercising the option would be a crappy thing to do to him after he gave the Mets one of their few bright spots this year. But we all know that baseball is a business. The 2013 Mets, with Swiss cheese holes and little money, know that more than anyone. My position may not be popular or nice, but I think it's the right one when you look at the reality of the Mets situation.

Has anything interesting happened this post season? Oh yeah, not only did the Yankees lose, they absolutely imploded and embarrassed themselves on and off the field. Life is good these days!

Saturday, October 6, 2012

74-88 And it's all over

The 2012 season ended (at least for the Mets) on Wednesday, with the Mets posting a 74-88 record. This represents three fewer wins than last year. That figure is seemingly inconsequential, however it does indicate an apparent lack of progress. Now we all know that progress goes beyond wins and losses, and there were some notable signs of progress this year. The emergence of Matt Harvey would be one of those signs, and I'd add that Familia may be another, and Wheeler certainly seems like another positive sign (albeit on the horizon). However, we all realize that the Mets have many holes, so let's take a high-level look at the team, adding Sandy Alderson's recent comments along with way.

Pitching: Starting pitching is the strength of the team, no doubt. The Dickey situation is interesting. Sandy suggests that Dickey will be extended or traded. If Dickey is traded, how much would a 38-year-old bring back, even coming off a 20-win season? If Dickey is signed, does Niese go in a package to return some talent? Would we be comfortable with Santana, Dickey, Harvey, Gee, and Wheeler? How about Pelfrey coming back? Young? All in all, the SP should be adequate.

Infield: The IF should be fairly set. Sandy says Wright will be here in 2013 regardless of the contract situation, so we know about the left side of the IF. I don't see Murphy coming back, as he may be a valuable chip, and he's not an Alderson player (no power). I think Ike stays, since as Sandy says, it would be tough to replace 32 HRs and THEN begin to add HRs to this year's total. 3/4 of the IFs likely return, so far we're not seeing all of these significant changes Sandy is talking about.

OF: Ah, here is where Sandy may deliver on the changes he discusses. The Mets need to get better, and to do so, they need 3, not 2, but 3 OFs. Here's the question, where do you get these guys? Niese may return one decent OF, but could Duda and someone else bring back another? Where does the third one come from? Sandy likely has $5-$10 million to spend. Does he spend about $5 million on a third OF? That's not getting BJ Upton, folks. I'm not sure what you get for that much money. However, it will be nice to see new faces in the OF. Bay will probably begin the season with the team. He's harmless as a 4th OF.

Catching: Thole will not be back, he is the antithesis of an Alderson player. Shoppach may be back as the RH platoon. But this position is in DESPERATE need of new blood. Does Alderson spend his remaining $5 million here? But then there's the...

Bullpen/Bench: Does Rauch come back (I'm hearing no)? Frank Frank? They owe him $6 million, so yes. But is he healthy? If Sandy follows my Rx above, he'd have no money left to spend on the pen. Does he need money? Can the Mets ride with Familia, Parnell, Edgin, etc. and use all internal resources in the pen, so the money can be spent on other needs? That's what I would do. As for the bench, Hairston will most likely be gone, since he'll seek (rightfully so) a multi-year deal. Turner HAS to go. They need to do better than him off the bench. Cedeno was reasonable this year, and I'd consider bringing him back, if for no other reason than to conserve money (he was at $1.1 million). Can the other two bench spots be obtained "on the cheap"? Can? It doesn't matter, they'll have to be.

I'd like to make one more point. Sandy talks about the need for the "approach", meaning taking more pitches, leading to a higher OBP. He says one reason for the second half failure was a change in approach, hitters taking fewer pitches. I say, "Yikes". I just don't buy that type of baseball. Bobby O doesn't either. It leads to a lot of 0-2, 1-2 counts. That's defensive hitting. Get ready, folks. That's direction from the top. Our team has become the As of the early 2000s. Forget the excitement of Reyes (or someone else) legging out triples and stealing bases. Forget the flashing of leather. The OBP approach shows that defense can be sacrificed for people who, well, have a high OBP.

This is what it is. Personally, I'll always support anything that says "Mets". This may not be my preferred situation in Queens, but it's all we have right now. 88-74 next year could make this all easier to swallow, right?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Robert Allen Dickey

How about this man? Here's a guy who two years ago, two years ago, was in the minor leagues as a 35 year-old. Here's a guy with no ulnar collateral ligament, whose signing bonus was taken away because of it, who transformed himself into a knuckleball pitcher from a conventional pitcher, who is now a legitimate contender for the 2012 Cy Young Award. On Thursday, RA Dickey won his 20th before an electric, if not capacity, crowd at Citi. I was there, and the picture above shows the adoration the fans have for Dickey. In his comments all year, Dickey expressed equal admiration for the beaten-down Mets fan base. Here's Dickey by the numbers with one start left:

20-6, 2.69 ERA, 227.2 IP, 222 K, 54 BB, 185 hits allowed

People talk about RA as if he's the favorite for the Cy. I'm not so sure. Gonzalez is 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA and 199 K. It's close. And let's not forget Kimbrel, who closed the Mets out tonight. Kimbrel has 40 saves and a 1.04 ERA. I'm certainly hoping RA will with the Cy, as it would show the value of sticking to your craft and doing whatever it takes to compete. In addition, it would give us fans something to feel good about during the off season. In about 6 weeks, we'll find out.

As for the rest of the team, the Mets have won 7 of their last 9 after tonight's 2-0 loss to Atlanta. This recent streak comes after the Phillie debacle. Was the team rudley awakened by that embarrassment? Or has it been bad competition? Is this renewed play a sign of potential, or fool's gold? Sandy was on during Tuesday's game, and he talked about the need to add power. His overall tone seemed to suggest that he's not buying the recent success as a elixir for two and half months' worth of disappointment. He also talked about Wright and the aforementioned Dickey, essentially saying that the Mets would like to have both back, but that they can't make inappropriate decisions in the process. There will be plenty of time to see how both of those situations play out. For now, the Mets have assured us that they will not lose 90 this year, and will not finish in last place.

Back to Thursday for a minute. In walking around the park, the talk among the fans was about the charged-up crowd. It reminded all of us that if the fan base is given something, anything, to cheer, Citi will be rocking. A 20-game winner gets us going. What would a pennant race do? Maybe the more important question is, how long will it take until we can find out?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hey Ike Davis, Let's Party!

One of the funniest movies of all time, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, provides the backdrop for Mets news this week. The Mets were rained out on Tuesday, and a story broke that the Mets were disenchanted with Ike Davis, because he stays out partying too late. Ike refuted the story, saying that at most he goes to a movie after games, and TC also said he'd never observed that behavior from Ike. Anyway, that's what happens when you're 68-83, people speculate at your expense. But let's take a look at a more substantive matter with regard to the first-base situation.

The question being asked is whether Duda or Davis should be at 1B next year. Clearly, the Mets don't know what to do with Duda. Is he a LF? Is he a 1B? Is he trade bait? Looking at the numbers:

Davis is at .226, 28 HR, 83 RBI
Duda is at .245, 14 HR, 54 RBI

Let's remember that Duda spent about a month in the minors, and Ike got off to that dreadful start. Defensively, Duda does not seem to be any better at 1B than in the OF, and Ike is an above-average glove at 1B. It seems clear that Ike is the better 1B candidate. But then there's trade value. Ike would bring more back than Duda, so what is best for the Mets? Are they better with players that Ike can return, and with Duda at 1B? Is there some other possibility, such as Wilmer Flores at 1B?

Time for me to opine. I simply don't see why the Mets are entertaining any notion of keeping Duda. Talk about a round peg in a square hole. This guy cannot play the field, it's that simple. I say trade him, perhaps in a package with other players, to an AL team and be done with it. Ike is by far the better player, and trade value can be bulit by adding other players with Duda. Factor in Duda's propensity to sulk, and we have a clear case of addition by subtraction.

In other news, RA got win #19 today. I was at Citi, and I was pleasantly surprised by the respectable turnout. RA is one of the few drawing cards the Mets have. The idea that he should be traded to bring back other pieces is intriguing, however, not an idea to which I subscribe. RA is a player that, if the Mets are serious about putting out a better product next year, needs to be here and an anchor on the staff. There has been talk of trading Niese as well. Jon is a guy who could bring back value. However, they'd be giving up a young veteran whose stock is rising. The return had better be substantial.

In the end, most players can and should be on the table this winter. I don't believe Dickey and Wright should be though. I also don't see how, with no money, the Mets are going to trade their way to respectability. They simply don't have the pieces to trade. In 11 days, speculation stops and the work begins. Get your contruction hat, Sandy.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The face of Moneyball

If you have not yet read the Faith and Fear in Flushing piece about the death spiral engulfing the Mets, please go here and read it. Written by Jason Fry, the story discusses previous dark periods in the franchise's history (early 80s, early 90s, and 2003). Jason points out that in those tough times, the franchise had money to invest, and therefore hope existed no matter how dismal things appeared. In 2012, we have a different situation. The team is as bad as it was in those eras (of you say "worse" I will not argue). However, there is little or no money to invest. This may not be a dark winter with the promise of spring, this may be the Mets nuclear winter. I don't disagree, Jason.

This brings me to something I have been saying for almost 2 years. Sandy Alderson was certainly brought here to produce a winner. However, and very importantly, he was brought here to reinvigorate a franchise on a shoestring budget, as he and his cronies did with the Athletics using the "moneyball" concept. Simply said, the moneyball concept refers to finding undervalued (a euphemism for "cheap") players, who hit home runs and get on base. Moneyball, using statistical analysis, says defense is less important in baseball and can be sacrificed, and views the stolen base as the creation of the devil himself. If you doubted that Alderson was going to employ moneyball here, I present Lucas Duda, the moneyball poster child.

Lucas can certainly hit the long ball, with can being the operative word. Duda has 45 walks this year in 401 plate appearances. Last year, Duda had 33 walks in 347 plate appearances. Goodness knows Lucas cannot run or play defense, and this year he will make $497,000. Folks, in the picture above, you are looking at moneyball. The Mets have a strange fascination with Duda, something I have never seen and will never see. I simply don't think the "Duda Type" is a winning type. I prefer athletes. I like guys who can produce in some way in all five aspects of the game. They don't have to be superstars. But to me, you build with guys who can contribute in multiple ways. In this sense, I like the Whitey Herzog approach. Sandy likes moneyball approach. He may be right. If you like seeing players like Duda and you're a Mets fan, you may be in luck. Personally, I find this approach to building a team disturbing, and I doubt it can be successful in the NL in this era. I think you're seeing its success rate right now on the field. In case you've been hibernating, the Mets are 19-38 since the ASB. They look bad on defense and worse at the plate. They seem to look for walks, as Bobby O says. Welcome to moneyball.

I have little to say about the product on the field. I will say that it's unacceptable on any level, in New York or in any other town. I've read the tweets and Metsblog where some say the team has not quit, it's just bad. This is the same team, the same personnel, that went 46-40 in the first half. I like TC and don't want to think that the team has quit, but it certainly looks like they have. It would be one thing if this were an aberration, a bump in the road. I don't think it is. Neither does Jason Fry. I took the picture below on Saturday at Citi. This picture says 1,000 words.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Our Pride and Joy

How about this guy? 18 wins against 4 losses with a 2.64 ERA. He also has 195 Ks in 198 innings. And he's doing all of this on a team that is 7 games under .500. It will be interesting to see how the Cy Young plays out, with RA and Gio Gonzalez leading the NL contenders. There's an interesting word, "contender". Will the Cy Young vote be skewed by the Nationals' presence among the elite, while the Mets slug it out with Miami for fourth place? The type of season the team is having really should not matter, but I think we all know that it may. If it does, that'll be a shame. Our guy deserves it.

In looking back at the St. Louis series, I have two primary observations. First, no one can convince me that the whole "Sandy Alderson/Umpire Union" matter has not impacted the Mets on the field. I think the umpires have been looking for ways to hurt the Mets (TC blew a gasket earlier over the willingness for umpires to confer on calls that ultimately go against the Mets, but not the other way). The call on Torres at first on Labor Day is another example of umpires settling a score with Alderson. I've seen that play 25 times, and I'm still not sure if Torres touched the bag. If that's the case, how can umpire Rackley be so sure? How could the play be egregious enough for Rackley to make that call, and influence the outcome of the game? Observation two- I like Familia. Of the "big 4", he's the one you hear about the least. But he throws hard, and he seems confident and determined. He kind of reminds me of Harvey. I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by what I saw from him.

In other news, there's a report out that the Mets will lose $23 million this year, less than the amount the lost last year (estimated at around $45 million). Naturally, this is due to a lower payroll this year. I wish this could be good news, but if they're still losing money with a lower payroll, do you think they'll be encouraged to spend more in 2013? If you do, you're quite an optimist. The report also suggests that the Mets may have $21 million to spend this winter, though Metsblog places that figure at $10 million. These assumptions also assume that the big ticket guys are still with, or being paid by, the club. If salary relief can be had by shedding any combination of Bay/Santana/Francisco, then there may be more to spend. But in any case, the reality is that the Mets need 3 outfielders, new relievers, and a catcher. $10 million or $21 million will not fill these needs adequately, and internal help may not be coming for position players. Even if the Mets re-sign Shoppach (I think they should), he's going to cost some of the money referenced above.

The moral of the story is something that should not surprise us, but we all hoped would not be the case. Building a contender is going to be a lengthy process. It may be expedited after 2013 when the payroll commitments subside, but we're going to have to be patient. Yes, I know Sandy says they can get better right away through trades. I think that's wishful thinking. Maybe I'm just not an optimist.